I am awesome at being humble!

Those of you who have been aware of the #oklaed issues floating around the twittersphere the last few years will have noticed that education has seen better days.  There are MANY issues educators are dealing with. Without belaboring all of the issues, let’s just say that many educators feel that they are not treated like true professionals.

For those in admin or coaching positions, it is important to be aware of state of the teaching profession and make an intentional effort to communicate with staff in ways that convey mutual respect and professionalism.  I have71202_9781506307459 been reading one of Jim Knight’s latest books – Better Conversations and stumbled across some insights that struck home with me related to this issue.

What’s the difference between advocacy and inquiry?

During a dialogue, participants must make conscious decisions when to advocate for their ideas and when to seek to understand the ideas of others. Advocating involves sharing your ideas or perspectives, while inquiry is seeking to understand the ideas and perspectives of others.The problem with many conversations that occur in schools – especially regarding effective teaching practices, is there is often a lack of balance of advocacy and inquiry.  When this occurs, what we THINK is a dialogue morphs into something else.

For example, I recently had a discussion with my eleven year old regarding where he did his homework. I advocated for the idea that he should it at the dining room table  rather than in front of the television.  He took a different stance. He informed me that he was more comfortable on the couch.  I  further advocated for my position by explaining to him how a well-lit, quiet spot, free from distractions would result in higher quality work.  I was on the verge of using research to support my argument when he interrupted:

“Dad, I always do my homework here, and I have straight A’s! I think it’s working fine.”

I hesitated thinking how I could reason with him.  That hesitation gave him the opening he needed to solidify his argument with:

“Looks like  I won this conversation –  BOOM!”

Well played son… Well played.

In this instance, dialogue turned into something else indeeconfused-faced.  There was no balance of advocacy and inquiry.  Both Parker (my son) and I, were intent on advocating our own perspectives and competing to “win” the conversation.  I am learning that using logic, and other forms of rhetoric to advocate for one’s perspective is useless when the other party has no intention of seeking to understand that perspective. Similarly, I have noticed when I fail to come to a shared understanding, I often make decisions that I later regret.

Become Awesome at Being Humble

To remedy the lack of effective dialogue in schools, we should all learn how to  be humble.  As Trump would undoubtedly say we should all be able to say

“There is no one that is more humble than me, In fact you wouldn’t believe how humble I can be; I am bigly humble.”

Status is very important to us in education.  Those of us in the classrooms take a lot of pride in our craft and enjoy being known as a “great educator.”  We like it when students refer to us as there favorite teacher. Many people don’t know this, but there are people who actually teach because of that feeling they get when our planning and hard work results in students learning new things. Sometimes we run into them at Wal-Mart years later and they tell us that they appreciate how we have helped them become successful. imagesYou see, for some, it’s more than the glitz, glam, and glory of lesson planning, faculty meetings, grading papers, and parent teacher conferences.

Being humble involves taking our status, and chucking it out the window.

Whether we are master teachers, instructional coaches, admin, central office, or local celebrity #oklaed bloggers, in order to have effective dialogue we need to have the ability to set our status aside and approach dialogue with the intention of balancing inquiry and advocacy.

How?

  • Listen to understand.
  • Be willing to be wrong.
  • Embrace being wrong as an opportunity to learn.
  • Understand that everyone has something they can teach YOU.
  • Be genuine and sincere when you offer praise.
  • Learn to be comfortable with silences during conversation.
  • Stop trying to make everyone see issues the same way you do.
  • Understand that if you believe you already know everything, you have already hit your peak.
  • Understand somebody else probably already figured out the thing you are trying to figure out – find them and ask them questions.
  • Stop turning conversations into competitions: You can’t WIN a dialogue.

 

If you are reading this and thinking “Ya know, these are some good points.  I wish people would start doing these things.  It would be great if people would listen to me more when I share my ideas.  In fact if they did,  I think schools would be better – all that needs to happen is people needs to listen to me more…”

You have missed the point of this completely.  We can only control OUR half of the dialogue.  It is not helpful or productive to wish things about the other half of dialogues. Perhaps, if we model humility, empathy, and inquiry in our dealings with others it will be contagious.

 

 

 

 

Professional Development: A Love/Hate Relationship Part II

This is the second installment of a blog series about educators love/hate relationship regarding Professional development.  In case you missed the first piece: here , I will catch you up.

