Because For Educators and Parents, Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Colin_K

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Colin_K

I notice. I wonder. What if? How might?

These four nonjudgemental prompts guide me as I share feedback with teachers. In the past, when I began my journey toward routinely and nonjudgmentally offering formative feedback to teachers in lieu of formal evaluations I avoided compliment as much as critique. What I like is, after all, as judgmental as what I don’t like. Yet, refraining from complimenting felt cold and detached. We all deserve appreciation.

The prompts (I notice. I wonder. What if? How might?) serve as  a valuable lens, shifting the way in which I see teaching and learning  during classroom visits, helping me to look with humility and openness. I have no “look fors” and no forms. I don’t carry my ipad with me or write feedback on the spot. Instead, I strive to engage in teaching and learning, being present with teachers and students in learning experiences. Later I write brief feedback for teachers: a compliment and four sentences (sometimes indulging in a bit more than four sentences, with potentially more than one sentence per prompt.) The sentences begin: I notice. I wonder. What if? How might? Teachers can embrace the feedback or question and refute it. They can engage in conversation about it with me, with colleagues, or with anyone they choose or they can elect not to speak about it with anyone. The feedback is not evaluative, and once given, belongs to the teacher as one of many venues through which to reflect, to learn, and to grow. It is a component of my efforts at supervision focused on professional learning rather than evaluation.

I consider myself lucky. As Head of an independent school, I have no state or district mandate on how I must evaluate teachers. That does not mean I have no one to whom I must answer. There is my school’s mission – the ultimate “boss” in mission driven independent schools, my Board of Trustees, parents who are electing to send their children to our school and are paying tuition, and ultimately to our students themselves. In addition, I must answer to our teachers. Although I am their supervisor, it is my responsibility to support them to succeed and to excel. The demands are high. To truly be effective, we need to remain open and honest about our impact; flexible and agile.

An example of feedback very recently offered; this one after visiting an upper elementary school math class is:

A compliment: You skillfully model for students the thought process required for estimation, or perhaps more accurately, mental math – an important skill. You carefully share with them the learning goal for the class and utilize language and visual cues in order to support student learning.

Reflective Feedback/Questions

I noticed students participating in a lesson, guided by your careful prompts.

I wonder ways of assessing the range of understanding of students in the class. I wonder ways of determining potential areas of misunderstanding. I wonder ways of determining whether any students are ready to delve more deeply into the material.

What if students completed pre-assessments and worked in guided groups based on their performance?

How might the classroom be organized in order to allow for even more individualized attention and differentiated learning?

The teacher, a skilled veteran who is highly self-aware and attentive to the needs of her students, in this case did engage in further conversation with me about the lesson. She reached out to let me know the feedback helped her to think about her teaching and she continued to wonder with me about ways of reaching the individual needs of her students. We brainstormed together how the collaborative, guided lessons typical of language arts learning in her classroom might be extended to math; reflected on possible ways of organizing the physical environment in the classroom to promote more collaboration; and considered supports that could be utilized to assist with enhancing respectful interaction among students during more independent learning time.  Such conversations do not follow each classroom visit, yet they happen frequently and are directed by teachers, serious about their own learning and about improving their own practice.

What approaches to feedback have been helpful to you? What are ways you believe we could transform teacher supervision from evaluation to opportunities for potent learning and professional growth?

cc licensed image shared by flikr user sakocreative

cc licensed image shared by flikr user sakocreative

“Too bold. Not bold enough. Too fast. Not fast enough.” As school leaders, administration and teachers alike, seek to enhance and even redefine the quality of learning and community for our students, we often hear variations on these four critiques.  At times in the past I’ve been accused of being too bold and too fast, to the point of appearing impulsive. And thus, in a recent coaching session, I was startled by my mentor’s suggestion that I strive to build on positive momentum and be bolder and faster or at least to consider more carefully the balance between being too bold and not bold enough, too fast and not fast enough. His words, part compliment and part critique, were a first after several years of coaching through which, among many other goals, I have sought to enhance my ability to “lead from the middle”, and not run out too far ahead of our teachers, being too bold and too fast. His challenge has me wondering. How can we consider the vital role of pacing in improving our schools? How can we consider not only time, but timing, as a precious resource? How can we be faster and bolder, while remaining thoughtful, patient and reflective?

