Last week I wrote about the importance of reflection, especially at the end of the school year. So, this week I’ll be practicing what I preach and using this blog post as an opportunity to reflect a bit myself.
This was my first year as an instructional coach. As the only instructional coach in my district (and as the first ever instructional coach in the district), I relied heavily on my own reflective practices to help me learn and set goals for myself. Every day, I wrote down my thoughts and my experiences. Some days I wrote very little, and some days I wrote volumes. I’ve just looked through the entire document, which has added up to about 80 typed pages. It was funny and interesting to see the range of my emotions displayed in these pages: excited, optimistic, nervous, self-doubting, curious, triumphant, confused, proud, bold, timid.
Here are some of my take-aways:
· Working with teachers who want to improve their practice in some way is a lot like what I used to do in my “former life” as an ELA teacher – working with students who are striving to improve some aspect of their reading or writing. The key is: one step at a time. Sometimes it’s easy to get really into goal-setting – I’d work with a teacher this year and we’d build off of each other’s excitement, brainstorming all sorts of goals and new things to try. Eventually, I learned to step back from this sort of manic goal-setting, and require both myself and the teacher I was working with to zoom in on one particular goal, to narrow our focus so that we were being realistic and so that we could establish an action plan that would not overwhelm. We know as teachers that we’re not going to give our students 12 aspects of their writing to improve upon by their next paper; we’re going to give them 1 or 2 areas to focus on. We need to give ourselves the same permission, the same freedom to slowly focus on one area of our teaching, to delve in and really get into in-depth reflection and growth.
· Thanks to all my reading up on instructional coaching last summer (especially all of Jim Knight’s work), I was fully anticipating my role as instructional coach to be a reciprocal one, where I learned from those I was coaching in addition to them learning from me. But even though I saw it coming, I didn’t realize the extent to which this would happen. I learned TONS from being in elementary classrooms, especially since this job has provided me with my first extended exposure to the world of K-5. I became fascinated with the workshop structure, reading all I could about it and becoming convinced that this structure doesn’t need to go away as students age – I can see it working for students of all ages, and for their teachers. I learned volumes from being in secondary classrooms, where I watched teachers struggling with some of the same instructional challenges I myself used to struggle with. I had so many “aha” moments while watching high school teachers teach, thinking, “Oh! I used to do that, too.” But this time, as a neutral, objective observer, I could begin to pinpoint specific instructional moves the teacher could make, tweaks here and there that would help him or her accomplish that day’s objective with students. (I often found myself wanting to go back in time after these “ahas” to correct some of my past lessons!)
· I learned that kids can and will rise to the occasion when we present them with challenging, thought-provoking tasks that stretch them as learners. Kindergartners do, fifth graders do, eighth graders do, sophomores and seniors in high school do.
· I learned how to be a second set of eyes for a teacher in her classroom, and I learned how to later discuss what I had seen. I learned how to model for teachers with their own students, and I learned how to co-teach.
· I learned that almost none of this job called teaching comes easy, to any of us. No matter how long we’ve been in the classroom, or what grade we teach, or how many students we have, we are all still learning how best to teach. I don’t think there’s a magical year where it just all clicks and comes together, where it all just flows easily. I actually don’t think that’s really supposed to happen (as much as we dream of it during our first few years in the classroom). This is an important job for so many reasons, and it’s challenging and sometimes difficult because it’s so important. But I also learned that we are learners, that teachers want to learn, want to grow, want to stretch themselves.
· I learned that I have quite a bunch of goals for myself for next year:
o I’d like to continue to build trusting relationships with the five staffs in my district, and to find new ways to establish and reinforce this trust.
o I’d like to delve deeply into differentiated instruction, and hope that some teachers will establish coaching relationships with me in order to do so.
o I’d like to learn all I can about the new SMART goals educators in my state will be implementing as part of their own evaluation system next year so that I can work with teachers on developing these goals and reflecting on them throughout the year as they try new instructional strategies in their classrooms to achieve them.
o I’d like to work with teachers on some of the “little” instructional strategies that we sometimes take for granted but that can be so important and effective, like: how we ask questions during our lessons; how we check for understanding during our lessons and formatively assess (both formally and informally); how we use pre-assessment data to guide our planning…
o I’d like to continue to learn all I can about the art and science of teaching and learning, both through research and through my work with the teachers and students of my district.
Readers, it’s been a pleasure sharing my thoughts with you via this forum throughout the past school year. Summer vacation is now almost upon us, and I’ll most likely be suspending my blogging until the end of August or so. I hope you’ll pick back up with me then, and we’ll continue to explore and think about education together.
Have a lovely summer!