I love data – I’m a little geeky that way. And for many years, as a school administrator, I believed that if teachers could just look at the data and see how their students were doing they would be galvanized into action! What could I do in my classroom so that my students would improve? Except it didn’t really happen that way. Sure, for some teachers it made a difference. But, on a larger scale I didn’t find that classroom data was providing the incentive for change. However, over the years, as I have observed what does make a difference in changing practice, I have landed on something that has been occupying my thinking. I call it the “I’m the best teacher ever” feeling.
Teachers care about what they do. I don’t believe that we have very many teachers who wake up and decide to do a poor or mediocre job of teaching when they could choose to do a better one. I believe that everyone is doing the best they can. Why wouldn’t you? And, I believe that teachers go home every night believing that they were competent at their job that day. And so the world goes, day after day, school year after school year.
The magic happens, though, on the day that the teacher goes hope invigorated, excited and passionate. The teacher goes home and says “I’m the best teacher ever!”. We all know that feeling. The one where the lesson goes well; the one where the students are engaged; the one when the parent writes the nice note. When we design professional development that spurs the teacher to try something new, something not too crazy or complicated, something that we know will be successful, then the teacher goes home with the best-teacher-ever feeling. That is a much better feeling than merely competent. And, as human nature goes, the teacher will repeat that activity the following day in order to recreate the best-teacher-ever feeling again. Practice starts to change. The teacher starts to see his or her class in different ways. The students are more engaged. But, as life goes on, one day the lesson won’t go as well. The teacher does not go home with the best-teacher-ever feeling but competent doesn’t cut it any more. This is the point where teacher reflection really kicks in. This is the point when the teacher is most likely to engage in professional inquiry.
When we can help teachers achieve the best-teacher-ever feelings, other things happen, too. The rest of the teacher’s practice isn’t as enjoyable and he or she will begin to look for ways to change other areas of the day. The best-ever-teacher will be excitedly talking about new ideas in the halls, in the staff room, on duty at recess. Excitement breeds excitement and the best-teacher-ever will convince the other teachers to try something new.
So often we go to professional development workshops and come away with the BIG, BIG picture and it is too overwhelming. We come away feeling that we have learned nothing but theory. We come away believing that before we can embark on something new, we have to plan and plan and revise and plan. It’s too much work in our busy lives to start something new with no real guarantee that it will work. Or, we come away with a “must-do” (think posting learning goals and success criteria) that we comply with but the new practice doesn’t send us home with the best-teacher-ever feeling (not because it is a bad idea, necessarily, but because we are only complying).
I still love data. And I still like to look at data with teachers and principals and almost anyone who will listen. But the data alone won’t change practice of anyone in the educational system. Students don’t change because of a mark-they change when a teacher takes an interest and helps them to improve right away. Principals don’t change because of school scores – they change when they create a staff session where everyone leaves excited and then they see those changes in classrooms the very next day. So the next time you design a lesson or design a PD opportunity, think about what can you help people leave with that will work tomorrow? What can you help teachers do tomorrow so that they go home feeling like the best teacher ever?