Steve shares three beliefs that are a foundation for his work guiding school leaders as they focus on promoting continuous teacher growth:
• There is no Mountaintop to Teaching
• Teaching is a Team Sport
• Teaching needs to be public with one’s colleagues
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Steve [Intro]: 00:16 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.
Steve: 00:43 Some beliefs behind guiding teacher growth. I’m currently working with an international school that’s looking to redesign their process for developing and supporting teachers’ professional growth plans. In an introductory session with their administrative team, I shared three beliefs that influence my work in this area. What follows is my thinking on these three beliefs. One, there is no mountaintop to teaching. Two, teaching is a team sport. And three, teaching needs to be public with my colleagues. As you listen, consider how these beliefs match with yours.
Steve: 01:40 So the first one is that for me, I use the description, there is no mountaintop to teaching. I used to play a little clip for folks from Dylan Williams, where he talked about the fact that teaching was one of those careers that you didn’t have to worry about mastering it prior to retirement. So sometimes people have to quit their careers and change their careers if they want to stay growth-oriented because they’ve kinda maxed out. And that that’s a strong building piece for me. Years back, they identified research that there was a tendency for teachers to plateau around around seven years into the profession. So during the first seven years of the profession, you had this continual increasing of teachers’ skills and it’s kind of that’s around seven years, they tended to hit what you might call an okay spot.
Steve: 02:53 So you’re meeting, you’re meeting the requirements and expectations that a system puts on you and that a lot of districts allow teachers to continue that plateau because there wasn’t really a design that kept pushing and moving folks on. I’ve described it as, if I take everything I know about teaching and learning and I put it inside of a balloon, the outside of the balloon represents my areas for further study. So when I go off to a conference or I enroll in an online course and I learned something new, if I take what I just learned and I stick it inside of my balloon, it opens up a new area. So when I come home from that conference, it’s less impactful what I learned at the conference, it’s actually more impactful what I want to learn, because I brought the learning from the conference back to the classroom or back to the back to the school with me. So that that’s that’s a guiding piece of the environment of my work.
Steve: 04:08 So the reason that I’ve been engaged in coaching for 35 years, and I’ve talked about the fact that the strongest people in your schools should be getting the most coaching, because they’re the people who are driving and pushing that learning element. And historically schools have had the reverse in place. They spent more time in the classrooms of teachers who are new and beginning teachers. And those people deserve the time and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but the reality is the school grows because my strongest people are moving and pushing the school forward. Next two beliefs that are critical and drive my work is a belief that teaching is a team sport and therefore it requires it to be a what I call a public act. So, you know, my story, I entered teaching in a team setting.
Steve: 05:14 I spent a whole year student teaching in a laboratory school with the master teacher, two student teachers and a graduate assistant and visiting professors. So all the decisions were talked through with people. Feedback was just a constant loop. I then took my first job in public schools in New Jersey, and I taught middle school in a large open classroom. So we had a hundred kids with four teachers and paraprofessionals and student teachers all working in that big open space. Then I team taught first grade. So I describe to people that I was probably vaccinated on the concept of teaching as a team sport. And I describe that there probably was a time historically, where you could get away with being a great lone ranger teacher. You know, I describe it as you could sneak in the back door, teach your four block periods of biology and sneak back out and as long as kids got good biology scores everything was fine.
Steve: 06:18 But today, if you’re a biology teacher, the school’s still holding you accountable for kids’ writing success. And if you’re a language teacher they’re holding you accountable for kids’ ability to work with the decoding and comprehending their biology texts. And you can’t approach social-emotional learning through through a teacher. So the greater, the complexity of teaching has become, the more critical teaching as a, as a team sport has become. You can’t reach third grade standards without the engagement of the kindergarten first and second grade teachers. So this whole push that we we really own this together, I think has forced us. As many other fields, in many areas today, you can’t be as successful sales person without people from finance office and people from technology working with you.
Steve: 07:33 And so you alone don’t create that sale. You’ve got to put a team together in your corporation in order to to pull that piece off. So a critical element anytime you’re working with teams is trust. You gotta be able to build trust among folks. And it really clicked on me. If teachers work isn’t public among their colleagues, I don’t know how you build that trust. So I had the example of, of working in a middle school, there were four teachers, math, science, English, social studies who shared a common group of a hundred kids. And as I met with them, they’d been a team for like three or four years and I found out they had never seen each other teach. And when I asked them why, their answer was that, their planning time was all at the same time so that they could meet.
Steve: 08:36 And so, you know, they didn’t see how without the school creating this piece, it just didn’t fit into the schedule. So you’re trying to build this trust but if everybody doesn’t bring a writing sample from their classroom to our PLC meeting, and I see that the social studies teacher is reinforcing what the language arts teacher is laying out, I don’t know how you go about, about building that trust factor. So most of the work that I do is connected to building that sense of team within a school. And then if you’re looking at working for you with three different units of an elementary, middle and upper school, then how do I also need to build that across schools?
Steve: 09:41 So I’ve worked and districts in the United States where I’m meeting with the middle school teacher and she can’t tell me the name of – she’s teaching middle school science and she can’t tell me the name of a person who teaches science at the high school. So if she can’t tell me the name, I doubt that there’s much communication going back and forth between these folks and yet I’m looking for them to be accountable to jointly be building a program for kids. So, as I push this further, one of my findings was that most – I think I’m still at most. Most teachers haven’t experienced working on a team and so they actually don’t have a solid definition of what it would mean to function team-like. So I would ask people, “how would you describe the sense of teaming at your school?” And I’d have a teacher say, “oh, we have really strong teams.”
