On “Becoming a Better Teacher”

Today, I spent a good portion of the day preparing for tomorrow’s monthly meeting with our first-year teachers. In doing so, Dan and I often enter into conversations about what the ideal situation would be for our first-year teachers to find themselves in a few years down the line. Mostly, the conversation centers on asking teachers to share what they do, as we have some extremely talented educators not only in our district, but also within this crop of new teachers.

Darren Draper’s latest post, which pulls a page from Carl Glickman’s book Leadership for Learning: How to Help Teachers Succeed. I’ve recopied the page here because Glickman makes points that I couldn’t possibly state any better.

As Darren quotes at the bottom of his post:

“How do teaching and learning improve? The answer is no mystery. It’s as simple as this: I cannot improve my craft in isolation from others” (p. 4).

Our push with the teachers we work with is not to call them out or catch them doing something wrong: it’s quite the contrary. We want to catch them being competent, and we don’t necessarily need to be the ones doing the “catching.” The concept of peer review, or as Glickman notes above “welcoming visitors with experience and expertise,” into classrooms, is, in my view, essential to the success of both teachers and the schools they work in.

What troubles me is how to proceed. What are the steps you take to get your staff to the point where they want feedback from others in their room? I don’t think it’s inconceivable for many teachers out there to be leery of having visitors come into the classroom without specific criteria in place, but in the same vein, Glickman makes a great case why we need collaborative professional contact.

Tomorrow’s meeting is one I am looking forward to, as we’ve planned the class completely using Kagan’s Structures. Lately, it’s gotten into my head to, as if I haven’t said this enough this year, be the change. Instead of talking about what good teaching should look like, I’d like to model it in the work that I do with other teachers. Tomorrow is a first step of sorts, and I am sure it will give me much to reflect about, whether or not it succeeds.

  • Glickman, C. (2002). Leadership for learning: How to help teachers succeed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Editor’s Note: Without realizing it, I totally ripped off Darren’s post title.  I apologize for that.  Since the initial posting last night, I have changed the title.  Sorry for the oversight.

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7 thoughts on “On “Becoming a Better Teacher”

  1. > Our push with the teachers we work with is not to call them out or catch them doing something wrong: it’s quite the contrary. We want to catch them being competent, and we don’t necessarily need to be the ones doing the “catching.”

    Great ideas here, Patrick. We stress positive reinforcement with our students, why shouldn’t we do it with our teachers? We’re all students when it comes right down to it.

  2. Patrick wrote:
    What troubles me is how to proceed. What are the steps you take to get your staff to the point where they want feedback from others in their room? I don’t think it’s inconceivable for many teachers out there to be leery of having visitors come into the classroom without specific criteria in place, but in the same vein, Glickman makes a great case why we need collaborative professional contact.

    I think the biggest concern that teachers have about “visitors” is what their purpose for “visiting” is!

    The biggest barrier that I think you’ll need to overcome is making sure that those who are observing are as FAR from a formal position of authority as possible. If your observers are mentors, mentor coordinators, instructional resource teachers etc, you’re going to struggle to convince teachers that there is no “evaluation” going on.

    Once, one of my closest friends was my assistant principal—-and he pushed for “snapshot” observations which were “only designed to give the school a better picture of the kinds of instructional practices being used in our building.”

    He adamantly argued that there was no “evaluation” involved at all…..I told him point blank that he was full of it!

    Any time that someone in a position of formal authority walks into a room—whether there is an observation form in their hands or not—-evaluation is happening….and that changes the way that teachers teach.

    Perhaps your first step should be to allow your teachers to choose the colleagues that observe them. That way, they’ll see one another as peers who are collaborating around practice. Team mates, so to speak.

    Or perhaps having every teacher teach the same shared lesson—-in Japanese lesson study format—would help. That way, the focus is on the practice rather than the person. Together, the team can work to polish one practice together, identifying individual strengths from each practitioner.

    Does any of this make sense?

    Rock on,
    Bill

    PS….My “This I Believe” post is going up tomorrow!

  3. Bill,

    The same idea came up in discussing this with teacher last week. He was all for peer review, but only from those who he trusted to give him honest feedback.

    My role in this is, hopefully, going to be minimal. Not for reasons of not wanting to be there–I love having these type of discussions–but for reasons that you express there. I wear the badge of administrator, and, let’s face it, that means evaluation and judgment. That in itself is a battle I am not ready to fight yet, so I would want to handle the logistics: scheduling time for these sessions to occur, getting coverages for teachers, meeting with the teacher who was evaluated to discuss the experience, etc.

    Great stuff.

  4. I am a first year teacher and after reading the if and then, I began to reflect on all of this points. A few questions I had are:
    How can I gather feedback from my students? And about what?
    What do you mean by yearly individualized professional development plan?

  5. Hi Nicole,

    Thanks for reading this; I hope you were able to pick out some things here to help you as you begin your career.

    Feedback is great tool that can be gathered via the formal assessments you are giving your students, or by doing some informal assessments that you do throughout a class period. For example, one of the ways we assessed the group of new teachers was by asking for the feedback that you read; we wanted to know what they learned in class today. As simple as it sounds, we learned a great deal about how they each experienced the lesson. Plus we also learned better about what we did as teachers by soliciting feedback about our own methods.

    One of the aspects of teaching that often gets neglected is asking for feedback, either from students or from colleagues. Other ways you can do it are through class surveys or by using something called a whiparound. At the end of a lesson, ask each student to write down three statements about the lesson you just taught–make sure they are statements about things they just learned. Then, have all of the students stand up and begin by asking one student to read his or her first statement. All students who have that one on their paper have to sit down. Keep going until all students sit down. Then at the end, ask for anything else students wrote that didn’t get written down.

    The yearly individualized professional development plan goes by many names depending on your state. In New Jersey, we call it a PIP (Professional Improvement Plan), and it outlines your goals for the coming year in terms of how you plan to better yourself as an educator. It’s an official statement of your learning objectives for the coming year.

    Hope this helped!

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