I am about to embark on what will result in 10 days away from my dear husband and sweet Labs so I can teach in three different areas. This is neither the beginning nor the culmination of my consulting work this fall. I have been busy...but it is mostly because so many schools and districts are hungry for how to help their teachers help their students and how to help their school leaders help their teachers. That, in my humble opinion, is the recipe for success. It saddens me when I hear some of my Educational Leadership students (in my Finance or Shaping School Culture classes) say that they have never had a conversation with their principal about their teaching. When asked what their observations and evaluations are like, some can't even put their finger on what or how they are observed. "They just tell us they are coming to watch us teach; they come, then they send me the form to sign." Wait, what? Didn't that practice go by way of the use of real chalkboards? (Sorry if I just stirred up a controversy for those of you who love and adore your real chalkboards---there are other options available, now)
What excites me the most is when I can share new strategies with teachers on classroom management, questioning techniques, engagement strategies, or lesson planning---and couple that with sharing new strategies for school leaders to have productive conversations with their teachers. I was in Michigan last week, and Matthew (one of my amazingly thoughtful school leader participants) said, "It seems to me that the more objective we make our process, the more we actually build trust with our teachers, because the teachers can believe we aren't being subjective in our observations." I had to think about that a little bit, but it makes so much sense, doesn't it? Comments like that ran rampant in that workshop, as we discussed how we want teachers to build their own belief in their teaching abilities. Self-efficacy, as Bandura (1988) studied for years, is the notion that we believe we have the ability to master certain competencies like lesson planning, classroom management, etc. Sometimes, just like with our own students, teachers need a model or an educated "other" to point our certain pieces of data that can back up the notion that the teacher truly is competent.
I have the honor and privilege of also serving as a clinical supervisor for some student teachers in Tucson, AZ. I watched them all this week. One of them really struggled with classroom management the first week I visited her. The 1st grade students seemed to have more control in the classroom than she did, and it was a bit like the inmates were running the asylum. After the observation, I asked her some thought-provoking questions, and I offered her a menu of items that might help her in her own classroom management. She acknowledged that until she had the ability to capture their attention, she wasn't likely to be able to teach them anything of worth. I happened to agree. So, before I left her, I asked her to commit to three things she was going to try in the next few days. Two weeks later, as I watched her teach, I noticed a dramatic change. She would do a call and response technique (I always say, "It doesn't matter what it is as long as you can own it and it works for you), and the students would actually respond. She used a stuffed elephant to be the impetus for "only one person talks at a time, and it's only you if you are holding Mr. Peter". The students ate it up! I asked her how she felt, afterwards, and she smiled and said, "I feel so much better! I feel confident in my ability to continue to improve." I didn't tell her anything magical, but instead I asked her to own the new strategies she found helpful. Her own self-worth is improved and her confidence to continue to grow is obvious. Is it perfect? No, and I humbly and respectfully believe that teaching is never "perfect". My own teaching ebbs and flows. Sometimes, I feel like I am fumbling for words; other times, I feel as though the teachers or administrators and I are sympatico. But I always love the learning that I gain from simply being around educators. Whether it is a new resource they share with me or simply "talking shop", I love the continuation of learning. I pray you do too!!
So tell me: What, in the world of education, makes your day?
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).