In the first installment, I described the two types of educators:

  1. People who love PD
  2. Everyone else.

I went on to describe some traditional methods of PD that are really only effective with the crazies in group one.  In this part, I would like to suggest an alternative form of PD to help our teachers in latter group.

While I consider myself one of the crazies in group one, I have endured my fair share of time-wasting PD ranging from PD on things I already knew how to do, things that didn’t apply to me as a secondary English teacher, and things that… Well let me just insert one more quick anecdote…

Having 4 or 5 years under my belt as a teacher in addition to completing graduate coursework had made me into a pretty good teacher.  During the summers, I spent time attending PD when  I could, reading some professional literature, and going over my curriculum ready to start some new and great things for my students.  Fast forward to the first day teachers are back in the building.  You know the day when teachers are excited to get into their rooms, arrange furniture, make a ton of copies of syllabi, interest surveys, and all the other first day of school regulars.  Despite the desperate need to work on all of these things, Admin seems to always have an equally desperate need to keep all staff members in the same room for PD.  You may be wondering “what PD could possibly meet the needs of all the different teachers in the building and make a lasting impact on our students ?”   

Team building activities that’s what. 

In this particular instance, our Admin went above and beyond and hired an outside consultant to do team building exercises and generally motivate us to change the world.  If you are going to do a thing – you may as well do it big… right? Well they definitely went all out with this guy.  His name was, and I am not joking, Mr. Happy.  Mr. Happy brought out all the stops.  He had all 80 of us in the gym, doing the congo, giving each other back rubs, doing the hokey pokey, and of course we had to do that thing where we partner up and study our partners than turn around and change pd8something about our appearance, then turn back around and try to find all of the things that were changed which of course led all the participants to have a earth-shattering paradigm shift about “noticing the little things” with our students. 

Armed with this new knowledge and renewed enthusiasm we then strolled out for our hour lunch and returned to our classrooms to “watch” our blood-born pathogen and sexual harassment videos do by the end of the day. 

I am sure many have experienced similar pd.  I think this is why the amount of teachers in group 2 is so high.  We are extremely short sided in what we offer in terms of professional learning. I may go as far to say some simply are happy with just filling the time with “stuff” to do – kind of like the teacher that assigns busy work to make sure they are going bell to bell.

I would like to advocate for something different. Treat professionals like professionals and offer them some voice/choice with regard to their own learning.

The way I would suggest going about this new and improved PD plan would be to use “instructional coaches.” Instructional coaches are pedagogy and communication experts – meaning they are very familiar with best practices and are able to communicate them to others.  They are the ones who experiment with new ideas in the classroom and reflect on data to determine what worked and what didn’t work.  You may already have these coaches in your building without knowing it. They may be principals, assistant principals, or teacher-leaders. While each of these people already have plenty on their plate, they somehow find some time to mentor other teachers. However, the most effective coaching programs involve hiring full time coaches who aren’t limited in time due to grading papers, disciplining students, reasoning with parents, or searching for the culprit who sprayed fart spray in the elevator.

So how is instructional coaching better than traditional forms of PD?

 

In short, instructional coaching is needs-based, job embedded, individualized, and it’s always a choice.  There is emphasis on that last bit about it being a choice, because I believe some think “coaches” are the people who go in and fix all the bad teachers.  That could not be further from the truth.  It is very dehumanizing to take away a teacher’s right to say “no.”  While all professionals SHOULD be committed to improving, being coached is only one way for that to happen.

What is Instructional Coaching, according to Jim Knight, in 3 simple steps:

Coaches help teachers to

1:  identify student-centered goals

2: learn specific strategies to meet those goals

3. reflect on progress and make adjustments in order to improve. 

Identify –> Learn –>Improve 

How would instructional coaching benefit each of the 2 groups?

Instructional Coaching for Those who LOVE PD.

If there is one thing that the people who are in this group really love (besides per diems) it is feedback.  Feedback is addictive.  It is one of the reasons people play video games. People like knowing they are getting better, or if they are struggling, they want to know what to do to fix it.  Most video games keep score, or provide increasingly difficult levels (think Angry Birds).  These components that provide consumers with instant feedback are the thing that makes video games addictive.  No one would play Angry Birds if it was the same level the whole time or there was no score to beat.

Instructional coaches provide teachers with this instant feedback that helps teachers understand their current reality.  This is different from evaluative feedback.  This isn’t you did good or bad – this is “Wow, 90% of your students were engaged! What do you think you did that excited them?”

