One of the most important things in our work is to be connected. Connected with kids, with teachers, with principals…connected. We talk about engagement all the time with kids, but do we put that much effort into engaging teachers? As coaches, staff developers, literacy consultants, district leaders and lead teachers, connecting can become very challenging. We have worked with over a hundred schools in the past ten years of staff development. Multiply that by 12-15 teachers a school–that’s over 1000 teachers. Wow—a lot! How do we connect when we only see them for a short time, maybe even once? It is not an easy thing. We have to, though. If not, often they will not hear a thing we have to offer. That’s our job, right? To share knowledge. We have to consider how we do it so that teachers hear it. Here are five principles to help us connect.
Number One: Some of the same principles apply to teachers as they do kids
Brian Cambourne is a huge influence in our lives. We believe his seven conditions of learning are the very best and we should think about them not only when teaching kids, but also when we are teaching teachers.
1. Immersion: Let teachers know the vision of the work and immerse them in it constantly. If you’re asking teachers to teach writing workshop, then they need to see what it looks like. You can facilitate the workshop model in their classroom, you can show them videos of the workshop, or you can stand beside them whispering what they are seeing when they visit another writing workshop setting. Constant immersion helps teachers see, understand, and deepen the vision of the work.
2. Demonstration: When you ask teachers to do something new, something hard, you have to show them how, not just tell them. Demonstration is the perfect tool to support understanding. For instance, when you ask teachers to write mini lessons, show them how you write a mini lesson first, explicitly demonstrating how the process works for you. Slow it down, revealing everything you do when planning. Recently, a group of teachers asked Monique, “Just how do you plan a small group strategy lesson in reading?” Monique made the following process handout for the teachers, modeling how she plans. She then planned a few lessons with teachers, and finally demonstrated how to actually teach the lesson in the lab site. Sometimes we think showing an example (“Here, teachers, this is my plan for my strategy lesson”) is enough, but demonstration provides an extra scaffold for teachers that really need to see just how.
3. Expectations: We have high expectations for kids so should we for our teachers. This doesn’t mean you should give up if teachers don’t understand quickly, change their beliefs as soon as you present something new, or don’t quite give it the effort you would want them to. Quite the contrary. It means we need to believe in ALL teachers. Believe they want to learn, and that they will grow. Not easy. Especially if your principal doesn’t share the same views. So that also means everyone gets your support. Not just the new or weak teacher, but ALL are learners need support. High expectations for all means all grow in some way. And we believe they can.
4. Practice: Just like kids, teachers need time to practice. They need time to do the work on their own, and practice what they know to improve. They need to be allowed to practice and fail. That’s how people learn. When I first was learning yoga, as anyone who has done yoga knows, you get LOTS of practice doing the “downward dog.” I needed that practice even though I wasn’t doing it correctly. I was doing something close to a “downward dog.” Every single yoga session I had time to practice and slowly but surely I got it! On to hand stands! Teachers need to take risks practicing so they can reflect and know what it feels like to grow and succeed.
5. Approximate: As mentioned earlier, teachers need to be allowed to take risks and fail. They need coaches and consultants to recognize those approximations and celebrate them. When teachers take risks instead of seeing all they are not doing, we need to get super excited about what they are doing especially when the work is hard and new and scary. As mentioned earlier, I spent many days approximating the “downward dog.” Each day though, I grew. My form gradually got better. Yet no instructor ever said, “stop practicing that’s incorrect.” Instead they accepted my approximations. Abbie, one of my instructors, celebrated every single approximation I did. “That’s right, Christy, your butt is up and your shoulders are down–awesome!!!” Where do your teachers fall on the progression of learning? How are they taking on some of it? How are they better today than yesterday?
6. Responsibility: Teachers need to be responsible for their own learning. They need to be invested, engaged, and excited. Whatever you bring to them, try to get them to make it their own, put their magic touch to it and accept that. Today Christy worked with a group of teachers on creating engaging charts. They talked about the importance of having a catchy title. Two out of the three teachers came up with an amazing title. One teacher’s chart was a little harder to read and understand. That’s ok, though. The important thing is that she was allowed to make her own decision for her chart. This teacher is thinking about her charts differently, and she’s taking responsibility for her learning. When we let teachers take responsibility for their own learning it provides a sense of respect and professionalism.
7. Feedback/Celebrations: Just like kids, teachers need feedback. All teachers, all the time. Let’s say that again, ALL teachers, ALL the time. Specific positive feedback is GOOD feedback. It doesn’t always have to be “next steps.” Feedback can be collective as a grade, but also needs to be more specific to the teacher (More on that when we talk about different ways to staff develop in a later post). And then, too, there should be celebrations. Christy did a staff development cycle where the teachers all came up with individual goals that they were working on alongside our goal of the cycle. We planned a celebration at the end of the cycle to share out the artifacts that they created to celebrate working on that goal. Those teachers were amazing. They came to the celebration with data, and rubrics, and videos, and power points. They worked hard and it showed. They worked extra hard, though, because they knew we were celebrating that work. How can you create celebrations whole school or in grade levels? Where can you showcase it? How can you make it spread? The effect will make everyone take the work more seriously.
