During my time as a principal coach, I’ve often worked with people to help them overcome what can only be described as a “fear of having to be the expert”. Something happens to our brains when we step into administrator roles that seems to make us think we can no longer let people see that there are actually things we still have to learn about teaching and learning. I’ll be the first one to say that when you decide to step into an educational leadership role, you should know a lot about curriculum, instruction, assessment, sound pedagogy and effective practice – your competence in these areas (along with your character) are a big part of what will start earning you trust. There is no way you know all there is to know, and that’s ok! What’s awesome is that you are surrounded by a team of professional educators who can help you fill in your own learning gaps and contribute to your own professional growth on a daily basis… How cool is that? But for whatever reason, when we walk into classrooms and then later engage in coaching conversations, we feel we have to wear the hat of “expert”. We observe the lesson and decide what we think worked well and what didn’t and we package it up into feedback that we hope will “fix” the teacher, then we assure them that our conversations and feedback aren’t evaluative and then we ultimately we scratch our heads and wonder why they don’t find our feedback all that valuable and why they get a bit stressed when we walk into their classrooms.
One of the biggest challenges people have with leading ANCHOR conversations is the “Collaborative Conversations” piece, and I think it has a lot to do with them maintaining the “boss” or “expert” role during the conversation. The administrator does most of the talking or telling and the teacher listens politely (most of the time), says “Thank you” and happily exits the conversation. A truly collaborative conversation is one where there is no perception or belief by either party that there is an imbalance of power in the conversation. You both believe that what you say carries equal weight. In other other words… the administrator’s ideas don’t automatically trump the teacher’s just because they carry the title of “boss”. As leaders… one of the things we need to work hard to do is shake this perception that comes with the title – at least we do if we want to be invited into the real conversations that are happening on our campuses about teaching and learning.
One way to begin to shake this perception is to take every opportunity to show your team that you are a learner too… that you appreciate feedback and learning from them just as much as you enjoy helping them learn and grow. So, this week’s challenge is all about showing your team that you are a learner (and it will get you into classrooms, too!)
Take at least two hours this week in any configuration that makes sense on your calendar to visit classrooms (but get it on your calendar now or the time will slip away from you). Try to visit at least 15 classrooms. While you are there, erase any thoughts of things you see and want to fix and instead focus on what YOU are learning from THEM and then tell them. One of the most amazing opportunities I have had as an administrator is to observe thousands of lessons, and I have learned a TON from what I have seen other teachers do, and I’m certain you have too. We just have to be open to it and then be willing to share our learning with them. One of my favorite things to do is to get an opportunity to sit down with a teacher and say to them… “That strategy… method… tech tool… app… content… is new to me. I learned a ton just by watching you for five minutes. I want to know more – can you teach me?” Putting ourselves out there as learners, too goes a long way in building the trust and rapport with our colleagues that we need if we want them to find value in the coaching and feedback we provide to them.
So… get into those classrooms this week and drop ANCHORS of LEARNING!
- Set aside two hours to visit classrooms – visit at least 15 over the course of the week
- Focus on what you are learning from the teacher during the observation
- Drop an ANCHOR of LEARNING… tell the teachers what YOU learned from THEM
- Be sure to share how it goes using the #LeadLAP challenge all week
Shelley and Beth