My two best friends from college and I spent the weekend together in Denver, celebrating the fact that all of us are turning 50. What a hoot (not the getting older part, but the time together). Thirty-two years have passed since we met in college and became lifelong partners-in-crime. We have seen each other through some pretty wicked life challenges and stood up for each other at our weddings, but through it all, we have laughed...and laughed...and laughed (until tears ran down our legs, in some cases). After a nice dinner together on Friday night, we changed into our pajamas and did what every good friend should do for each other...shared coaching tips on how to change the ringtone on our phones. Yep, that is what we have evolved to...crazy party animals that we are. We reverted back to teenage humor and laughed so hard, we all had to cry "uncle" as our stomachs ached from the abdominal workout.
Remarkably (or not so much), no one was offended when one would ask, "Have you thought about doing it this way?" or "What might happen if you used this ringtone?" (which, by the way, is a good thing to think about when considering a very silly ringtone and imagining it accidentally going off in the middle of a training). As someone who teaches and coaches on how to coach teachers, I considered the implications of how we say things in ways that the receiver hears the message instead of putting up a wall of defense against the messenger.
In one school on the west coast in which I am a frequent flyer, we are working with every teacher in the school on coaching skills. We go in and observe each other teach, collect evidence, discuss the big ideas, and have in-depth conversations about the teaching and coaching process. In essence, every teacher is the observed, the observer, the coach, and the learner. Here are some of the amazing take-aways shared by this conscientious group:
*It was a little scary, thinking about having people come in my room to watch what I do. But the experience has been so helpful for me. I didn't realize I said certain things until I saw the notes on my own teaching.
*Getting the chance to observe another teacher is a luxury!
*Learning about the process of coaching helps me in conversations other than teaching, as well.
*Observing and collecting notes is hard work. Analyzing the notes after the observation is even harder. How could one person do all this? I love that we are doing it as a team.
*I am learning so much about my own teaching by watching other teachers teach.
I get so excited working with these folks who are so willing to learn and grow together. What sets them apart from districts around the country who might have different comments to say about the observation process?
My guess is most of it is about willingness: the willingness on the part of the principal to welcome others into the observation process and to acknowledge he doesn't have every single answer, the willingness on the part of teachers to be observed by his/her peers and show some vulnerability, the willingness on the part of the observers/coaches who openly admit, "I need to get a lot better at this process."
But, where does that willingness come from? I have a hunch it comes from relationships and a culture of trust in the school that allows for it to be okay to be vulnerable in front of others. When one teacher said to me, "Shelly, I would love to watch how you conduct a post-observation conference before I would ever want to lead such a thing", she then shared more of her vulnerability with the group. Trust-building does not necessarily come naturally in a profession in which we have typically operated in a silo. I go in my room, shut my door, and teach kids. How many times have we heard teachers say, "Put me in front of 30 2nd graders and I am fine. But other teachers hearing what I am teaching? Yikes!" This is why I think building trust is such a vital component in schools, especially in the evaluation process (Building Trust). The topic of trust and communication is one that keeps popping up all over the country (and all over the world, as I work in Colombia, as well).
Maybe teachers coaching teachers won't elicit as much laughter as installing new ringtones with your best friends from college, but I would wager that it might elicit as much satisfaction, when done properly. Remember to enjoy the process as much as the product. Keep reminding one another that we are all learners on this journey and don't forget the joy and deep satisfaction that comes from building relationships in that learning.