Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Living and growing in the classrooms we aspire to have.

As part of a  teacher driven PLC to improve instructional practices through peer coaching, several of us engaged in a book study of "Evocative Coaching" by Bob and Megan Tschannen Moran.  Although our task was to read the book through the lens of peer coaching, there are massive implications for our work with students.

 The overall premise of the book is that the best coaches are the ones who "evoke" understanding through empathy, trust, and deep questioning. One of the shifts in evocative coaching is appreciative inquiry in which we focus on what our strengths are and build upon them. It is a powerful book and I highly recommend several deep readings of it. I am on my third.

In Evocative Coaching, Barbara Frederickson's research  is referenced (see Frederickson's book: Positivity) as a gateway to being transformational in our relationships with others.

"Research points to four ways to build high-quality connections. The first is respectful engagement. Be present, attentive, and affirming. The second is to support what the other person is doing. Do what you can to help her succeed. The third is trust. Believe you can depend on this person to meet your expectations,and let it show. The fourth way is play. Allow time simply to goof off, with no particular outcomes in mind"

Now, re-read that again. This time, think about what this says about your classroom. 

When I think about the classroom environment I want to create with my students, I have to ask myself if the opportunities I create are respectful of ALL of my students as individuals.

Am I present at all times? Do I truly listen to what my students need from me as learners? Do I affirm their needs? Do I truly understand what their strengths are as a person and learner? Do I differentiate for learning styles and assessments? Do I engage students in the process of determining their own learning path? Do I support my students, doing everything I can to help EACH of them to succeed in ways that works for them? Have I established fair and reasonable expectations that ALL of my students can learn and make those expectations transparent and visible? Do I take the time to get to know them as individuals? Do I conference with them? Do I show them I care, each day? Do I create opportunities for learning to be messy, fun,  and unstructured, to learn from the unintended outcomes which can ultimately be more powerful than the intentional ones? Do we take time to PLAY?

In the standards driven, high stakes testing environment in which  focus is often on knowledge acquisition and curriculum has been interpreted as mostly about coverage (as opposed to un-coverage), many of us are struggling with classrooms that look and feel nothing like what we want them to be. I'm not proud of the fact that at times,  I have participated in many conversations  that  have placed blame for a lack of student learning at the feet of  parents not doing their jobs, administration not providing the right supports, and sadly, that students just don't care.  The truth is, it's not about what I teach. It's about what they learn. 

What I have realized is that while I have been busy blaming everyone else, I haven't been a good enough teacher (or colleague for that matter).  It has been very convenient and easy blaming the world because admitting that what I was doing  (or not doing) was not good enough would mean that I would have to change. It would mean admitting that I have failed at times. It would mean that I would  have to work harder. It would mean that I would have to learn and grow.  This doesn't mean that I am not a good teacher or colleague. But it does reflect a choice, that I'm not done. That I'm never done. That I will never be done. 

Next year, I want to build an emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and individually respectful learning environment for students and teachers. 

At some point in the 4th Century BCE, Socrates stated: "I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing". He also stated "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel".  Admitting that we don't know as much as we think we do, and recognizing that our job is not  to teach, but to create personal connections and opportunities for our students to learn and grow would be a start.  Establishing high quality relationships with every one of our students and "coaching" them in their own pursuits of deeper understanding would go a long way to living and growing alongside our students inside the classrooms we all aspire to have. The same is true of our relationships with our colleagues.

In the fading moments of this school year, I have my goal for next year. What is yours? 


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