I met TL Standard 4 through two different assignments in my Accomplished Teaching course. Both the Partner Reflection and Collaborative Analysis Instructional Plan were key to my learning in this standard. At the beginning of Accomplished Teaching I did a strengths and intentions inventory and identified areas I needed to grow in.
First, my level of comfort and knowledge in my individual reflective practice was high. I found that I am constantly reflecting on my practice while in action, modifying and adjusting lessons and instruction based on the needs of my students and the direction we should go for deeper learning. I also reflected back after lessons or back on the day to think about and jot down notes on what went well and what I would change next time I teach those lessons. I also planned ahead and reflect forward for our next steps. My biggest obstacle to reflection is time. Jennifer York-Barr states, “One of the first considerations for reflecting with ourselves is finding and guarding time and space in our lives for significant pauses.” (York-Barr, 2006) Two words really stuck out to me – guarding and significant. I believed I took time, but it isn’t guarded as sacred and life can get in the way of that. It also wasn’t significant time, but more time in passing as I cleaned up my room or move to another task. Those were two areas I identified to work on.
The next area I considered was collaborative reflective practice. I am lucky to be on a grade level team which meets frequently, plans together, and discusses student growth. However, there were barriers to our reflective practice as a group. Two members of our team are long time 3rd grade teachers and they have taught with each other for all of those years. One issue for us was openness which leads to issues in thinking and learning. Much resistance to reflective practice comes with excuses and the idea that “we have always done it this way”. I believed we were in the “storming” phase of group development. I was hopeful with our school moving to a PLC model for team collaboration we would be able to move to “norming” and become a “performing” team. My position on the team is a tough one and I have struggled to gain their trust and understanding. We all have strong personalities and it has been a “them and me” type of environment this past year. My goal was to focus on what I can do to heal and change our team. I knew I couldn’t change them, but I could change my approach and maybe gain some skills to help move us forward.
Finally, I reflected on my understanding of Danielson Framework as an area I felt particularly strong in. As the PGE, Professional Growth and Evaluation, coordinator for my building I have been at the forefront of the professional development work and staff training as the state has moved to the new teacher evaluation system. In addition, as part of my Masters work I have researched and compared the various teacher evaluation frameworks, their development, theory and research behind them, their links to NCLB and Race to the Top, and the choice by Washington state to adopt the Danielson Framework over the Marzano model. However, even with all that work I still strive to push myself to distinguished in all areas of my own practice. This is a high challenge and one that I gladly accept because I believe that is also what is best for kids. The distinguished area moves my practice away from being just a good teacher, to being a great practitioner of our craft by enabling my students to take the ownership and drive in their own learning. A focus on implementing the highest standards of the Danielson Framework in my own practice was a goal in addition to continuing to come alongside my staff to coach and improve their understanding and practice of the framework as well.
The first step in my learning was to engage in the analysis of teaching through a partner coaching session. My coaching session took place with a fellow 3rd grade teacher who approached me for help in planning and implementing a reading/writing (ELA) workshop model into her classroom. She knew that I had experience successfully running such a model in former 1st grade teaching role and now as a 3rd grade teacher as well. In preparation for our coaching session I knew that I had to clearly focus on my active listening skills in order to make this be successful and productive for both of us. I reviewed the SPACE acronym: Silence, Paraphrasing, Accepting Nonjudgmentally, Clarifying, and Extending; and determined that I would be very purposefully in my use of that technique during our session. I also prepared by gathering materials, examples of student work, and descriptions of the systems I use during ELA workshop. These steps proved key to our success during this coaching session. I did not immediately utilize the materials, but began with a mindset of listening and understanding before we dove in and looked at how it all works.
Our session began with my colleague describing her past experience as a 6th and 2nd grade teacher in another school. Since coming to our building as a job-share partner to a current 3rd grade teacher, she has been frustrated by the pacing and schedule she has had to keep with her students. “I don’t feel like we accomplish much.” she explained. “We go through the material, but it is rushed to get it done in my two or three days a week and then I am gone. I want to know that they get it and go deeper with them.” During this time I listened to her and asked some open-ended questions to gain further insight. I also thanked her for being so open and commented on her past successes to help her to see that these current frustrations are not what she is characterized by and can be worked through. In addition, I shared a personal connection of being in a job share and feeling a similar way.
