My nine-year-old came home last week and declared that he hated writing. Before freaking out totally, I asked him, “What might be some reasons why you feel this way?” And whoosh! The flood gate opened.
“I sat for twenty minutes, Mom. Twenty minutes! And I didn’t have a clue what to write about. I just sat their thinking about all my ideas, but they weren’t what we were supposed to write about. I was going to make a list, but we were supposed to write two pages. AND, normally we get a ten minute free write to get as much down as we can, and today we had to have two pages done in half an hour. TWO pages! Are you kidding me? I can’t write that fast or that much. I just suck at writing.”
Oh boy. I know his classroom teachers, and this didn’t sound ‘right’ to me. After letting him vent some more and discovering that it was a substitute teacher giving the assignment parameters, we talked about his history as a writer – about the times when he would use vocabulary words independently to come up with creative and funny sentences using as many of them as possible; when he would draw plans for LEGO structures; when he worked hard on his pumpkin story; when he filled in the reading survey last week. The proof was there: he was a writer.
“But, Mom,” he said, “I still suck. I can’t write that much!”
And this is where we had a conversation about quality over quantity, connecting his ideas and experiences to what he writes about, and celebrating his effort in doing that. Writing is not easy, but he can do it. He’s had success. And he still needs to work on it and get better at it. All writers do.
Once again I made a connection to my professional life and the work that I’m doing as an instructional coach. We had our first Grade One and Two Professional Learning Team meeting last Friday, and prior to that I met with the school teams to get to know them a bit better and gather information. I very much wanted to build trusting relationships in which they could give me honest feedback. One way that I decided to do this was by asking teachers to create a ‘profile page’. Besides their school and contact information as well as some ‘fun facts’, I asked them to think about their success as classroom teachers and areas they were interested in exploring.
Under, “Come in and observe me…” I had a selection of at least twenty items that included points from Marzano’s professional learning design questions (see Coaching Classroom Instruction) as well as balanced literacy routines that teachers could choose from. I explained that we were hoping to share our strengths and interests with the other members of our team so that we could foster professional sharing, toward the possibility of classroom observations or walkthroughs.
Most teachers took this in a stride, even though teachers (as a group) are rather self-effacing people who don’t always take time to reflect on the fact that they are doing marvelous things as professionals every single day. However, there were a couple of really strong reactions. “We’re not even two weeks in! I don’t want people in to observe me. I don’t feel strong in any of this! I am in a new grade with a new curriculum. I’m not ready for this.”
This caught me a bit off guard. My response was to clarify the purpose of the profile page (to celebrate our successes in the past/present and to think about where we might be interested in growing for the future) as well as to clarify that walkthroughs had to be mutually decided upon with clear criteria and consent from all parties involved.
In reflection, I met with most of these teachers over noon hour. We had a tight time frame to discuss information and complete the profile sheet. It was at the beginning of a very busy year for some teachers. There were elements to this process that I would definitely revise.
Yet… I think it’s hard to recognize our strengths when we’re caught up in the moment. Too often we focus on everything that is presenting a challenge instead of recognizing the good work and good thinking that we are capable of doing for ourselves and for others. We need to get into the habit of being reflective about our strengths in the midst of uncertainty in order to remain positive and successful.
Professional learning teams need to take time to recognize their strengths individually and as a group. These teams need to get to know one another, in the midst of the business of personal and professional lives, in order to build trust, rapport, and confidence – parallel to the important work that takes place in building a classroom culture of learning. Taking time to see the good in ourselves and where we hope to go as learners helps us to see the good in others and support them in their learning as well.
Just like it was important for my son to feel a bit of discomfort in reflecting upon his strengths in the midst of uncertainty, so must teachers do this work for themselves. We deserve to take time, make personal connections, celebrate our successes (past or present), and look to the future.
Knowing our strengths and areas for growth, and sharing these (even if it’s uncomfortable), moves us as individuals and professional learning teams. What might your professional profile look like? And what feedback would you be able to give if someone asked you to do a professional profile right now?
- Week 3 Reflection (akteacheretlead.wordpress.com) A great reflection on reflecting!