Six of Eight: To Teach

Honoring the educator. It is that time of the year- retirements, graduations, bittersweet good-byes for students and teachers.  A school is one of the few businesses that shuts down and starts over again every year. Once we leave, desks get pushed to one side of the classrooms, floors get scrubbed and waxed, a year of elbow grease is washed off of desks and the halls have an eerie, quiet calmness.  It isn’t about the hallways though, it is about what happens in the classrooms. All year, every day, it is about the teaching and learning…

I remember, when I started teaching in the 80’s being told that anyone could teach; that once I had my education degree I would be a good teacher.  It was as if the degree and four years of university gave me all the tools in my toolbox to ensuring learning. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that being a great teacher was going to take much more than going to my classroom every day. colored-pencils-686679__340I had to practice my craft, continue to learn from other teachers, study, read and, most importantly, get to know my students.  I should be apologizing to the students from my early days… I am very confident that I could have done a much better job of ensuring learning.  I have learned so much over the years and the most important lesson is that to have highly engaged students who are learning means much more than just teaching.  Just because I taught it doesn’t mean students were learning.

As a school improvement coach, I have come full circle.  I am confident in my understanding now of the value and importance of classroom instruction. I see the difference when teachers take the time to learn more about effective instruction and practice their craft. I appreciate authentic collaboration when teachers work side by side and figure out their next steps together.  When they use their knowledge of their students and their curriculum to decide what to do in the classroom. It isn’t about turning to the next page of the textbook and lecturing; it is about knowing what they want students to know and be able to do and working hard, really hard to ensure that what they are doing in the classroom aligns to what has to be learned by students.

In chapter six of Leading with Intention, ( Jeanne Spiller and I share our thoughts, some important research and several suggestions for how instruction can be the focus in a school. Engaging, effective classroom strategies do not just happen.  Yes, I know that there are natural-born teachers who just seem to figure out, on the fly, what has to happen next to make their lessons work. In my years of visiting classrooms, this is not the norm. Most educators, like other professionals, have to study, learn, practice and adjust when things are not working.  And, most importantly, great instruction depends on clarity about where students are on their learning journey and what they need next. It is important that we remember that teaching is about student learning; not covering content.

How can leaders support instruction? Classroom observations are important and not because principals need to “evaluate” or catch teachers doing wrong. It is really about being able to see what students are learning or what they are struggling with and helping teachers see this as well.  Principals who develop their own observation and feedback skills are able to support stronger instructional practices.  Figures 6.2 and 6.3 ( are great tools to use when in classrooms.

I know that this might not be the time of the year that you are heading in to classrooms but summer is a great time to consider your leadership practice. It is a great time to read, reflect and reset your own intentions for the next school year.  Once school starts, the “management” of the building takes over and often, the support that you can provide for instruction can be lost.  How you establish collaborative teams so that their discussions lead to improving instruction and what that looks like when it is implemented in classrooms is impacted by you, the school leader.

Take the time now, or once the dust settles, to create space for you to truly be an instructional leader. Read, study, plan.  Consider the needs of your students and teachers and create a work plan to hit the ground running when school starts.   Determine your own non-negotiables- what will you expect to see in classrooms and most importantly, how will you explain, model, support and provide continuous learning in daily practice?

To my principals reading this, I know that you know you have more work to do in this area and you are not alone.  It is a great area to focus on as you have more time to think and reflect. Have a great week. See you next Saturday.

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