What a question, right? Pretty loaded, if you ask me. I mean, I stand in line a bunch (TSA pre-check, waiting for a taxi, lining up to board a flight, etc.), and I consider myself to be fairly friendly (if you have a differing opinion about me, please message me separately instead of writing a public comment---I'm only trying to make a point here. ) ;) So, I often find myself engaged in common questions like that, "How are you doing?" "Where are you headed?", etc. I wonder, sometimes, though, if we should be asking those questions unless we honestly care about the answer.
I recently had a participant in one of my workshops who was having issues with her blood sugar. She asked me to step into the hallway to tell me she wasn't feeling great but she didn't want to miss this training (I think she said, "this most incredibly enlightening and best training ever" but my memory could be fading). ;)
I told her if she needed to step out and sit down on the floor (the only light in the entire building was our training room---the rest of the building would have been an amazing spot for a quick nap (or the boogie man, whichever)), that would be fine. She thanked me and we went about our business. About an hour later, I knelt down beside her (while others were reading something) and quietly asked her how she was doing. She looked at me like I was an alien, a nice one, I guess, and said, "I am doing better. Thank you so much for asking." She was sincere and I was sincere.
How often do we do this in schools (or other places of business, for that matter)? How often do we ask each other how the person is doing and honestly wait to find out or honestly take the sincerity to care, deeply. I have worked in a school in which that was the norm. If you were feeling down, there was someone there that would care, hug you, let you cry an ugly cry on their shoulder (even if your tears messed up their dress), and might even pray with you privately. I love that school! And I love all the other schools in which honest caring happens.
I am amazed at the surprise in people's eyes when I offer my email and tell them to email me with specific questions about the topic we discussed. I think it is only after they have done it and gotten a response that they honestly believe I meant it.
I have a confession to make: I say "Fine" to most people if they ask me how I am doing, and, to be honest, most the time I am. But every once in a while, I love knowing there is someone to whom I can say, "I am feeling a little sad today", and I can get a response that uplifts me (or makes me think, or makes me do work on figuring out why I am sad, or simply tells me that it is totally okay to be sad). What I won't do is wallow in sadness, as I learned a long time ago that wallowing in it is about as helpful as wallow in a pile of poo (or mud, whichever analogy doesn't make you want to throw up).
We need people with whom we can be totally ourselves.
Just for today, maybe tell those folks how grateful you are for them.
Because, with them, "There ain't no mountain high enough"
and who doesn't need a little of that in our lives?
I’ve been teaching, in one capacity or another, for a pretty long time. I’ve taught students who were emotionally or mentally challenged. I’ve taught students who were in “last-ditch-effort” settings before they were sent to prison. I’ve substitute taught while I got my Master’s degree in Counseling. More teaching has occurred in my role as a consultant for Charlotte Danielson. I’ve taught in multiple countries. And I also teach at two online universities and mentor students getting their master’s and doctorate degrees.
One truth I hold close to my heart is that every single time I teach, I am as much the learner as I am the teacher or facilitator. The learning from participants with whom I work prompts me to learn more---read more books, watch more teachers teach, take more classes, and always and forever remain a LEARNER. Yesterday, after teaching, I had the distinct pleasure of having a superintendent (and now a dear friend) take me around the Dawson area in the Yukon Territory. I saw Jack London’s cabin; learned about dredging and mining for gold; I asked so many questions, I feared Bill would throw me off the top of the Dome where we overlooked the Yukon and Klondike rivers.
With this learner mentality in mind, I would like to share some pieces of an article Charlotte Danielson wrote about how to promote teacher learning, whether your school or district is using the Danielson Framework for Teaching or not. Charlotte’s words are in color, which is appropriate because she writes so eloquently, they deserve to be in living color.
The need for ongoing teacher learning is well-recognized in the professional community. Teaching is, simply stated, such complex work that the skills cannot be adequately addressed in a teacher preparation program, regardless of its quality. As Lee Shulman has memorably noted:
“After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching – particularly at the elementary level – is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.” p.504.
Most teachers would concur. Furthermore, not only is teaching extraordinarily complex work; it is essential work. Our nation depends, for its future well-being, on an educated citizenry and a well-prepared workforce. So in addition to the educational imperative to enable each student to reach his or her greatest potential, there is a larger societal demand as well. It’s essential that schools graduate students who will be able to inherit a complex world. It is also well-recognized that of all the various factors that contribute to student learning, the most important one under the control of the school is the quality of teaching. There are others, to be sure: the quality of the curriculum and instructional materials, the master schedule, the level of learning support for those students requiring extra help. But the bottom line, after many studies on the subject, is that the quality of instruction is the single most important factor within the school’s control in promoting student learning. Therefore, given the importance of good teaching, and its complexity, it would require breath-taking audacity to suggest that the tasks of teaching can be mastered by the time teachers enter the profession. Indeed, learning to teach is a career-long endeavor; the most experienced teachers acknowledge – frequently with pride – that they are still perfecting their craft.
