The personal learning network for educators
I was in my office the other day getting through as much "adminstrivia" as possible. I feverishly answered emails, signed payroll, read and signed IEPs, etc. During that 45 minute period, three teachers popped by to check in and ask a few questions. While I sat and thought about the issues that they brought to me and the processes by which we resolved them, I was reminded of a question that so many people have asked me over the years. "Don't you miss teaching? Don't you miss the classroom?"
The answer is, "No. I am a teacher." Moving my practice out of the classroom and into an office did not remove my responsibilities as a teacher. Moving into the principal's role comes with all kinds of additional responsibilities that are challenging to get your head wrapped around sustain. That being said, successful principals maintain their lens for teaching and approach most situations as a master teacher would. If new and aspiring principals (OK, maybe even established principals too) want to find success, I strongly encourage them to take this lesson to heart and remember that they are master teachers who have additional responsibilities.
Let's take an example and roll with this idea. "Ian, this child in my class is really having difficulty with writing. What should I do?" There are many paths that a principal might take to answer the question and each of those paths has varied outcomes. Those outcomes depend on the principal's perspective on his or her roll. Where does the principal sit on the teacher-principal continuum? If the principal sits more on the principal side of the continuum their response will most likely give an answer. If that principal sits more on the teacher end of the continuum they are more likely to guide, facilitate, and empower.
Great teachers guide, facilitate, and empower learning. Great principals do the same.
Let's get back to the teacher who asked me what to do with the student who was struggling with writing. My initial response to this teacher was, "Tell me more." My intent was to get the teacher talking about (and therefore thinking more deeply about) the problem."Tell me more." Just primes the pump for more conversation.
I then asked the teacher a series of questions that forced her to consider the context of the writing behavior. Where does it most often occur? At what point in the writing process does the "difficulty with writing manifest?" In asking questions like these, I am exposing the teacher to different ways of looking diagnostically at issues relating to written output and the extent to which his or her pedagogical behavior relates to the issue. During this line of questioning, I also expose the teacher to the complexities of written output and all of the places in which it can break down. This is invaluable learning for new and developing teachers. By guiding the teacher through this inquiry process we effectively assessed the problem at hand while simultaneously exposing the teacher to many essential skills and concepts as they relate to the diagnostic side of teaching writing.
Once the problem was assessed and understood, we began the process of identifying strategies and approaches that would work to address the issue at hand. Again, this is a process of facilitated inquiry. "Given what we know now, what do you think might work to support this student's learning?" In this line of conversation, the teacher considered possible accommodations and interventions. My role was to maintain his or her focus on the intervention's relationship to the identified problem; "Given what you know about the student and the difficulty he/she is having, does this course of action make sense? Is it likely to resolve the issue?" This practice continues to guide the conversation, facilitate learning, and empower the teacher.
Using inquiry based problem solving with teachers has a number of positive outcomes:
- the teacher is valued as part of the process and, therefore, feels valued.
- the teacher feels valued and is therefore empowered.
- the teacher learns.
- the teacher applies effective diagnostic and pedagogical skills to the classroom.
- the teacher experiences success as a result of their efforts.
- the teacher shares his/her successful diagnostic and pedagogical skills with colleagues.
- the overall capacity of teachers increases.
Executing a consistent inquiry based process in all problem solving scenarios guides teachers, facilitates learning, and empowers teachers. Beyond the fact that this inquiry based process adds real value to schools, classrooms, and student learning; isn't what I just described how we want teachers to teach?