A colleague of mine runs a very successful school. Most kids among the poorest in the small city where they operate but she and her teachers get the strongest results.
The school doesn’t look on the inside like what the doubters might tell you it does. It s a good example of what Mary Myatt calls “High Challenge; Low Threat.” The message is: let’s work hard and get good together. For both kids and adults. There are people who will tell you “Oh, it’s a pressure-cooker, a test-prep factory” but invariably they’ve never been there. What characterizes it most is its culture: positive, self-reflective, intentional, team-oriented, humble.
The school leader recently shared this note that one of her teachers wrote. She had asked her staff to reflect on “What it meant to be a _____ ______ teacher.” Just that is interesting in and of itself- that the school had such a clear sense of itself; its own culture; what it meant to work there; and that the principal asked people to reflect on it.
One teacher, a ten year veteran from a different city wrote a response that says a lot about what the adult culture of a school has to be like to get transformational results.
What it means to be a ______ _______ teacher……
We embrace observation, feedback, and practice. That is what brings good teachers to great.
I worked in another school for ten years. We never practiced. We got observed and no one ever followed up on their feedback. I never felt well-guided. I was the person other teachers came to with help writing IEP’s, 504’s, and SLO’s. We would learn about different strategies in faculty meetings and professional development. Half the teachers wouldn’t be paying attention. I would try to think of ways to incorporate what I learned into my lessons. There was more than one occasion when other teachers would make fun of me for doing what we learned in PD. Some would speak poorly about our school, athletic teams, and even students.
I would always think, “Instead of judging them, judge your own efforts to fix it. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
I remember when I interviewed here and was asked to redo and practice parts of my lesson after receiving feedback. At first, I was in shock. No one ever offered to practice a lesson with me before. However, I was a PE teacher and coach. I know practice is crucial for developing skills. It made perfect sense. The fact that a principal running a school took the time out of her day to practice a lesson with me was so cultivating. I felt like I was somewhere that I could grow as a teacher, instead of being made fun of for ‘caring too much’. To teach you need to care too much. Through observations and feedback, I have grown more as a teacher in one year here, than the other ten years I spent there.