Ten principles can guide us in leading change, managing the careful balance necessary between being too bold or not bold enough; too fast or not fast enough.

  • Say “yes” to those who seek to experiment and try approaches new to them, and new to the school, as often as possible
  • Be patient with those moving at a slower pace 
  • Embrace the perspectives of all, making disagreement and skepticism safe
  • Compliment and show appreciation for the individual contributions of all
  • Believe in the potential of teachers and students to achieve great things
  • Provide robust job embedded support and opportunities to learn
  • Encourage experimentation and embrace mistakes made while learning and striving to move forward
  • Celebrate successes, small and large
  • Recognize when you have gone too far, too fast and be prepared to slow down, reflect, and consider approaches anew
  • Have fun

What principles might you add? What approaches have you found effective in balancing the pacing of change?

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What is an EdCamp? Why has it been among my first priorities as a new Head of School to host not one, but two?

To begin, for those not yet familiar with EdCamp style professional learning, as shared on the Edcamp Foundation wiki, Edcamps are:

  • free
  • non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence
  • hosted by any organization interested in furthering the edcamp mission
  • made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event
  • events where anyone who attends can be a presenter
  • reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs

Our first EdCamp of the year, organized as part of a year long series of  Jedcamp (Jewish EdCamp) events throughout the New York/New Jersey area, balanced elements of Edcamp and elements of more traditional professional learning events. Described to potential participants as an  Educational Technology and Social Media Conference, we sought to bring in educators not yet familiar with “unconferences”, for whom the thought of attending an event without knowing what sessions would be offered in advance still sounds foreign. On a chilly, Wednesday evening in Queens, close to one hundred educators from throughout the region came together to learn about ways educational technology and social media can enhance and even redefine learning and community for our students and their families. Sponsors covered the costs of dinner and snacks as well as door prizes and raffle prizes for participants. Attendance was free.

Session topics at our regional conference included: online and blended learning, project based learning and technology, educational technology for beginners, professional learning using social media, using educational technology to enhance the Judaic Studies classroom, using educational technology to enhance the Hebrew language classroom, eleven uncomfortable truths you need to hear about filtering the web, lessons learned from a 1:1 ipad rollout, using technology to more effectively differentiate instruction, smart use of smartboards in the Judaic Studies classroom, engaging parents through social media, collaborative learning with google docs, digital Judaic studies resources, blended learning in the Hebrew language classroom, and putting social media to work for school public relations.

The level of learning and engagement was extremely high and teachers from schools throughout the region gained knowledge, insight, and connections to continue their collaborative learning and exploration. Our own teachers who attended the event felt proud of our school as a place in which professional learning is taken seriously and asked for more, requesting that next year we have another conference and hold it, not on a week night but on a Sunday to allow more time for the learning and sharing. The talent of those presenting was impressive and the cost of such professional learning in traditional venues in which presenters are paid, would have been prohibitive. The open, respectful collaboration and commitment to engaging all participants was priceless.

Our second EdCamp of the year, planned on a professional learning day, was exclusively for our own teachers and ran as a pure “unconference”. We introduced the notion of participant driven professional learning and invited teachers to present and to learn. To our delight, session slots quickly filled with volunteers. While several adminstrators, including myself, stood ready to add our names to the sign up board to teach a session in the event teachers did not sign up to lead, we did not have to do so. Teachers stepped forward, excited about facilitating learning for colleagues. Topics included: classroom centers to support learning, bringing teacher passions into the classroom, making our teaching relevant to students’ life experiences, successes and challenges in implementing common core math, making modifications and accommodations for students with special needs, and helping students develop effective organizational skills to enable learning. Additionally, our educational technology coach, based on pre EdCamp teacher requests, led two sessions – creating online classroom spaces with Edmodo and educational technology tools to support reading comprehension.

“It wasn’t boring,” one teacher remarked, implicitly critiquing typical PD workshops well known to teachers in our school and in many schools. “No ‘expert’ read slides to us or spoke on and on without understanding our needs,” shared another. “I’m no longer afraid of technology,” excuded a third with a huge smile and a little dance, after attending both sessions taught by our ed tech coach. “We had fun,” said a fourth. “It was a fantastic day, and we all thought so,” asserted a fifth, confident she could speak on behalf of her colleagues.

