Never Stop Learning

I’ve just completed the hardest 3 months ever in my career. I am learning to support elementary teachers in teaching and learning mathematics, and working hard to help decrease anxiety and stress. Elementary teachers work so hard. They teach all subjects, often with limited time for planning and collaborating. Throw in a new math curriculum which has increased the conceptual depth of the mathematics they are teaching, and you have chaos.

Many of these teachers have embraced the new curriculum, and are working together to create a cohesive learning experience for their students, recognizing that they can’t do it all, and accepting that this year they will be learning along with the students, slowly but surely. I’m not concerned about these teachers. They ask for help and guidance, they accept what they can do, and work in new things as they are able. They discuss their experiences in the classroom, both the successes and the things they hope to improve.

Others are struggling and anxious. They are upset and angry, complaining about the time it takes to plan and learn the new material, often refusing to try some of the new lessons or reverting back to direct teaching to “get it all in”. They fight the idea of leaving some things out for now to learn how to facilitate conversations and become familiar with the program and new teaching methods because “kids won’t be ready for CAASPP.” I’m more concerned about these teachers. I want to support them and decrease their anxiety because I know that is the foundation of their anger and struggling. I check in with them, remind them to be gentle with themselves, encourage them to pick a couple of things to work on and get good at them, then add in new things as they feel comfortable. I model lessons in their classrooms, and discuss lessons with them and how to improve what they are doing. At times, they hear me and feel better, and their anxiety lessons a bit.

A handful of teachers are refusing to incorporate the new program at all. They refuse to put in any time outside of their classroom to familiarize themselves with the material, think about how to facilitate lessons differently or learn how to visualize math in a different way. I’m extremely concerned about these teachers. They often refuse to allow me to enter their classrooms, will not attend any collaborative or supportive learning situations we put in place, and often respond to surveys with sarcastic and volatile messages. These are the teachers I want to support and work with. These are the teachers that I find myself thinking about, worrying about, and the ones that are the incentive for planning my professional learning opportunities, even though they refuse to attend or to even enter into conversations about learning or growing. I guess my hope is that they will get it by osmosis.

My colleagues remind me to go with the goers, and honestly, it really is the only thing I can do at this point. There are just too many teachers and one of me. I do continually hope that the things we are doing and the learning that is occurring will seep into them little by little and that their mindsets will change and grow.

Mostly, I worry about the students. There are so many good things happening in the classrooms across the district, even the ones who are anxious and feeling overwhelmed. I know they see it too, they often talk to me about the things they hear their students saying or what they see them doing and love the learning they are seeing. The students in the rooms of the last group of teachers continue to struggle with ideas, topics, and learning.

I’m grateful for the changes we are making and the fact the the majority of our students are growing and changing because of it, but I want EVERY student to have the opportunity to grow and learn. I want it all.

I have a lot more to do.

Intentional and Practical Professional Learning – Part 2

Our district Teaching and Learning team is taking part in Cognitive Coaching training. This is a series of eight professional days, two at a time spread over a series of months. Today was our 3rd day of this training. I’m finding these very informative and practical for my practice and my personal learning. Today we were discussing questioning. After writing a previous post here, I realized I left quite a bit unsaid and unaddressed. While I definitely need to be monitoring my mindset both in planning and facilitating professional learning, there is so much more that needs to be considered.

Questions are hugely important on so many levels. Our facilitator left us today with this thought:

 “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize Winner)

Now I would definitely like to be counted among the wise, in which case, I need to be asking the right questions. Not only of others, but of myself. So, while I work on planning professional learning for teachers, it is important that I ask the “What” and “How” questions. These are questions that allow me to assume positive presuppositions, and “are designed to stimulate thinking, not action”. (Cognitive Coaching Seminars) Stimulating thinking is what provokes us to action, and allows us to reflect on what we do or do not know, and to push our thinking to the point we can begin to find solutions and ideas which become actions. Often these are the types of questions we would be using in working with colleagues and other practitioners, however, I find that I sometimes need to be inviting when delving into my own thinking. I need to be intentional and honest with my personal and professional reflections in order to push myself to deeper levels of learning.

This is where I become a better developer and facilitator of professional learning. By asking the right questions, reflecting on the “how” and “why” of what I am attempting to share, and pushing my thinking beyond the normal stages of planning, I can develop habits of mind and practices which will allow me to plan, execute and model a more cognitive level of professional practice. This is what I meant to be saying in the previous post when I commented that I needed to continue learning. I have to push myself beyond my comfort level, especially if I am going to ask colleagues to push past their comfort levels.

I am blessed to have many colleagues, both in my district cohort and on twitter, with whom I can think through projects on which I am working, question my thinking, and verbalize my frustration when things don’t seem to be going the way I had planned. They are willing to push me by asking hard questions and encouraging me to ask them of myself. They also work with me to interpret responses to survey questions that are asked of teachers with whom we work to provide a deeper and more valuable learning experience. This in turn, is a precursor for me to ask questions of the teachers in the meetings and professional development situations I facilitate to push them to the next level of learning.

Hearing is important and necessary, but it is the questions that lead us to learning.

Intentional and Practical Professional Learning

Today on twitter I had a short conversation with a colleague about professional learning. It went like this:Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.00.18 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.03.40 PM

Recently I have found myself frustrated about what I view as a fixed mindset on the part of many of our teachers. I am working hard, both by myself and with another PD provider at our district to create meaningful and timely professional learning for our elementary teachers. They are wanting time to work together with other teachers from the district to walk through our new curriculum and discuss the problems and successes that others are having. I have taken this to heart, and have been working with K-2 and 3-5 math leads from each site monthly. I have changed the topics and plans for these meetings based on the needs I am hearing from teachers, as well as the discussions that come up during these meetings.

I have also created a google survey for all teachers asking what their immediate needs are, and based on those responses have been working with our Lead In professional development center to create time once a month for teachers from all sites to come together and participate in training on things they are requesting, work together on lesson planning and problem solving, and discuss their concerns and needs with teachers from two of our sites who have been using our new curriculum for the past 1-2 years and get ideas from them on organization, prioritizing, and how to facilitate classroom conversations. We ask for feedback from each of these meetings, and no matter how much we use this and try to meet needs, there are many unhappy teachers.

I have found myself creating a mindset in the midst of planning some of these sessions, asking myself questions like, “Why work so hard at this? Many of them are not going to find this valuable.” “Why do they show up if they feel there is nothing of value happening at these sessions?” You get the idea. I’m glad to have had this conversation today because it reminds me that I am in charge of my mindset, and I definitely want to be one with a growth mindset. I have learned so much in the past two years on twitter, blogging, and sharing my ideas with colleagues in meetings, professional development settings, and at conferences. The feedback is something I take very seriously, and stretch my thinking by using it to plan my next steps. It is often difficult to separate all this when we are so close to the heart of the work happening, and it helps to have someone on the outside push us and ask the hard questions.

I need to continue to work hard to meet the needs of our teachers and not take their responses personally. I need to continue collaborating and talking with my colleagues on twitter, in my professional development capacities, and reflecting on the work I am doing and striving to make it the most meaningful I can. I need to support the work to prioritize needs for our teachers also, as some of them are feeling so overwhelmed they are struggling to make those decisions for themselves, and help them to problem solve these things and find solutions that will help them feel more successful in the classroom.

I have to continue to grow and learn myself, so that I can be a strong support and encouragement to the teachers with whom I work.