The biggest change in my practice during the last 12 to 15 years has been the switch from a focus on what teachers are doing in the classroom to what students are doing.
Thirty years ago, I did a lot of work in teacher training and coaching. When I was doing that work I went into classrooms and watched what teachers did. I studied what the teacher was doing and I tried to figure out what the teacher should do differently. Today when and I’m in a classroom I pay very little attention to the teacher. The reality is I really don’t care what the teacher is doing if the students are doing what they need to do to cause the desired learning outcomes.
If the students aren’t doing what they need to do, I don’t care that the teacher is following the district’s plan; scrap the plan. Our plan isn’t working with these kids! How do we know it’s not working with these kids? Because they aren’t doing what will cause the learning outcome. Don’t hang your hat on doing “the” program. Student learning production behaviors are what will produce the learning.
Teachers need to function as professionals, making critical decisions. I identify a difference between working in a profession and working in a trade. When you work in a trade you’re taught the right way to do something. You’re coached to do it the right way and then you’re expected to do it the right way. If you’re an x-ray technician you learn how to give the x-ray the correct way and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
When you choose to work in a profession, you’ve chosen to work in an area where you must study a lot, learn a lot, know a lot and then conduct experiments with your clients. Doctor’s experiment with patients, attorneys experiment with a case and teachers experiment with learners.
We all want to know that our doctor is using best practice and we want to know that we have a doctor who won’t give up when best practice doesn’t work. That’s why we choose to go to a professional doctor not a technical doctor. You don’t want to be laying in the hospital bed and doctor saying, “I’m sending you home tomorrow.” Asking ,”Am I cured?“ No one wants a doctor who says, “No, but we’ve done what the book says.”
Some teachers share that they’d rather not be professionals when they respond to a principal or an instructional coach with the request, “Just tell me what to do.” Some systems have a history of causing that teacher attitude by historically “telling” teachers what to do rather than engaging them in ways to generate the necessary student behaviors to create the learning outcomes.
A teacher’s task is to generate the necessary student production behaviors. Years ago, I would ask a district for a copy of their teacher evaluation plan and discover that they could evaluate teachers on days that kids weren’t present. A teacher could get up in front of an empty room and do everything that was on the evaluation instrument. Today I describe that you can evaluate teachers on days that the teacher isn’t there.
I made that statement and a principal came up to me at break and said, “I just did it last week”. He said that 30 minutes into the first period, a substitute came running into the office apologizing for having gotten lost trying to find the school. That’s the first he realized there wasn’t a teacher in the room. He grabbed the sub’s arm and went running to the classroom to find students were in groups of three and four all over the room working on projects. He said he just stood there and looked and then saw two students at the teacher’s desk. He approached and asked, “Just what do the two of you think you’re doing?” One student looked up and said, “He was absent yesterday. I’m going over the teacher’s notes so he knows what to do.” The principal responded with an apologetic, “Ok.”
The principal told me that he went back to his office and prepared the best evaluation that teacher had ever received. Here she was at home, sick and up pops an email from the principal; “Outstanding evaluation”. Without being in the room she produced the student behaviors that he felt were going to produce the learning outcomes.
Our job as instructional leaders is to develop and coach teachers in their dual roles. A teacher should be an expert implementer of best practice. What does the research identify as teacher practices most likely to generate the necessary student behaviors? Example: How does feedback on student writing promote student actions that strengthen their writing performance? Secondly, teachers need to be innovators of enhanced student learning. When best practice strategies are not impacting particular students, can the teacher create an approach that initiates the needed student learning production behaviors? Example: A student isn’t engaging in rewriting using the feedback provided. A teacher generates an opportunity for publishing the student’s opinion piece which motivates the student engagement in the needed learning behavior.
How does the teacher’s dual role impact your instructional coaching and leadership?