Have you attended an EdCamp? Are there other opportunities for participant driven learning you have experienced? What ideas do you have to continue to make professional learning among teachers respectful, relevant, and impactful?

 
cc licensed image shared by flickr user photologue_np

cc licensed image shared by flickr user photologue_np

 
I love a great challenge! And so, when the enternally positive, optimistic and supportive elementary school principal Vicki Day invited me to the PLN blogging challenge I accepted her call. Constantly stretching my thinking, Vicki is a frequent participant in #educoach chats (dedicated to instructional coaching techniques for all educators) which I co-moderate and a moderator of #NYedchat; the voice of New York educators.
 
 
In the PLN blogging challenge  you get to answer some questions, pose some questions and shout out to the bloggers you want to welcome to the challenge. Here goes, Vicki.
 
 
HERE ARE THE RULES OF THE CHALLENGE:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts About Me…

1. When I was young, I dreamed of being a novelist, wrote short stories and was founding editor of my school’s newspaper and literary magazine.

2. My daughter, a senior in high school, is planning on majoring in elementary education in college and dreams of being an elementary school teacher. She will be at Drexel University next year. I am incredibly proud!

3. I used to say I would NEVER have a dog; yet my two children succeeded in convincing me and my husband and now we have two – a cockapoo named Oliver and a jack russell terrier named Max. I love them both and am so glad they are part of our family. We also have a parakeet named Cielito.

4. I earned a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, and although I am not currently training I am coordinating a Science and Social Action Academy at my school through which we train students in martial arts therapeutic techniques to assist peers struggling with illness and disability.

5. I enjoy animated children’s movies and although my own children are teenagers, I still unabashedly watch when I can.

6. I am a co-moderator of #educoach with my dear friends (who I have not yet met face to face) Kathy Perret and Jessica Johnson. Kathy, Jessica, and I are currently writing a book together tentatively titled, “Putting on the Coach’s Hat: How School Leaders Can utilize Instructional Coaching Techniques to Support Teacher Growth”.

7. Each day, at least several times a day, I try to remember to pause and consider things small and large for which I am grateful.

8. I love those few days of the year when I don’t get out of my pajamas and without guilt allow myself to do as little as possible.

9. I am enjoying my first year as Head of School at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens, and am appreciative of the many strengths in the school and community on which to build.

10. It is my 17th year as a school educational leader leader (associate principal, principal, Head of School).

11. I am awed by the dedication and commitment of classroom teachers and honored to be in a position to support teachers in the sacred work they do for our children.

Answers to Vicki’s Questions…

1. What is your favorite song? List song and artist.

Someday by Rob Thomas – My daughter introduced me to the song during a challenging time in my life and it is a song that fills me with hope during difficult moments.

2. What educhat do you recommend to follow. List no more than 3.

#educoach, a chat I co-moderate, attacts some of the most positive, kind, encouraging people I have ever had the privilege to know. Dedicated to supporting one another to help others in our schools using instructional coaching techniques, #educoach chats and conversations leave me feeling energized and inspired.

3. Share your thoughts on education reform in the USA.

I worry about the term “education reform”. I prefer to strive constantly toward enhancing quality of learning and community in our classrooms, beginning with building on positives and successes. So many of our classroom teachers are doing so much that is right. Learning from what works and adapting from those successes to meet the needs of individual learners can propel us forward. There will not be a “one size fits all” for students, for teachers, or for schools. We will benefit from many additional  respectful, job-embedded supports and professional learning opportunities enabling our teachers to build on their strengths, stretch themselves in areas more challenging, reflect, collaborate, and continue to learn and to grow throughout their careers. 

4. What does it mean to be a Lead Learner?

For thoughts on being a Lead Learner, I turn to Jon Hattie. Learning Leadership, according to Hattie, is leadership that emphasizes student and adult learning and occurs when leaders promote and participate in teacher learning through such approaches as providing coaching over an extended time, data teams, a focus on how students learn subject matter content, and enabling teachers to work collaboratively to plan and monitor lessons based on evidence about how students learn. (see Bausmith & Barry, 2011) In distinction to the minimal impact of transformational and instructional leadership, Hattie found the impact of learning leadership to be an impressive .84, placing learning leadership as among the most significant positive impacts on quality of student learning in schools. (Hattie, John (2012-03-15). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Kindle Locations 3889-3892). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

5. What makes you get up in the morning and go to work other than a paycheck?

I am blessed to be in a position in which I can make a positive impact in the lives of children, primarily by supporting their teachers to build on their own strengths, grow, thrive, and improve the quality of learning and community in our classrooms.

