Staying Grounded in Research
When I get fired up about structured literacy versus balanced literacy… and I often do… I make sure that what I say or write is grounded in research. I rely on the Science of Reading resources that are in great supply, I process their content through reading, writing (this blog!) and speaking (sometimes to myself!) about them. When I reference the knowledge base about the Science of Reading (the Reading League is usually my first go-to) to teachers, I am often fearful that I lack credibility because I am no longer in the classroom. Let’s face it: all of that research that I refer to bears a lot more weight when I can refer to specific examples that I have experienced. Which is why I am thankful for those times that I do get to be in the classroom!
Staying Grounded in the Classroom
On Friday, I was tasked with subbing in a second grade classroom for the day. The request to sub came about 2 hours before the start of the school day, a 10:15 start time due to weather. Although I was thankful for the two hours to wrap my head around the day (sub requests can come with far less time to prepare), I recognized the immediate bundle of nerves that popped up. Despite my 23 years in the classroom and 3 1/2 years of instructional coaching, I still get nervous about teaching… about being solely responsible for a group of students.
The responsibility goes far beyond ensuring that learning occurs: it entails taking attendance, completing a lunch count, attending to a disagreement between students that occurred before school, consoling a student who is sad but can’t tell you why, determining if a student truly needs to go to the nurse, deciding if a student is asking to use the restroom because they really need to or if they are wanting to get out of class for a bit, redirecting students once a lesson (finally!) ensues, taking a phone call from the office, coordinating with a special education teacher, communicating with a special education associate, finding lost pencils, distributing and collecting materials, redirecting a student who struggles with appropriate behavior, keeping an eye on the clock to adhere to the schedule… the list goes on. There is no hyperbole in the estimation that teachers make over 1000 decisions a day!
Overall, my time with those 2nd graders was enjoyable. They demonstrated just how adaptable they can be: they had an unexpected 2-hour early out the afternoon before, a 2-hour delay that morning, and walked into their classroom to find that their teacher wouldn’t be there for the day. They tolerated the change in routine that comes with having a substitute teacher and hung in there with me for most of the day. My bundle of nerves slowly unraveled as I quickly employed my bag of teaching tricks and remembered that yes, I do still know how to teach – even a grade level that is much lower than the 5th and 6th graders I was used to teaching.
The experience on Friday was a reminder of how important it is for me to stay grounded in the day-to-day work of classroom teachers. Staying grounded in that work, for me, means getting into classrooms and doing the messy work of teaching.
As an instructional coach, I often sit on the sidelines and offer advice, sometimes outside of the classroom, and sometimes during the ultimate “shoulder-to-shoulder” coaching within the classroom. It could be fairly easy to forget about the nuts and bolts of teaching: all of those “little” details described above, without actually stepping into the classroom and being solely responsible for the goings-on in classrooms.
Staying Grounded by Acknowledging Multiple Perspectives
During a recent conversation with a friend and colleague, my friend described a situation that was extremely frustrating to her. It involved an administrative decision which resulted in her (my friend) getting a student from another team at that grade level. Not just any student, but a student who has a long history of extreme behavior issues and a parent who has a deep mistrust of the school system. My friend was not concerned about the addition of the struggling student (she is confident that she will be able to address the student’s needs as well as possible); she is concerned about the nature of how the decision was made.
As I listened to her story, I could easily identify with her frustration. She has every right to feel the way she does. The nagging thought at the back of my head during the conversation, though, was this: What details about the decision are you unaware of? Which led to a string of jumbled thoughts that included: I feel incredibly sorry for my friend; there are two sides to every story; a conversation with administration may uncover some important details; is it possible, amid the feelings of frustration, to presume positive intent… to believe that there are details that went into the decision that you are not privy to, or that you are not aware of?
It would not have been appropriate for me to have shared all of those thoughts with my friend. What she needed at that time was to be heard. And I think I was able to be that “ear” for her. I was able to (and think it was appropriate to) advise her to request a meeting with administration to gain some clarity around the decision that was made. I suggested that she say something along the lines of, “I am OK with getting this student added to my roster, but I do have some questions about the decision. Can you help me understand how the decision was made?”
Staying Grounded Through Stories, Podcasts, Van Halen, and M&M’s
The part of the story that I couldn’t share with my friend (because I didn’t feel like it was my place) was that I knew part of the administrator’s “side” of this story. I don’t know the details of the “why” the decision was made, but I heard a bit of what the administrator went through as a result of the situation: the administrator was absolutely torn up about the decision, to the point of becoming physically ill.
As it goes, just yesterday, I was listening to Amplify’s AMAZING Science of Reading: The Podcast, Season 4, Episode 16, and heard this quote from Brittney Bills, Curriculum Coordinator for Grand Island Public Schools, in a conversation with host, Susan Lambert, “Teachers don’t understand what leaders go through, and leaders don’t necessarily always understand what teachers go through… and the weight is heavy on leaders, as well…”
This brings me back to two PLC norms that many of our teacher teams in FMCSD (try to) adhere to: “Presume positive intent,” and “Acknowledge others’ ideas, even if you disagree with them.” I would add a reminder about the importance of listening to understand, and acknowledging that there may be more to a story than we know.
In addition to the Amplify podcast, I also listened to George Couros’s Mindset Monday where he referenced a Van Halen story that had to do with brown M&M’s.
How in the heck are Van Halen and brown M&M’s connected? And how in the heck do they have anything to do with perspective? A quick synopsis: when the rock band, Van Halen, was hitting it big in the 1970’s, they would submit a contract to a venue before committing to the show. The contract included a clause that said the band must be provided M & M’s backstage, with no brown M & M’s. Sounds pretty strange, and even a bit “diva-like,” eh?
As it turns out, the band was ensuring that the party signing the contract actually read all of the details of the contract. For Van Halen, it was a matter of safety. They hauled in tons of lighting and other equipment that didn’t always jive with the venues they were playing in. If the details of the contract weren’t read carefully, the incorrect setup of their equipment could result in serious injury for the band members or audience members. The full story is explained in this article: No Brown M&M’s: What Van Halen’s Insane Contract Clause Teaches Entrepreneurs. There is often much more to a story than we know.