Just like classroom environment impacts student learning, school environment impacts staff learning and teaching. How does coaching assist teachers in understanding and influencing the environment and conditions that will support learning? What roles do instructional coaches, teacher leaders and administrators play in cultivating the needed school environment? Examine the differences in managing and leading.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:32 Leading at all levels requires focusing on the environment. Many years back, I attended a conference on learning and the brain. The conference was mostly brain scientists talking to educators. They were sharing what they knew about the brain that influenced learning and pretty much, they were leaving it to the educators in the audience to figure out how that information might be applied in schools. Somewhere into the second day of the conference, an “aha” kicked in for me that’s influenced quite a bit of my thinking, learning, and coaching ever since. My “aha” was that in many ways, schools and classrooms were too focused on teaching and not focused enough on learning. As I considered why, I realized that you could approach teaching as a practice that could be neat, orderly, sequential, managed, and documented. In other words, you could take a required curriculum list of standards, you could put 180 boxes on the wall and spread it all out and now you had a scope and sequence.
Steve: 01:53 You could require teachers to identify in lesson plans what day which of those skills were being addressed. And the teacher would teach a standard, and then at the end of the standard test the standard and now you would have proof. Here’s the problem – you have proof that it was taught not proof that it was learned. And the reason is that learning is often messy, spontaneous, irregular, nonlinear, and complex. You see, teaching could be perceived as the teacher having control, but learning is really more outside the teacher’s control and more a component of the teacher creating all the right conditions for the learning to happen. That’s why folks sometimes use a gardening metaphor for teaching. The gardener or farmer can’t make something grow, but they work very hard to create all the right conditions for that growth to happen. I found an article titled, “13 Components of a Positive Classroom Environment.”
Steve: 03:18 In the article, I found this description: “a positive classroom environment is one in which students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, taking risks, asking questions, and confronting challenges in their learning. An educator can create this type of environment by presenting clear classroom expectations, providing opportunities to improve social skills, building relationships with their students, and offering relevant content. In this type of a classroom setting, students feel as though educators value their input. From here, students become more active participants in the learning process, which makes for a more productive learning environment.” There’s the key folks, that last sentence. “From here, students can become more active participants in a learning process.” You see, it’s students that produce the learning outcomes. Teachers set the conditions, teachers impact the environment. As a coach to teachers, much of our work is exploring conditions for learning with the teacher. It’s really a key reason for having an extra set of eyes and ears or a video to capture what’s happening in the classroom. I suggest that the same is a key in our leadership roles with school staff. Whether I’m an instructional coach, a team, or PLC leader or an administrator, my focus is on creating the environment. Listen in as Simon Sinek, describes that leadership role.
Simon Sinek: 05:20 The fact of the matter is we are social animals and we respond to the environments we’re in. Always. Our very survival depends on our ability to cooperate and trust with the people that we live or work with, right? You can take a good person and put them in a bad environment, and that person will do bad things. You can take a person who maybe the group doesn’t trust, maybe they’ve even performed bad acts. You put them in a good environment, and they’re capable of turning their lives around and becoming remarkable members of society. In other words, it’s not the person hits the environment. Leaders are responsible for that environment. And I think leaders forget that. Leaders think that they’re responsible for the results. There’s not a leader on the planet that is responsible for the results. A leader is responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.
Simon Sinek: 06:07 And if you take care of that, take care of the people, take care of the environment, things go just fine. You know, we’re obsessed with this idea of like getting the right people on the bus as if it’s this game that you just sort of keep changing people out. You know, some sort of sort of mix and match or something, but we never ask which bus and who’s driving the bus, right? You know, because the bus matters. So I’m more obsessed with what happens to people when they come together in protected or unprotected environments and how we respond to those environments.
Steve: 06:42 So my earlier “aha” about teaching and learning is also true for managing and leading. You see, at times, school leaders are too focused on managing and not focused enough on leading. As I consider why, I realized that we could say the same thing that we said as an approach to teaching. You see, management as a practice could be described as neat, orderly, sequential, managed, and documented. Yes, I can manage the events, but again, the rub is that leading is often messy, spontaneous, irregular, non-linear and complex managing could be perceived as having control. Leading is more outside a leader’s control and more a component of creating all the right conditions for the staff to make it happen. Listen to the sentences that I read earlier about classroom management tweaked to applied to school leaders at all levels. A positive school environment is one in which the staff feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, taking risks, asking questions, and confronting challenges in their learning and teaching.
Steve: 08:16 An educator can create this type of environment by presenting clear expectations, providing opportunities to improve social skills, building relationships with their staff, and offering relevant, continued learning and coaching. In this type of school, staff feel is though leaders value their input. From here, staff can become more active participants in the teaching learning process, which makes for a more productive learning environment. Consider your role in generating the environment that supports a staff and community in generating the environment for students to flourish. Students who will be responsible for future environments for future generations. I’m going to close out this podcast with a message from the late Sir Ken Robinson, describing our roles in environment. As always, you’ll find the links to the resources in the lead-in to the podcast. Thank you for listening.
Ken Robinson: 09:29 So I think we have to embrace a different metaphor. We have to recognize that it’s a human system and there are conditions under which people thrive and conditions under which they don’t. We are, after all organic creatures, and the culture of the school is absolutely essential. Culture is an organic term, isn’t it? Not far from where I live, is a place called Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America, and nothing grows there. Nothing grows there because it doesn’t rain. Hence, Death Valley. In the winter of 2004, it rained in Death Valley. Seven inches of rain fell over a very short period. And in the spring of 2005, there was a phenomenon. The whole floor of Death Valley was carpeted in flowers for a while. What it proved is this – that death valley isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Right at the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about.
Ken Robinson: 10:46 And with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities. You cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners. You offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do. And schools that are once bereft spring to life. Great leaders know that. The real role of leadership in education, and I think it’s true, the national level, the state level at the school level is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.
Ken Robinson: 11:39 There’s a wonderful quote from Benjamin Franklin: “There are three sorts of people in the world. hose who are immovable, people who don’t get it, they don’t wanna get it, they’re not going to know nothing about it. There are people who are moveable, people who see the need for change and are prepared to listen to it. And there are people who move, people who make things happen. And if we can encourage more people, that will be a movement. And if the movement is strong enough, that’s in the best sense of the word, a revolution. And that’s what we need. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.”
Steve: 12:21 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley ponders out loud on iTunes and pod B. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at Steve Barkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs. Barkley PD.