Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re the type of person who works really hard at getting better at doing something. You are also probably someone who is interested in helping others get better at doing something. Each title– parent, teacher, coach, staff developer, leader– by definition, involves some sort of “getting better at it” work. We are, in fact, the ones who bring about…yes, we’re about to say it…change. Upon meeting teachers for the first time, judging by the looks on their faces (good or bad looks), we see that what we represent to them is change. It’s a feeling that is often exciting and daunting at the same time- and we’re not just talking about teachers’ feelings. So even though change promises growth, the idea of change, itself, invites discomfort. You know the saying, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. Robert Evans says it best in The Human Side of School Change, “School improvement faces a fierce paradox: its essential agents of change -teachers- are also its targets and, sometimes, its foes”. Even though we’re in the business of changing and growing, it’s not always easy for us, just as it isn’t easy for the teachers, or for students. This is hard and challenging work, and all of us are here to do it. Let’s examine the kinds of changes we face, how we can embrace the challenges and view them as growing perks versus growing pains.
Count the new
Reflect on the past two years. Count on your fingers all the ‘new initiatives’ you’ve taken on in your classrooms, schools, or districts. These can range from revised schedules to revised curriculum. Some of these initiatives are not all bad. You or your colleagues may have even championed some and there was an excitement about them- still count them. Now, look ahead. Do you see any new ones getting ready to be introduced to your school in the next few months before the end of the school year? Count those. Do you have any fingers left to count with? As you sift through these new initiatives, name them and why they’re important. You may even want to write them down in order of priority. Which ones are the most important -sort of like the non-negotiables? Which ones are at the bottom of your list?
In order to help teachers digest these new changes, do the math. Show them ideas that are equal to something they already know or something they do. Draw parallels for them. For example, in New York City, teachers had to take on many new initiatives in the last couple of years. Specifically, they had to embed levels of Norman Webb’s Depths of Knowledge (DOK) along with Charlotte Danielson’s Teacher Effectiveness Framework into their teaching. You will notice that the highest level of Danielson’s 3rd Domain of Instruction, emphasizes student initiative. Similarly, the most in-depth level of student engagement that Webb proposes is also centered on students taking risks, creating, proposing, designing and planning- in short, placing the responsibility on the learners. If you take a peek inside a typical writing workshop, you’ll notice both Webb’s and Danielson’s proposals taking place simultaneously. You’ll discover kids meeting often with their long-term partners, questioning and analyzing their work, looking at goals, giving feedback around those goals and making their own decisions around possible new goals. We have to remind teachers that often, new initiatives are aligned- not separate entities- to what’s already happening.
Sometimes the change we face is the change in our own roles and responsibilities. Some of you may be new to coaching, new to a school or newly chosen to be a lead teacher or grade leader! Celebrate that change! You go! Own it! Wear it! You’ve earned it! Our first piece of advice is to develop a partnership with a colleague. If the world of coaching is new, you’ll need a partner to help you try new things, navigate grades that are unfamiliar to you, and cheer you on! Don Graves, in Energy to Teach, says, “Build Energy with colleagues. You don’t need a whole team- just one colleague.” And he lists desirable traits you may want to seek in colleagues. Here are a few:
- Has a sense of humor- is able to laugh at himself or herself
- Talks about children with specifics and how he/she learns from them
- Knows more about you than just as a teacher
- Shares methods and materials
- Shares books and ideas- talks about interests beyond teaching
- Volunteers; steps forward
- Is more interested in others than centered in self
- Generally energy filled
With a partner like this, your new role can be powerful, effective and enjoyable! Think for a second. Who is your coaching partner? What qualities do they have for you two to ‘build energy’ together? What qualities do you bring to that partnership? Even we, staff developers who are years deep in this work, need colleagues who possess these qualities! We thrive on those partnerships and then, in turn, our work becomes compelling and transformative.
In with the new
We’re not going to lie, learning new content or new spins on content is hard. In this situation, you have to teach yourself, teach teachers, and then coach. Do your HW. Is it all that new? Gather resources and work your advertisement. Package it, sell it. One way to support teachers is to actually have the content up. For example, have a bulletin board for teaching. House in it artifacts, examples and resources for a new unit. Have a consistent place to highlight the work. Here are a few pictures from a coach’s bulletin board.
When teaching teachers something new, remember, one thing at a time. Be positive and excited. In Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character he discusses Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism and says, “…Optimists look for specific, limited, short-term explanations for bad events, and as a result, in the face of a setback, they’re more likely to pick themselves up and try again.” There will be setbacks, disappointments, and resistance to this new work. Don’t give up. Be the optimist (and model) for the vision you want.
