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Saturday, January 09, 2016

Teaching Well: Staying Strong and Open Minded

This week I met a teaching challenge that brought me to tears. It's been a while since I met a challenge that stayed with me so long, one that is difficult to rise from. Why did this challenge hit so hard? Why is it so hard to move away from?

I think, in part, the challenge is so difficult because the critique didn't acknowledge any of the efforts that exist to teach well; the critique found fault after fault and in many ways felt like a hammer coming down on top of me. Also the critique didn't match what I see, read, or know to a large part to be true about teaching well.

Further the critique truly challenged my belief that the learning team, students, families, colleagues, leaders, and community members, have to work together in respectful, honest, and collaborative ways to serve children well. How can our collaboration continue after such a harsh and unyielding critique?

As with any critique, harsh or respectful, there is typically some truth, and in this critique there was truth that I can think about with regard to doing a better job. I will think about how I can shift our routines to meet that request. Yet in this critique, there was also a lack of understanding with regard to the range of students I teach, the diversity of students I serve, and the amount of time I have in school and out of school to personally respond to each student. In some ways it felt like the critique wanted me to personally coach one student with daily written response and review of all work--yes, I'd love to have the time to coach and meet each child's needs with such one-to-one care, but the reality is that I am actively teaching twenty plus students at a time about 5.25 hours a day with a 45-min. planning period, and a host of lessons to prepare and plan, emails to respond to, student work to review, and professional learning after school and into the evening. I make it a goal to assess student performance and effort about once every one or two weeks which takes me about a total eight hours after the teaching day to carefully review student's singular work and respond with regard to their growth and needs.

I know that the critique was born out of a desire to see a child succeed with strength. I am a parent too. I also know that we can't always express in words what it is we are really asking or saying. I too have critiqued teachers with less success and respect that I hoped for particularly in situations where I was very sensitive about my son's needs, future, and success. Similarly on the teaching end, it was difficult for me to respond to this critique as I can't always bring to mind all the efforts and work I do each day in the classroom as it's such a busy place with so much activity all the time, so when questioned it was difficult to remember all the facts, yet I do have good lists of data and scores which I can use to see how a child's overall progress is .

The most difficult part of critique like this is the lost time, time that is given in to perseverating about the critique, healing the wounds of the harshness, and picking yourself back up. There is humility involved too as it's important to continue to strive to see the truth of the critique and change practice accordingly and to also reach for good collaboration with regard to the learning team in this endeavor.

All in all this was a small matter, but a matter that hit me hard at the end of the school week--a very busy week that began with furniture that didn't fit the children (thanks to the custodian it was changed) and moved through a large array of learning efforts with and without the children.

One upside of dealing with harsh critique however is the fact that it will make my own critique more respectful and caring in the future. We do so much better when we aim to team with one another with grace and respect helping each other along the way to do the best we can. Onward.