A few weeks ago I wrote about similarities in coaching myself as a cyclist and the strategies of differentiated coaching. A key component is knowing when to help teachers develop a routine or ritual to overcome a persistent struggle.
My problem with biking was remembering to unclip from pedals soon enough to avoid tipping over at stop signs. I needed a routine. To develop it, I identified when to clip in and out, practiced to determine how far in advance I needed to start the process (way sooner than other bikers), and also experimented with whether twisting my feet together or separately was the better way (separately so that I could then flip each pedal and not accidentally re-clip). These routines have so far kept me fall-free.
Here are a few examples of routines that helped teachers find flow in their classrooms:
- Teachers who tend to ask questions with one right answer know that such questions make it easier to grade fairly and keeps surprises out of most discussions. However, they don’t provide for deep class discussion These teachers can study resources such as Good Questions for Math Teaching (Sullivan and Lilburn, 2002) and set a routine, such as planning two such questions for each discussion or assignment.
- Teachers who easily adapt to changes in plans often get caught up in the flow of lesson activities; they may struggle to bring summarization and closure to lessons. More experienced teachers might help them estimate how much time that processing requires. And, they might ritualize having a student give a cue when it is time to wrap things up.
- If students constantly need directions over and above what a teacher provides, that teacher might ask a more detail-oriented colleague—or spouse or roommate—“What else would you need to get started?” They could even partner with another new teacher who is just the opposite—whose assignments spell out exactly what students are to do to the extent that they do less thinking—and support each other in finding a healthy balance.
There is nothing easy about teaching. My favorite quote came from a third-grade teacher who, in response to a parent who told her that teaching just required following curriculum, said,
“You’re right. Teaching is as easy as throwing a birthday party. For thirty children. With no other adults in the room. For six hours. And they come back for 180 days straight.”
As new teachers set out to master this daunting challenge, helping them tailor their goals and strategies to fit within their own strengths will help them gain the confidence they need to make education both a career and a calling.