Well, school opening is right around the corner. I’ll bet most teachers are feeling pretty relaxed right about now. But, before you know it, the bells will start ringing, signifying the start of another school year. Yes, another year where teachers will be told that they need to do a better job and the way to accomplish that is through the evaluation system. Teachers will be told that they need to be “fixed” and that fixing the system will translate into improved student outcomes… is this really the way to improve student outcomes?
I don’t know… I still get excited buying school supplies and thinking about all the interesting ways to connect art, life and literature. I still think a lot about how I would approach using various novels and exposing my students to a multitude of techniques that would enhance their interest and engagement. I still think about creative ways to remember every student’s name and how to start the year with a positive and promising attitude for change. Until now, I really didn’t think too much about how teachers are evaluated and how that impacts their daily existence.
Along with the excitement of this new school year, comes the shift in my thinking. My thoughts have shifted away from sharing my love of teaching literature to students into sharing ways to collectively problem-solve and focus on where successful learning takes place… in the classroom with teachers and other school leaders. My beliefs have evolved to address a myriad of ways to think about helping teachers find their voices and affirming what they know works in classrooms. I want to think about a variety of ways that reinforce teachers’ “best practices” and their quest to go from “good to great” in their classroom habits.
Wouldn’t it be great if all schools could begin the year building on the previous year’s successes and focusing on how to apply effective instructional practices rather than beginning the year blaming folks on what changes were not made? If that were the case, imagine how productive staff members would feel if they knew that being a member in a community of learning and practice meant that the entire school community would start the year collaborating about the practices that worked well the previous year and strategizing ways to make continuous improvements that influence student learning.
So, what do I think about the beginning of the school year? Here’s what I think… instructional coaches are in a perfect position to “remind” staff that capitalizing on the successes is a much more valuable way to encourage success. Coaches need to start the year with a plan that continues building on previous successes and moves practice forward. They need to think about ways to help teachers participate fully in collaborative learning experiences. Remember, teachers want to implement new learning in their instruction and having the support to do that, will likely result in changes with student performance. Coaches need to understand how to build content knowledge with teachers, focus on the skills needed to become more knowledgeable, think about the ways attitudes must change to make those adjustments and then think about the teacher behaviors that will demonstrate their understanding of change and the momentum change causes. Not so easy to do but oh, so constructive if done in a non-evaluative way.
I think coaches can make certain assumptions as they start the year: 1) teachers need to understand a variety of instructional strategies before they are expected to use them; 2) implementation of new strategies requires teacher resources, i.e., coaches to help build success through practice and support; 3) meeting teachers one-on-one and in small groups to discuss classroom practice is the most effective way to support teachers as they apply their new learning; 4) work together consistently and intentionally with teachers to recognize, understand, and use new practices in order to make the practices part of their teaching repertoire; and 5) professional growth of teachers must be nourished, valued, and supported regularly in order for change to take place. Change takes time. Coaching is a practice that will help ensure that teachers have the time to think about, reflect and make adjustments to their teaching. This small start will make a very big difference in teaching and learning.