Number Two: Get the name of the dog!! (Or Teacher)
Roy Peter Clark mentions in his book, Writing Tools: Fifty Essential Strategies For Every Writer, the importance of getting the details. Once you have their name, their specifics, people become attached. SO true in our work. Who do we work with? What is their name? Call them that every chance you can. By the way, we are all about first names too. It feels more personal, and intimate. And then get some details—How many kids do they have? What movies/shows/hobbies matter to them? What are their passions? And REMEMBER these details! Bring them up when you can. It’s so important to be authentic and to get to learn your teachers’ passions in the same way we want to know the passions of the students in our classrooms. We often find the best way for teachers to connect among themselves and with us is through sharing their reading and writing lives. Oftentimes, we take a moment in our meetings to have teachers collect/make/share writing collages of personal pictures and artifacts that can decorate their writing notebooks. Even if it’s just a 5 minute session of sharing pictures from their phones or other devices. Sharing writing or ideas for writing is very personal. You, as the coach, should also share your own passions and interests. This helps teachers get to know YOU! Recently, Monique spotted a perfect example of this in a literacy coaches’ office. Shondell, the upper grade literacy coach, displayed sets of books (some for students, and if you look closely, one or two for adults) on the file cabinet by her desk. She labeled one pile as ‘My current reading stack’ and the other ‘My highly recommended recent reads’. How enticing, right? Monique couldn’t help but pick up a book from her highly recommended pile, and think, “So this is the kind of book Shondell likes to read!”
Monique is sure she’s not the only one! There are always teachers buzzing in and out of the coaches’ office, probably as tempted to thumb through a book as she was. Sharing your own literacy life through titles of books is the perfect way to spark up a conversation about books, about your own preferences and connections, about life. And…it’s actually FUN when you get to know your teachers even more. Start by sharing your stories/interests with them, and then ask them to share their top stories or titles in meetings. Remember, these little details matter. The more personal, the more connected.
Number Three: Be a Learner
Many coaches feel that in order to be credible, they have to look smarter than the teacher. And, of course, it is important that you look like you know your stuff, but it is equally important to say “I don’t know” as it is to say “I do know.” It may even be more important. Here’s one way to get started:
- Find a teacher you trust…one who is excited about the work, is open, and is grateful for all you do (there is always one!).
- Tap her and say you’re trying something new, and that you would be honored if she worked with you in a mini inquiry.
- Be honest. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of her, and encourage her to give you her thoughts along the way.
- Then share the experience with the team, and the staff, saying how much you learned from the teachers’ kids and from the teacher.
Number Four: Teachers are just like kids
Kids want attention…teachers want attention
Kids want to please…teachers want to please
Kids want to know that they are succeeding…teachers want to know that they are succeeding
Kids are scared they are not smart enough…teachers are scared they are not smart enough
Kids make mistakes and want a second chance…teachers make mistakes and want a second chance
Kids want to be loved…teachers want to be loved and liked and loved
Number Five: Be yourself—have fun—laugh!!
If you like music, play music. We love Ellen, and we love to dance–one of these days Christy is going to figure out how to add dancing to her shtick. We talk about our families, about what we did over the weekend, and we try to have fun with teachers. We love to laugh and to get the teachers laughing, so whenever we can, we do. We often times joke with the teachers in the classroom lab site setting because we know they are nervous, and laughter can ease their nerves. The other day, in a second grade lab site, Monique conferred with a writer, teaching a strategy to elaborate, “Close your eyes and picture the scene- What do you see? What can you add?” she coached the writer. Then she whisper-voiced over to the teachers, “See how I’m naming the strategy instead of telling the writer what to write?” Suddenly, the second grader, honest as ever with his eyes closed tightly, shouted out, “I can’t see anything! I can’t see anything! It’s all dark!” The teachers roared with laughter, as did Monique. This is the second grade team’s ongoing joke. Each meeting, Monique starts with, “Teachers, close your eyes and tell me what you see.” When we do large workshops, we always try to joke with the audience. Christy’s dear friend and number one mentor, Mary Osborne, can work an audience like nobody’s business. She is sarcastic, she blames the kids, or blames herself and makes the audience members feel better by saying the wrong things we actually always say to kids, but ends it all with a punchline “but you would never think that or you would never do that.” She makes it real. She empathizes with her jokes. She, without a doubt, connects. What is your shtick? Have one. Ba-da-bump!
Remember to connect and COACH, actually!
Monique & Christy