6. How do you stretch yourself to be the best of the best?

 Quoting from Ethics of the Fathers -

Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination…
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others…
(Talmud – Avot 4:1)

7. How can schools help with poverty in our communities?

Perhaps the most significant way schools can help with poverty in our communities is preparing our children with the commitments, habits, and skills to make a positive impact when they become adults. We can help in some ways more immediately, through offering a range of services in our communities with our children and parents as volunteers as well as recipients when appropriate, yet we can potentially have an even greater impact on preparing our children to help with poverty in the communties they will inherit as adults.

8. What should each teacher or administrator know before they start their new job?

Before starting a new job each educator should know the mission of the school and/or community she or he is joining, as well as what current members of the community view as strengths of the school or community on which to build. 

9. How do we infuse technology into our school?

Offer teachers support and focus, not primarily on the technology, but upon the learning. Among my first decisions as Head of School this year was to hire an educational technology coach and was very blessed to be able to recruit Rebecca Penina Simon (yes, we met on twitter). Our approach has been to work with those who want to try technology to enhance learning, offer support before expectation, and celebrate successes small and large. In the few months since Rebecca has been in our school we have become a google apps for education school, implemented a new educational technology curriculum (including strands in digital citizenship, digital storytelling, programming, office skills, research, and basic technology tools and skills), ordered chromebooks and iPads for use in classrooms and are beginning deployment, set up a blended learning pilot in some of our classes (first grade, one fourth grade class, fifth grade, and seventh grade), and organized a regional edcamp style conference on use of educational technology and social media to enhance the quality of learning in our schools.

10. How do we infuse Social Media into our schools?

Share with teachers, parents, and students the benefits of connecting with others in order to learn. Create valuable opportunities to use social media and celebrate even the small steps forward.

11. What is your eduwin of the week?

My eduwin of the week (or rather last week) was organizing an educational technology and social media to enhance learning edcamp style conference for educators in Jewish day schools in the greater New York area. My eduwin of this vacation week is slowing down and spending meaningful time with family.

The 11 Bloggers I would like to challenge… 

1. Rebecca Penina Simon

2. Jeff Bradbury

3. Jennifer Bradbury

4. Ken Gordon

5. Gilly Cannon

6. Dr. David Timony

7. Ron McAllister

8. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross

9. Greg Miller

10. Sonia Di Maulo

11. Brett Clark

 11 Questions for my Blogging Friends…

1. When you were young and people asked what you wanted to be when you grow up, what did you answer?

2. What is one piece of advice you have to offer a first year teacher?

3. What is one piece of advice you have to offer principals?

4. How do you like to spend time off from work?

5. What is your most important professional priority in the coming month?

6. What inspires you?

7. If you could learn anything new (time, effort, practicality, and difficulty aside) what would you want to learn?

8. What makes you laugh?

9.  What is a goal you have for yourself in the coming year?

10. Who do you admire?

11. What are you currently celebrating?

Thanks for the challenge, Viki! And thanks to all in my PLN for supporting me to learn, to wonder, to imagine, and to strive. Best wishes for a joyous, healthy, and meaningful New Year!

JedCamp Swag

JedCamp Swag

“Anyone can learn tech skills, but not everyone has the heart of a teacher,” a superb classroom teacher at my school recently shared with me.  And, I entirely agree. It was that sentiment that motivated us at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens alongside Jedcamp to sponsor an Edcamp inspired Educational Technology and Social Media Conference.

We weren’t “officially” an edcamp. Instead, we danced at the edge of edcamp style learning, striving to meet the needs of educators who are not yet comfortable in the world of professional learning networks and unconferences; educators for whom the thought of attending a conference, or rather an unconference, without knowing what sessions are being offered in advance still sounds foreign. Sensing that some of our teachers with great heart might be suspicious of coming out to a learning experience without knowing topics in advance and might feel tentative and insecure around the networked crowd to which our local unconferences have primarily appealed, our school’s educational technology coach Rebecca Penina Simon and I sought to bridge the gap.

