Over the past four weeks I have been working with an intern in my classroom (he is completing his masters-level education requirements). As part of his academic program he is required to observe and document a lesson each week that I conduct in my classroom. At the time we were discussing an upcoming lesson that I was going to teach involving reflection of student work. My students had just completed a three week unit on Ancient Greece – having ten different artifacts that demonstrated their learning. I showed him the plan and reflection form that I was going to use with the students, and he gave me a quizzical look. I asked him if something was confusing and his response surprised me: “I can’t use this lesson because there is no standard for this.” At first I chuckled and then realized that he was serious. It was at that point that I had “flash backs” to my own teacher training. It also reminded me that as teacher leaders we need to share more about the “art” of teaching with our post-secondary colleagues. In this spirit I offer several points of reflection in terms of new teacher training.
Think deeply about the content and rigor rather than the process – sometimes “more” is not best. My intern teacher regularly shares with me the frustration attached to producing large, unit lesson plans. As I look at his work, I wonder how much he really understands about the content and how to deliver that content in a meaningful rigorous way. Lesson planning is important. However, there is also a level of importance in understanding the overall purpose of teaching a particular standard and situating that standard into real-world contexts. The Common Core standards require that students develop critical thinking skills. Before this can happen teachers, especially our newly trained teachers, need to understand and practice this process.
Focus more on the “art” rather than the science of teaching. Significant attention is being given to newly developed observation systems. Two of the more popular systems, Danielson and Marzano, typically outline a number of observable traits that are practiced by experienced and effective teachers. It is important that new teachers have exposure to these metric-based systems, and understand the processes that lead to effective instruction. While lesson plans typically address these observable traits, they don’t go deep enough. New teachers need the opportunity to understand, practice and receive feedback on each trait outside of the regular classroom. Organizations such as the Bill Gates Foundation have discussed releasing videos of seasoned teachers demonstrating these traits, and new teachers need to have the opportunity to observe, comment and try different strategies in the safety of their pre-service environment.
Reflection is as important as planning. Reflecting on my teaching was one of the most important lessons that I learned as I went through the National Board certification process. It changed everything about the way I planned for and delivered instruction. As I listen to my intern teacher discuss lesson preparation I hear him discuss ways to deliver content with different populations, potential differentiation strategies, and other processes that are important for instruction. What is missing is the conversation that should be happening before that: “What do I know about my students?” Standards are certainly important, however, there is an art to thinking about the dynamics of the classroom and students’ needs. I terms of assessment the critical questions is: “How do I help students reflect on their learning?” Metacognition involves more than an exit slip. It is not an easy task and students are used to moving through subjects and instruction without really understanding what they produced.
If we are serious about helping new teachers enter our profession, and thrive in busy classrooms, then we should stop to consider a balanced approach to teacher training. Lesson planning is important but should not dominate teacher training. We need to help new teachers understand that the art and science of teaching is a continual process of reflection both on our part and that of our students. In other words, not everything has a “standard” to it.