Sometimes you read some tweets (or a collection of tweets), and they really make an impact on you. This is what happened last week when I read these tweets from Kristi Keery Bishop (read from the bottom, up).
Kristi got me thinking about my own experiences in education. When I started teaching, colleagues and administrators offered me a lot of advice on how to improve.
- Become more organized.
- Consider different assessment and evaluation options.
- Remember to regularly contact parents and track conversations with parents.
- Know your students. Plan for them. Remember that not all students are the same, so vary activities to meet their individual needs.
- Know curriculum expectations. Plan for how to address them. Think about this question: what do students really need to learn?
- Change is scary, but change can be good. Be brave. Be willing to change.
I’m sure that these points are not the only ones that they made, but they’re definitely many that I’ve thought about and reflected on over the years. After these early experiences in education though, I got better. I listened to the advice, and I made improvements. That’s when something different happened: I got less feedback.
- Maybe it’s because I was improving.
- Maybe it’s because there is a concern that feedback is evaluative, and teachers are only evaluated every five years.
- Maybe it’s because I asked for feedback less than I did in those early years.
And then, a couple of years ago, I started teaching Grade 5. My administrators at the time, Paul and Kristi, visited my room regularly. I was being evaluated that year. After they visited, I began to email them and ask for feedback. At first, I just received some kind notes, and then one day, I received “real feedback.” I still remember that day. I was doing an activity that I thought was great! Our school was really focused on “student voice and choice,” and it was the students that indicated their desire for this type of activity. They were on-task and happily working together. Paul and Kristi started asking them some hard questions though, and while these students may have been “engaged,” they couldn’t think through the answers. This email made me question my approach, and it helped me make changes … positive changes that helped my students think more. This feedback was the first of many emails and face-to-face conversations that I had with Paul and Kristi that helped me think differently, make more changes, and realize that while I may be “proud” of what I’m doing, I’m not perfect.
I’m not going to say that the feedback was always easy to take. It wasn’t. It often made me question myself and question my teaching, but without it, would I be stuck where I was instead of moving forward to where I wanted to be? On Twitter, in blog posts, and in school discussions, I often hear the words (paraphrased), “Nobody’s perfect! We all have areas in which to improve.” I agree with these words. But then, when reflecting on lessons, activities, or days in the classroom, how often do we — myself included — say the following phrases?
- “That was great!”
- “I really liked that activity!”
- “I’ll be doing that lesson/activity again.”
- “My kids loved that!”
- “They were so engaged.”
These words could all be true, but what about,
- what didn’t work and why?
- what could we do better?
- what students didn’t understand the lesson, and how could we tailor it more to them?
- what did the students learn, and can they articulate this learning?
- where do we need to go next?
I think of staff meetings that we’ve had where teachers share their successes. It’s good to celebrate success, but what about also celebrating a willingness to grow? What about sharing “failures” or at least “next steps?”
A couple of years ago, I really needed to “get over myself,” and in the very best and most supportive of ways, Paul and Kristi helped me do so. Last year, I worked with two other wonderful administrators, Gerry and Gord, that continued to supportively question and challenge me in order to grow.
Every day, educators do wonderful things for students. They care about kids, and they work hard to help them meet with success. But what about those students that don’t? What if there was more that we could do? I can’t help but think about Sarah Sanders‘ “one word” blog post, and her goal to be “open” this year. Maybe no matter how proud we are of what we’ve done, we need to be open to what else we can do. I’ve chosen to take Kristi’s good advice, and am hoping that by sharing my story and continuing to get over myself, I’ll be even more open to what else is possible.
Who’s with me?