Unsolicited Advice: Get Out of Your Classroom

I don’t mean permanently, of course (unless you want to).  I mean for a period, or an hour, or a day here and there, to see what else is happening in and around your school.

I’ve been sitting on this half-written post since December of 2009, according to WordPress.  No real reason why I never saw it through, but Susan Meisel’s comment on my last post about leadership certainly brought the sentiments behind it bubbling forth:

I believe all professionals in education should be practicing visiting and sharing. Teachers and administrators alike should be in classrooms, visiting, picking up strategies, observing students, and looking for “best of”. I realize that administrators are busy, and teachers need to be released for this, but it would go a long way to making excellent schools.

This also brings me back to a short Twitter exchange I had with sixth grade teacher, blogger, mainstay in my RSS reader, and all-around good guy Bill Ferriter back in September of 2009 (yes, I’ve been sitting on these links for over a year – knew I’d get around to this post someday!).  The exact context of the conversation evades me – probably something regarding how teachers & administrators view certain issues differently – when Bill said this:

(Follow Bill on Twitter at @plugusin)

Bill gets no argument from me that my schedule is a lot more flexible than that of a classroom teacher (though I doubt it’s the free-for-all many probably imagine it to be), but shouldn’t learning from our peers be something that is actively encouraged in a school community?

Now I’m not an administrator, but since leaving the classroom, I have gained a much more global perspective of the goings-on in my school district.  As a teacher, my perspective was fairly limited to what happened in my classroom, and maybe it extended to a department-wide level in some matters.  Despite that increase in the breadth, my perspective has become limited in another way – i.e., I deal primarily with issues of special education: students who have been identified as requiring special education and related services, those classes designated as such, and the teachers, therapists, ESPs, and various other personnel who travel in these professional circles.

On the other hand, I’d argue that it’s also possible to pull so far back from the “trenches” that you lose sight of the personal interactions and little details that impact operations.

Maybe there is no happy medium to be found (unless you work in a really small school or district), but I think Susan’s suggestion of release time is a vital one, and one that would address Bill’s concern.  As a young teacher, I would go on my prep period to observe master teachers in my department for tips on classroom management, lesson structuring – all the things that new teachers need to figure out on their own, but could really use a couple good models at the same time.  While I learned much from those observations, in hindsight, I probably also limited myself by only observing other English teachers.  I wonder what I could have learned about cooperative learning or project-based learning from sitting in on a Science or Art class, or more effective uses of film and primary sources from a Social Studies class.

I understand there are costs associated with bringing in substitutes to cover teachers’ classes while they observe, but is this not a valid reason to do so?  If you were to take a sick day or attend a conference, they’d have to call a sub anyway, am I right?  Even if that was an impossibility, could you give up one prep period per month to sit in on your colleagues’ classrooms and see what you could learn?  If you’re an administrator, is it possible for you to drop in on a non-evaluative basis?

In an age where budgets are being slashed left and right and professional development is usually one of the first items to go, I challenge you, dear reader, to devote one prep period per month from now until May to finding some in-house PD.  For my part, I am going to try to get in to at least two classrooms per month (beyond my student observations, group counseling commitments, etc.)  just to get a better understanding of instructional strategies, pacing, and – hell – just to try to re-establish some ties with a professional context I really haven’t seen in almost three years.  I don’t know if it will make me a better school psychologist, but perhaps it will help me become a more effective case manager.

I know you’re busy.  We’re ALL busy.  If your administration encourages this and gives you professional time to accomplish this, I think you’re very fortunate and should take advantage.  But when we’re not given time to do something beneficial for us and for our students, sometimes we have to make time.  Will you join me?

I plan to blog about my experiences with this in June, so please stay tuned.

One Comment

  • […] January, I challenged you to get out of your classroom and observe your colleagues at least once a month from January to May.  I even said I would try to […]

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