While there is professional consensus on the need for ongoing professional learning by teachers, such learning cannot occur in a vacuum. That is, in order to create the conditions for improved teaching, one must first define it. Without such a definition of good practice, educators are, in effect, wandering in a swamp. Many schools and districts (and some entire states and a few countries) have adopted the framework for teaching (2007) as their definition of good teaching. The framework is a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC principles, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching. While the framework is not the only definition of good teaching that could be used to structure professional learning, it has been an important part of the educational “scene” since it was first published in 1996, and it is widely accepted by teachers as capturing the essential components of their practice. Furthermore, because it includes levels of performance which describe a continuum of teaching from novice to expert, it can help guide ongoing learning. Any definition of teaching rests on certain assumptions; those of the framework for teaching concern the active nature of student learning and the consequent need for teachers to be able to offer lessons that enlist students’ natural curiosity and drive for learning. Furthermore, the framework of teaching rests on the concept of teaching, in addition to being challenging emotional and even physical work, is intense intellectual work. That is, teachers make, literally, hundreds of decisions each day; teaching is a thinking person’s profession. Thus, if one accepts that teaching is, among other things, cognitive work, then the conversations about teaching, the manner in which teaching is supported and promoted, must be about the cognition.
Educators have consolidated their understanding of the principles of teacher learning over the past several decades. While it was believed at one time, even after the need for ongoing learning was recognized, that workshops and courses would fill the bill, the limitations of such approaches are now well-known. Derisively referred to as “sit ‘n git” sessions, stand-alone workshops and courses have been demonstrated to have little impact on teacher practice. Far better results have been achieved through job-embedded approaches, those that incorporate professional learning activities into the daily work of teachers. But it is not only the immediate relevance of job-embedded approaches that accounts for their effectiveness; that effectiveness is also a consequence of how the activities are structured and carried out. Now that the principles of professional learning are better understood, they may be applied to the variety of setting in which such learning occurs.
Simply put, teacher learning is learning, and the principles of all learning can be applied to it. Granted, there are some important differences between the manner in which adults and children learn, primarily relating to the greater experience on which adults can draw. But the mechanisms of learning are the same, and may be boiled down to a single sentence: learning is done by the learner through an active intellectual process. That is, learning is not something done by one person to another, which is why the term “professional learning “ is preferable to “professional development;” the latter suggests, somehow, that the development of teachers is something that can be arranged by others. To quote Lee Shulman again,
“..in the lives of teachers, authentic and enduring learning occurs when the teacher is an active agent in the process – not passive, nor an audience, not a client or a collector. Teacher learning becomes more active through experimentation and inquiry, as well as through writing, dialogue and questioning. Thus the school settings in which teachers work must provide them with the opportunities and support for becoming active investigators of their own teaching.” (ibid, pp 513-514.) In specific terms, then, what are the features of activities for teachers that create an environment of active engagement? What should be designed into processes intended to promote teacher learning? There are only three, and they may be incorporated into multiple professional activities. Self-assessment It is a well-known principle of learning that self-assessment against clear criteria and standards promotes learning. This is the concept behind teaching students to review their own writing, for example, against a rubric with the aim of identifying aspects that could be strengthened. In order to do this successfully, students must step outside the actual act of writing, and examine their own writing in a dispassionate light. This activity requires metacognition and the analysis of their writing as distinct from producing it. The same mechanism is at work when teachers analyze their teaching. They are required to consider evidence of practice, and compare this evidence against the performance standards, as reflected in the framework for teaching and the accompanying levels of performance. Such self-assessment requires stepping outside the experience of teaching itself, and a dispassionate analysis of practice. Reflection on practice Reflection on practice is a natural activity; whenever we find ourselves replaying “the tape” of an event, we are, in effect reflecting on that activity. In fact, as John Dewey pointed out over 100 years ago, we learn not through our actions per se, but through our thinking about those actions. In other words, it’s not the activity itself that yields learning; it’s the teacher’s thinking about the activity that does so. However, while reflection is a natural human activity, not everyone does it well. High-quality reflection, in other words, is a learned skill. Some programs of professional practice incorporate an emphasis on reflection as part of their approach. Graduates of those programs will probably have acquired a high level of skill in reflection. But many other teachers, if they encounter it at all, encounter their first experience with reflection as part of a mentoring program. If it’s well designed, new teachers will be asked to reflect on their own teaching in light of the standards of practice, and to suggest ways in which that teaching could be improved. Once they have acquired that skill, then, it is available for use throughout their careers.
