Thursday, June 13, 2019

Leadership Perspective: The Teacher as Learner

Lately I have been discouraged to find more coaches and administrators at professional learning events than teachers. I believe that educators need to have access to worthy learning events to empower teaching, and I hope that the growth in the numbers of leaders and coaches is not distancing educators from those worthy learning experiences.

Further, at one of the events, I heard a coach lament about her inability to convince educators to speak and/or act a specific way. The comment, in my opinion, was demeaning to educators and showed a lack of understanding about what it means to be a teacher as learner.

To lead educators and schools well, leaders must make time to think about teachers as learners, and that consideration expects leaders to notice the diversity of teacher learners that exist, a diversity that illustrates differences in time, experience, strengths, and challenges. No two teacher learners are the same just like no two of our students are exactly the same.

What is important to consider as we think about teachers as learners?

First, it's important to learn about that teacher and their experiences related to teaching. Why did you decide to teach? What is your main objective as an educator? What do you perceive as your strengths? What do you believe your needs are? A conversation, exchange of stories, and respect is essential to know and understand any teacher as learner.

Next, it's important to synthesize the system goals and the educator's goals in order to craft and support just-right learning experiences and opportunities. The Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System provides a natural avenue for this conversation--a conversation where educators share their overarching goals with administrators who help educators to synthesize those goals with systemwide efforts and goals too. This is a win-win if done well.

After that, time and place matter. To learn well, educators need opportunities that fit in well with their time and place in life. For example as a young mom and an eager educator, what I needed more than anything was time to think, read, and learn. Repetitive, surface trainings were disappointing when I craved deeper, more meaningful learning opportunities during the school day. Now as a mom with grown children and more time, but perhaps a bit less energy, I enjoy the opportunity to attend a day-long training that meets my teaching/learning needs. For example this week I attended the Massachusetts Math and Science Institute which was terrific. The day-long opportunity to think and learn deeply about math and science education taught me a lot and gave me a lot of good tools and perspectives to bring forward to my students.

Reflection and analysis matter too. After learning events, it's important to reflect about how the learning can lead to change in an educator's practice, and then after applying the learning, it's critical to analyze the effect that change had on students. Essentially educators and leaders have to determine if the learning is making a positive impact on the identified goals. If so, you're on the right track, and if not, then it's time to revise the learning track. Honest conversations about change and effect are integral to the teacher as learner path.

Teacher growth is integral to this process too. In order for educators to stay invested and fresh, there needs to be growth opportunities. That's why I believe we have to re-look at roles and structures at school. To treat first year teachers and long-term veterans the same is problematic. Educators require a more personal approach to growth in education organizations. This personal approach should lead to professional learning dollars and events that are planned with a more thoughtful, personal approach--an approach that helps educators to better their craft and also move ahead in teaching. I don't think that the only movement up for educators should be coaching or administration, instead I believe there should be avenues towards teaching mastery since we need outstanding educators in the classrooms working with students.

All teachers need to be learners in order to continually evolve and better their craft. Teachers need to have the opportunity to share their learning in meaningful ways too. A serious attitude and personal approach towards the diversity of educator learning styles, paths, strengths, and needs will empower education organizations and better our individual and collective service to students and their families. I will continue to think about this topic, and in the meantime, as I work with colleagues, I'll think of them, like me, as a teacher learners who have unique experiences, questions, challenges, and needs on the teaching/learning path, and I'll wonder where we might find good synergy with the differing profiles we bring to the school and our students.

Taking a perspective of teachers as learners may be the best perspective with which to lead a classroom, school, or system ahead. This perspective may serve to empower our schools and what we can do with and for students and families.