Wednesday, July 26, 2006

practicing what I'm preaching: the power of modeling

In response to my 7/24/06 post called " taking a shot at connecting the dots" (here's the link) Anonymous BR (Blog Reader) wrote:

"I find your idea of school-site-based blogs intriguing (especially the notion of "noticing and describing"), but difficult to enact. Here are a few thoughts:

"1) School's "egg crate" design make it next to impossible for me to see (and so notice and describe) what my colleagues are doing with kids that contribute to their achievement; I can only describe what I hear them say they are doing. I think that blogging on their self-reported actions might be more of a PR job than an inquiry that is really thoughtful and helpful.

"2) And you compare teachers at a site with teachers in an invitational summer institute. But this comparison has lots of differences. "Invitational" already alerts us to the fact that these teachers have a certain perspective and motivation that other teachers at their site don't have; ISIs involve a trust element that school-sites often don't have; ISIs are not all teachers from one site, which diffuses their common power; communicating with all teachers at your site insinuates a kind of power move which, in my experience, would not be welcomed by administrators.

"Edublogs are often anonymous, because of the problems with a teacher speaking out publicly. Do you have examples of school-site-based blogs where teachers are doing what you propose?

"I appreciate your interesting ideas and will continue to check back."

So having read Anon BR's comment above, I slapped my hand to my forehead. Of course! How does a any teacher go about enabling a student to accomplish a complicated and challenging task? She or he models that task for that student, of course. So given that the enterprise of creating school-based blog sites to strengthen teachers' capacities as advocates for educational change (read 'school reform') is a "complicated and challenging task," how would I go about modeling its accomplishment?

Here's what I propose. I've been working over the past academic year at Silver Creek High School in the East Side Union High School District in San Jose. I've been visiting this high school about every two weeks for the purpose of supervising one of the Intern Teachers in English who has been and will be teaching there. A big part of my role as a university supervisor of beginning teachers is to do just what I've suggested that the postings on a school-based blog site might do--notice and describe what a teacher does that promotes her or his students' learning, and figuring out how that might happen more often for more students. Within the classroom, that is, the beginning teacher and I are working together to promote 'educational reform' at the 'local level.' in fact at the classroom level.

So what I propose is that I continue to do just that in the coming year, but that I enlist the support of other English teachers at that school with whom I've worked over the years -- Todd Seal, Laurie Weckesser, Debra Navratil -- visiting their classrooms every two weeks or so to do just the sort of 'noticing and describing' that I've been doing with the Intern teacher described above. And of course posting these observations, with the permission of the teachers I've observed, on our newly created school-based blog site.

It would be a start, would it not? I'm not sure at this point how such 'noticings' would be similar to or different from my "observational notes" of student teachers -- notes I've been writing and 'publishing,' by making photocopies for the department chair(s) and building principal every time I visit, for the past twenty-seven years. My guess is that they'd pay more attention to how the learning environment in a given classroom was either enhanced or impeded by various external conditions: such things as testing schedules, availability of textbooks and/or computer stations, consistency or lack of consistency of students' attendance.

And in discussing such 'external' conditions there would of course the risk, as Anon BR points out, that administrators will become uneasy at this voice for teachers speaking 'out of turn' in this rather public arena. But I suspect the risk is quite minimal -- not much greater than the risk I've been running for years when I've discussed such 'external' conditions in my photocopied "observational notes" on student teachers.

Compared to this risk, it seems to me that the potential gains are enormous. What administrator, and what teacher for that matter, would not want a more open and consequential discussion of what conditions promote and impede the learning of students in a given school setting? Even if the question were posed solely in terms of students' performance on statewide tests, wouldn't most teachers and administrators wish to consider what factors favored and which impeded higher performance on these tests? Not that I'm an advocate of using such tests as the primary measure of 'more effective' and 'less effective' learning environments, but it does seem likely to me that one consequence of improved learning environments generally is going to be higher performance on statewide tests. And I'm certainly not above using such arguments if the goal is a greater voice for teachers, a more considered and consequential voice, in those aspects of their classroom and school learning environments that most effect their teaching.

Shall we, perhaps, to begin?

4 comments:

todd said...

It just so happens...

But it sounds like you would be the only contributing member, Jonathan. You'd be the only one to get out to other classrooms and do the "noticing and describing." Sure, the rest of us could reflect on the practices of our classroom and your notes, but we wouldn't be contributing in the same way you would.

I like the idea and starting with a small sample of highly motivated teachers is a good beginning.

So when do we start?

Laura said...

Todd, Laurie and Deborah contributing to the blog would make it a 4 way share: if the constraints of the egg carton allow.
Model possibility: agree on a time and place and meet eyes for five minutes near the end of the day with the prompt, "What went well?" Short, like a team huddle, not analysis nor commentary, just a moment to say it. Listen, share out. No response necessary. Over time, noticiings will arise...
So the noticiers put their observations on the blog where it is open to amplification.
In fact there could be other little "teams," somewhat like control groups - teachers who might not self-select to spend 4.5 weeks of summer writing reflections and intensely sharing their deepest held beliefs about education. The "normal" control groups could have an interesting voice in the process.
Final note. My principal said and wrote some wonderful stuff about my teaching and classroom climate during my first 3 years at MPES. When the going got rough, as it always does, there was a day when reading those comments was genuinely helpful, not professional propoganda.
Sometimes, in the middle of the creative process, one feels least like the artist or teacher. A teacher pouring heart and energy into the lives of students and the complex game of instruction can forget who she is, or who he is.
Validation, not flattery, can ground that teacher, put a fresh wind in the sails, and remind the person that they ARE a good teacher. Strange how sometimes those that aren't doing such a fabulous job think very highly of themselves and those that are doing a good job have days when they wonder if they should teach at all?

Laura said...

Todd, Laurie and Deborah contributing to the blog would make it a 4 way share: if the constraints of the egg carton allow.
Model possibility: agree on a time and place and meet eyes for five minutes near the end of the day with the prompt, "What went well?" Short, like a team huddle, not analysis nor commentary, just a moment to say it. Listen, share out. No response necessary. Over time, noticiings will arise...
So the noticiers put their observations on the blog where it is open to amplification.
In fact there could be other little "teams," somewhat like control groups - teachers who might not self-select to spend 4.5 weeks of summer writing reflections and intensely sharing their deepest held beliefs about education. The "normal" control groups could have an interesting voice in the process.
Final note. My principal said and wrote some wonderful stuff about my teaching and classroom climate during my first 3 years at MPES. When the going got rough, as it always does, there was a day when reading those comments was genuinely helpful, not professional propoganda.
Sometimes, in the middle of the creative process, one feels least like the artist or teacher. A teacher pouring heart and energy into the lives of students and the complex game of instruction can forget who she is, or who he is.
Validation, not flattery, can ground that teacher, put a fresh wind in the sails, and remind the person that they ARE a good teacher. Strange how sometimes those that aren't doing such a fabulous job think very highly of themselves and those that are doing a good job have days when they wonder if they should teach at all?

Laurie said...

I think this would be a great first step to pulling each of us out of our classrooms. I would be more than willing to participate as an observee or observer.

This is the kind of creative solution to that isolation we all feel.