Teacher growth is very important. As a beginning teacher, I realized that I needed help with so much but there was this unwritten code – if you ask for help you are weak. So I stumbled along learning by fire. I was barely adequate. After my first 2 years I wanted to quit. Actually, I did quit but ended up “falling” into a grade 7 teaching position. It was during the next 7 years that I would learn what great teaching looked like, what it sounded like, what if felt like and what great teachers did to make all those happen. Not me – but from the great teachers I had the pleasure to have a colleagues. But, I did it on my own, going to those teacher’s classrooms to watch, talking with them after school, spending evenings and weekends planning and trying and replanning. During this time, there were many days, sometimes weeks, of frustration. I began to take classes on my own, trying to find a way to piece together what I knew was there within me with what I witnessed happening in other classrooms. Eventually, through the help of others, I began to put things together but the effort had taken its toll on me and my family. But it didn’t have to be that way.
It’s Not A Badge
Trial-by-fire isn’t a badge new teachers get or something that they add to their website or blog. Anyone who still thinks that earning your stripes in this manner doesn’t understand the toll it takes on a person. With all we know about teacher growth, teacher burnout and the toll it takes on the person and the toll it is having on students, a systemic plan for teacher development is crucial to sustaining and supporting teachers in their careers.
In my first post – Phase One – Reaching Out – I explain how, as an administrator, it’s critical to have formal conversations with teachers about their professional growth and helping them plan for this growth. To listen to what they have to say and be attuned to what a teacher is saying when they indicate they aren’t really sure where they need to grow or how to go about it. Not only is this crucial in Phase Two – Giving Support – but it can also be a critical piece in identifying someone who, like me, was struggling but didn’t know it or wasn’t sure how to ask for help or was too proud to ask for help. That is why it is so critical to listen to what the person is saying – and not saying.
After meeting with each teacher to talk about their Professional Growth Plan and brainstorm some ideas, it’s important to meet with them shortly afterwards. Set a date – about 3 weeks later – to meet and discuss their plan. This way, there is enough time for the teacher to put together a plan but not so far away that it gets lost in the “to do list”. To help teachers with this sort of thing and to demonstrate you wish to give them support, set up an online staff calendar where you, as an administrator, can post your Walkthroughs, meetings, teacher meetings and times you are free to meet. This demonstrates you want to be in contact with your staff – but keep it separate from all that you do. I have used a google calendar that all teachers can access and even post to so that everyone can see what is going on in the school.
As an aside, I highly encourage people to read Beyond the To Do List by Erik Fisher and to subscribe to Read to Lead podcast with Jeff Brown. As a leader, you will find a great wealth of information and insights into leading. It was as I listened to the podcast that it became clear that the Leadership Lesson #1 was:
“Be good to other people. Help others. Build relationships.” Leadership – Lesson #1
This is what supporting teachers in their growth is all about – helping them to break free of the traditional mindset of PD and take ownership of their professional lives. It’s more than just the PD portion: it’s a proactive reaction to an educational world that is going through a great amount of shift and change. Teachers, more than anyone else in education, need to be proactive players in their professionalism. A specific and clear plan is a first step in moving teachers from being passive receivers to proactive participants.
This part of the plan has the teacher be specific on what they want to accomplish – both in short-term goals and in a long-term professional development goal. As you discuss these with the teacher, it’s important to note the resources that may be needed – some extra time, a conference, some co-teaching, some coaching, some time with a consultant, some material, …. these can all be part of the resource plan.
“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Benjamin Franklin
At this time, it’s also a good idea to plan for some check-in time. Not long meetings, but just to see how things are going. It’s important because this is when you’ll be able to make some great connections with people, get past the “PD” and begin to make deeper connections – trust connections. And, if things aren’t working out – this is where listening to the person is so important. This is where, when I ran into trouble, I’d wish someone would have listened – recognized that there was more going on and reached out. We don’t need no more stinkin’ badges by fire!
Proactive Connected Educational Leaders
This is also why it is important to have administrators and educational leaders who understand the power of connections and can see that there is a shift in the learning landscape taking place and teachers will need less “leading” and more “supporting”. This is one reason ALL administrators need to be made aware of the power of connections, being connected and actively involved in these connections. Principals such as Eric Sheninger, Amber Teamann, Dr. Darin Jolly, George Couros and David Truss are examples of administrators who are connecting, reaching out and bringing people together – each in different ways. Each of them is helping to connect other administrators and teachers in ways that will help them on their learning journey – in doing so, they are helping the students, parents and communities where these teachers work and live. Very important work.
As always, this is a process that each administrator will need to adapt and make their own but the key is to plan to meet with teachers and be specific about what resources and assistance the teacher will need. This is where an administrator, through accessing different in-house, division and online supports, can really support a teacher – leading through connections.