Professional Development Opinion

Leaders, Get Into Classrooms

By Starr Sackstein — November 20, 2017 3 min read
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Nervously, I waited in the doorway with the classroom teacher, welcoming students as they came.

One young lady looked at me weirdly, so as to say, “Who are you?” with her eyes.

“It’s okay, your teacher is here, I promise,” I nodded reassuringly, so as to put her mind at ease. Today is in fact a learning day.

“Do we have a sub?” the next student entering said, only to notice her “real” teacher standing nearby.

Once the bell rang, I was promptly introduced to the class in Spanish by the teacher and I got to feel the rush of teaching a class again; the one thing I miss most about being a school leader is the time I spent getting to know kids and the deeply important role of sharing learning.

One of the middle school Spanish team participated in a chat I was moderating and heard us talking about student designed rubrics. She and another teacher wanted to try it out as they were starting a project, but didn’t know where to start.

As I was doing walk-throughs one afternoon, I ran into the teacher and we spoke briefly only for her to ask me to help! I was delighted.

We spent one period planning the scope and sequence of the entire project, looking at a calendar and planning backward and we determined when I would come in to teach the students to develop success criteria.

Another planning session was established, I wrote a lesson plan and developed a handout about the standards that would need to be aligned with the success criteria for the real estate ads student would be creating. The classroom teachers already introduced the project to the students prior to my cameo in their classrooms.

Using what the students knew about what makes a good advertisement based on earlier lessons, in pairs, students would determine what needed to be in their ads for them to persuade each other to buy or rent their property. As a class, we then brainstormed a list of elements that would be considered necessary.

A graphic organizer was designed so that once we decided as a class what success criteria was, the students could write it into their middle column in preparation for standards alignment.

This was the challenging part. I had forgotten how pervasive this task was in my high school classes when I taught as students contributed in this fashion all of the time and they were upper level high school students. These middle school students were seeing the language of their standard for the first time and getting them to align which standards matched with each success criteria was often a little clumsy.

In our debrief, we discussed how we could have made it easier for the students and what we could have done differently.

As the students annotated their standards, me and the classroom teacher worked with the pairs of students to make sure they understood what the task was asking them to do, asking clarifying questions and modeling the expectations. Then as a class, we filled in which standards appropriately aligned.

Throughout the lesson, I reminded students about why we were doing this activity and helping them understand that success comes when you know what you’re shooting for and when you are determining the target, even better.

Overall, it was an extremely positive experience for me, the teachers and the students. One student even asked her teacher if I would be coming back again to teach. The teachers enjoyed the co-teaching experience and I got my hands into a classroom. It was a win for everyone.

My next project is working with a co-teaching social studies pair to develop a civil war project to be done in class before the winter break. I’m eager to help them and get into to their classes as well.

When I imagined myself as a leader in this position, this is exactly what I had hoped my job would be. Now that I’ve established some credibility with the staff, and have taken the time to build relationships, they are inviting me in more often.

To me, this is the work we need to be doing to affect positive change in the classroom. This is how we build a team. And selfishly, this is how I keep that teacher piece of me happy by staying relevant in the classroom. After all, how could I expect my teachers to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself?

How do you help teachers try out new ideas and remain visible while doing so? Please share.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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