In the last two weeks, the phrase, “Progress Through Struggle” keeps running through my head. That looping reminder is occurring because I have experienced more struggle than usual as an instructional coach as the beginning of this school year has unfolded. Part of that struggle comes from my cheese getting moved, part of it comes from lack of clarity, and I’m realizing a big part of it comes from lack of clear and consistent communication.
The blame for this lack of clear and consistent communication can be tossed in all kinds of directions, but ultimately the blames lies in the mirror. When I feel that something hasn’t been communicated clearly from administration, am I asking enough clear and concise questions to gain the clarity I seek? When I feel that the teachers I support are not following through on methods for improving instruction, have I been clear in my explanations of said methods? Have I asked the “right” questions? Have I followed through when I see a discrepancy in instructional delivery from that which was planned? Or was it planned?
I often think, talk, and write about the need for nailing down the language of instruction and for being explicit with instruction, but I’m not confident that I am practicing what I preach. I can come up with all of the excuses in the world – I don’t want to step on toes; I am an instructional coach, not an administrator; I need to maintain working relationships with those whom I serve – but at the end of the day they are just that: excuses.
When we discuss students’ lack of proficiency with academics or behavior expectations, we often try to identify if it is a “skill or will” problem that is causing the lack of proficiency. Although we often fall into the trap of blaming will, when we truly dig down deep, we often uncover that a lack of skill is to blame.
The same can be said for poor teaching methods. I have very rarely encountered a teacher who does not have the will to do right by kids. The longer I’m in this business, the longer I recognize that teachers, too, lack some skill sets. Poor instruction is rarely the result of a lack of will on the teacher’s part. Reasons abound for that teacher skill gap: things we should have learned in college, moving cheese, lack of time, lack of access to the “science of teaching.”
So what do we do to fill in the teacher skill gap? We first recognize it for what it is, and then execute careful and precise procedures for addressing it. And when addressing it, we do so with clear and consistent communication paired with explicit instruction on more desirable instructional delivery methods. We intentionally plan, deliver, and reflect on the instruction with and for teachers. In turn, we intentionally plan, deliver, and reflect on instruction with our teachers, for our students.
This is a ginormous time investment with tough work involved. Thank you, Brent Zirkel, former assistant principal in the Fort Madison Community School District, for reminding us about progress through struggle. I believe that Frederick Douglas gets credit for the original reminder:
Following that theme, George Couros recently re-shared the following graphic, developed by Demitri Martin, to remind us about perception of success and actual success:
Couros reminds us, “It is essential to embrace and see the beauty in the messiness above.”
As the 7th week of school kicks off tomorrow, and as my anxiety rises about perceived lack of progress, may I lean into vulnerability, may I practice what I preach around the need for explicit instruction, and may I embrace the beauty and messiness of productive struggle that comes with teaching, learning, and success in both.
*Katie – thank you for helping me put into words that which I have been grappling with. Katie and Jenny – thank you for phenomenal visits in amazing settings. What would I do without my sisters???