Professional Development Opinion

When Confrontation Leads to Deeper Reflection

By Starr Sackstein — October 26, 2017 3 min read
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Just like with teaching students, the hardest and most dreaded part of being a leader is having to evaluate performance using a system that doesn’t necessary provide ample flexibility for adequate feedback.

With the changes to APPR and the expectation of better teacher accountability, we must go into each observation process, on the side of the teacher, eager to help improve student learning for everyone.

Since it is a shared goal between the observed teacher and the responsible leader to better engage students in the learning process, we must be aware of the purpose of the experience and build upon it.

Disclaimer: Like with grades when it comes to our students, evaluations that require us to label teaching with numbers on a rubric, the actual learning and feedback can get lost in what the score at the bottom of the observation says.

As a new school leader, I walk into each experience with each teacher with fresh eyes. I know what good teaching looks like:

  • Student-centered classrooms where kids are doing the heavy lifting of the learning. (Like the students in the picture doing a station activity that got them up and moving around the classroom, sharing ideas around a theme related to the novel they are about to read.)
  • Students are grouped in pairs, triads, or quads for easier collaboration
  • Teachers are one expert in the room, and facilitate conversations and learning, providing continuous opportunities for engagement
  • Uses the available resources to enrich and enhance student learning. This includes technology.
  • Teaches collaboration for problem solving and critical thinking
  • It’s noisy and possibly a little chaotic because kids are really involved in what is going on.
  • Offers choice
  • Involves students in the decision making
  • Students are expected to actively ask questions of the curriculum and of the students
  • Engages students to co-create success criteria
  • Allows for practice time and meets each student where he or she is and seeks to move them all forward from that unique starting point
  • Gives students the language of learning to talk about
  • Empowers students to be in charge of their own learning
  • Promotes safety and risk taking because making mistakes isn’t feared, but rather expected
  • Offers opportunities for reflection and deep meta-cognitive awareness which then informs future instruction

What it shouldn’t look like:

  • Teacher at the front of the room for the majority of the period
  • Students working from a textbook or worksheet with no variety
  • Students sitting in rows, not engaged with each other
  • Students silently comply with expectations without questioning or thinking too much
  • Teacher is responsible for asking the majority of the questions
  • The lesson is inflexible and focused more on getting information into the brains of the students who passively take it in
  • Wait time is absent
  • Teacher answering his/her own questions

So each observation is an opportunity to report what I see to the teacher, share evidence and provide meaningful feedback that should enhance learning for all students. The post-observation is a chance to share ideas and norm expectations about how things went.

But what happens when you meet with a teacher who doesn’t agree with your perception of what happened despite the evidence that has been provided?

It’s time to take a breath.

Rather than meet the confrontation head on with additional assertive energy, I choose to listen and write down the complaints and concerns. This allows me the time to digest what I’m hearing and make a determination as to whether or not adjustments can or should be made.

Follow up conversations are essential too once the original confrontation has settled down.

Changes in leadership can create discomfort with staff, especially if the prior administrator handled things very differently. Your team needs time to get used to new leadership and expectations. As relationships are being developed, everything is being watched. Every exchange is an opportunity for reflection and growth to become a better leader and develop more connected relationships.

As the leader builds, patience is necessary and this the part I struggle with... wait time. I expect to be able to do everything right away which is extremely foolhardy. I can only go as quickly as my staff are willing to go and they really need to be on board.

So I wait and that’s the hardest part. The great potential for awesome student learning is all around us and now we just have to harness what we’re doing and continue to tweak it.

How do you deal with confrontations as a leader? How can they be excellent learning experiences for everyone? Please share

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