Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

The Best Sources of Classroom Advice Are ‘Teachers Who Are on the Ground Every Day'

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 02, 2021 8 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."

(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Who should teachers listen to when it comes to advice on classroom instruction?

Lots of people want to give educators advice on how to teach—administrators, parents, students, colleagues, and more.

But who should we be listening to?

This series will share possible responses to that question.

Today, Andrew Sharos, Cristiane Galvão, Allyson Caudill, John Cox, & Ashley Blackley offer their answers. All five were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in an earlier piece I wrote, Who Should Teachers Take Seriously When They Give Advice About Classroom Instruction?

Listen to ‘Culture-Builders’

Andrew Sharos is the author of Finding Lifelines: A Practical Tale Of Teachers & Mentors and All 4s And 5s: A Guide To Teaching And Leading Advanced Placement Programs. He is an administrator in Chicago and former history teacher:

So many advice givers in the education world are far removed from teaching, and while our advice might be entertaining, practical, and inspiring, it’s important to take notes from the folks who are doing this work every day.

I’ve met and conversed with basketball coaches at the highest level, including Bobby Knight, Jay Wright, John Calipari, and Coach K. Most of them would knowingly admit that the best coaching in the sport is probably at the high school level, where a relationship builder and an X’s and O’s savant can be a real difference-maker. College coaches must split their time between recruiting, media appearances, playing politics, working with donors. In short, the multimillionaire coaches know that the real coaches are the ones who can focus on it every day.

If I took advice from anyone in our profession, it would be from those who are culture-builders. In our schools, we have folks who add, multiply, subtract, and divide. It helps to hang out with the first two. Who are the colleagues who willingly make positive deposits in the culture of the school? Those people volunteer their time, attend their students’ games and performances, and do so without any ulterior motives. Who do others go to when they have a problem? Those people share their wisdom and their time to listen to others. Who do the kids AND adults trust in your building? Those are the colleagues you want relationships with.

We can talk about teachers who have sound instructional practices. The spirit of getting good advice on classroom instruction should come from a place that is instructionally sound and proven to produce good student outcomes. Methodology is important. Knowing content is important. Wanting results is important. But student outcomes are about students, not outcomes. Investing in the advice from teachers who are on the ground every day is key. If those colleagues build positive cultures and are trusted around the school, I would pick up whatever they are willing to put down.

investingsharos

A Learning ‘Cycle’

Cristiane Galvão holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Taubaté, Brazil, and a doctorate in higher education leadership from California Lutheran University, U.S.A. She has taught ESL for 20 years and has offered teaching development courses to language teachers from all over the world:

Colleagues

Teachers should listen to their colleagues. When teachers who work at the same school share their practices, they create a safe and collaborative environment where they can learn from each other. If teachers have the opportunity to observe each other’s practices, even better.

It is important that principals and school administrators acknowledge that all teachers bring different teaching styles. Schools should give them the opportunity to share their best practices among themselves. This can be empowering, creating an environment where everybody feels valued. When best practices are shared, our students benefit. I will always advocate for collaboration among teachers because I believe that teachers who work together succeed together.

Co-Teaching

If their school allows them to do so, teachers should experience co-teaching a class. Co-teaching gives teachers an opportunity to see and to be seen, to hear and to be heard. When I co-taught online, I learned so much from my colleagues. We had discussions on lesson plans and how activities would be delivered to the students. In co-teaching, there should be openness for reflection, feedback, and change. If teachers give each other the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and then implement the necessary changes for better instruction, it can become a cycle of construction of knowledge.

Mentors

I suggest that teachers have a mentor—a person who they can rely on, a friend or colleague who they can call any time in case they need it. Having a person who can listen to you and share similar experiences will feel comforting when things get a little overwhelming.

Student-teachers are surrounded by colleagues who share their experiences during theoretical discussions. They learn from colleagues in their credential program, from the readings, and by observing other teachers’ practices. Once they become teachers and have their own classrooms, they should continue to draw from the experiences of their fellow teachers.

Professional Development

Attending conferences and webinars that feature the authors of adopted teaching materials can increase confidence when using the material in the classroom. Membership in professional organizations can provide useful information on events and research as well as offering opportunities for like-minded professionals to learn from each other. Finally, books and articles written by educators can be an excellent source for useful practices and teaching strategies.

teachershouldgalvo

‘Learning Walks’

Allyson Caudill, John Cox, & Ashley Blackley (@readysetcoteach), are national-board-certified co-teachers from Raleigh, N.C., who specialize in co-teaching for English-learners at the elementary level. With 18 years of experience among them, they have been teaching together for four years, are featured in several professional texts, and have presented at multiple education conferences on the topics of inclusion, collaboration, literacy, & language. Website/Blog: www.readysetcoteach.com:

With a vast amount of resources and the ever-changing research, policies, and ideas in education, it can be difficult to decide who is giving the best advice. For us, the answer is to start with each other. Teachers’ vast experiences, strengths, and perspectives make them a collective gold mine of advice and strategies. Where one teacher is weak, another is strong. Being on the front lines of education every single day makes our teachers the most up-to-date and informed about today’s students—who they are and how to best meet their needs.

The good news is with collaborative practices on the rise, teachers have increased opportunities to learn from each other now more than ever. “Learning walks” are a great way to give teachers exposure to their colleagues’ strengths. We participated in these by spending the day observing other teachers for the sole purpose of personal insight and growth. We carried a note catcher and wrote down ideas or strategies we wanted to try. We also noted questions for follow-up which later sparked collaborative and constructive conversations between educators.

If we’re being honest, we learned more from spending 10 minutes in a few of our colleagues’ classrooms than we did in any daylong training last year. We saw approaches that worked and could be implemented immediately upon return to our classrooms. These learning walks also allowed us to identify others’ strengths so when we need support, we know exactly who to go to for advice. Coaches and instructional facilitators are great, but don’t underestimate the wealth of knowledge teachers themselves have as a cohesive unit.

An important thing to note about our experience is that we didn’t just visit classrooms that taught our grade or specialty. We saw music and art teachers, upper- and lower-grade teachers, ESL teachers, and resource teachers—any teacher we were interested in visiting. When we open our classroom doors to each other and begin to break down the silos, we are able to gain new perspectives and ideas that benefit students.

welearnedreadysetteach

Thanks to Andrew, Cristiane, Allyson, John, and Ashley for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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