I’m really enjoying my work with middle and high school English teachers this year. Literacy coaching is providing me the opportunity to build deeper relationships with those I’m striving to help, and it’s also allowing teachers the necessary time and space to transform their practices right within their classrooms. This is first time I’ve been able to join teachers through each phase of change that they are hoping to create for themselves and for their students, and I’m blown away by the goals that teachers have set for themselves this year as well as the energy that they are putting behind their efforts. I feel fortunate to be where I am right now. I’m learning so much.
I’m really eager to begin exposing the teachers that I work with to tech tools that might support the work that they are doing with kids in helpful ways. Many of the teachers that I’m working with are excited about these new opportunities, and as you can imagine, some of them are rather overwhelmed by the idea of it all. I’m beginning to embed the use of these tools within my own work in a more seemless fashion, so that everyone might become more comfortable using them for professional purposes this year. I’m hopeful that this will bring them closer to the instructional use of them as we all gain more confidence with them….myself included.
One of my first goals was to begin building wikis around the initiatives that I’m involved with. This is allowing us to go paperless for many of our sessions, and it’s also providing teachers a space where they share their own resources and ideas as time moves forward. But it’s about more than that, really. The wiki compliments the shift in my approach toward staff development as well. I’m discovering much about professional learning communities this year through my work with Giselle Martin Kniep and my fellowship with Communities for Learning. My work there has helped me realize that simply using a wiki within the framework of professional development isn’t enough. I’ve come to understand that in order for groups to realize the full potential of a wikispace, they need to be talking and planning and sharing their knowledge much more often than I need to be sharing my own. Wikis work best when a communities support their function–not mere individuals. And communities need face to face time too. So a large part of helping teachers appreciate the need for a wiki has everything to do with helping them come together as a community. That is a much bigger and a much more important task, I think.
I’m beginning to use this blog in my sessions with teachers as well. Last week, I was asked to lead a session that focused in part on paper load and how the struggle to balance it sometimes interferes with a teacher’s ability to provide useful feedback to kids. In the past, I might have exposed teachers to research around this issue, led a conversation around it, or brainstormed possible solutions. This time, I thought about the strategies I relied upon as a teacher, did some research of my own, and composed a blog entry for teachers to explore….in addition to other pieces. I attended more to providing time for collaboration than I have in the past, and having the blog entry to draw upon over time with different groups will be interesting, I’m thinking. Offering them the opportunity to dig into that entry within or after the session and to continue the conversation in the comments long after our “meeting” is over is a whole new approach, and I’m going to be interested to see how it works. The fact that teachers outside of their own district will have the opportunity to chime in might work well too. And in the end, teachers are all gaining exposure to what a blog is, how to locate and read entries, and how to leave comments. It’s a small start, but it’s more than might be accomplished if I were focusing on the “content” of the session in and of itself. As the initiative unfolds, I’m planning to scaffold teachers’ opportunities to use these tools more and more. Making the tools a necessary part of our work rather than “add ons” has been an important first step, and it’s one that I’m continuing to wrestle with.
I have to be honest about something: none of this is comfortable. There has been much talk about “transparency” in my online and off-line professional circles over the last several years, particularly as it concerns the work that staff developers do. It isn’t comfortable housing the work of the initiatives that I’m leading on wikispaces, and it definitely isn’t comfortable writing in this space and inviting the teachers that I work with to share their responses publicly. I’m feeling more than a little bit exposed and more than a little bit vulnerable. I’m hoping I adapt.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with a consultant-friend of mine whose work I have respected for years now. Our passions tend to take us in different directions with teachers, but ultimately, whether we’re focusing on student performance or our own growth as professionals, capturing evidence and working to measure improvement becomes a priority for all of us. I know of few people who understand the dimensions of this sort of work better than Jenn does. And I learned something from her yesterday: I learned that it’s important to trust my gut, to do what makes sense, and to allow evidence to be my guide.
I was also reminded that being honest about what I don’t know helps everyone in the end….especially the teachers and kids in the schools that I’m working with.
It’s not comfortable doing that, especially in front of people I respect…..people whose respect I would like to have. It takes a whole lot of courage to share what we are doing and to ask for feedback, especially when we’re filled with uncertainty. But it’s necessary. It’s what leads to real growth.
And here’s the thing: Jenn knows the difference between offering criticism and offering feedback. Too many people haven’t contemplated the difference. Feedback provides a path for us to follow. It inspires us to change. It leaves us feeling motivated. Criticism provides judgment. It inspires us to hide. It makes us defensive and leaves us in the same uncertain place that we started from. The only difference? We’re usually stripped of any confidence that we may have had to begin with.
So opening the curtain around what I am doing and what I am planning to do and how teachers might be responding feels a whole lot of threatening right about now. But it also feels a whole lot of right. So I’m going to go with that.