For those who are always trying new things, instructional coaching provides them an audiences and means to reflect on the impact of all of the new things they try.  Coaches will ask tough questions for teachers to really consider if these strategies need to be changed, scrapped, continued, or presented at a conference because they are so awesome.

Instructional Coaching for the “Everyone Else”Group

coaching1

For our highly skeptical friends, instructional coaching ensures that teachers aren’t getting trained on stuff they already know, stuff that doesn’t relate to them, or stuff that they just don’t care about. There is no “death by power point”, or “my way or the high way” directives.  The focus is not on test scores, but on goals the teacher comes up with.  The the teacher is in the driver’s seat of their own learning when working with a coach. The major appeal for our friends in group 2 is that instructional coaching is a pd model treats professionals like professionals by offering them voice/choice in their own learning.

 

To learn more about instructional coaching, I highly recommenced the work of Jim Knight.  Jim Knight has researched and written several books about coaching designed to address needs and hurdles associated with the complexities of adult learning. Read more here. Did I mention that Jim Knight and I are besties…?  Here is proof.

jkbesties

 

 

Professional Development: A Love/Hate Relationship Part I

I have been on somewhat of a hiatus with regard to blogging, but I am hoping to turn that around to some degree.  Since thelast I posted, I have begun a new endeavor which includes a new title Instructional Coach II.  Rather than coaching teachers, I now spend my time working directly with instructional coaches.

While instructional coaching has been around for awhile, there are few districts to my knowledge that commit to providing teachers with the type of  job-embedded, needs-based professional development that can only be offered through instructional coaching. My point isn’t to condemn other districts; with the financial crisis our state is in our district leaders are forced to make extremely difficult decisions.  An effective instructional coaching program is, unfortunately, a luxurythat many districts can’t afford.

pd1

In this post I want to talk about professional development practices.  What is the best way to increase the capacity and effectiveness of the adults in a school district? I want to examine some of our traditional practices and then discuss how instructional coaching is a more effective alternative.

Traditional Professional Development

There are two types of educators (I know this is a gross over generalization but bear with me) Those that LOVE PD! and those that would rather go to the dentist and get a root canal on PD days… There are both good and bad educators in each group. This will be important later so remember the two groups.

  1. People who love PD (small group)
  2. Everyone else.

pd5

For me and probably most of you reading this. You are in the first group.  That doesn’t mean we are better educators than the other group.  In fact, there is probably something wrong with us.  At least that is what my colleagues tell me. Why on earth would a sane, educated person actual ENJOY pd?  I will answer this question with a brief anecdote.. digression from my early days as a teacher.

It all started on a cool January morning almost 12 years ago.  I woke at 4:00 am to get ready for my first job as a school teacher.  I had been waiting for years for this day to some.  All that time I spent watching Head of the Class, Dangerous Minds, and of course Dead Poets Society, had me convinced I was about to start changing the world one student at a time.  Whistling, I grabbed my coffee, kissed my wife, and sauntered out the door… Okay actually,  it wasn’t anything like that. I didn’t dpshave a clue what I was doing; I was so scared I would fail I didn’t sleep much and woke up a lot later than 4:00, my wife was still asleep because she was up all night as result of being pregnant with our first son who was born two weeks later, I hadn’t really discovered the necessity of the morning coffee, and there was no “sauntering” – more like a hesitant “panic walk” toward my car. You know the kind of walk you do when you are lost in an airport; you don’t know where you are going but you are in a hurry. Yeah – that was it. 

Oops! I forgot I am supposed to be talking about PD… Okay so that is basically how I spent my first semester teaching.  Sleepless and clueless.  I was not a good teacher and questioned many of my life choices up to that point. Starting mid year didn’t help, and I didn’t have much help in the form of coaching from colleagues because they couldn’t watch me teach; they could just hand me resources and say this is what I use – leaving me to make sense of it. I needed help.  My principal had suggested that I attend an AP institute in Norman – led by the legendary Brook Meiller.  I did and it probably saved my career.

I recently got to tell Dr. Brook Meiller how it was because of that time I spent in Norman that I became one of “Those people who actually like PD.”  The pd she offered was fun, engaging, and, relevant to my classroom.  We DID stuff.  We didn’t just listen to her talk about doing stuff. Or listen to her list the best ways of doing stuff.  She would explain something and we actually did that thing.  We participated in inner/circle outer/circle discussion, we practiced annotation strategies, we analyzed poetry. Then we talked and discussed how we could use these in our classrooms with our students.  She listened and answered questions in a way that communicated that she did not consider herself to be the “holder of the right answer.”  She encouraged us to try these strategies and change them until they work for us and our students… And that’s how I became one of the people in the first group.

