I know I have mentioned several times that I also teach online graduate courses, but if this is your first time reading my blog, let me catch you up. I teach Educational Leadership courses for online students at one university, and I mentor lots of doctoral students at two other universities (who are writing their dissertations). I adore both types of work, even though they are so different from one another. My masters' level students often get quite surprised by my presence in their discussion threads. I poke my nose in and lurk (definitely not in a creepy way) in a way in which I firmly believe all good teachers should do when their own students are engaged in table group discussions or even partner discussions. Why? Because we simply need to know what is being talked about in order to get the finger on the pulse of what is happening in each of those conversations. Can I hear them all? Of course not, even when I am teaching a face-to-face workshop. However, I think it is one of the most important strategies I can share with novice or pre-service teachers and/or administrators. So, if this is a strategy we expect teachers to use in their classrooms, then principals need to use it when they are listening to conversations between their own teachers in Professional Learning Communities or professional development (PD) opportunities. So, if this is a strategy school leaders should use, then I should be modeling it for them when I teach a face-to-face workshop or an online course.
I try to model several types of engagement strategies, discussion techniques, classroom management routines, and methods of building rapport when I teach, as well. I call participants by name (in my online classes, I ask them what they want to be called as names and relationships matter); I use chimes to ring to bring us all back together after a group discussion or activity in in-person PD, and I use multiple engaging techniques specific to the outcomes we are attempting to reach. I always am certain to tell my participants that I don't ring chimes because it is "cute". In fact, I don't do anything because it is "cute". I ring chimes because music tends to cut through even louder group conversations, which allows me to ask people to pause their conversations and come back to their tables and get ready for the next phase of teaching and learning. I, in fact, also tell people that whenever I show a video, it is for a specific purpose. If they need a graphic organizer to help them keep track of what they are gleaning from the video, I try to provide that, as well. Watching a teaching video without a purpose is...well...purposeless. Again, I am trying to model what I think good school leaders should do for teachers, and what teachers should be doing for their students.
Recently, I got feedback from a participant in a workshop who said, "I didn't like that she used chimes. It was too childlike." I admit I was shocked. First of all, hadn't I explained the purpose of modeling? As a principal, I used to use puppets every Friday morning for our news show. Libby the Black Lab would tell Mud the Chocolate Lab how she should learn better manners as a growing puppy (thereby teaching the students they should model good manners for one another in the classroom or lunchroom). I had a bald eagle (named Eagle Eye) who would say, in a very professorial-sounding voice (stick with me), "I have SEEN......" and then he would launch into what he was seeing as good or bad examples of leadership around the school. When I talk about the use of those puppets, I always jokingly say, "I think I could have taught the students how to multiply fractions using those puppets as they were typically riveted to the news show, not caring that I am not a masterful puppeteer and my lips would move the whole time." But I also make sure I tell people that not everyone is comfortable using puppets, as a teacher or as an administrator (I'm so wacky, I had about 25 different puppets with 25 different personalities and, therefore, 25 different voices and personalities I had to memorize). I always say to use what works for you! If it feels comfortable to YOU, it will feel comfortable for your audience.
This little piece of feedback was literally the first time I have ever had someone say something that indicated they felt "belittled" by my use of chimes as a transition tool. I SO badly wish they would have asked about it during the workshop, as I would have turned to the whole group of school leaders and asked, "What do you use to model for your teachers as transition tools they can use in their own classrooms?" I have a hunch I would have heard things like, "I do rhythmic clapping" or "I model the call and response I like to see teachers use like 'All set?' and then the students say 'You bet'." Some might say, "I don't use any gimmicks with my teachers. I just yell at them to get quiet so we can begin our meeting." Ugggh! Let's yell to get people quiet. Wait....what???
Just as those Russian nesting dolls fit so nicely within one another, so I see with modeling what we want to see at the next level of "doll". Whether it is a set of chimes, a silly song, a call and response, or WHATEVER, teachers are watching school leaders, and school leaders (or potential ones) are watching me to see if I am standing and delivering content (versus engaging them in content). It is incumbent upon each one of us to model different strategies for different purposes.
Maybe I have mentioned that I am a perfectionist. While most all the other feedback from that session was extremely positive, I got stuck on that one negative statement. That, indeed, is precisely the type of negative thinking that I encourage people to avoid, by the way. "Do not let 5% of the group take up 95% of your time", whether that time is physical or mental. So, I'm posting about it to get it off my chest and be done with it. :)
So, what do you model for your own children, students, teachers, or others with whom you work? I can't wait to hear your thoughts.