Imagine giving a homework assignment that your students can't wait to start. Sounds like you'd need to wave a magic wand, doesn't it? But I just received such an assignment: Examine in detail the opening to Joss Whedon's science-fiction move Serenity,…
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:
My blog on bicycling and instructional coaching lays out some key ideas for helping new teachers grow. I’d like to expend on the idea of identifying and using a new teacher’s strengths.
Whether I’m on my bike or in a classroom, one of my strengths is planning ahead. To avoid problems with forgetting to unclip my bike shoes from the pedals before stopping (see the first blog…), I planned out my rides—clip for the uninterrupted one-way paths and unclip where the streets, walking paths and biking trails intersect between the lakes. And, the first time on any route, I skip the pedal clips rather than trust that I’ll remember to unclip as needed. Often, great planners struggle to be spontaneous. And, people who flex easily when plans aren’t working seldom love to plan.
Self-understanding lets us capitalize on these kinds of insights. For example, a veteran teacher excelled at setting schedules or estimating how long activities would take. She could easily motivate students with reality-based promises such as, “I know all of you can finish this within 10 minutes. Let’s work hard and that will give us extra time to finish a read-aloud chapter.” A new teacher on her team tried the same technique but found that her estimates were off.
Have you noticed that “who you are is how you teach”? Colleagues who are a bit more reserved tend to run quieter classrooms. Teachers who love to read (in what little spare time teachers have!) share that love with students. Our classrooms mirror our strengths and interests in countless ways. (You can download Chapter 2: Who You Are is How You Teach from one of my books which explains a framework for working with normal differences among teachers–and students)
Who We Are is How We Bike–And Teach
I recently realized that who I am is also how I bike. As I did some thorough self-coaching to master new equipment, I found I was taking myself through the same process I use with teachers. Hopefully, my biking experience will help provide an image of key strategies that can help new teachers use their strengths to master their biggest needs in the classroom.!<
A recent article proclaims that “The findings of several recent studies by psychologists, economists, and educators show that—despite many reformers’ claims to the contrary—it may be possible to make low-performing teachers better, instead of firing them.” (“How To Build a Better Teacher http://tinyurl.com/cnnl2pn)
Why would we think otherwise? How has the debate over teacher quality lost track of how excellence is developed in any field? It takes time, targeted practice, and the right support!
First, it takes 10,000 hours to reach excellence, as Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently documents in Outliers. That’s 10,000 hours–about 8 school years’ worth–with the right sort of coaching and support. Let’s be clear, too, that only actual teaching, lesson planning, assessment construction and analysis, and other core responsibilities count toward those hours, not preservice theory work (although that may guide practice).
A compilation of over 100 studies from many disciplines revealed, “When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all.”