An Appropriate Role for Support of Teacher Learning
_Do you believe that you have to spot teachers' strengths and weaknesses and identify for them where they need to improve? If so, you are missing an opportunity for building teacher capacity.
Here it is in a nutshell: Never think for a teacher what the teacher can think for herself or himself.
Instead of being the problem finder for teachers, develop a repertoire of questions that help teachers to develop habits of mind that are capacity-building. These questions ask teachers what they know, how they are learning, what gets in the way of their success, and how you can help teachers move ahead to greater capacity. A wide variety of data can be used to support such conversations, and, again, you can help teachers get in the habit of bringing the data to you, rather than providing data for teachers. How do you know? is an extremely powerful question.
Yes, such habits of mind are best scaffolded. If teachers in your school or district previously have not been encouraged to be problem finders and problem solvers, these practices will develop over time and with continued support. See the column to the right for sample questions.
Some Questions for Learning Conversations
Rethinking the Walk-Through
_Some educational leaders find that walk-throughs—those quick observations of teachers, students, and environments as one walks from room to room—are not as supportive of teacher learning as they’d like them to be. Here are a few ideas for helpful modifications:
Ask the teaching staff to develop a focus of the walk-throughs and a checklist of what they hope one would see if they are successfully achieving that focus area. For example, the staff might select a focus of creating classrooms that support writers, and the checklist might include: samples of student writing are on display; writing for various purposes is evident; tools for writing are easily accessible by students; charts designed by and for that class community provide helpful tips; prewriting takes many forms, not just one; resources for checking conventions are available.
Invite teachers themselves to conduct the walk-throughs in teams while you and other building leaders cover their classrooms or while a team of floating subs covers their classrooms. Include time for the teachers to discuss what they’ve seen before they return to their classrooms.
As part of your supervisory conversation with teachers, ask what they’d like you to look for when you do walk-throughs.
Consider eliminating walk-throughs as a way to de-emphasize what is observed as the mark of effective teaching. Instead, remind teachers that, for teachers with more than two or three years’ experience, the most challenging aspects of teaching are the decisions that are made, and emphasize that sound decision making is not always visible in a walk-through. Instead, conference with teachers about their decision-making and the information that they used to make those decisions.