In our previous post, Connectedness, we referred to Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning. We talked about empowering teachers through approximation and responsibility- allowing for approximations and giving them the power to make their own decisions. It will make a big pay off for you to attend to this especially when teachers are learning something new.
When learning new content, goal setting is also essential. The work can be overwhelming and burdensome. Be sure to set practical goals. As a building or as a grade or even as a coach or teacher, set goals with yourself. Honor goals when you set them with your partners- even if their goals are higher or lower. Set practical goals. We believe in the power in three…not too many- just right, like Goldilocks
Spreading the new
Paint a vision for your role, your work and show teachers where/how they fit in it. Create a schedule and make it visible. Make a plan. Think about these questions: Will I work with a specific grade (s) first? Do I have a process? Be careful not to get roped into working with the “new or needy” teachers first. It sends the message that only our “struggling” teachers need support. We want to send the message that all of us are learners not just a select few. Now maybe you weave those newer teachers into your schedule so that they get additional support, but others should not be ignored while this is occurring. Try creating a plan or cycle. Here are possibilities:
- Meet with First Grade every Tuesday for three weeks and Fourth Grade every Thursday for three weeks. Monday’s could be the day to gather materials for teachers around units, Wednesday could be your additional support day and Friday could be assessment (How was your week? How might you change your supports based on different teachers’ needs? Who needs extra “shout outs” to build confidence?”, Meeting with the principal, and planning for the following week). The next five weeks look similar with a different grade.
- Meet with First Grade (or any other grade) for half a day on five Mondays. The second half of the day, gather materials/etc. to support teachers. On Tuesdays, meet Second Grade for half a day for five Tuesday’s. Wednesdays are for additional support. Spend Thursday and Friday half days with Grades Three and Four for three weeks in a row. The other half of your days could be a scheduled meeting with the principal. Include walk-throughs with the principal at the beginning and end of each cycle as a way to teach the principal content, and to celebrate the grades’ accomplishments. Do the cycle again with a different grade or mix it up and do the above’s cycle.
These are only two scenarios. The possibilities are endless. What to do in these cycles will be included in later posts. First, get a structure/plan in place. Be transparent. Present it to the principal and ask her what she thinks. Explain the reason for the structure. She may want you to change it up a bit, but if you have a plan and you present it to her first before she presents you with her plan, you will likely get support with most of it. Plus, these plans are rigorous and purposeful. She’ll love it!
Sometimes when we have to ‘spread the new work’, it means that we’re coaching the principals. When discussing the plans, include the possible goals you hope to accomplish by the end of the cycle. Have a few goals in mind to present and be prepared to be flexible if the principal has other goals. Try to compromise; the principal has to buy in. She may not know the work or the big goals around it so having a few in your back pocket-even if you only agree on one-offers a teaching moment.
After modeling a conference with a writer, Christy was approached by a teacher, who said, “I wish principals were positive with us and the things we are trying to do. I wish they could give us the tools we need, the time to go through these materials and the understanding that this is going to be really hard.” What she was essentially saying was, I wish the way that we teach kids is the same way that our administrators would teach us- with positivity, time, and tools. We need to teach principals the content, but more importantly for some, we need to teach them how to understand our approach to learning. Again we turn to Cambourne’s approach. Celebrate approximations. Give time to practice. Allow teachers to be responsible for their learning.
See new horizons for teachers
Coaches see their players come and go. As a coach, be prepared to support your teachers to their highest capacity as leaders. Sometimes this might mean opening spaces beyond the classroom for them. Monique’s own literacy coach coached her into being the staff developer she is now- “Knight, you have so much to offer. Just do it!”, she’d say.
Build teachers up so they can be leaders! In the world of education, policy and other important decisions are often made by people who have never experienced teaching. It’s imperative to populate the broad world of education policy with people who have been on the front lines of teaching. It’s about changing our vision for where we are headed. Make your vision bigger and better!
Some ways to do this include helping teachers to create teaching portfolios or blogs, coaching them to think about changes for next units, next year, next steps (remember, sometimes the NEXT step = SAME step but do it earlier in the year or do it again but with more resources, more experience or more confidence). Build your teachers up to be leaders. Bring them with you to national conferences. Present in your districts together. Change the landscape of our future.
What’s your new outlook on change? Share with us your NEW ideas on change and Coach, actually!
Christy & Monique