“What to do when the magic is missing?” is the question that Foley Burckardt, a learning coordinator at the University of Chicago, explores in this podcast. How can coaches assist teachers who find themselves burned out, frustrated, fatigued, or rudderless do a reset?
Email Foley: firstname.lastname@example.org
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[00:00:00.330] – Steve [Intro]
Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:29.150] – Steve
Tapping teaching’s satisfactions. A few weeks back, I posted a blog discussing coaching teachers around their sources of satisfaction. I described that it’s important for teachers to know where they find their peak experiences, and I see peak experiences as those times when they gain satisfaction from the hard work of teaching that feels good. And once a teacher knows where those sources of satisfactions are, then they can look to create sufficient opportunities to engage with students in those experiences. I found a similar message in an article by Foley Burckardt titled, “Teaching and Learning: What to Do When The Magic is Missing.” I think you can tell from that title why it kind of jumped out at me. Foley is a learning coordinator at the University of Chicago Laboratory School in Chicago, Illinois. She’s joining our podcast today, and I’m delighted that she’s here. Welcome, Foley.
[00:01:48.610] – Foley
Thank you, Steve.
[00:01:50.430] – Steve
You started your article by describing the sense of feeling stuck, kind of the magic was missing for you. Can you talk about how that personal reflection of your own took you to writing the article that you did?
[00:02:08.130] – Foley
Sure. So I’m the coordinator of Support Services at a preschool through second grade building in Chicago. It’s a private school. And when I began my role, probably around 14 years ago, there was sort of a pattern. The person that was in the position prior was testing students, identifying learning needs and writing a reports and then teachers would have a greater understanding of student learning from that. And that was valuable work. But I got to thinking it was very focused on identification and not so much responsiveness. And what I mean by that is that we were spending a lot of time in meetings discussing challenges about students, discussing basically what was wrong, what were the issues, instead of really looking at teacher practice and saying, what are some of the patterns that I’m noticing across the board with my students and what could I do differently? What are some of the teacher moves I can implement that can move my whole class along? So I was sort of feeling this antsyness prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then it became more real. During the pandemic, I started to reflect and say, I have permission now, as we all do, to kind of do something a little different here.
[00:03:37.540] – Foley
We’re all in this sort of new phase here. Can I just turn this around and really focus on giving teachers feedback for their class, for their students to try to change some of these instructional moves for the benefit of all? And what that really did was I felt more of a passion, more of a satisfaction in the work.
[00:04:03.610] – Steve
I have to tell you, it’s interesting because I just got out of a conversation with people who are coaching new administrators. Matter of fact, it happens to be a program that’s an alternative certification route for people to become principals. But in one of the discussions we were having was about what they call data chats. It stuck to my mind, as you were saying, about doing that work. And the outcome of quite a few of the research pieces I’ve looked at is that the data chats infrequently impact student growth. And the reason they tend not to impact student growth is that no real change comes about instructionally from the time that people are spending in the data chat. And it’s fair to say that that’s a similar discovery to what you made which caused you to want to spend your time differently in order to find more satisfaction for you?
[00:05:09.950] – Foley
[00:05:11.870] – Steve
Well, in your article you laid out a framework that you called “reset” and it had five elements, all connected to the letters r-e-s-e-t in reset. And I thought in our podcast we could just kind of go through them one at a time. So the R was for reflect, so talk about that one a little.
[00:05:34.790] – Foley
Yeah, so for reflect, first and foremost, it requires slowing down, which I feel is a little bit opposite in some ways to what schools are doing. Teachers have a lot on their plate and administrators, leaders – and we’re all sort of running around and sometimes with fire hoses. And so it’s about really stopping and taking stock and saying, hey, where am I here in this work, both for myself, my students, where are my teachers? If you’re a leader at a school, whether you’re a coach, a principal, any type of a grade chair or something. And during the pandemic, I kind of got into mindfulness meditation as well and it has some of the same elements that I’m thinking about with the idea of reflecting. And that’s just observing what comes up for you, not with a tendency to judge it or change it, because as I’m learning through my own mindfulness journey, you can’t necessarily change the feeling you’re having and judging that feeling actually creates sort of a worsening of the situation for you. So it’s more about accepting what’s coming up for you. And I mean, in some ways it would be nice if we could compartmentalize and say we don’t bring some of our patterns of the world in interacting with the world outside of school into school.
