One of the things that made me successful as a teacher is that I am a Mastery/Depth of Knowledge person. I spent a specific amount of time during class pushing deeper understanding. The rest of my class focused on can you do it? Now can you do it without me? Now can you do it in this context? Now can you do it with this information?
I built my house–and my test scores on growing kids just like that. Lifting weights during whole group instruction and cardio/yoga/nutrition during small groups and learning teams. My numbers always started off rough–grades, assessments, everything–because I pushed kids to the brink. I nitpicked everything. There was always another question; always another angle; always another way of looking at things. But then they started to connect the dots. They started to challenge each other. They started to see themselves as capable. Like a person just starting to workout, they cried at first, wanting to quit as I forced them to think about math in ways that did not compute for them. I was too hard, too mean, I did too much, and then I did the MOST. I was that hateful, petty trainer — gleefully acknowledging their pain while pushing them to frustration levels so high that they begged to be moved to another class.
But then they started to see their own gains. They started to respect their own mental muscles. They started to spot EACH OTHER, leaving me out of the equation altogether. The conversations would be dominated by math. The arguments would spill over onto whiteboards and scratch paper. I reigned over a kingdom of mathematical practice standards in real-time–without even knowing there was a name for the endless process we came to view as natural.
It was messy, exhausting, and overwhelming for all involved. It was also exhilarating, mind-blowing, and a privilege that I don’t hold lightly. To see students 2-3-5 years behind pull themselves up out of holes painted red and labeled below basic by the bootstraps that they made for themselves…There is nothing more satisfying than watching kids who had been measured and found wanting their whole lives finally weigh their own worth with determination and pride.
I owe my looking good to the students. I owe their success to them, facilitated by me. Curated by me. But they built their own success. My mindset just paved the way for that to happen. I was the yellow brick road they eased on down.
What is that mindset?
My mindset is growth. My mindset is process. My mindset is slow and easy win the race.
It is not lost on me that this mindset might not work in educational settings outside the classroom. Administrators want quick results; Teachers want to be left alone. I want true learning to take place that is more than compliance and eye rolling. Yet in schools like the ones I work in, slow and steady puts kids at risk of being ill prepared because I don’t touch them directly anymore. Now I’m trying to touch their teachers.
And I don’t know if I can transfer what I learned facilitating student growth into facilitating teacher growth. But I’m trying.
Teaching is a thankless job that you often end up feeling all alone doing. Most administrators aim for convenience over teacher support, grouping teachers with grade levels rather than their content levels that help support the teaching/learning cycle. The island upon which teachers have become comfortable, though, is not best for student success. When teachers feel comfortable collaborating, you see a different kind of result across classrooms because the best motivation doesn’t come from the trainer–it comes from the folks you’re on the journey with. Coaching helps steer the conversation and gives strategies that foster success, but the real effort kicks into high gear when you have your crew cheering you on and helping you make adjustments in real time practice.
I was really unclear about my goals for this year, being new to the city, the district, and the school where I currently hang my hat. But my goal for next year is very clear: I want to foster a community of practice that focuses on what teachers are doing well and sharing that. I want to simply facilitate the learning like before–but be taken completely out of the equation. I want them to spot each other.