We got a new foster pup two days ago. Harley has been boarded in a kennel since October. The bad news is her family left her to be boarded for almost five months, until the kennel finally called the Lab rescue to come get her. The good news, if there is some, is that she got training while being boarded. She actually came with a training manual, complete with about 15 - 20 commands she knows (and uses pretty well, despite her still-puppy stage). Without the manual, I would still be trying to tell her, after getting her to sit and lie down, to "stay". But I had the list of commands and saw that, for Harley, "Stay" was replaced with "Place", a more relaxed version of "stay" in which the dog can change positions and move around in the area in which you down-stay them. Well, who knew? We did only because we had the notes to give Harley and us a common language. While we still have some learning to do about Harley's habits, we can at least speak the same language.
The same goes for educators. When we first were tasked with observing and evaluating teachers on a new framework of effective teaching methods and strategies, teachers and administrators alike were at a loss. "How will we do this?" "What does this look like and sound like?" "What does engagement really look like?" "How do you know when students really have a belief in learning?" The lack of a common language resulted in frustrations and misunderstandings. I liken it to Dave and I getting Harley but without the training manual.
But soon, in many schools and many districts across the country, the dialogue began to occur. Administrators began to get training on what it means to objectively and fairly observe and evaluate good teaching, teachers got to experience engagement themselves in trainings before being asked to define what it is and what it takes to get students engaged, and in some places, teachers and observers began to have real conversations about what good teaching looks like and how it can be improved, without the focus being on a rating. One principal, in a recent training, said to me, "It is as if we are finally speaking the same language." Many teachers say, "It helps so much to be talking about teaching with the people who are going to observe us."
Many districts say their teachers are "scoring" higher and higher each year on the rubrics and wonder if that is okay. "Of course it's okay!" we answer. Don't we expect that with a common language, a common understanding, and a shared discussion about instructional practices, that teaching will improve with each passing day? My biggest hope is that we don't stop at the scoring or the rating or the evaluation but we focus on the bigger picture---continuing to improve instruction, one conversation at a time.
And as long as we have that common language, odds are pretty good that we will.
Just for today, let's stay focused on what is still "fuzzy" for people in order to have good conversations about instruction. Do we all share the same working definition of "engagement"? If not, let's be sure to break it down, experience it, and talk about it, so we can put it in our common language.
In the meantime, I am going to continue to work with Harley on our common understanding of what it means to "leave it" when she so badly wants to jump in the spa with us in the evenings.