Teachers Make the Big Difference

The best teachers I worked with at all levels were always very concerned about the curriculum and what the students were learning. These were not teachers who ever got any attention for the great work they were doing, but these are the ones who ocontinue to make the big difference. I would like to find a way to feature what they do – they are generally too busy to do that themselves. These people deserve a voice, although this is probably the last thing on their minds.

I am sure there could be a good series of posts on this topic. As a principal, I wanted teachers to be engaging and innovative, but I also wanted to make sure they were teaching the curriculum. Last year, we did a workshop on makerspaces and we made sure that we could align the new work we were doing to curriculum standards – we knew that no one would pay any attention to this work unless we could link it to the curriculum. I believe we deserved to be ignored unless we could show that we were credible by following established curriculum guidelines.

The ‘star teacher’ syndrome makes me very nervous even though I no longer have responsibility for a school. We need to focus instead on good teachers doing great work teaching the curriculum to their students. I know of so many good teachers out there that do this every day, but no one other than their students and parents will ever know this.

Many of these teachers have no time to post. Who speaks for this teacher and the wonderful ones I worked with at my last school? As I mentioned in an earlier post – where is the teacher voice?

Teachers should be connected – I agree with what George Couros has written on this subject. Maybe some of us can begin to focus on these silent heroes and bring their great work into the light.

The Role of the Administrator – Support your Teachers

Doug Peterson wrote a great post a few days ago comparing how adults are treated at conferences with the daily experience of students in high school. The post has attracted over 20 comments from readers so it definitely resonates with many people.

Doug makes this point at the end of the post:

“Why couldn’t school be like this” takes on importance.  We probably don’t want to encourage a society addicted to bacon and coffee but there were lots of great takeaways that could/should be implemented or have an impact on design.  The presenters and organizers had all kinds of insights about how to make things great for adult learners.

Are there not lessons there for the regular classroom and school day?

This led to a really interesting conversation on how an administrator can make a positive difference in a school especially if they have the welfare of students and teachers as their main focus. Aviva Dunsiger another great Ontario blogger commented:

What really got me on the first day of school this year, is that my new principal always pops in and says, “hello,” every morning. He checks in with all staff constantly. “How are you? What can I do to help?” Even when he’s busy and stressed, he’s still smiling, positive, and ALWAYS making time for the staff.

Doug’s two posts, IT DOESN’T ALWAYS COST MONEY and IN THEIR SHOES have garnered 27 comments already. Doug is right – the status quo is being challenged. I added my comment to his blog and it is included below. I am less familiar with high school structure as I have been in elementary for the past ten years. However, Doug and Aviva’s discussion on administrators really resonated so I had to add something about the role of the administrator. Is it changing? Are we getting this right?

The primary role of the principal should be to support staff, students, and parents. The teachers need to be allowed to teach and teaching is certainly the hardest job in education. My philosophy as principal was always ‘what can I do to make your job easier? I respect what you do, I know how hard it is, what needs to be done to make you more effective?’
I was never a fan of those who wanted to pressure teachers to do ‘more’ or to drive up the test scores – a ridiculous venture at the best of times.
There are lots of great administrators out there, but also lots who never seem to understand that they are really in the school to play a support or servant role. Maybe it has something to do with a mistaken understanding of what it truly means to be a leader in an educational community.
This is the one thing that I can add to this conversation. While it is essential that principals support their staff and see that as their primary responsibility, it also should go without saying that principals also need support from people at the district office. This, unfortunately, does not always happen, in fact in my experience, board officials often did not support our efforts to do the work we needed to do. I think this takes place because there are various opinions of what administrators are supposed to do. Many believe that principals are agents of the school board and must always put the interests of the board first.

There seems to be a disconnect between what is good for the school and what is good for the education corporation – the two do not always fall into alignment.

I have always tried to put the interests of the school first, which probably explains why I struggled to work with some of the officials at the school board level.
Whatever you believe, it should be children first. We should support what is good for our teachers because they know what is best for our kids.

A Key Element for Authentic Teacher Inquiry – Assessing and Learning from Student Work.

I am really enjoying the #notabookstudy quad blogging experience. What is really wonderful is that we are encouraged to blog and then to comment on other posts. It is great to see the conversation continue beyond the original post. The questions allow the writer to extend their thinking on the topic – something that is hard to do in a single post. Here are excerpts of some of the comments I am getting along with my responses – what a wonderful, meaningful dialogue! Thanks everyone. (my answers are in italics)

Do you think it’s more difficult to be introduced to a new idea, tool or strategy if teachers direct their own PD?

No, I don’t think it is hard to be introduced a new tool if PD is self-directed. Most of the useful things I have learned have been through self-direct PD. This should include conferences that I have chosen to go to and edcamps. There are a number of very effective ways to direct your own learning and I think we should always take advantage to these when they come up. I took part in MADPD last weekend. I thought this was a really good way to offer PD to teachers, I just wish there had been more participants. This is where conferences may still win out. You need to make a time and financial commitment when you go to a conference and therefore you tend to get more buy-in. Flipping from session to session on Youtube may not lead to any significant increase in the knowledge base of the participant.

 

As an addition to earlier thoughts in this blog, I add the following for contemplation – How can we support educators to examine student assessment data on an ongoing basis and to use that student data to drive their own professional learning and changes to classroom practice – which in essence, if research based, will lead to improved learning outcomes for students?

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the ideas in the blog and to contribute some thinking….I look forward to the continued conversation.

Thanks for your comments. This is a great question: “How can we support educators to examine student assessment data on an ongoing basis and to use that student data to drive their own professional learning and changes to classroom practice – which in essence, if research based, will lead to improved learning outcomes for students?”

There is always just so much you can get in one blog post. One point that I did not emphasize is teacher research. For really effective teacher inquiry to take place, teachers need to base their inquiry on what they see as the learning needs of their particular group of students. What I found while observing the teacher triads was that educators had a very good idea of the learning needs of their students. This may have happened simply through observation in combination with on-going assessment. The particular triad of teachers then agreed on what conclusions their observations were showing them. Then, and only then did they develop an inquiry question. For example, one group of junior math teachers decided, based on observations and data that their students had a poor understanding of the concept of zero. They then developed an inquiry to assist students to develop a better understanding of this concept. This process might seem pretty slow – the inquiry took several months to conclude, but it was certainly authentic and it had total teacher buy in as they had done the real work. I think we need to do more of this teacher-directed work and trust our teachers and administrators to come up with processes that puts educators in the driving seat when it comes to professional development.

Like you, I think the best PD for me has been the stuff that I have had a say in. When my colleagues and I can direct our learning, or when we arrive at a day without a written-in-stone agenda, I feel like I learn more!

Thanks for commenting Lisa. Very good to hear that your PD has been self-directed. I think you are very motivated and that is great to read about. I do think we need a cultural change where teachers are treated as real professionals and stay in control of their own learning. My experience as an administrator is that much of our PD is directed by others – we learn that this is the way and then we impose this on our teachers. That should not happen.