Teach.com

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Did I Say Success? It's a Painful Process.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/
In my last post "Are You Set Up For Success? We Are," I matter-of-factly stated that we were ready for being successful in all that we did.  What I wasn't prepared for was what actually happened this week.

The first thing all leaders need to remember is that leadership can be lonely. Decisions must be made and expectations must be stated. And when these decisions and expectations are centered around change, there will be frustrations and there will be confusion. And the frustration and confusion can come from all levels.

We started by wanting our teachers to create a foundation for independent work - in every classroom. In all classes we wanted teachers to create the idea of work stations. Work stations are something that elementary teachers do on a daily basis. Middle school teachers? - not normally, in my experience. What we did not anticipate was that we would have to define "Work Stations." It took days for us to realize this important fact and that is lost time that our teachers will never get back.

A Work Station is a task. It might be something that students are doing in small groups. It might be something they do independently. It might be the majority of students in the class are doing it. But what we want is teachers with a small group while the rest of the class is working. The students need to know how to get resources They need to know how they should be working. And they need to understand that they are NOT to interrupt the teacher. The rules for this have to be established and modeled.  And this can take time. For example, a teacher may have all of her classes, but one, understanding this process. That teacher will have to continue establishing the norms for that one class. So we can't put an absolute time frame for this to be working in all classes. We can, however, put a deadline for all teachers to have the procedures in place.

To help the teachers we put some processes in place -"The First 17 Days." We suggested that ELA and Social Studies use "Guided Reading" as their first work station. We suggested "Problem Solving" as the first work station for Math and Science. Some teachers, with elementary experience, were ready. Some of them even decided that "how to work during a PBL unit" would be their first work station. But some of the teachers with elementary heard other teachers trying to understand the requirements and then they became confused about our expectations.

We had confusion going on at multiple levels. Then we added a new process for creating and posting lesson plans on top of this confusion. The posting part of that requirement proved to be the most problematic. We are using Google Apps this year and we wanted department heads to create a folder for their teachers. This is where they are to place their lesson plans.

I thought I had presented the process for creating and sharing folders but it turned out there were some huge confusions on this. On one end we had teachers very knowledgeable with Gmail but not knowing that the email address they needed to use for our Google Apps was different than their personal Gmail. On the other end we had teachers who had never used Gmail and were trying to figure out how to save things - never mind sharing things.

We now had multiple confusing things each with multiple levels of confusion. But we had a plan for making things better. On Wednesday afternoons we have meetings. This week's meeting was for all teachers. Easy: I would walk them through the Google process and the majority of teachers would, at least, be feeling better about that after that meeting.

Unfortunately all things Google require technology. And the first rule of technology is that you should never expect technology to work when you need it to work. At 3 PM CST I was demonstrating my presentation to our literacy coach and academic dean. At 3:45 when I was in front of teachers there were all kinds of issues. I became flustered, frustrated, and angry. Teachers became flustered, frustrated, and (some) off task. I blew up.

When you have spent over 20 years of your life in, and around, the military, there are certain expectations you inherently want to see.  In 20 years of life in, and around, education, there are certain expectations you end up seeing. Teachers, in many cases, don't pay attention to people talking to them. Teachers, in many cases, engage in conversations with their neighbors. Teachers, in many cases, arrive late to every meeting. Many of these same teachers expect their students to be quiet as a mouse, while paying attention to every word. And pity the student who arrives 30 seconds late to their class!

What happened next was terribly unprofessional, on my part. I unloaded on two of my male teachers in the back of the room who appeared to be off task and laughing hysterically. I didn't sleep very well that night and I made sure I talked with them the next day as soon as possible.

We are going to be successful this year. So I want to restate the last paragraph from my last post:
      As with any school, we will have teachers who will be at varying levels of expertise in this process. Some teachers may not get there this year. We have acknowledged this, as administrators, and we have conveyed this to the faculty. We will be setting the bar high. We will put systems in place to help those teachers who are struggling with facilitating these processes. But as the students walk in [on Tuesday morning], we are set up for success.

I may need to re-read that paragraph multiple times over the next few weeks. We do have systems in place. Our teachers will be successful. But we will need to help our teachers be the best that they can be. Again, stay tuned to this site for updates on how well it goes.