I absolutely love the first 20 seconds of this commercial, as it represents what I believe is one of the most widespread problems in “Instructional Leadership” (not that I haven’t been guilty at various points in time).
Here we have a pest monitor (administrator) entering into a house (classroom), declaring there is a problem with termites (instruction), and promptly leaving without offering a solid solution.
Although we may laugh at the thought of something like this taking place in a school, from conversing with educators across my personal learning network (PLN), I do believe similar events occur on at least a somewhat regular basis.
Here are two potential reasons why administrators might not be helping as much as we’d like to think.
As I wrote in “5 Reasons to Throw Out Mandatory Lesson Plans,” for some reason, there is this idea in education that teachers know what to do, but just decide not to do it. For example, on the topic of teachers earning cash incentives for their work, Dylan Wiliam states:
But the vast majority of teachers are trying everything they can to increase their students’ achievement. There is certainly no evidence that there are teachers who are holding onto a secret proven method for teaching fractions until someone pays them more money.
I believe Wiliam’s theory also holds true for classroom visits/walkthroughs (and mandatory lesson plans). The majority of teachers are not holding onto a secret proven method for teaching [insert topic here] until someone enters their room, “catches them being bad,” and slaps them on the wrist. Yes, there are some who improve with rewards and/or accountability, but these carrots and sticks have no effect (or an adverse one) on most.
One step up from assumptions are vague directives. As Nathan Lang (@nalang1) and I wrote in “5 Ways to Put Students in the Driver’s Seat,” often times, proposed instructional shifts stumble as a result of direction that is overly ambiguous and lacking explicit details. For example, telling a teacher, “Your students need to engage in more problem solving,” is comparable to letting a comedian know he/she needs to be funnier or asking a pizzaiolo to make a better dough. Vague directives in the absence of explicit instruction typically generate anxiety.
Similar vague statements/questions my friends talk about include:
- Students need a growth mindset, grit, agency (or any other buzzwords that come to mind).
- We need to be teaching inquiry-based learning.
- Students should be engaged in higher-order thinking!
- Why aren’t students asking their own questions?
- Why aren’t we innovating?
As a fourth grade teacher, I can’t imagine how I would have felt if my principal came into my classroom, talked to me about my abundant use of lower-level questions, and then didn’t offer any guidance for improving my questioning techniques (either on the spot, through a meeting, with the help of outside people/resources, etc.).
In the End
Being vague and assuming “They’ll figure it out!” (or not providing any help altogether) will most likely produce more harm than good.
As I’ve said before…To avoid these anxieties, and for progress to actually take place, administrative support (and professional development) needs to drill down to the nitty gritty and be as explicit as possible. In other words, we need to be explicit about being explicit…and provide teachers with specific strategies they can use to comfortably move forward for their benefit of our students.
What are your thoughts on how the commercial may/may not resemble what takes place in schools?
Connect with Ross on Twitter.