This got me to thinking about my new job this year as a full time release district mentor. In the beginning my work felt like a cycle where I always ended up back where I began with my mentees. I would meet with my mentees and talk about what was going well for them and an area of challenge or concern. We talked about some strategies they could employ that would help in these areas and we set a time for me to come and see them in action in the classroom. After I did my observation we met again and talked about the results by highlighting what went well and then we identified another area of focus and the whole thing would start over. The year started out in this basic pattern until I got one piece of advice from my own mentor. She did some observations of me in the field and at the end of the first set she asked me to start using the Danielson framework language in our next steps and in our strengths.
I was really hesitant at first. I was getting into a great groove with my mentees. They were starting to feel really confident, to trust our relationship and inviting me in more and more. They often asked me to come to their most challenging classes. I was worried that grounding my feedback in the framework language that everyone identified with evaluation would change that and make it feel more like judgement. I was afraid they would be uncomfortable being candid with their struggles and needs.
I was, however, willing to give it a try so I sat down the next day with my first mentee and grabbed my copy of the framework and my copy of the 2013 edition of Charlotte Danielson’s, The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. (A book that we all carry around and don’t open often full of the rubrics our admin uses for evaluation.) The teacher had been working on getting students to stop side conversations and pay overt attention to her directions and lessons. She is a caring instructor who the students really like, however she is soft-spoken in nature and not as boisterous as many who command the attention of the room. She is never going to yell, or jump around to get their attention. It’s just not in her nature.
We had been talking about this issue for a couple of weeks and weren’t really sure what the next steps were. She was trying to use a universal hand signal and to wait until she had 100% attention and that was working sometimes. There still were students who carried on or started side conversations while she was talking or took out their phones to play games or send a text.
This time, instead of having the same conversation we had been having–fishing for one more strategy to employ to make kids act differently–I referred to the framework. I pointed to component 2d, “managing student behaviors” and asked her if she would read it and see what we were missing. We looked at the rubric and found that so far she was doing all the things it suggested and they were working on and off, however it just wasn’t fixing the problem across the board.
The teacher then picked up my copy of the framework and said, “I think it’s actually about establishing a culture for learning.” I was not originally thinking about this as the criteria so I asked her to explain.
She turned to that criteria in the book. “It says right here that to be proficient the students understand their role as learners and consistently expend effort to learn. I see that they are not trying to be rude or even rowdy. They are just not putting in the effort to learn. They are really missing the culture for learning. If I work on them being more invested and in sharing the belief in the importance of learning it might help some of the off-task behavior. If what they are doing is important to them and their learning they will be more invested in the instruction that is happening in the room. As of right now I think I am a basic.”
I was struck with how insightful this was. She had made a real connection to the framework and how it could help her diagnose an area of growth in a new way. It could change her behavior and ultimately change the entire culture of her classroom instead of just a procedure or a new hand gesture. It felt very rewarding to see her think differently about the cause for student behavior. I just offered her some feedback and then showed our districts framework. Because there was no evaluation involved it was completely safe for her to honestly and humbly diagnose her area of focus even though we were using a tool the evaluators often use. She has since been working at helping her students to see the importance of each lesson and activity. She has been purposeful in her directions, in calling their attention to the passion she has for the subject and to tap into their passions and grab onto their interest when they present them as well. For example during a following lesson the students challenged her on a paragraph she had written as an example. She grabbed onto this opportunity where the students were taking initiative and allowed them to talk about why they thought her example was not showing what she thought it was. Then she asked them to fix it and tell her why she was wrong and why their paragraph was better. Believe me, one hundred percent of them wanted to get in on doing something better than the teacher .
Through this experience I realized that if you give a teacher some feedback, they will want to make an improvement. If they make an improvement, they’ll feel really good about their performance. If they feel good about their performance, they’ll ask you to come back and watch again. If you come back and watch again, they’ll ask you for some more feedback. If you anchor that feedback in your evaluation framework language, but focus on it as a growth tool instead of an evaluation tool, you will start a whole new conversation that will move the teacher forward in a quicker and more meaningful way.