Even the BEST have Room to Grow

Room to Grow is proud to

Many of us have completed the first round of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) by now, with seemingly mixed emotions about the process, I’m sure.  During this process, I have reflected on my practice, identified my instructional strengths and weaknesses, and written my Professional Growth Plan defining my personal goals for this school year.  I’ve found myself in reflection quite a bit in recent days because no matter what I do, it is my incessant goal to be the “best”!  However, this time, the outcome is a bit…different. Let me continue by explaining in a little more detail.

Once my growth plan and goals were firmly in place, I began focusing on determining the needs of my students.  After identifying one or two areas of academic need, I wrote learning objectives for each of my students in order to focus their learning.  Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) are used to guide instruction and interventions for individual students and/or small groups.  It is yet another tool for educators to utilize in order to assist in becoming more well crafted in this practice; to become better…or even…the “best”.

After students’ outcomes were set, I began to think about the lesson I would choose for my observation.  To be clear, my strength is in the area of mathematics, so it would seem logical that I would want to be observed in that area.  HOWEVER, after speaking in depth with my principal regarding my areas of weakness, literacy was identified as the area of choice for my observation.  I wasn’t discouraged by this at all because in my mind, the “best” teachers want to focus on their weaknesses in order to grow. Right?  I consider myself a great teacher and am always looking for opportunities for professional growth. I guess I would classify myself as one of the “best”… Keep in mind that the adjective “BEST”, in this context, is defined by my own perceptions and interpretations and by all intents and purposes is defined correctly and accurately. Now that THAT’S cleared up…:-)

I spent hours upon hours planning for my observation.  I even tried something new because I really wanted to receive feedback regarding how to strengthen this area of my instruction. So, I took on using the Daily 5 structure during my literacy block to teach reading.  The Daily 5 structure is  “a series of literacy tasks [including embedded mini lessons] which students complete daily while the teacher meets with small groups and/or confers with individual students” (received from www.the2sisters.com, December 11, 2013). I LOVE this process because it provides such a great deal of structure for me and my students. So, I thought…I’d try it.

Everything started well, at least in my mind.  My first mini lesson included a short grammar lesson. I was really up for the challenge since my principal is a literacy guru!  Wait…why did I choose this again? Oh yeah, that’s right…for growth in an area of weakness. Grammar was the absolute right choice for THAT, that’s for certain! My lesson consisted of a short review on verb tenses.  When I reviewed the lesson the night prior, I asked myself some questions that I KNEW my students would ask. I looked through the reading curriculum only to find no in depth explanations or reasoning behind when and why verb tenses change. All I had was my general knowledge, which was not nearly enough. So, instead of investigating further, I convinced myself that since it was merely a mini lesson, I must be over analyzing this thing.  I had to be over thinking all of this.  I told myself to stick to the basics for this one and if necessary, go deeper later. My second mini lesson for the Daily 5 structure was the real lesson I was focusing on, so that’s really where I placed all of my time and attention.

So, why was I so surprised when the “guru” interrupted my lesson to correct my remedial reasoning during the lesson? Well, I guess it’s because I have never had a principal interrupt a lesson in a corrective manner, at least that I can remember.  No, no, no, please do not misunderstand…it was in no way done in a negative manner, nor was it done with malicious intent. Actually, in hindsight, I now know that it was intended to serve the purpose I was seeking, for professional growth.  Oh…but at that particular moment, I was crushed. I expected my administrator, my educational leader, to come in, sit down, and…observe. I mean, seriously…it’s called an “observation” for goodness sake!

Here is what I have come to conclude. It has been six years since my last instructional observation.  All evaluations in between have consisted of some sort of action research project. Prior to that, there was only one lesson that I felt I truly bombed, and that was early in my teaching career.  Any, and all, evaluations I have received subsequent to that have been very good.  Administrators have complimented my instructional practice and pedagogical knowledge and thinking, which I attributed to my most recent degree pursuit. I found it most beneficial to define my purpose and philosophy of education during that time. It really helped me to focus my practice. I can easily determine students’ needs, I am very familiar with how to analyze data and how to use it, and I am a doctored practitioner of educational research in the school/classroom environment.  Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve stated in posts prior, I KNOW that I do NOT know it all, nor do I claim to, but there is something about receiving that message in the middle of an evaluative lesson that is quite humbling.

Nope! No way! I do NOT know it all! It is important for me to restate this fact aloud during times such as this. The permeable pores of my mind had become clogged with complacency, gone unnoticed due to my complete satisfaction with past reviews and with my current level of educational knowledge. I absolutely believe that I challenge my practice and my students, but I found through this experience that I have been challenging my practice only in the areas that I have determined to be comfortable and safe.  Conversely, in the particular content or instructional areas that I know fall outside of my comfort zone, I settle for “good enough”! What a realization and admittedly a tough pill to swallow.

You can rest assured that even the “best” educators find themselves in a rut sometimes, but does that minimize their level of instructional practice?  Does this make them now the worst teacher EVER? Not at all!  What it does mean is that there is always something new to learn or old to relearn.  It affirms the progressive changes that continuously occur within our student population, as well as within our instructional practice.  It is indicative of the substantial need for ongoing professional growth and development. It ascertains that even the “best” educators have room to grow.

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Let me end by offering this… Be aware of the web that complacency attempts to weave. It is so easy for even the most effective teachers to find themselves trapped in it. Know that effective educational leaders will be a model of excellence, not of mediocrity.  Effective educational leaders, those that have an enormous passion for teaching and learning (not only for students, but also for you, the educator) have transformational ability. While I have yet to receive the post conference to complete my evaluation, the process thus far has afforded me a great deal of reflective opportunity.  I have known for quite some time that learning is an ongoing, continuous process, but I absolutely appreciate the interruption that occurred that day and the reminder that for even the “best”, there is ALWAYS…room to grow.

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