[00:07:11.900] – Foley
But the reality is that whatever stress is going on and emotions for you, you bring some of those same patterns into your work. And so being able to feel the feelings and say, you know, I’m feeling frustration, I’m angry, like I’m angry at this parent or something. I’m angry because I feel they should be doing more for their child I mean, the reality is they might be doing everything they can for their child, but based on some kind of fixed mindset or something that you have of a prior experience, a bias, something you might be thinking, okay, I’m having this frustration. And now not only am I frustrated, but the parent is doing some more things that are making me more frustrated. I’m all of a sudden becoming angry. So going back to the reflect, it’s really stopping and saying, okay, where am I right now? Taking stock. Not with the intent to change it, to notice it, to name it, and then it’s there that you have a choice. And sometimes it’s not about being overly positive and saying everything’s great because sometimes things are not going to work out, but it’s really about being self aware and saying, what’s happening for me right now in this moment?
[00:08:32.400] – Foley
And what are my options? So I think about this a lot in my interactions with teachers, particularly when prior to the pandemic, they were in this pattern of just talking about the problems. The student can’t do this, they can’t do that. I’m really frustrated. So there’s that honoring that and naming that and empathizing and being compassionate with that as a coach and a learning facilitator, but then sort of helping to prioritize and say, where do we go from here?
[00:09:04.630] – Steve
It’s interesting because as I was listening to you, the thought that was going through my head is getting to the question of what can I do? If what I can do is spend more time in this activity because I get satisfaction out of it or what I can do is look at how I interact with the child, if I can’t handle what the issues are, the parents, but there’s something I can do. And that satisfaction comes from being able to recognize the part that I can do.
[00:09:35.700] – Foley
Yeah, I just had a conversation with somebody this morning, actually, who was saying, I feel like it’s February and it’s only November. And I said, well, you know, tell me more about that. I’ve been feeling that too. And something about the pandemic, I don’t know if it was if kid’s regulation might be a little different, if we’re seeing some different behaviors that we’re having to pivot a little bit differently on, but empathizing and saying, I feel that too. What is working? Is there a part of the day where you feel really good, that you would really like to replicate that somewhere?
[00:10:13.960] – Steve
How do you make that part longer?
[00:10:16.030] – Foley
Yeah, and it’s about reframing. So you can stay in the oh, yeah, it’s so hard. And this is not great, and this and this and this. But actually that negativity just sort of brings everybody down. It’s not to say you have to be like, everything’s great, like what I said before, but it’s here are some of the challenges. Now what?
[00:10:39.430] – Steve
So take us on to the E in reset, which was examine mindset.
[00:10:44.580] – Foley
Sure. I think with our students it depends on the time of year. Sometimes I think we do a little bit better job about being in a growth mindset. Like in August, September, school is starting and there are no problems, everything is so right and then a month and a half in you can kind of feel the fatigue setting in. I think that’s just part of being human, the ups and downs, the waves that we experience. But it’s really about what I think is having that growth mindset or more of like an abundance mindset that we have enough, like what is it that we do have, what can we do more of? Again, you’re reflecting and you’re saying I’m feeling this, am I being really negative about this? Am I seeing this objectively? Is there some kind of bias here? And not getting embroiled in the negativity and also the sort of opposite of abundance would probably be a scarcity mindset. I can’t do this now because I don’t have the right materials or I can’t do this because such and such student is laying on the rug and they’re constantly interrupting so therefore I can’t do this.
[00:12:07.810] – Foley
And I think some of that is protecting self too in that process of sort of saying if it is the kids that are acting out or the parents or the system or my principal isn’t available or you can name all kinds of things, then it’s really not looking at yourself. And I think part of this was looking at myself. I have to be honest. I mean I am a people pleaser and a fixer and so at the beginning years, my first ten years, it was serving the teachers. You want everyone to like you as a coach. Not everyone, but if you have this trait that I have of people pleasing so you want to empathize and you want to get in with their negativity but it’s really the power of partnering with them, with the teachers and really listening to them and helping them set goals that’s going to change that mindset.
[00:13:08.550] – Steve
It does come back again to the identifying what I can do because I describe it as very likely you’re going to go home Friday tired. And some people tell me Wednesda y [laugh] but there’s a difference between going home exhausted and feeling good because of what you accomplished and you were focused on what you can accomplish compared to going home feeling stressed because you’re focused on the things you can’t accomplish or didn’t accomplish. And I guess that almost walks into the S in your framework of setting priorities.
