This release includes notes on a new chapter about helping teachers improve their practice over time. I found the draft of this easy to write, since I had a lot of thoughts on my mind about this, especially from my experiences working with and coaching bootcamp teachers in New York. So a lot of those new notes are essentially a combination of how I was coached, how I approached the job, and what over time I’ve found to be most valuable.
Although it was fast to write, I paused on working on this project and also posting this part of what’s on my mind for the past couple of weeks. I’ve had some conversations at work recently that really made me wonder about whether this whole project is worthwhile. While the content is important to me, I certainly don’t want to be in a didactic or authoritative position trying to tell other teachers what they should do. After all, I try to avoid this approach in my own classroom, and want to help others do the same. On the other hand, I do think that what I have to offer here is valuable, in the sense that I’m trying to create something that I personally wish I had when I was starting to teach.
In the end, I’m going to continue working on the content here, and posting updates, but I’m also starting to plan a research project to go along with this work. I won’t say more about what I have in mind now, except to say that I want to investigate more about what kind of challenges other teachers in similar settings face, what kind of approaches they take to address them, etc.
For now, I’ll keep adding notes and fleshing out ideas in this early stage of this book/course/whatever thing.
How to help a teacher improve over time
- Help teachers protect their priorities
- You don’t have to be a content expert to give feedback about teaching
- The most useful thing you can start doing is going to observe class
- Even a 30-minute observation is super helpful
- Some things to look for in an observation:
- Is the teacher the only one talking the entire time you’re there? Ideally the longest a class should go with only the teacher talking is 15, maybe 20 minutes. Suggest that they break things up by asking the students a question or giving them a small activity.
- Is it clear what the students are supposed to be learning? Try writing down what you think the learning goals might be for the session you were in, and share those with the teacher. That can give them ownership over whether that was their plan, or if they might need to clarify and communicate their goals better.
- Did most of the class participate in some way during your observation? We want everyone to be actively learning in class, so if only a small number of students are actually participating in an active way, the teacher could try more strategies that get everyone involved.
- If you see the teacher start the class on an activity, are the directions they gave the students clear?
- Is the teacher making good use of the white board? If the teacher is only talking and using slides or coding on the screen, they may be missing a chance to make some visible notes or diagrams to help the students have an additional tool to understand what’s going on. Challenge them to add more use of the whiteboard into their teaching. If they already use the whiteboard, are you able to read what they draw and write clearly? Are they writing big enough? Should they be using a different color marker for better visibility?
- Running a feedback session
- Observations are only half of the process. They don’t help if you don’t have a feedback session with the teacher shortly afterward, while the teacher still has the class you observed fresh on their mind.
- The point of these is not to evaluate a teacher, it’s to help them grow and improve their practice. Save the notion of evaluation for different one on ones, and only if you’re their manager. The only real performance issue is if the teacher is not working to improve, actively listening to feedback, and trying to incorporate that into their class. Their openness to receiving feedback is important, so the feedback based on the observation itself needs to be low stakes.
- Try giving feedback in the form of glows and grows: things you saw that went really well, and things that you saw that are opportunities to improve.
- Don’t give too much feedback. Focus on only 1 to 2 really important or high-leverage things that you think will help them the most. We’re not able to process and use a lot of feedback all at once.
- Aim to leave the session with an action plan. Instead of giving the teacher an action, ask them based on your conversation, what they would like to improve, and what action they could take that would help them do that.
- Leave the session thanking them for having you in class, and asking them if there’s anything in particular that they want you to look for the next time you visit.
- How often should you do this?
- Ideally, once a week. But don’t be afraid to start smaller. Even three observations throughout a cohort can really help a teacher become more self-aware and start working toward incremental improvements.
- Be patient with yourself and with them. This isn’t a core part of your job, and teachers are juggling a lot of concerns. Even small improvements in any of the above are great. And the more you do this together, the easier it will become. If you focus on an action plan in one session, and the teacher is still struggling to implement that feedback, remind them about it. It’s OK to have the same action plan for 2-3 feedback sessions in a row to keep trying to improve on something important.
- When you see something improve, reinforce it. Acknowledge that you saw the improvement in something you talked about in your last session, and ask them how they feel the change is impacting their class.
- Bonus points
- Get your teachers observing and holding feedback sessions with each other!