The End of the One-Room Schoolhouse

I was reminded that good coaching is not about dynamic coaches serving as heroic educators, but rather stems from the simple habits of connecting teachers to resources and asking them reflective questions.  ~Shane Safire  July, 2008

This week has consisted of a lot of coaching.  I know that last week I reflected on coaching.  However, I think our Monday #edleadchat topic on coaching and observing kept this topic in the forefront of my mind.  That coupled with a number of issues on campus related to new teachers seems to have forced my hand to circle back to this topic once again.

I was not able to observe as many classrooms as I would have liked this week.  But the ones I did get into provided a real range of experiences and helped me to really think about the reflective process.  I realized that it isn't enough to observe a classroom and pen a few notes of gratitude and "way to go-s" for each teacher.  There were some real opportunities for growth in most of the classes I observed and that was not just in rooms with new teachers.  In addition, I have found the new teachers begging for feedback and direction while the veteran teachers have been rather indifferent to feedback.  After all, some of them have been teaching much longer than I!  

So this week I took a new tact with my comments.  Every note opened with a thank you and highlighted a few of the points that I thought were really good from the portion of the lesson that I saw. 

Then I jumped into the shallow end with floaties.  

I posed a question about what I saw that I didn't fully understand because it isn't my content area or because I had missed the opening/ending of the lesson.  With the question, I invited the person to share some times with me that would be good to actually talk about my question, allowing the teacher face-to-face time to teach me.  As teachers have been only too eager to share their wisdom with me, I have been able to open up some doors for some great dialogue about approaches, and given the teachers a chance to reflect on their practice.

This is definitely a much softer approach than a formal evaluation with a list of mandated improvements before contracts are issued.  And not every teacher responds immediately to my request for a F2F.  But overall, the teachers who I have had the opportunity to chat with have been much more receptive to the conversation and suggestions than they ever were to formal feedback.  

The "downside" is that conversations take time (but as I said last week, this is the heart of my job so I don't consider time to chat with my colleagues about our craft a true downside) and the change is slow.  The "upside" however, is that I feel I am building a team and since the changes are generally presented as a menu of options, the teachers have a choice in what they will adopt.  I don't really care which of the menu options they choose because I make sure that every option I suggest will improve, rather than maintain, their craft.

Any sports coach will probably tell you that coaching takes time but the results are priceless.  I realize that this is a long-term process but I want to be part of a strong team so am looking to invest the time and effort. Fortunately for all of us, we are well beyond the one-room school house where the teacher was a lone-wolf, hoping to get through each day with more need for individualized instruction than most of us ever have to contend with, and no colleagues to share, plan, or commiserate with.  

We have the opportunity to collaborate F2F on our campuses, as well as via social media with teachers around the world.  I want every teacher to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.  However, as all leaders know, you must model expected/desired behavior.  Thus, if I talk teaching with the teachers, eventually they will talk teaching with each other.  That has happened on a small scale at our school for years.  I want to ramp it up considerably this year.

 If I could spend my time coaching and never again engage in a formal evaluation I would be only too happy.  I know formal evaluations have their place but hopefully enough coaching will have taken place prior to that day to allow even that experience to be one of excitement and welcome dialogue.

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