WARNING!! I am preparing to get on a soap box. I wanted to tell you in advance should you feel like clicking away right now and saving this particular sermon for another time. A conversation that I am beyond tired of having is the one where I have to continually stand in defense of the capability of the teachers we put at the front of classrooms. Sure, we all have them. Horror stories about a teacher in the fifth grade who scarred us for life. We may even have had poor experiences with the people teaching our own children or children that are close to us. The point is that at any given time, many of us have a “worst teacher” story. While I would wager that concerns related to staff efficacy extend to all professions, a story that I do not often hear in education is the “turnaround teacher” story. Where are they? Where are the tales about teachers who may not have been doing so great, but who with effective feedback turned out to be school rock stars? WHERE I ask you are the stories about teachers who struggled to connect meaningfully with students and after coaching created relationships that extended beyond the school year?
WHY do we never share real life examples of teachers who (with supports) did the hard work of shoring up their weaknesses and creating transformative learning experiences for kids? We sometimes glamorize teachers who need little support and demonize those who just need insight into how to do the job better.
Too often, we put teachers into two categories: Those who are “dedicated” to the job (read A. naturally gifted at building relationships or B. well liked by peers and supervisors or C. dedicate all of their time to the job for reasons still unknown to us who have lives outside of work) 2. Those who need to “get on board” (read A. those who ask questions that appear confrontational or B. those who struggle with classroom management and communication or C. those who struggle with organization) The truth of the matter is that in my opinion, all teachers can move from Good to Great. In his book, Jim Collins says that we can’t teach character but we can provide education and training for all else. It is his idea that I put forth here. When teachers fail, it typically isn’t due to lack of dedication. They have the desire to serve children and communities. They have the basic training needed to do the job proficiently. What they need is additional training and ongoing actionable feedback.
“Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” -Grant Wiggins for ASCD
ASCD discusses the importance of feedback on student performance but I would argue that teachers need actionable feedback as well. Whenever I hear complaints of teacher underperformance I ALWAYS think, “I wonder what supports are in place for this teacher? I wonder if they have been told what you are telling me right now?” Many times when I pose these questions aloud the response is that “Yes” there are supports in place (i.e. coaching and increased observations) for the teacher but “No” he or she has not heard specifically in plain language why they are being supported to include a clear goal being put into place and regular actionable feedback on meeting that goal provided. When we fail to treat teachers as learners, unintentionally, we fail students as learners. We have to believe that every teacher can grow if we are ever going to retain their talents.
In his podcast, Adam Grant highlights one company that has a culture of radical feedback. Though their methods are extreme, the results CANNOT be argued with. Listen to it below:
While I am not suggesting that you begin by video recording EVERY meeting and bluntly telling the people that you work with what their faults are, I am suggesting that as education leaders you open yourselves to regular goal oriented feedback from staff. MODEL FOR THEM the growth mindset we so often promote. ASK THEM how your presentations went. ASK THEM if your delivery was clear and if as a team they feel you are making progress towards goals. Finally, GIVE THEM the gift of your regular actionable feedback. Your teachers come to work everyday because they believe they are making a difference. As a leader, you can ensure that they do by setting clear expectations, and giving the regular goal oriented feedback teachers need to grow. You can even extend the feedback loop to include teachers giving actionable goal oriented feedback to other teachers. This takes the full lift off of you and also helps teachers to grow other teachers which is a win win. Who knows? Maybe one of you will reach out to me and I can FINALLY get that turnaround teacher story I have been waiting to hear.
Remember to lead is to constantly learn, and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Creating a culture of ongoing goal oriented feedback will help your teachers to thrive. – Dr. Kia