Sunday, February 22, 2009

the think tank

one of my awesome co-teachers, jenny, went to educon this year and came back with a lab coat from the school she visited (i'm bitterly jealous that she went to educon and am currently saving my pennies so i can go next year). i love that she wears the lab coat (not just for the ridiculously convenient pockets) but because it reminds me that as teachers we're more like scientists. we don't have the answers because every child in every situation is different. instead we are forming hypothesis, testing them, analyzing, reflecting, re-examining, and then trying something new. sometimes we hit gold early on in this process and find the 'right' answer for one student. and sometimes it takes a lot longer.

and we can't do it alone.

which is why i love my think tank of a school. we don't have a culture where you are expected to find the answers alone. everyone has a co-teacher for their literacy block, but beyond the fact they are there for literacy they also serve as someone to bounce ideas off of, analyze behavior, develop theories, laugh at mistakes, and collaborate on 'what-if' questions. beyond the co-teacher we have three literacy coaches in the building and two math coaches who are available for the 'i don't think they're getting this... what else can i do?' questions. what i love about them is that they don't give you a text book answer. they come in, watch, add some 'what if' questions, try something with you, watch again, and help you think. it's not about someone knowing more than someone else, or someone being right and someone else being wrong. it's about putting our heads together to find methods that work best for our kids.

beyond the academic coaches we've got two guidance counselors, many special ed teachers, a school psych, and others who will come into your room if you'd ask them, observe and offer their thoughts. again, they don't come up with the end all, be all answer- because there are none. instead they offer a discussion of ideas which can be picked apart and analyzed to again find the best method for a particular student.

it takes a lot to be comfortable in this culture. it's hard as a new teacher, i'm sure, to come to the understanding that someone is not judging you when they ask, "what if...". new teachers, or even student-teachers (at our school they are called interns, which i think adds to our think-tankedness) can be intimidated by the thought of asking for help. they want to show they know everything, have all the answers, and prove that they are GOOD teachers worthy of being in front of the classroom. we've all been there- we all started out with those thoughts, myself included (except maybe my kindergarten co-teacher who was my intern my last year in the classroom. she never went through the 'i know the answers' stage- i've never known a new teacher to be so reflective. which is part of what makes her the phenomenal teacher she is).

the thing new teacher's don't always understand is that being a good teacher is not having all the answers, or proving that you're able to handle your students and solve life's problems. it's about listening, reflecting, putting your head together with someone else, hypothesizing, and attempting to find solutions.

i just did a survey for a research project for my grad work on how teachers at my school develop behavior plans for individual students. i was impressed with how many people who responded to the survey make behavior plans through collaborating with someone else. i was equally amazed that of the people who said they did not use their co-teacher to develop a behavior plan only one of those people felt the behavior plan worked.

most likely, it's not because the teacher who developed the plan created a faulty plan. the teachers at my school are awesome and knowledgeable. it's most likely because behavior varies from student to student, and when you work with your co-teacher to develop a plan you're more likely to discover patterns in a particular child's behavior which allow you to create a plan specifically targeting that child's needs. two heads are always better than one.

i get into the 'i have all the answers' rut myself, despite all i shout from the rooftops about collaboration. there is nothing like someone making an off-hand comment about what i should be doing with my bff to send me home in a funk. and it's something i need to get over, and something that is hard for me to do. i know i'd rather read the answer in a book than have someone who doesn't really know the situation tell me what i should be doing. but in all honesty, it's because i don't know if what i'm doing with him is the right thing or not, and that's threatening. it shows my weakness in working with him, and i'm terrified to find out that all this time i've been working with him i've been wrong. but that doesn't help him, or help me.

a few weeks ago our new librarian (tree- who developed the think tank tag line for this blog) made some suggestions and observations about one of my kindergarten kiddos. we collaborated with her and the speech teacher (four heads together for one little girl who can scream very loudly) and developed a behavior plan. it works (knock on wood). so far it's been an amazing change- even to the point of the other day when she stomped her foot at me in her beginning of a 'i'm going to throw the biggest tantrum you've ever seen' and then she stopped and complied with my direction. we've been amazed at the change in her behavior. it shows you what four heads can do.

i love my school because we are a think tank. nobody has all the answers because we know we find answers working together. the what if questions are what drive us to be better teachers.


Not Quite Grown Up... said...

Oh my gosh, I'm salivating with jealously over your 3 literacy coaches, 2 math coaches, and 2 guidance counselors.

At my school currently we have one literacy coach and one half-time math coach. They are both absolutely amazing people who have regularly scheduled times in my classroom each week. Unfortunately, with the budget cuts, their positions will be gone next year.

They have both played such an important part in my first year as a teacher. I have learned so much from both of them. They ask me the right questions and give me wonderful input/advice whenever I ask for it.

I also collaborate and team-teach (in different ways at different times during the school year) with the teacher next door to me. It's been wonderful getting to know all her students nearly as well as I know my own and having someone else who knows my students nearly as well as I do.

Collaboration and partnership and teaming up is such an important part of teaching. It is what is making me enjoy this year, despite the inevitable struggles I go through as a first year teacher. I can say with quite a bit of certainty that I would not have been nearly as happy or feel nearly as successful if I did not have these daily conversations with my literacy coach, math coach, and neighboring teacher.

I envy your situation and am glad to read that in some places/at some schools that wonderful support and environment of collaboration is not getting lost in the budget-cuts of the recession.

(That was long. Sorry for hijacking your comments.)

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Lipstick, you need to get your PhD and become a teacher of teachers. Don't hide your light...

Anonymous said...

What I appreciate most about this post is the honest vulnerability it shows. When we hold on to that "I have all the answers" pose, we don't grow, except in our frustration. Part of maturity and expertise is resourcefulness, so we need to look to our co-workers as resources. Thanks, OC!