A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about the language we use as leaders, and I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share…
Recently my good friend @AmyIllingworth and I had the opportunity to present a full day workshop to a group of new and aspiring principals on “Monitoring Implementation of the Common Core”. One component of our workshop focuses on the critical responsibility of principals to visit classrooms often and to provide coaching and feedback that motivates and inspires. As part of our seminar, we shared ideas about what to look for during classroom visits and ways to provide meaningful feedback. We also watched video clips of classroom teachers and their students during lessons and asked the participants to diagnose what they saw in the lesson and practice giving feedback.
As participants started this task, we were a little bit disheartened with some of the comments we heard. They were judgmental and their was a distinct lack of language that showed appreciation for any aspects of the lesson which ultimately led to uninspiring feedback. None of the lessons we watched was perfect, but what lesson ever is? Each lesson we observed had moments that might be worthy of discussion on how to strengthen and enhance the experience for the students, but every one of them had moments that deserved appreciation.
If you find yourself in a role where you are fortunate enough to be in classrooms often and provide feedback through coaching, then language of true appreciation is essential. As an observer of thousands of lessons in my career, I have yet to see a single lesson where there weren’t several things to appreciate. No, they have not all been award-winning lessons, but they have ALL had merit and value that was deserving of kind words and appreciation.
In the first lesson we watched, a middle school social studies teacher was trying the strategy of close reading with a text. Admittedly, it was not a “perfect” lesson and didn’t go exactly as I’m sure she would have liked, but it was NOT deserving of harsh criticism and negative judgment. Here are just some of the things Amy and I noticed and appreciated about the teacher and her lesson:
- We appreciated that the teacher allowed a camera into her room to film her lesson
- We appreciated she was taking a risk and trying a new strategy
- We appreciated she was trying to give more ownership of the learning to the students
- We appreciated she was structuring time for students to talk to each other about a complex text
- We appreciated she tried to have kids use context clues to figure out word meanings
- We appreciated that as she was checking in with the groups, she noticed when they were struggling, and when she did, she brought them back together whole group to model her thinking as she read the piece to them
- We appreciated she identified the major error the kids were making and adjusted her instruction to try to help them through their struggle
And we appreciated a lot more!
Was this the most polished close reading lesson I’ve ever seen? No. Could her lesson have used refinement? Absolutely. My guess is she knew that before anyone else since as educators we are often our own worst critics!
The teaching of new standards, trying new strategies, doing something different, takes practice, reflection, feedback, refinement, more practice, more feedback, more reflection and so on. If we don’t notice and appreciate the risk-taking, the practices, the approximation, the trying on of new things, and instead we judge best efforts and first attempts as poor or unsatisfactory – many teachers will stop trying and fall back on the things they already know, and we will sit back and wonder why nothing is changing in our classrooms and schools.
If as leaders we want to promote risk-taking and trying new things, then we shouldn’t judge the practices! Appreciate the approximations, and provide coaching, support, and new learning that inspires growth, motivates new thinking, and reminds teachers that they are the magic and they are capable of making miracles happen for kids in their classrooms everyday.