The English language is replete with expressions that illustrate the close connection between thinking and speech. “I’m thinking out loud” means that I’m talking something through, and that process of talking helps me clarify my thoughts. Or, “How do I know what I think until I hear myself say it?” refers, in an amusing manner, to the role of speech in bringing thoughts to life. Educators who have used the framework for teaching in their schools, for many different purposes, are frequently surprised (and delighted) to discover that the quality of their professional dialogue has been vastly increased. Indeed, many of them report that “it’s all about the conversation.” When the stated purpose of an observation, for example, is teacher evaluation, this is an astonishing finding; it emphasizes the power of conversation around clear standards of practice to shape professional interaction, and to promote learning.
The most productive learning occurs when educators incorporate into their practices those elements widely accepted as promoting professional learning, namely self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation. The framework, due to its level of detail, and particularly the levels of performance, make it particularly suited to such applications.
Danielson, Charlotte. Enhancing Professional Practice: a framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA, ASCD, 2007.
Shulman, Lee S. The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Sorry, now it is back to me and my own thoughts. As you can likely see for yourself, Charlotte says it all. What I love are the specific examples of learning about the learning. For instance, one school leader told me, “I have always believed that teachers need to continue to grow in their practice, but now I see that I need to be the model for that. Every time we get together for professional learning, I should be modeling professional learning the way teachers should be teaching---with the learner in the center of the equation.”
Happy Communicating to all!!
When I was a counselor at a middle school and then at an elementary school in Florida, we started using a morning words of wisdom program. It was great. It started the day off with great words for students and staff to absorb in whatever way they might. I know many schools start the day in similar ways, and it makes me wonder if, by chance, there could be a correlation between schools that share words of wisdom and other good things like: less discipline problems, less jail terms for those students later in life, and yes, maybe even better academics. Since I have been asked nicely by Dave, my dear husband who put up with me in my Master's and Doctoral programs, to refrain from getting another degree, I may never find out myself. But I do wonder...
I get my words of wisdom from the Bible, from another big book that is an integral part of a 12-step group of which I am a proud member, from various readings I do, and yes, from Facebook. I told a friend this morning that I love reading people's positive posts about words they live by.
Today's blog is simply a sampling of some of my favorites I've grown to love over the years of teaching, loving, losing, and living. I'd be honored if you read mine then added your own to the comments below or to the comments in Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (wherever you read this).
1. "So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied." Okay, I'm going to admit that this quote is one that I don't always adhere to. It is highly possible that I might whine about silly things every once in awhile or get a bad case of the "I want"s. Everyone was supposed to let out a collective "What? Not you, Shelly!" in unison just now. Alas...it likely didn't happen. Hey, I said they were my favorite words of wisdom. I didn't say I practiced them 100%. While I love the quote itself, the author of the quote is what makes it so very dear to me. Any guesses? Helen Keller! I figure if she could say this with all she had to deal with, my problems seem pretty petty and first-worldish.
2. “The highest reward for person's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.” —John Ruskin. I made this quote into a sign that hung in my classroom when I taught students with severe behavior/emotional disorders. I had to find something, because they were always asking me, "Miss, what do we get if we do this?" I know that partially stemmed from the extrinsic reward system on which they had always been operated in school. But imagine my distinct pleasure when someone asked, "Do we get candy if we finish this?" and Mario starts to quote the quote himself. Honestly, I'm not totally sure they all understood the true meaning of it, but I will tell you that my brother, Ryan Armstrong and his wife are living the quote right now as they prepare to take a boatload (literally) of supplies to folks in Houston tomorrow, to help out in any way they can.
3. What others think about me is none of my business---Author Unknown I promise I would give credit to whomever first said this, but if you look online, it appears every 10th person in the world (slight exaggeration, perhaps) is credited with having said this. But what a truth! And coming from a slightly sensitive person who still suffers from 'I just want everyone to love me' every once in awhile, I am so grateful I have a spiritual advisor in my life who reminds me of this, not just in words but because she lives it, too.
4. I always have a choice, no matter what I do. I make the choice and I can't blame you. ----- Shelly How selfish, you might think, to use a tiny little poem I made up as one of my "wisdom quotes" to live by. The reason is it reminds me so much of my time as a school counselor and principal, when we were trying desperately to teach students to take responsibility for their own actions. "We don't act that way at ______" (fill in the blank with your own school, if you like) was another mantra, but always having a choice and knowing you don't have to act a certain way just because someone else acts in a certain way first is pretty freedom-filling. I am 51 (I did not hear the collective "No, Shelly, that can't be!"---you all are slacking off) and I still need to be reminded of this.
5. "Be still, and know that I am God"---Psalm 46:10 I think this might be my favorite because is my own meditation mantra. Why? Frankly, I have no issues with the "know that He is God" part, but the being still? Wowee. That is a tough one. I have some dear prayer partners in life who remind me (and each other) that this is likely a good one to live by. No matter what, He is God, and He can do what I, in all my control-freakiness, cannot do. So, I leave you with a bit of music to listen to before you aren't still anymore. Be still and know that He is God
Happy Communicating---please don't forget to share your favorite words of wisdom with me.