As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre). I am going to update these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — How Not To Throw Up.
Unlike the other posts that I’m re-exploring, this is one that I wrote shortly before reading Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. That said, when I re-read this post last week, I realized that it’s actually about self-regulation, but just without the terminology. I still remember this T.P.A., and how my principal Paul supported me during it. This makes me think of how much Shanker’s thinking is at play when it comes to an evaluation process. Knowing what I know now, I can’t help but look at this process differently. This post explores my evolving thinking.
Monday is my T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal a.k.a. teacher evaluation). I’ve known about this for a while, and even picked the date and time that I wanted. I chose the lesson, and I chose the follow-up activity. This is certainly not the first time that my principal has been in the classroom to see me teach. Our principal and vice principal do regular walk throughs, and I see them all the time. After my last blog post on walk throughs, I even invited them in more regularly to make me feel more comfortable when they do visit. And this has helped — a lot — but the truth is that I’m unbelievably nervous about Monday.
I can tell myself that there’s nothing to be nervous about. Paul, my principal, is doing my T.P.A., and he is so welcoming and so far from intimidating. He’s been fantastic throughout this whole process, and I know that it’s silly to be scared … but I am. I’ve been trying to reframe the situation, and see this as a great learning opportunity: as a way to find out about what I do well, and as a way to set next steps together. This isn’t helping though: I really want to be at my best, and my nerves are making me want to throw up.
So here’s my plan to avoid a #pukealert as the #kinderchat Twitter crew would say 🙂 .
1) Write this blog post. This post is really for me. When I blog, I get out all of my feelings and thoughts, and this often makes me feel better. It brings me back to calm. I’m hopeful that this will work in this situation as well.
2) Be well-prepared … I mean really well-prepared. I’m the planning type, so to be honest with you, I’m almost always well-prepared, but this time my plan will also involve a detailed lesson plan. I’m going to think carefully about what I want to say. I’m going to have my questions ready. I’m probably going to be more scripted than I usually am, as I know that when I get nervous, I talk more, so a plan will help.
3) I’m going to keep my instructions meaningful, but short. I don’t want to talk forever. I always attempt not to, but on Monday, I really want to minimize full class teaching time. This is for two reasons: 1) I see far more value in small group instruction than full class instruction, and once the full class lesson is over, the group work can begin. 2) When I’m teaching the full class lesson, Paul’s eyes will be completely on me. I know that. And honestly, I’m mentally preparing myself for that. But this is the part that will make me feel more dysregulated, so I want to reduce this time, and get into a situation where I forget about the gaze and can just focus on the students. Then I will feel calm.
4) Have fun! I love my job! I honestly can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching, and when I work with students, I am totally and completely happy. I love having fun in the classroom. I love what happens when learning and laughter come together, and I want Paul to experience this magical time too. So I’ve planned an activity that will let him experience this, and let me experience this as well. We’ll be building our Organ System Displays. I can’t wait!
5) I told my students that Paul’s coming in on Monday. I wanted them to know … not because they need to know all of the details, but because if they realize he’s coming, they won’t make a big deal when he arrives. I don’t want his visit to be a distraction to them, and just like I let them know when other visitors are coming, I did the same thing for this “visit.” Thinking back to my comment in this post on routines, I think that the same thing could be true in the case of this T.P.A.. Having Paul in the classroom for an extended period of time, is not a part of the students’ regular routine, so preparing for this change, will hopefully help them feel more at ease. This is good for both of us!
I know that the T.P.A. Process is not a show. There will be no singing, dancing, or comedy routine 🙂 , but have I tried to plan the best activity possible for this? Yes! I want Paul to see as much as he can during his short visit, and I want it to be a success.
All of this said, I still remember how nervous I felt on the morning of my T.P.A.. Paul came up to the classroom to touch base with me before school started, and he asked me how I was feeling. I told him that I felt sick. He got me to talk through my plan for the lesson. He reminded me that he’s seen me teach before and that he knows that I can do this. He was quiet and supportive. He helped me feel better about myself and my ability to make it through the observation. Without realizing it, I think that Paul did the “co-regulation dance” that Stuart Shanker describes so wonderfully in his book. Sometimes we need that other person to help us feel calm again, and I think that it was Paul’s words and actions that helped me calm down.
I thought about our conversation as I was teaching my lesson that Monday. Yes, I was still nervous. When I built my skeletal system and it went crashing to the ground, I wanted to cry … but I didn’t. I reminded myself that I wanted my students to see that they will have problems, and that they can work through solutions together. They eagerly helped me work through my problem, and I think this made a difference for when they had to work through their own.
While I would like to think that I have the strategies to self-regulate, on some days — like on the date of my T.P.A. — it is often the people around me (such as my principal and my students) that help me calm down. I even had some Twitter friends that sent me “good luck” messages and “words of encouragement” to help me out when I needed it most. So many people in education — from educators to administrators — could empathize with me on that day, and it was their responses that made all of the difference. As I took one more deep breath before starting my T.P.A., I knew that I could make it through successfully, and I did. Many thanks, years later, to all of my co-regulators! When have you helped someone else co-regulate, and when has someone else helped you? What difference did this make for both of you? Sometimes we need to know that we’re not alone.