As coaches and instructional leaders work with teachers individually and in PLC’s, it’s important to recognize what teachers want to accomplish as they work with students. In my coaching workshop I label this as knowing a teacher’s agenda. During a pre-conference with a teacher I have a goal of understanding the teacher’s thinking that went into the design of the learning activity I’ll be observing. That thinking will be influencing decisions that the teacher makes during the lesson. I describe my desire as wanting to observe the learning activity through the teacher’s eyes as well as through my eyes.
Here’s an example: The teacher explains that students will be working in collaborative groups of four to carry out a science experiment. I ask if the teacher has a focus on developing collaborative skills as well as an understanding of the science standard. Getting a positive response, I ask what it would look like on a balance scale with collaborative skills on one side and the science content on the other. Would the scale balance or tilt more to the content or collaborative side? This information helps me observe through the teacher’s eyes. Should the students struggle with collaborating, the teacher may pull back from the importance of the content to coach and guide the development of collaborative skills. Similarly, if the scale is tilted heavily to the content side, (exam maybe happening soon) the teacher may withdraw from the collaborative elements and guide the class through the important content piece. I’m better prepared for a post conference conversation if I observed with the teacher’s agenda in mind.
When a teacher knows that the coach recognizes and supports her goals and values, she is more open (vulnerable) to the exploration, reflection, and experimentation in coaching that produces new understanding and skills.
I use this diagram to illustrate teachers’ personal and shared goals for their students.
The overlapping area can illustrate the required standards for a course or grade level. If there are three fifth grade classrooms, it is important to know that the math curriculum is implemented, and students are learning and mastering identified standards in each of the classrooms. If there are three freshman English teachers, it is important that students enter a sophomore English class from anyone of their classrooms having met an agreed upon set of outcomes. For larger school districts this standard may be required in any of the system’s schools. Similarly, if the school has adopted critical elements of a vision statement, the staff has a shared responsibility and commitment to those outcomes or experiences. A high school that has adopted a set of success skills that they want students to develop (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication) has an expectation that these skills are being addressed in each teacher’s learning designs.
The problem that has occurred in too many cases is that standards ended up being communicated as learning in all three classrooms is the same. If we suggest to parents that being in anyone of the fifth grade classes is the same, we diminish and disrespect the teachers’ personal goals and values.I find that student mastery of the required standards seldom represents the top areas of satisfaction for teachers. In my illustration, it’s the items outside the shared standards that are often most motivational to teachers. I frequently define the standards as the “costs” of being a teacher. If I make sure my students master the standards, I can have the opportunity to develop my more personal outcomes with students. Developing students’ curiosity as learners, their appreciation of history, interest in global perspectives, knowing how to learn, perseverance or risk-taking can all be motivational to a teacher.
When working to create PLCs that function as teams, I sometimes meet a resistance to teaming because teachers assume that teaming means they all need to do the same thing. They think they need to drop their personal goals and values. I believe that if we can create more opportunities to describe and show (peer observation and co-teaching) teachers’ personal passions, respect for each other can create trust needed for creating teams to serve students.
Consider how you can create continuous opportunities for teachers’ personal goals, vision, and passions to be shared and respected. Feel free to comment below!