Monday, January 1, 2018

Teacher Leadership: Celebrating My Faliure

Most teams I've worked on have norms. And one of the norms most teams usually have is presume best intentions or presume positive intentions.

I've always interpreted this to mean if someone else on the team says or does something that feels like a personal attack, assume it isn't. Presume that the person had good intentions and somehow the intended positive message was lost.

I also didn't think very much of this norm. It doesn't feel enforceable--how do I really know if someone is presuming best intentions?? Also, I've seen it used as if the norm had an expiration date: well, I presumed positive intentions for a while, but now I know he was quiet because he didn't think the work the team did was useful anymore....

In addition to teaching math, I also lead the Sheltered/ELD PLC. This is the collaboration group for teachers of English Language Learners. We are a mixed content group with math, science, history, and English teachers all working together. However, because of the way my school structures collaboration time, we are a "secondary" PLC. Meaning, the majority of the time we meet with our "primary" PLC (for me, this is the algebra team) and once a month we meet with our secondary PLC.

Even though our meeting time is limited, I had a pretty ambitious inquiry question for this year: to what extent does explicit, content-related language instruction increase opportunities for students to learn?

Essentially, I wanted to help teachers explore the "two hats" issue of teaching content, sheltered instruction courses for English Language Learners (EL). We are teaching content standards (one hat), but we must also teach the language students need to access the content (other hat). However, this language is not always content related vocabulary words.

For example, the sheltered physics teacher at my school noticed EL students had difficulty with the idea of transfer of energy because of confusion around the words "from" and "to".  Thus, the physics teacher had to teach physics content, but she also had to teach the language students needed to access that content.

So, my ambitious goal centered on helping teachers engage in a cycle of inquiry around developing and implementing a language production activity in their class.

Here is a snippet of my planning doc for this work. I only show you this so you get a sense of how much I planned.

However, as the school year progressed, I realized we weren't all going to make it to the end goal of developing, implementing and reflecting on a language activity. Many of the teachers were stuck on writing an ideal response for their learning goal (learning objective). Something I hadn't anticipated.

However, at the end of the semester, even though not everyone actually developed an activity and implemented it, we all had great conversations about the language demands of our class. And everyone at least thought about a learning goal and what the ideal response to the learning goal might look like. And that is progress!

And as I reflected on the PLC work from this semester, I realized that presuming positive intentions isn't always about monitoring one's own response to a perceived negative interaction. Presuming positive intentions also looks like having hope and believing in a growth mindset. Yes, I overplanned the work I expected the PLC to do this year. But I also recognized mid-semester that every teacher was in a different spot and I differentiated accordingly. Teachers that were ready to develop a language activity worked on that. Awesome! Teachers that had never written an ideal response for a learning goal worked on that. Awesome! And teachers that might not use learning goal (learning objective) based planning, got to work on that. Awesome! Just as effective teachers differentiate lessons to meet the individual needs of their students, effective leaders differentiate professional development to meet the individual needs of their team members.

I could have forced a uniform product and asked everyone to develop some language activity, but I would have likely done so to the detriment of my personal relationship with a teacher, several teachers, and/or the team. Whatever form the work took, we were all focused on refining our teaching for our sheltered class. And I know that each teacher got the support they needed to refine their teaching practice in a way that was authentic and meaningful. And we had amazing conversations as a cross-content team about the challenge of teaching both language and content to English Learners.

By focusing on the process of teacher learning and not the product (creating an activity), I supported each teacher to grow individually and I also supported the growth of the team. And I learned via my own reflection that presuming positive intentions means having a growth mindset. Not everyone got to where I wanted, but we all got a step closer. And that's a step in the right direction!

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