Steve: 10:42 And my response would be, you know, “can you give me an example?” And the example I would get from the teacher is, “we share everything, everything.” So it caused me to go back and I wrote a blog called sharing versus teaming. Sharing is a nice place to socially get started, but it’s a far stretch from teaming. So it led me to create this continuum that I found what most people called teams weren’t actually teams, they were more what I labeled as a franchise. So I heard a group of second grade teachers complaining about having to go to a team meeting and I said, you know, “ladies, why are you complaining?” They said, “we have too much work to do.” So I pushed them a little bit. Well, you know, “what is it that you do at the team meeting?
Steve: 11:36 Isn’t that a, you know, a place where work gets done?” Because historically that had been my experience. I realized that working as a team can be let’s see, what’s the word I wanna use here – it can be inconvenient. Because I’m on a team, I have to stick after school when everybody’s there to kind of map out how we’re going to modify this piece for tomorrow, where if I’m teaching as an individual, I can bolt out the door and I can sit down at 11 o’clock at night and do that. So it may be inconvenient that I have to schedule that time with folks, but when I left that meeting, I didn’t have to go home at 11 o’clock down and do that – the work I’ve done. But then as I sat and I watched their meeting, that’s when it really clicked to me, it wasn’t a team meeting.
Steve: 12:22 It was a franchise meeting. So there were five people and they each owned to second grade. And once a week, they met and they exchanged tips and strategies and they went back and ran their own second grade. You see if the second grade teachers were a team and there’s a hundred kids in second grade, it would mean every second grade teacher was responsible for the education of 100 kids. And the team meeting is where they worked on everything that had to get done for those a hundred kids to be successful. Instead, teachers felt ownership just to that small group. So I get to the high school – go to a science team meeting, it’s a franchise meeting. Somebody’s owning biology and somebody else’s owning chemistry. And the biology teacher doesn’t have any sense of responsibility or accountability for how kids are doing in chemistry.
Steve: 13:17 I get to the middle school, they get a little closer, but they tend to team on – they might team on social-emotional, and they might team on behavior, but the English teacher’s not feeling an accountability for kids’ success in mathematics. If they’re functioning as a team, that’s where they really get it too. So let me give you my descriptors here and then open this up for your thoughts. So when people are at the individual end of this, the common phrase that you’ll hear people use is, “this is my time I should be doing my work.” People complain about having to take part in those team meetings, it’s often that they’re coming from that individualized mindset. And I want to make sure you hear I’m not describing that as a bad thing.
Steve: 14:12 I’m describing it as a framework that a person is working from. So administratively for me, this is an important one, because if you
want to move in the direction of teams, one of the first things you gotta do is make it part of your hiring practice. People need to know when they’re applying for a position that you don’t have these individual positions available in your school, the only positions you have available are being on a team. Then, when people said they share, I describe that as helping each other. So what they were calling a team was actually really just the first step on this continuum. So at point, I might go to a meeting and people will talk about a struggling student. And so I’ll share – maybe I had that student last year, so I’ll share information with you, or I had a student like that before.
Steve: 15:05 So I’ll share an idea or a strategy, but you’re allowed to listen and leave, and you have no need to report back to us on what you decided to do or what came out of it. We’re just kind of being nice by making that information available. When people begin to franchise, they design things together, but they implement them individually. So a department might meet and design a common assessment and teachers use the common assessment that they designed, but they might not even bring their student’s assessment to the table for everybody else to take a look at. You begin to move from franchise towards teaming when teachers modify an individual behavior because they think it’s best for the kids. If we make a common decision.
Steve: 16:08 So we might decide in freshmen using a common note-taking strategy that we’re all going to teach and implement. If I was making the decision on my own, that’s not the one I would’ve chosen, but we decided it’s better for the kids if we’re all reinforcing that same process. When I was teaching on that middle grades team, it was important that we came up with some classroom management kind of guidelines that we all agreed to because if the kids were constantly moving around and the rules were changing. So, I might be implementing a guideline in my classroom that I wouldn’t have had if I was working on my own, but as working as that franchise group moving towards teaming, and then I become that team when I take shared responsibility for student student outcomes.
Steve: 17:12 So I share the example of working with a high school administrator who walked into a a math department meeting I was at and he laid
down the names of kids who hadn’t passed the end of ninth grade course assessment. And his response to the math department was he wanted a plan from the math department. He wasn’t asking for a plan from the two teachers who would have those remedial students in their classes, he was asking for a plan from the department. So that led to people who were teaching advanced classes going into the math classrooms where those students had failed observing the students – had those two teachers bringing their instructional plans and strategies to the math department meeting.
Steve: 17:50 It was tracking the success of those kids as a team. So a common complaint I get from teachers is that they get sent to team meetings, but the school is designed and the teachers are dealt with as individuals. So the teachers are kind of finding frequently, a conflict back and forth.
Steve: 18:29 I hope this podcast triggered reflections on your beliefs about guiding teacher growth and the leadership actions that you take. Here’s one of the questions that I left with this leadership team to explore following our introductory session: What message do you want a professional growth plan process to communicate to your staff? How would you respond to that question? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Why not drop me a note at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 19:12 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. 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 @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com