Big Ideas Need Big Spaces: Creating Room for Teacher Voice and Choice

Getting Better Together

The life of an instructional coach is a balancing act. On the one hand, you are still a teacher. You still plan lessons, they’re just called agendas. You still assess the effectiveness of your instruction, but now refer to the process as follow-up professional development sessions. On the other hand, you are a part of the instructional leadership team with the assistant principals and principal of the school. You have “crossed over” to the other side, to use teacher parlance.

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This straddling of two perspectives can help you craft initiatives for great teaching that work for both teachers and the instructional leadership team. The beauty of this duality is that it allows teachers and leaders to work together to determine what the initiatives will be. The improvement of teaching is best realized when teachers are involved in the conversation, rather than summoned to the table. Here are four ways I’ve worked with teachers and administrators to create room for teacher voice and collaboration:

Meet Regularly

Almost nothing breaks the momentum for teachers more than irregular meetings. When teachers can almost set their clock by a meeting schedule, you can get into a regular flow of meeting, planning, discussing, and implementing. This same idea is present in the teacher-student dynamic. As a classroom teacher, I was always the least productive on the first day (or week) after an extended weekend or vacation. Now, as an instructional coach, I’ve noticed that any interruption to a regular series of meetings can quickly erode progress.

Meet On Teachers’ Turf

My office is a classroom. This is great, as it allows me to continue occupying both worlds while giving me the flexibility to host meetings for professional development sessions. However, some of the most impactful meetings I’ve had have been in the rooms and lounges of the teachers that I serve. There seems to be a “leveling” effect that happens when I come visit them. The atmosphere seems more conducive to partnership than the feeling that’s created when teachers visit my classroom.

Meet To Get Teachers’ Opinions

When I plan any meeting, I always like to either start or end with feedback and reaction from teachers. This moment allows me the privilege of hearing directly from teachers about any ideas that could help further their work. It also helps me stay connected to the daily stressors and successes that the great teachers of my school experience. The voice of the teachers is most empowered when it’s truly heard.

Meet Around Student Work, Curriculum Standards, Or Instructional Strategies

An instructional coach must combine the direction of the administrative leadership team with the needs of the instructional staff. To that end, when a coach meets with the leadership team the conversation centers around school-level concerns. Conversely, when the coach meets with teachers and support staff, the discussion leans towards classroom-level concerns. To make both conversations productive, it’s imperative to keep students, standards, and strategies at the center of every meeting. Meaningful collaboration happens when teachers and administrators are assessing student work, keeping in mind curricular standards, and sharing tried and true instructional strategies.

When we create spaces with teachers, for teachers, in the service of improving student outcomes, we have a foundation for creating common practices. In my next entry, I’ll discuss how to inspire teachers to choose common practices that get all boats rowing in the same direction. Some of the questions/issues I will address include the following:

  • How do schools determine the right practices for teaching and learning?
  • How do we get the best practices to be implemented in each classroom?
  • How do we determine the effectiveness of the common practices once implemented?

Remember to post any comments you have on this blog in the comments section below and post any ideas, pictures, or questions you have about creating systems that support great teaching on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #betterteachers. If this post sparked your interest, check out my previous blog post in this series on a tangible vision of excellence.

This work was made possible through support by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Josh Parker is a 2013 NEA Global Fellow and the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. He serves the students and staff of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in Washington, D.C. as an Instructional Coach. He is a proud board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. Connect with Josh on Twitter: @MDTOY2012.

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