I wonder now if sharing my story was a mistake. I feel that shifted the focus from her to me and that was not what I wanted. Doing some further research I found I was correct in my concern. “Coaching must be teacher-centered. Teacher-centered is different from coach-centered. When conversations are coach-centered, the coach’s expertise has the upper hand.” (Tschannen-Moran, Tschannen-Moran, 2011) I continued the session by asking her what she would like to see work differently in her classroom, that put us back on track of her being the focus and zeroed us in on the work we were there to do. Examples of other questions that I asked were, “When did you feel like you were the best teacher and had the highest student engagement/achievement?” “How do you think you could implement those ideas into your current teaching role?” “When you reflect back on last year, what are some things you would like to see work differently this year with your students?” These questions brought us to a solution based conversation where we were then able to brainstorm and plan how a workshop model could work in her classroom on her teaching days. It was only then that I brought out the materials I had gathered and we could collaboratively plan and discuss how we can use them successfully in our own classrooms.
In reflecting back on this coaching session, I know that there are some things I did well, but others I need to work on. I was good about focusing the conversation on her strengths and what she has done in the past and is currently doing well. I also think I was successful at creating a “no-fault” environment which kept this a coaching session and did not cross over into being evaluative. (Tschannen-Moran, Tschannen-Moran, 2011) For future coaching, my goal is to remain “teacher-centered and not coach-centered.” Withholding my own personal stories and connections will keep the focus on the person I am coaching and off of me. I would also like to see a coaching model where we utilize action research. Focusing our work on an action research project could heighten the collaborative process and provide ways for us to, “systematically reflect on and improve practice.” (York-Barr, et. al, 2006) Action research allows for a clear implantation plan and includes collecting and analyzing data in order to inform and plan next steps.
Coaching allows us as educators to discuss and analyze, “complex problems of practice” in a meaningful and productive way. (p. 119) Overall, this was an enlightening and positive experience that I am looking forward to participating in again.
Following this individual coaching time, I worked to utilize my collaborative strategies and engage my PLC team in the analyzing of student work. This was new learning for my team and I was eager to work toward my goal of growing my team from a “storming” phase to a “norming” or even a “performing” phase. My 3rd grade PLC team chose to analyze our end of Topic 6 assessment for math. We know that research shows working in a team results in teachers showing, “significantly higher levels of knowledge about students, skill variety to their work, helpfulness and effectiveness within their work group, teaching efficacy, professional commitment, and overall satisfaction and growth.” (York-Barr, et. al, 2006) We have found this to be true in our own practice and this collaborative analysis again proved that to be true.
We began by analyzing student daily work from the unit which best related to the standard. Following that analysis we determined that the majority of our students were ready to be assessed on the summative assessment for this unit. Those who were still struggling with concepts were given extra review time in a small group and daily review and practice in their safety net math class. All students were administered the summative assessment the same day. We met the following day after scoring them to discuss our students’ results. My PLC decided to use the Analysis of Student Work Protocol from the New Teacher Center to drive our work – analysis of student work template.
The results of our analysis included what our students could do related to the standard, what their needs still were related to the standard, a differentiation and re-teaching plan for our students, and a plan for re-assessing the standard through the school year – Collaborative Assessment Instructional Plan. Through our work together we did grow out of our “storming” phase. One aspect of our PLC work was to establish norms which we would use and refer to during all of our PLC meetings. This proved key to our success of growing our group collaboration and cohesion. The “norming” phase was a short one and I believe we are now in a “performing” phase as a PLC team.
My work towards TL Standard 4 was deep and meaningful to my practice as a classroom teacher and teacher leader. In my future practice as a principal, this work will be key as I take on the role of the instructional leader for my building. I know that I need to be able to lead teachers in this work, supporting them in their PLC’s and providing professional training and development as needed. Smith and Piele state that, “The likelihood of success (in the learning process) increases as leaders collaborate with their teachers – drawing from their collective insights – and use the knowledge provided by the professional research community.” (Smith and Piele, 2006) I believe that having done this work myself I can lead with authentic experience and provide insight and support to my staff ultimately resulting in increased student learning and achievement.
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