Start With Teachers

Originally Posted February 2011

I believe that schools are great places, filled with great people, and great learning; but in the complex world of the

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21st century, that’s simply not enough.  Our students deserve better than simply maintaining the status quo.  As a profession, we have a responsibility of becoming “better”.  What does it take to become better?  According to Atul Gawande, it simply “takes a willingness to try”. But where do you start?  What do you try?

I think that Schmoker and Marzano convincingly say, start with the teachers.  Their work clearly links the quality of a teacher with student learning and success.  A year with an ineffective teacher greatly inhibits student learning and achievement.  Two successive years of ineffective instruction is debilitating.  In contrast, a year with a highly effective teacher is very powerful and two successive years with highly effective teachers enables student learning and achievement to soar.  So, what do you do?

You start by being a learning leader.  You start by being a teacher.  I think that everyone in education aspires to be the “highly effective” teachers.  People always want to do their best.  No one wants to be the “ineffective teacher”.  However, like the students in our classrooms and people in every profession, there are varying decrees of competence and excellence.  So where do you start? What do you try?

You start with the positive assumption that teachers are doing the best they can with what they know, and begin to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledge. People are comfortable sticking to what they know and what they know works.  It’s human nature.  Why reinvent the wheel?  So show them something new, something alternative, something better. Show them that “new wheel”!  Share a favourite book. author, website, blog, podcast or resource. It’s unreasonable to expect students to learn something new unless we have shared it with them.  Why should teachers be any different?  Show your colleagues a better possibility and they will more likely to attempt a new instructional practice rather than stick with the familiar and known.

Get teachers working together.  Today’s world is too complex to manage by yourself.  Schools and the work of educators, is no different.  Build schedules that allow for easy collaboration. Include training and staff development on collaboration.  Cooperation is easy.  Collaboration is hard work. People need to know how to participate in a collaborative group, they need to know how to produce an agenda, to come to a decision and communicate it,  to understand the difference between dialogue and discussion.  The work of Robert Garmston with the Center for Adaptive Schools is a great place to start.  Start modeling the use of protocols when working with small and large groups, and gradually begin training the early adapters and informal leaders in your community on their use and purpose.  If you do, Critical Friends Group training will soon follow.

Start getting rid of shared drives, servers, Rubicon Atlas, and cluttered email In boxes.  Begin using Google’s Education Apps in your school.  There are incredible tools at your finger tips, so get exploring.  Google Docs and Google Calendar are simple and effective tools for getting people to work together collaboratively.  Imagine teams of teachers meeting together to purposefully discuss and share ideas about student learning. Tools like Google Docs are great for collaboratively building agendas, sharing nuts and bolts, and keeping the minutes from a meeting at everyone’s finger tips, their true power is in the ability of teams to craft Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings together, to build units of study or collections of shared resources together, and reflect on student learning at anytime, from anywhere.

Be a role model.  Get out of the office.  Get out of the meeting and into the classrooms and hallways.  Make it an uncompromising priority.  Actions speak louder than words.  As the learning leader in your school, start talking to students about learning.  Start talking to teachers about learning.  Engage in these conversations daily. If you do, students and teachers will take notice.  Fiedlwork Education’s “Looking For Learning” has excellent resources and ideas for building this reflective practice.  Soon teachers, students, and all community members will see that learning is the priority, not teaching.  They will see how they are expected to interact with each other.  They will be more likely to visit each other’s classrooms.  We know that providing students with exemplars is an effective instructional practice.  So why not do it with your faculty?  Get your teachers learning from the best, by seeing the best!

If students are the most important people in your school and their learning is the central focus, then what are you doing to make it better?  All you need to do is try.