Friday, March 15, 2013

The Luxury of Time

This past week a brave new teacher opened his ninth grade all-boys classroom to myself and a group of other experienced teachers (the brave part is the all boys 9th grade, not necessarily the team of teachers who joined!).  The veteran teachers and I split the task of observation, each taking another area of classroom life to watch as the new teacher was going about his day.  A subject matter expert paid close attention to the delivery of the material, another mentor watched the students for ‘on-task’ and ‘off-task’ behavior trying to capture what happened before and after each instance, and I focused mainly on who was doing the intellectual work at any given moment in the class. 

These three areas of focus were all of interest to the new teacher so we decided to divide and conquer.
After the 42 minute observation (A huge shout out to the scheduling masters in each building I work with) the veteran teachers and I sat down to debrief our observations.  It took us 45 minutes to prepare a reflection for the new teacher that one of the veterans—the new teacher’s mentor—was going to deliver on our behalf. 

During our debrief, the other veteran teachers and I each tried to address what we saw in the new teacher’s class.  We were focused on presenting evidence, and backing up opinions with data.  We had some healthy debate about the interpretations of our data, and we saw different areas of focus for the new teacher.

So you may ask, why did we spend so much time focusing on one lesson and one new teacher?  What did we gain?

Well first off, I think the new teacher gained a lot from our observation.  He got to see his classroom through our eyes, and understood that our observation was to help him think about growing in his practice, not about judging his classroom. 

The veterans and I learned a great deal about our own teaching.  We were pushed to think ‘how would I do that differently,’ ‘what do I do that he doesn’t do,’ and even ‘I never thought of doing it that way, it is so much more effective.’  (All of these are comments I thought about during my observation). 
What was also incredibly valuable was the time afterwards to debrief.  We really gave ourselves time to be openly reflective about what we saw in the classroom.  We pushed one another to use evidence, and point to the facts.  We backed one another up with anecdotes from other parts of the lesson.  We were all in all colleagues.           

I realize that time is truly a luxury in schools.  We are all pressed for time, trying to make every second count and there truly isn’t enough time to accomplish all that we want.  But I cannot say enough about the value of a splurge.  These veterans and I really overindulged in this luxurious conversation in which we really took the time that was needed to learn to better our own observation practice.  I recognize that we can’t do this every week, but I also know that we cannot afford to never do it again.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Let it Snow

So I am on a roll here talking about books I have read/am reading.  I recently just picked up a book called “Free Range Kids” which came out of a popular blog with the same name.  The book is really geared towards parents with helpful tips about letting our caged children run free.  It is filled with facts and advice such as “Drop your third or fourth grade child and a friend at an ice cream store with money for sundaes.  Pick them up in half an hour.”  There is even has an encyclopedia in the back of the book entitled “Safe or Not? The A-Z Review of Everything you Might be Worried About.”  Which includes ‘metal bats,’ (I’m assuming of the baseball kind) ‘death by stroller’ and ‘eating snow.’


As I sit here in Boston looking out my window at the snowy landscape (in early March) I am drawn to this last bit about snow.  Everyone who grew up in certain parts of this country (and many other countries of the world) has a childhood story or two about snow.  There is something magical about the break in pace, and the change of landscape.  I remember waking up in the morning only to realize school was canceled and I was going to be able to spend the entire day outside (I did indeed eat snow—usually with maple syrup on top).   I remember walking up that terribly steep hill pulling my sled behind me, and the rush of the snow on my face as I sped back down.  I don’t, however, remember playing in the snow at school.  I can’t imagine that it never happened, but I just don’t remember it.

This past week many schools in New England had school despite the white stuff falling from the sky.  Yesterday I heard a kid saying that “this was the best recess we have EVER had” when he came back in from 45 mintues of playing in the snow with his classmates.  The little kids spent the entire recess body sledding down a big hill of cleared parking lot snow.  You just can’t beat it!

It is easy for us adults to be annoyed at the streets, the fact that we have to stand outside for outdoor recess, or the hour of our cancelation call.  We may even worry about the safety of our students eating the snow, or staying outside too long.  But before we do, lets just step back and remember the magic of it all—and maybe, if you can let our inner child out for just a minute you can  have a little taste of the snow yourself (I highly recommend adding some warm maple syrup).