One of my greatest challenges as a building administrator is balancing my passion for instructional coaching with my role as evaluator. Our teacher evaluation model, while weighted down with cumbersome mathematics and documentation, offers a valuable opportunity to interact with teachers on authentic work impacting their classrooms. Below are the four factors present in the most successful interactions:
Remember Feelings Matter
A teacher’s mindset when they enter our meetings is critical to the success of our collaboration. As we settle down to talk, the first words out of my mouth are always, “How are you?” There is no reason to ignore the emotions present in the room as they will surely impact the work we are able to do. A teacher may be struggling to get their toddler to sleep at night or frustrated with a student concern. I am not able to help solve every problem, every time, but acknowledging the presence of these barriers allows us to move forward from a shared position.
Ask Questions First
I am easily excited. When I get an idea a verbal waterfall flows forth, and I can be impossible to slow down. As a leader, this situation is a major problem, because it takes several things for granted. Namely, it assumes that the teacher I am working with is ready to hear my ideas. Also, in a leadership position, your ideas can be interpreted as directives. Asking questions fosters a culture of dialogue. Communication and ideas flow both ways. It is insulting and frustrating when a leader suggests for you to do something you have already tried or something unrelated to your actual challenge. Questions allow you to gather essential information regarding the teacher’s thought process and previous work. Some go to questions:
When planning for a lesson:
- What are you most excited about?
- What will the students learn? How will you know?
- What happened prior to this lesson?
- What do students like the most about your lessons?
When problem solving:
- What have you tried already?
- What is the ideal ending to this story?
- Is there anyone else we can involve in solving this problem? How might they help?
Great leaders recognize that they do not know everything. However, staying connected (both online and off), reading, and researching helps fill our tool belts with resources to share with teachers, when needed. Sometimes a connection is finding time for a teacher to collaborate with a colleague in the building and sometimes it may mean providing a resource for a teacher to explore. It is important to remember that suggestions always come after questions. I often use the phrase, “This is what I hear you saying,” to recap our discussion, prior to jumping in with a recommendation. This ensures my understanding and allows me to make an appropriate connection.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
It seems that the second we leave the classroom we lose our “street cred.” While this perception can be impossible to change (since we are, in fact, no longer classroom teachers), practicing what we preach definitely helps. When we asked our teachers to revise assessments, the principal and I revised some of our own. While teachers worked on designing lessons centered on student inquiry, I sat down and engaged in the productive struggle to help bring those ideas to fruition.
How do you ensure your interactions with teachers are viewed as valuable?