It is the end of January and those resolutions about your new year are starting to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. This is the time of year when those resolutions lose their flavor and many fall off the bandwagon. I know I need a recipe for renewal right now. Anyone else?
Maybe it is my overzealous nature but I tend to bite off more than I can chew. My intentions for this new year as it relates to my work as an instructional coach encompassed a wide variety of different courses. I wanted to offer teachers something for every palate. Since I am an instructional coach for all curricular areas, I find myself bouncing through subject matter and grade levels like an all you can eat buffet. But last week I felt stuffed . . . mentally and physically, and I wasn’t sure if I could stomach any more. I took some time to reflect. I sat back and pondered my purpose.
Sarah Ban Brethnach writes in her book Simple Abundance, “As we embrace simplicity, we learn that less is truly more. This freedom encourages us to bring order to our affairs and cultivate harmony in our inner world. Going at our own pace, learning to recognize our limitations, appreciating our progress, we weave the lessons into the fabric of our daily moments until they become a part of us.”
I took a step back and simplified my menu. I truly love so many parts of teaching, so it is hard for me to focus on one content area. But, I needed to simplify my focus. I needed to help both myself as a coach, and my colleagues whom I was coaching, with the opportunity to take small bites and sample some more flavorful instructional practices.
In one of my previous posts I explained my offering of embedded PD called “PD on the GO.” This experience has been great for my staff, but it also can limit the number of teachers I can work with at a given time. I wanted to offer an appetizer to my PD Menu that would give teachers something to both satisfy their appetite and make them come back for more. So, I started offering 20 minute mini-lesson opportunities every other Wednesday after school. Currently, my focus is on Mentor Text Writing Lessons. I choose a fun picture book, read it aloud, share a 15 minute writing lesson connection, and that is it. The extension of this is an opportunity to repeat the lesson in classrooms by themselves, or with me if wanted. Teachers are only giving up a 20 min. Time frame after school and have a quick appetizer recipe to take back to their classrooms. I love the opportunity to share a bite, and see where teachers take it and add in a few more ingredients. It has sparked an opportunity to use Flipgrid and Book Creator and other digital tools to share how different teachers used the same mentor text in new ways.
The Main Course
PD on the GO is still the main course for my work as a coach in my building. It offers teachers a 4 week experience, 4 days a week for up to an hour to tap into instructional routines and deepen content of their choosing. But this part of the meal has added some more “meat.” I wanted to find ways to simplify and sustain the work we were doing. So, we started identifying some key instructional practices and evidence of student actions that we could build the meal around. An example of this has been in our work with mathematics. We jump started this with a grade level specific planning PD for each grade level after school. We used NCTM’s Principles to Actions:Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, as our resource. Teachers dove into the Mathematics Teaching Practices and beliefs about teaching and learning mathematics to assess where they were in the process. Then, I had the opportunity to partner with our local ESD to do a walk through and capture evidence of the practices based on the literature we read. As teachers signed up for a PD on the GO session for Math, they chose one of the practices to build their work around. Yes, we still had opportunities for modeling and co-teaching, but we were much more focused on a practice that would deepen the work. Our main course had so much more meat!
I felt like we had a way to give a quick bite, we had a good hearty main course, but we still needed to cap off the meal with something sweet! I knew what I was missing most as a coach, was the opportunity to wrap up my learning time of PD on the GO with my colleagues. We needed time to reflect and commit to the application of the process. I also knew that I couldn’t ask my colleagues to give up their prep time or their before and after school hours to do this. So, I approached my administration about a way that I could schedule a substitute teacher for 1 day following each 4 week session. This substitute would assigned to an hour in each teacher’s classroom that had done the PD on the GO work so we would have an opportunity to reflect and plan for ongoing work. These conversations also offered me time to grow in my coaching conversations after the work my PLC did last year with Jim Knight's book Better Conversations. How sweet it was to have the time to reflect on where we started and where we arrived!
Let’s not forget the cocktail . . . the meal is always better when it is celebrated with something we can offer “cheers” to. This work of reflecting and growing in one’s craft deserves some celebration For some this has come by way of shared team growth through the embedded PD work, for others it has given opportunity to share across districts with their extended teacher communities and for others it has been an avenue to put this work into a Professional Growth Plan and receive clock hours at no cost.
After taking a step back from my original “do it all” yearly resolution, I was able to put a recipe for renewal into action that really embraced some simplicity and freedom. At the same time, it pieced together all of the ingredients that would compliment and flavor the process.
- What are your recipes to success this year?
- What ways can you simplify your professional goals to be true to your passions?