[00:13:52.870] – Foley
Sure, yeah. So I think having a roadmap when I think about priorities, I think about what are the students in front of us showing us that they know when we’re looking at the student work that can be very grounding and say, okay, what is it we’re noticing with this work? What are the patterns that we’re noticing, because then it’s in that that I can take something and act upon it tomorrow. And so having that, that gives us some agency. We feel good because we’re making decisions of our own. It’s not because of a prescriptive program that says maybe we need to do X, Y, and Z or that it’s November and I must be doing craft moves that have to do with punctuation. You’re looking at the work and you’re saying, what is it that my students are showing me? And then from there, you’re creating a roadmap.
[00:14:49.840] – Steve
So you’re creating a next step of progress? You’re creating a goal on your roadmap, and now you’re planning to move to that spot. So what actions am I taking on as a teacher for the kids to be able to move to that spot?
[00:15:10.010] – Foley
Exactly. And what do I want my students to learn? It’s something that I learned from Rick Dafor in the field is, what do I want my students to learn? What will it look like when they’ve learned it, and what will I do if they haven’t learned it? How will I retool and then how will I extend the opportunities for those that have already mastered it?
[00:15:33.830] – Steve
So I sneak one more in there, and that’s progress. So I got the goal that we’re headed towards, but I’m also measuring progress along the path because that becomes reinforcing to the teacher as well as to the student, where if the teacher stays only focused on the goal and they miss the progress, they miss that reinforcement piece.
[00:15:56.090] – Foley
Absolutely. And that goes back to reflecting, which is really the core of it. All right, is being able to look and say, you know what? It’s okay that it’s February and I didn’t get through what I got through last year. We don’t need to measure ourselves based on past students because there’s variability in all students every single year.
[00:16:19.330] – Steve
So let’s go on to the E – earmark challenges.
[00:16:23.750] – Foley
Sure. So it’s important to acknowledge where there are challenges, where students are struggling, where you’re struggling, where the system is struggling, and then create a plan based on what you find there. And being able to examine what are the challenges for self. Like, what am I experiencing right now? Am I in a pattern of over suggestion? Why don’t you try this? Why don’t you try that? Am I bringing some of my anxiety into the work where I am interrupting people as a coach? They’re talking, and I’m not really fully listening to them. I think our brains are wired to kind of go to challenges without looking at what’s working. So it’s that balance of seeing the challenges as they are, but not getting mired in them.
[00:17:19.030] – Steve
I have to tell you what jumped in my mind as I was rereading your piece today, and I got to this part of earmarking challenges – opportunities came to my mind. And when I’m coaching teachers who are dealing with negative classroom behaviors, I use an analogy of a thermometer. So if you think that all of the negative student behaviors you’re dealing with are below zero, then positive behaviors up above zero, that when people get too focused on getting rid of the negatives, all it does is bring you back to zero. And it’s a lot more energizing and reinforcing for the teacher, but I think also benefiting more the student if I’m looking to replace that negative behavior with the positive behavior, rather than just eliminating the negative behavior and kind.
[00:18:20.990] – Foley
And kind of looking at that as a challenge, putting it more on yourself as a teacher and saying this behavior is communication, so this behavior is telling me something. Is it perhaps telling me something about my own delivery or my own environment? I may be not stimulating the student enough. Is my pace too fast? Am I maybe noticing trouble with following directions because as a teacher I’m not getting down to their level and I’m half walking away because I’m trying to figure out what’s going on over there? So it’s again going back to that reflecting like, holding up a mirror.
[00:19:02.650] – Steve
You triggered a book that I found called, “Troublemakers” and the author suggests that kids who got labeled as troublemakers were really like the canary in the coal mine. The troublemaker is telling you a problem that’s there and the problem is probably bigger than just for that student. So that ability to step back and engage in what I can learn from the message I’m getting from the student can have real value. Well, your last letter, the T, goes exactly to one that’s really big for me. So turn to your team.
