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?
Amazing! I totally agree we need people to question us and keep pushing us to really look at our traching and our teaching processes so that we are really meeting the needs of our students. I believe everyday is a chance for a new start. We can evaluate and make adjustments to our approaches. Our students also need to see that we are not perfect and that we can make changes too. We are all learners and we can be great leaders by modeling this for our students.
My one word – OPEN – is scary and exciting all at the same time. It means I have to make myself vulnerable, uncomfortable and make known that I do not have all the answers. I am hopeful that this will result in a lot of new learning and will allow me to build productive collaborations in the host classrooms I will be working in this year. I will also take a piece of your story with me – as for feedback and ask for it often. We can’t make changes and develop skills if we do not know where we are missing the mark. Thanks for the courage to share how you are “getting over” yourself!
Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I love your one word and your willingness to get so uncomfortable in order to make positive changes for you and your students. I think that asking for and hearing regular feedback can be difficult, but also important. Sometimes we need a new perspective to see what we’re missing.
I hope that you’ll blog about your new learning this year. I’m excited to find out where your “one word” takes you (and others in the process).
I can always trust you to be reflective about your practice and open. Thank you for that. I have to tell you, one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had getting used to this administration gig when working with teachers is to discern when a teacher is ready to hear feedback – actionable, timely feedback given with all good intentions – and when they are really looking for compliments and encouragement instead. Mistaking what a teacher needs at the time can be really tough on building a trusting working relationship. I’m still working on this.
I think if more teachers and administrators were open about their learning journeys, including the ugly struggles (whether they are induced by fear, pride ignorance or whatever else) then we would would all have better feedback conversations.
Thank you for being open. I hope you start a wide spread trend!
Thanks Kristi! You make a great point here. I remember getting the feedback email at the time and really being bothered by the words. But they made me think and question, and they stuck with me. The suggestions also helped me make the first of many changes to my teaching practices. The other thing that this email did was it made me start to crave more feedback — more ideas, suggestions, and hard questions to help me change. I found myself stopping by the office at the end of bus duty to chat with you and/or Paul and debrief on part of the day and where I was thinking of going next. You two were an important part of my planning and reflecting process, and for this, I thank you. So maybe at the time when I first received that feedback, I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but with some time to think/ponder, I’m so glad that I got it. Maybe sometimes — even in just small ways — we need to be brought down a peg or two, so that we can be open to making changes (because none of us are perfect).
Kristi, keep waiting for those good times to offer this feedback, and keep being the supportive person that you are, as we try to make changes. The process may be slow, but I think that at one time or another, we can all be ready to hear where we need to go next.
Just browsing your online life after finally looking up the “Deep Assessment” OTF Connects Webinar I missed earlier this year… I love, LOVE *LOVE*!!! your writing about learning from mistakes. I often feel like too many of us are so busy celebrating our success that we miss valuable learning from things that *didn’t* go so well!
Thanks for sharing so authentically on your blogs/websites.
Thanks Vera for the comment! It took me a while to be open to sharing mistakes on my professional blog. I think that there was always the concern that somebody would read about these mistakes and think less of me as a person or as an educator. I’ve found that quite the opposite is true. While sharing these mistakes have certainly led to even greater connections with parents, administrators, educators, and other blog readers, they’ve also allowed me to make the most changes in my teaching practices. It’s not just about identifying the mistakes, but making a plan and learning from them. I’m not going to say that I never make the same mistake twice — I know that I do — but blogging about these reflections have made me more aware of my mistakes, and more willing to slow down and think before acting. I still have a far way to go!
I wonder how others reflect on mistakes and what they’ve learned from doing so. How do people feel about sharing these mistakes publicly on blogs? What other forums do people use instead? I’d love to know!