Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help educators grow professionally. After spending quite awhile thinking, I’ve come to the following conclusion:
A. Getting better at complex tasks doesn’t happen by accident.
B. Teaching is a complex task.
C. Therefore, in order to get better at teaching, one must learn intentionally.
Therefore IF A and B then C right???
There is a myth that experience ALONE may make one a better educator. I disagree. Experience without reflection is well… just experience. If we are serious about improving as educators, we need to take specific steps to ensure that we are getting better. In a series of posts. I would like to outline the steps educators should take to learn intentionally to improve their practice.
The logical place to begin would be to discuss how to figure out where to begin.
Helping teachers determine their Current Reality
In order to grow, it is helpful to have a firm understanding of what our current reality is. My favorite show as a kid was GI JOE. Each episode a character would remark “Knowing is half the battle,” while explaining the moral of the episode. If knowing is one half, the other half is doing (along with a bunch of red and blue lasers), but it’s impossible to know what to DO before you KNOW. Once you are aware of what is working well and what isn’t, then teacher’s can set up some action steps to guide their professional growth.
What do we mean by current reality?To identify our current reality involves understanding where we are in our instructional practice. We all have hunches about what our strengths and weaknesses are, but few find the time and resources to go beyond hunches and feelings. If a runner wanted to increase their mile time, it would be necessary to know what there time was in the first place. To improve a runner may make some adjustments to their stride, try a different show, or change their diet, but without knowledge of a starting point they would never be able to track which adjustments actually led to improvement. There is a huge market these days on gadgets that help us track our current reality. Athletes are able to track their number of steps, distance, time, heart rate, average speed, calories burned, and probably several other things I don’t even know about. We now live in a culture where collecting data is easy, it is deciding what we do based on that data that is a little more difficult. What kind of data would teacher’s need to begin their journey to improvement? To help make this more concrete here is a list of questions I think teachers would benefit from knowing the answers to:
- How many of my students met the learning criteria for today?
- How many students were on task during ________ (learning activity)?
- How engaged are students at various points in the lesson?
- How often do students have opportunities to share ideas?
- Exactly how much time are students talking vs. teacher talking?
- What types and kinds of questions am I asking?
- How much time do I spend on each classroom activity?
- What type of behavior do I spend time attending to?
- How many disruptions occurred per 10minutes?
- How long are my transitions taking?
While we have certainly many innovative tech tools available, to my knowledge there is no special apple watch that tells us which kids are paying attention and which ones are simply mouth breathing, or an app that sends us a notification the moment a kid actually gets it. There is nothing that generates a report that tells us which questions you asked were most effective, or the number of times you struggled to get the attention of the entire class.
So while we wait for the tech giants of the world to invent apps and tools to instantly give teachers indicators on their current reality, I have three suggestions to tide you over.
Video your classroom
Work with a mentor teacher or instructional coach
Use various types of objective data (not just test scores)
In professional sports, video and various forms of data play huge roles in their decisions. Watching film is a common practice beginning as early as high school sports.
If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball you know how powerful data analysis can be. The Oakland A’s used various statistics like on-base percentage to build a roster of cheaperbut effective roster. This focus on data enabled them to improve and compete with teams spending millions of dollars more than they were.
While teaching it is impossible to internalize the all of the complex things going on during a typical class. When teachers work with coaches using video and data, they take guessing out of the equation. The discussion is anchored around objective facts rather than subjective opinions. This allows teachers to set clear and measurable goals meaningful to teachers that are centered on students.
While overcoming the discomfort of watching yourself on video and finding time to have reflective conversations with coaches about data prove to be difficult hurdles, I believe that they are worth making the effort to jump. We aren’t going to improve by simply showing up to work. By finding our current reality, we will be able to KNOW what we are doing is really helping students and what needs to be tweaked – and knowing is half the battle.
In my next post, I would like to go into more detail about setting goals based on that current reality.