07 September 2006

Going Gray

Working in Curriculum is a bit of gray area. We are teachers working under the same contractual obligations as other certificated staff, but we are often not viewed that way by peers. We are more likely to be seen as administrators...or worse yet, one of the nameless "them" so often blamed for whatever is perceived as wrong with the district.

I'm thinking about being in this nebulous zone because of a conversation I had with a principal this morning. She wants some professional development around science instruction. She hopes to learn what she's looking at when she watches what's going on in a science classroom. She'd like to have the same confidence that she has when trying to help math, English, and social studies teachers---and I admire her for trying to seek out some support. In one sense, good instruction is good instruction, regardless of grade or content---but on the other hand, there are a few science specific strategies she could learn to recognize. I agreed to do a few "walkthroughs" with her.

Walkthroughs are a recent trend in education. They're not specifically meant to be evaluative, but rather tools that give administrators a chance to do short visits and then share with teachers what they saw and guide some reflection about the event. The walkthrough provides a 5 - 10 minute snapshot of a classroom over several different days during the year, rather than one or two extended sessions.

When I got back to my desk, I realized that doing the walkthroughs together to help the principal get started is a great idea. What's not a great idea is doing it with her staff...at least not together. I am not their evaluator and I really don't want to be viewed that way. Since the principal and I can't help but talk about what we see in the classrooms, then I'm not sure teachers will clearly separate that we would be doing this to help the principal learn about science...and not that we're making judgments together about things. I think it's too big of an opportunity to set up some real mistrust---and this is a science staff it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time with this year.

I sent a note to the principal and asked that we go to another school together to do a few walkthroughs. I think this might be the best way to get her the help she wants without putting a strain on her staff. I haven't heard back yet as to whether or not she'll go for that. This is one of those times where I'd prefer to stay in the gray.


Anonymous said...

I know just what you're talking about. Even though I view myself as on level with classroom teachers (after all, I'm on the same teacher contract they are), there is the misperception that my position is administrative, i.e., authoritative in nature, which takes away from my ability to connect with them in the ways that I need to. Last year, my principal asked me to do walkthroughs of struggling teachers. Administrators were also doing them. It took me quite a while to get those teachers to trust that I was not evaluating them, to believe that I was only there to help and support. Those of us who enter the realm of curriculum walk a very thin line that seems to be invisible to most classroom teachers. Sometimes I just wanted to jump up and shout, "Trust me! I'm really on your side!"

Mike in Texas said...

If you're doing a "walkthrough" and writing it down, then its an evaluation that can be used against the teacher. If you have to take the time to write down what you see them someone somewhere wants that info recorded for a purpose.

The Science Goddess said...

I understand what you mean (and agree), but in our case, the contract is very specific about what does and doesn't count as documentation and evaluation...and The Union here is very strongarmed about enforcing those provisions.

It's really going to come down to a matter of trust between the teachers and their principal. The relationship needs to be such that the teachers see the principal as one who is trying to support them by gaining a better understanding of what happens in a science classroom.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I understand your position, but it simply was not true in my case and I would guess it is not true for many teacher mentors. I wrote things down during walkthroughs so that I could remember what to discuss with my teachers afterwards. NO ONE but the teacher and myself ever saw those records and I destroyed them at the end of the year. Just because a mentor jots a note does not mean that the purpose of the note is teacher evaluation. Sometimes, it really is just a note, with no hidden agenda attached.

Stewart said...

Somne teachers view frequent walkthrough as interruptions totheir class times. They should be limited.