29 April 2006

Toddling Along

I worked with three groups of teachers this week. All had different kinds of work they were pursuing and each group was at a different place in both their project and their ability to function as an entity. But I think I am beginning to recognize the various stages of group process and have more patience for the "crawl before walking" analogy, especially as it relates to using standards in the classroom.

First up were the grade seven teachers. They are all caring and talented professionals in the classroom---and nice people, to boot. Their only issue? They're still at the stage of covering material vs. student learning. They wanted to spend time talking about how they cover things, which is a good starting poing, but not the right ending point. I redirected them several times before their minds started to fry early in the afternoon. I think each of them is just going to have to individually wrestle with the move to evidence of student learning. It won't be easy, but the fact that they do care so much about the work they do will drive them forward. They're just going to have to crawl for awhile.

My next charges were the bio teachers from my school. This was our fourth meeting this year and each has been a little different. They see each other every day, but they rarely sit down and talk about student achievement and talk about instruction. This meeting didn't start out that way. We did get there and I think some good information was exchanged. People left feeling all right about things...which was not the case with earlier meetings. It has really been a struggle to keep the focus on student learning and not let them slide back into comfortable patterns. I think we've turned the corner now and perhaps they don't need me to hold their hands. I'm hopeful that they might like to move forward without me next year---or even at their final meeting this year.

And yesterday was an elementary group that has been revising one of the science kits for schools in the area. The difficult part of getting this gang up and walking has been the lack of good facilitation. Am I pointing the finger at myself? Yes, in part...although I'm not completely sure that I should. A woman from a local museum is funding all of the work through a grant. She arranges for subs, provides the materials, meeting space, and treats. I don't feel right being in charge when it isn't my party...and yet, she doesn't take the reins very often. I was a little more direct about things on Friday and I think we got a lot of good things done. I guess I just need to remember that for the next (and hopefully last) meeting in a month.

I was talking with another curriculum specialist earlier in the week. She's new and has had a tough year. In our jobs, we want to run with tasks and most of the people we are working with aren't even ready to crawl yet. I told her that it's taken me three years of attention to build the kinds of relationships and trust necessary to do my job (and even then there are a few teachers I haven't reached yet). She found that a bit depressing. It is when you think of all the time when "nothing" was happening. You just have to stay focused on the big picture.

I do wonder how many good principals, administrators, superintendents, and teacher leaders have quit because of that sort of frustration. What if they'd just stuck it out (or been allowed to stay) for even two or three more years? What would the system look like if ideas could be seen out of infancy? Will our instant gratification type of society ever allow for that in public education?

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