Professional Development – to some teachers these two words have a negative connotation. When they hear the words together, you can see the eyes rolling towards the back of their skulls, and the Napoleon Dynamite-esque sigh “Gahh! Why do I have to do this!”

This reaction is understandable.  It is a result of years of top-down PD that do not include any voice, choice, relevance, or ownership. PD has become a chore for staff to attend. It is a result of attending “death by Power Point” sessions given by admin who may have good intentions, but haven’t had training in giving engaging presentation. It is a result of being put in a room with a team of teachers and told to “PLC” without ample direction or training.  It is a result of an education system that provides no reinforcement or incentive for teachers to build their capacity by attending pd and incorporating their learnings into their practice.  I get why many people balk at PD; I don’t get why many schools/districts continue these practices.

I think we sometimes get our prepositions confused. Sometimes PD is done TO people rather than WITH people. 

Anyone who has been in education for at least 2 or 3 years has probably noticed that teachers are bombarded with many new initiatives that  will solve all the problems  in classrooms.These initiatives come in many different packages, in fact many are simply older initiatives that are re-packaged and called something different. Some are great – but none contain a magical solution for every classroom.

In the good ‘ol days, districts would choose which initiatives they wanted and send teams of teachers and other staff members to cities like Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, or (if you are really lucky) Vegas. Today, this doesn’t happen as much; we can’t afford it.  Now pdmeme1we may send 1 or 2 people and then expect those people to learn so much that they are able to provide the same quality PD they received from professional consultants over four days to the entire district, but you only have a 4 hour half day (which really turns into 3.5 hours because if you don’t release early for lunch you will be dealing with an angry mob).

Don’t get me wrong, these conferences can be really great. Oftentimes the presenters are engaging, you get to network with other educators, and you get a Per Diem! I’ll never forget when I learned this I told our financial secretary “Wait, you mean I get to go learn stuff, travel to a cool city, and the school pays for me to eat 3 meals a day!  How many of these can I go to?!?” (It was the food part that really sold me).  But remember, I am in the first group of people; I enjoyed the PD part of the conference as well, so attending conferences actually does impact my practice. However, that is typically not the case with most educators.

Here is how I think educators approach PD.  They filter the information from PD into two categories:

  1. Things I do in my classroom
  2. Things I don’t do in my classroom.

This filtration is not a bad thing; I think most people do this; I do.  But where the difference comes is what do they do with the two lists – especially the “Things  I don’t do list”.  People in group 1 ask a lot of questions to themselves.

  • Why don’t  I do this?
  • Would doing this help my kids? How would  I know if it helped?
  • How do I make this fit with what I am already doing?
  • How can I change this to make it work for me?
  • What do I want to accomplish by doing this?
  • When should  I start doing this?
  • Where am I going for lunch today?

Some of our group 2 friends approach the “Things I don’t do List” a little differently. They want to validate the things the are already doing and are slightly skeptical of things they don’t do.

Why should I bother with this because…

  • i’ve been doing this other thing for ___  years.
  • it wouldn’t work for ____ (insert subject, or grade level, or socioeconomic status).
  • my students are different.
  • lack of time.
  • this is just another fad – it will go away soon.
  • it will be hard to implement.
  • no one will be able to help me do it and give me feedback.

To be clear. I am not criticizing this train of thought. There is a lot of truth in these statements. I think everyone should be skeptical.  I am clarifying that certain types of pd aren’t effective with some people.  These are the hurdles that stand in the way of typical Grab ‘N Go PDs actually making an impact.

Those that love PD may also be skeptical, at least they should be, but they move forward anyways.Call it resiliency, call it idealism, call it naivete or call it annoying if you want. It can be any of these things.    Sometimes we just like doing new things  for no other reason than they are new. We can sometimes get tunnel vision and thing anything that is different than this “thing” that I learned about is damaging to kids.  The danger here is to figure out whether these new strategies are actually making an impact.  Are you doing something just because you saw it in a book, or are you doing it to help kids learn stuff.  Was the old thing you used to do working better than the new thing?   These questions provide a great segue way into the main reason I started typing this morning – instructional coaches.

Instructional Coaching as a plan for PD

I would encourage schools/districts to consider a different approach to providing professional learning.  An approach that works for both groups of people.  In part 2 of this series I want to go into more detail on how Instructional Coaching may do just that.