As leaders, we want to mimic the moves of the best teachers: assess each student’s/teacher’s individual strengths and needs; co-create personalized goals; give the student/teacher concrete strategies that unpack the essence of good learning/teaching; and provide meaningful feedback so the student/teacher will want to go back, try again, and continue to grow.
What can this process look like so we set up every teacher to succeed and thrive in personalized ways?
Like this: we help teachers self-assess to form their own professional goal, rather than imposing one on them. We help them choose from a hierarchy of possible teaching goals, organized so teachers have foundational elements of instruction in place first and then keep building. Basically, we set them up for success.
Here’s the hierarchy of teaching goals:
Teachers choose one focus area or goal at a time, knowing that the hierarchy is based on current research on the essential components of a thriving classroom, tailored to meet the needs of diverse students.
We help teachers to use checklists to find the professional goal that’s right for them, so they feel ownership in this process. The checklist for whether to focus on classroom environment might look like this:
We provide practical, research-based strategies to work toward that goal. Here’s a sample strategy for the environment goal:
Try This: Stop Decorating and Start Turning Classroom Walls Over to Students
Look at all of your classroom wall space, including bulletin boards in the hallways, and make a rough estimate: What percentage of the walls are student-created? If it’s less than 80%, decide which teacher-created walls can be cleared.
Research has shown that crowded wall spaces can serve as visual and mental clutter for many students- the opposite of what we want, and another reason not to spend our precious time stapling cut-outs in a Pinterest-worthy design. Take down a lot of the posters, displays, and decorations that were purchased or teacher-created. Toss or recycle visuals that do not serve as “silent teachers” or that are not referred to regularly.
Frame spaces on bulletin boards and leave the space inside the frame empty, so students know these spaces are theirs to fill. You might choose one or two labels in advance, such as “Works in Progress,” “Words that Intrigue Us,” “All About Us,” “Our Goals,” or “Shout Out Wall”, but leave the rest to be decided upon by students as time goes on.
Embrace visual resting spaces and blank walls. Know they will be filled with student creations when it’s time!
Whenever possible, we provide time and space so teachers can try strategies with colleagues, and tips for how to do this work together. We also provide indicators, based on what students do and say, that will help teachers see if the strategy is working.
We celebrate the successes that teachers have made happen, just as we would any student’s efforts and achievements. We watch our teachers (and students) thrive.
For a complete set of strategies tailored to fit every teacher’s goal, along with checklists, indicators, and ways to go through the process with colleagues, stay tuned for Berit Gordon’s book coming out in spring 2020, published by Heinemann.
by Berit Gordon
Berit Gordon taught in NYC public schools and in the Dominican Republic prior to her literacy coaching work. She is a graduate and former adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her recent book, No More Fake Reading, offers solutions for boosting stamina, joy, and skills among adolescent readers. Please feel free to reach out on the contact link at beritgordon.com.