As shared on the Edcamp Foundation wiki, Edcamps are:

  • free
  • non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence
  • hosted by any organization interested in furthering the edcamp mission
  • made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event
  • events where anyone who attends can be a presenter
  • reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs

Our learning experience was free, non-commercial, interested in furthering the edcamp mision (to support free edcamp unconferences for educators to exchange ideas and learn together) as well as the edcamp vision (to promote organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide), and reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs. We broadly recruited presenters and welcomed all who volunteered to lead sessions. However, veering from the edcamp style unconference, we determined and advertised sessions in advance. In addition to sharing information about the conference via social media, we placed an ad in our local newspaper and asked regional schools to share information about the conference with their teachers. We sought to include topics connected to educational technology and social media that would appeal to educators in a wide range of roles and with diverse comfort levels and experience using educational technology and social media.

The registrations poured in. 106 educators signed up in advance and, on a cold Wednesday night in Queens, NY, close to 100 educators actually showed up; battling icy roads, traffic, and in many cases one if not two bridges. Some were teachers in our own school, energized by a style of participatory learning to which they had never before been exposed. Some were members of our own professional learning networks with whom we speak on twitter and Facebook and whose blogs we read. Yet, many were educators whose names we did not yet recognize. We networked, connected, collaborated, shared, and learned together.

Our conference was one of a series  annual events for #jedcampnjny, an effort among Jewish educators in the greater New York area to extend edcamps from one-shot learning experiences into a community of learners within our regional schools, connected via regular face to face activities as well as on-line engagement.

So, what was the biggest complaint of our teachers at the end of the conference? Too little time, too much to learn! What was their recommendation? Let’s have more such conferences in the future. Let’s hold them not on a week night, but rather on a Sunday when we can spend more time. Let’s continue the learning.

Once I Believed

CC licensed image shared by flickr user UNE Photos

CC licensed image shared by flickr user UNE Photos

Recently my leadership coach presented me with a challenge: write about what you have learned in your years of experience as a school leader that you bring to the new position you have begun this year. The task sparked my imagination as I remembered the young educator I was thirteen years ago when I began my first principalship and sixteen years ago when I began my first school administrative position. What is it I believed then, I wondered, and what is it I believe now?

Once I believed initiatives and programs would transform. Now I believe it is through helping each person (students, teachers, administrators, staff, and volunteers) to be her or his best that our schools will be transformed.

Once I believed that setting the bar high would be sufficient. Now I believe that balancing ambitious expectations and robust supports for ourselves and others is necessary to make the progress we seek.

Once I believed timetables on progress could be imposed. Now I believe learning is not linear and sometimes detours on the path to improvement for students and teachers alike bring unanticipated gifts.

Once I believed we would thrive through learning from our mistakes. Now I believe that while mistakes inform, we will thrive when we can wholeheartedly learn from, celebrate, and build upon our successes. 

Once I believed challenges were to be feared and overcome. Now I believe challenges are to be anticipated and embraced as a means of improving the quality of learning and community in our schools. 

Once I believed success was the result of completing items on our “to do” lists. Now I believe success emerges from living up to the ideals of our “to be” lists; our core values, our positive energy, and our demonstrable delight in being present with our students and our teachers. 

Once I believed my advanced degrees and years of training made me an expert. Now I believe expertise is found collaboratively and wisdom emerges through openness to ongoing learning and exploration. 

Once I believed I could rely on my own knowledge base. Now I believe I must be wary of my “blind spots” and actively encourage honest feedback from many in order to gain insight on what I do not even know to ask.

Once I believed formal evaluations could be of true benefit to teachers. Now I believe that respectful, ongoing informal and nonjudgmental feedback from a multitude of sources on a combination of school-wide and individual professional goals is necessary for meaningful professional learning and growth.

Once I believed “telling” people our visions would inspire. Now I believe we must collaboratively craft visions and pace forward movement, celebrating even the small steps along the way.

Once I believed in communication to all constituents. Now I believe in conversation with all members of our community.

Once I believed that budgets and schedules were necessary. Now I believe that budgets are educational plans in numbers and schedules are educational plans in time; vital tools of learning leaders.

Once I believed it necessary to listen to the content and ignore the emotion in people’s words. Now I believe it is vital to listen to both content and emotion; choosing sensitively when to respond to the content of people’s words, when to respond to the emotion, and when to respond to both.

Once I believed we all needed to comply with the requirements of our supervisors and cooperate with the priorities of our peers. Now I believe we must all collaborate to achieve a shared mission and vision.

