Too often in schools, teachers work in isolation with little opportunity to engage in adult conversation about their practice. As a school director, I work with teachers to develop a culture that is collaborative rather than evaluative, where teachers have the time and space to talk about challenges they are facing without feeling like they are exposing themselves to scrutiny or judgment. Our faculty has developed group norms and protocols whereby teachers can discuss and reflect on their work during our regular morning staff meetings. Teachers bring in student work for critique, share dilemmas with critical friends, reflect on student feedback, model and discuss best teaching practices, and observe classrooms using a collegial coaching model. The goal of these conversations is to share our work and make it public, just as we do with exhibitions of student work.
Even within our collaborative culture, I have found it challenging to define my role in working one-on-one with teachers. The very nature of my role is in part evaluative, yet I want to support teachers and to stay connected to issues they are grappling with in their work. To that end, I offer teachers four options for reflection and conversation: video reflection, project design brainstorm, looking at student work, or action research. The goal is for teachers to reflect on issues of practice and for us to explore possible solutions together.
In this work I have been particularly struck by the power of video for reflection. With video, the teacher can literally play back the lesson and observe classroom dynamics through fresh eyes, often catching student interactions and conversations they may have missed. This allows for deeper reflection than when I simply share my observations. Our conversations feel more authentic because our discussion is guided by the teacher’s perceptions and questions rather than my agenda. Teachers still receive critical feedback on their work, but video helps us focus our conversations on where they would like to grow in their practice.
Choose one of the options below. The goal is for you to reflect on at least one aspect of your practice and, for me, to connect with you about your work and explore ways to provide additional support.
Video your class, watch the footage and choose an 8-10 minute clip that you find particularly striking, troubling or interesting. Frame a question to discuss. We will watch the clip together and explore solutions to your question. Try to capture footage not only of your instruction, but also of students at work (building, doing, discussing, solving, writing, presenting).
Choose a project that is still in the design stage. Bring relevant documents that you have created. We will discuss design issues: how to develop an essential question, incorporate inquiry, apply the 6 A’s (authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active exploration, adult relationships, and assessment), integrate across disciplines, scaffold/chunk deadlines, facilitate critique sessions, develop useful rubrics, etc.
Choose a completed project or assignment that you think could be improved for future use. Bring three samples of student work, ranging in quality, along with relevant project sheets or rubrics. We will discuss your vision for the project compared to what students actually produced and consider how to improve the quality of work next time.
Choose a dilemma that you are having in class, and develop a methodical approach to gaining deeper insight into that dilemma. You may want to survey students, parents, or other staff members first to gain a broader perspective. For our discussion, bring in your plan for addressing the dilemma based on what you have learned so far. What strategies will you try, and how will you assess their effectiveness in meeting your goals for student understanding?
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