[00:19:46.470] – Foley
Yeah, absolutely. I think that education can be a bit of a siloed profession at times. I mean, everybody works in a team to some extent with administrators, different specialists. But in the end it’s that teacher interfacing with their students and there is fatigue, there is frustration, there’s all of that. And so as a coach, you have to also balance really understanding the day to day and not coming in there firing off suggestions, but also developing the relationships. Relationships are first and foremost – everything in schools is relational. So how can you work with one another in a way where teachers know that you’re on their team as a coach and that power is evenly distributed? So sometimes coaches or learning facilitators or they’re not administrators and there’s not evaluation tied to it, but for some reason, the teacher still feels like they’re being evaluated. And that’s going to be a different type of a conversation than here is some feedback on what I saw, here’s the profile of some of the students in your class. I wonder if you might try this. And I think as a coach, the reality is all those things before turn to your team on my framework, with examining the mindset and with reflection, if somebody is very stressed, it’s hard to team with that person.
[00:21:19.800] – Foley
So I’m still working on what is the antidote to that reset, when somebody doesn’t want to work with you because they’re protecting themselves from something, from vulnerability, from they can’t balance all the priorities of a classroom. What is the antidote? And I was having a conversation with somebody about this the other day. I said, what’s the vaccine? And he said, well, what chemicals would go in a vaccine? And I said, well, compassion. And what else? And I said consistency, showing up, making sure I’m there and I understand what is going on in those classrooms, but also I’m there and I understand something about their family or connecting like on a personal level. So I said compassion, consistency and commitment. So we are all one school. How do we work together to create energy within one another for the collective social, emotional and academic learning for all and put ourselves in there too, because it’s going to get very stagnant if we’re also not learning, growing at the same time.
[00:22:44.590] – Steve
The piece for me in team, what really creates a team is that we have a shared goal. So I really buy into, increasingly, the coach is in a partnership with the teacher as the teacher is in a partnership with other teachers. And we’re really moving away from that picture. So I certainly have discovered over the years what you’ve described. And that is as people get stressed, there’s a tendency to pull into their silo for the protection and the safety, which is actually the wrong behavior for things to get better. It’s a false behavior that the silo creates. So the ability to see that the people I’m working with are in partnership with me. So my struggling student is their struggling student is a step towards being able to build that team. It doesn’t happen by accident. I guess it has to be a purposeful conscious set of behaviors I take on in order to build it.
[00:24:05.430] – Foley
Yeah, I think that teachers don’t often see what other teachers are doing. I mean, I’ve had the benefit with my position of seeing a lot of teachers that are even more – I don’t want to say more masterful because I’m not master, but I think I always say to teachers, I never was trained in classroom management as a special education teacher, I was seeing kids one on one in small groups. I learned the moves of classroom management from the teachers, from going into those rooms and watching how they create behavior plans and how they create communities. But I think if teachers can go and see each other and leadership can establish systems for that, it’s going to sort of ignite a flame in people of trying some new things and that gets the adrenaline pumping in a good way. You become more passionate.
[00:25:05.630] – Steve
The research are identifying that teachers collective efficacy is the highest indicator of the likelihood of a school success. So one is building teachers’ individual efficacy so that I have a belief that I can make a difference here, but I can’t figure out any way to build collective efficacy if you aren’t in other teacher’s classrooms seeing what teachers are doing and celebrating their successes with them, is really what builds that collective efficacy. Well, before we wrap up, I’ll let folks know that I will put in the lead-in to the podcast the link to your article. If folks want to connect back with you, what’s the easiest way for folks to do that?
[00:25:56.430] – Foley
Sure, I am on LinkedIn. They can always email me at email@example.com.
[00:26:05.340] – Steve
Okay, I will stick your email address in the lead-in to the podcast as well. And you close your article with the importance of grace.
[00:26:16.930] – Foley
[00:26:17.720] – Steve
You want to end our call with the importance of grace?
[00:26:21.910] – Foley
Yeah. I think there are so many pressures. Our attention is divided in so many ways. Just give yourself grace. I mean, you can start at any point in the reset framework. You can just decide, hey, this year I really want to work on parent partnerships, and that’s what I’m going to focus on. Or this year I really want to work on establishing a stronger writing curriculum. There’s a lot of things that we put pressure on ourselves and make it much harder to be able to navigate than it has to be. And so just giving yourself a hug and recognizing the ebbs and flows of the school year, and there are times that are just going to be more stressful than other times, and it’s that grace that’s going to get you through.
[00:27:10.970] – Steve
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us.
[00:27:15.340] – Foley
[00:27:17.910] – Steve [Outro]
Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.