Once I believed that trust was assumed with our hard work and good intentions. Now I believe that trust, difficult to earn and easy to damage, stems from sincere appreciation for the capability and talents of others.

 Once, when given the task to write about what I have learned in my years as a school leader, I would have composed a long essay ripe with academic citations. Now, given an optional assignment from my leadership coach to consider what I have learned in my years as a school leader, I have chosen to reflect on the essence of paradigm shifts on learning leadership I have experienced. Once I would have “handed in” the assignment requested. Now, I “publish” and share with my professional learning network, seeking insight, feedback, and ongoing learning.

What might you add? How have your leadership paradigms shifted throughout the years? What did you once believe and what do you now believe?

sssqteacherorientation

  • The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question-what subjects shall we teach?
  • When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question-what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
  • Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question-for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
  • But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question-who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form-or deform-the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach

firstmeetingsssq

Beginning my position as a new Head of School, I opened our first full staff professional learning session with the above quote from educator Parker Palmer. Determined to shift from my voice to our voices as quickly as possible, I moved almost immediately to a learning activity modified from one Palmer describes later in his book.

Imagine a moment when everything was going right for you as a teacher; when your teaching was so good you felt you were born to teach, and you knew you were making a difference for students.

The happy social buzz of first day greetings, which had begun shortly before our learning session as we arrived for a welcome breakfast, continued. The ebullient, celebratory mood of greeting friends and colleagues after a summer apart gently moved deeper, broaching seldom asked questions about qualities of teachers that lie at the heart of learning; transcending curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

After a short time, I invited teachers and staff who wanted to do so to share with the whole group; acknowledging teachers’ humility and reluctance to speak in a manner that might feel like boasting. The stories inspired. Some were about individual students’ triumphs in overcoming challenge or adversity; some about entire classes making remarkable progress; and others about a key attribute of a teacher that positively impacted students year after year. We applauded each and every speaker, beginning our year with appreciation.

We then moved just a bit deeper as Parker Palmer encourages us to do. I asked teachers to focus, not on their own celebratory stories, but on those of their colleagues, identifying the gifts, the personal strengths and qualities within their colleagues, that  bring success.  Colleagues talked about care, the ability to listen, patience, perseverance in the face of challenge, and grounding in enduring values. They spoke, meaningfully and thoughtfully, not about skills or specific knowledge, but rather about qualities that enable teachers to connect and build relationships with students. Intuitively, teachers reached beyond themselves, emphasizing the need to understand our students, equating greatness in teaching to connection with students; as individuals, as a class, and as a school-wide community of learners.

As we concluded the session, I shared with teachers my commitment to being present in classrooms regularly, not to judge, but to engage, learn, appreciate, and support. In time, I plan to offer ongoing non-judgemental feedback to prompt teacher reflection. Yet in the beginning, as teachers at my new school and I get to know each other and develop trusting relationships, I choose to refrain from offering feedback and instead to focus almost exclusively on presence and heartfelt appreciation. As the Head of School of an independent school, in which the format for teacher evaluation is not mandated by a district or the state, I have that freedom. I can take some time, engage with teachers, and collaboratively design a feedback framework emphasizing growth.

In the past I interpreted, or more likely misinterpreted, educational research as indicating that paradoxically praise is  judgmental and disrespectful of teachers’ and students’ abilities to reflect on their own learning; successes and mistakes alike. Teachers opened my eyes; sharing the pain of giving heart and soul and only infrequently, if at all, receiving appreciation from supervisors. I have heard from teachers about how disconcerting it is to feel as if one is “on stage” as a supervisor, even a caring supervisor, observes. Trained to focus on learning from mistakes, teachers often, almost obsessively, analyze what went wrong in a lesson,while glossing over what went right. We frequently see ourselves through intensely critical lenses and imagine those observing us do as well. We too often neglect to celebrate our successes, inadvertently missing out on the potential to build from our strengths.

As Parker Palmer boldly asserts, it takes courage to teach. That courage deserves appreciation.

And so, I reach out to teachers in my own school, and to colleagues more broadly wondering about ways of structuring appreciative, reflective exploration of teaching practice.  If you were able to structure a system of feedback for professionals to promote growth, in lieu of formal evaluation, what process would you use? What components would you include? What would be helpful for you?

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