Here is a little provocation for all readers of this blog who play or would like to play some sort of supervisory or coach role. What would you do?

I have been working off and on for a few years in a high school nearby. As a result of so much work, I have gotten to know many of the teachers and all the supervisors (Dept. Head, Coaches, Principal) pretty well. Indeed, at this point I feel like an extra member of the staff rather than an outsider.

So, there is this one teacher. He is about 30 years old and has been teaching History for 6-7 years at the school. Nice guy, smart; good story-teller. He actually invited me into his class once to give him some feedback on his teaching, which I did. He listened to and accepted my feedback, and he thanked me for it – twice – a few days after our post-observation chat.

To no avail.

I have walked by his classroom 7-8 times per week over many weeks. Because the door is mostly glass, even when closed it is easy to see what is going on. What is going on, every single time, is that he is talking from his Powerpoint. Students are taking notes (or not) without much apparent enthusiasm. I have never once walked by and seen him listening to students or seen small-group or whole-group activities.

At a certain point last year, as this pattern became conscious in mind, I made a point to pass by his door various times per day and linger a bit – just to be sure that my “sampling” was accurate. No change from the pattern.

When I confided my observation to my school contact person what I was noticing, she responded: Yep, that’s him; that’s all he does.

Question #1: What would you advise me specifically to do – if anything – about what I am seeing beyond what I reported to my contact?

Question #2: What should my contact person do – if anything – in light of what I told her and in light of her confirmation of my observation? (She has no supervisory role).

Question #3: What would you do – if anything – as supervisor/coach/peer if you had noticed or heard about this pattern?

Question #4: There is a new History Department Mission Statement that stresses that teachers should make history engaging, and that says students should be “doing” history. Does this change your answers to Questions #1, #2, and/or #3?

Question #5: What do students deserve? Assuming that there is an important misalignment here between departmental goals and his instructional approach, how soon and often in the year, ideally, should someone in a supervisory role act when there is a question like this – before a whole year (or more) goes by?

Note: far more frequent and ongoing informal visits than the norm of 1-2 per year are feasible. My good friend and great educator, Andy Greene, Principal in a Half Hollow Hills NY middle school, does informal visits every day – so does his Asst. Principal, rotating departments between them – because Andy believes so strongly in the need to know his teachers. “It’s just a matter of priorities and blocking off a couple hours per day.” Between the two supervisors, there are 10 or more observations, per teacher, per year. And between them they write brief notes of “commendation, questions, recommendation” at the end of the day to all 7-8 teachers visited.

 

I look forward to your responses in the Comments!

P. S. Over 40 comments have been posted, making this the most commented-on post I have ever had. And all the comments are thoughtful and thorough – a veritable tutorial in the wisdom of crowd-sourcing educational issues via social media! Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read the post and offer such good comments.

Let me offer a few reflections after the fact:

1. Few people seemed to address the most basic question as a question: is it my place, as an outsider, and as someone who was lurking, to say anything to anybody (beyond my initial comment to my contact person)? I am surprised that more people didn’t say: butt out, Grant; it’s not your place. Which is actually close to my own view. Lurking should not be the basis of any important judgment.

2. The fact that he ignored my feedback, to my mind, was a complete red herring. So, speculation as to why he did and what I might do in the face of it seemed a bit off to me. Why should he act on my feedback? I’m not his colleague or supervisor. Nor are habits easy to change. Nor should we assume that just because I personally have witnessed no change in him that he isn’t interested or trying in some way to change. We would have to know a lot more about what HE is thinking!

3. Only a few people asked a key question: Never mind his behavior or teaching style; what results does he get? Interestingly, that question has no good answer: he teaches a class in which he is the sole assessor and grader. Whatever he tests and grades is it – no external exam or accountability. What, then?

4. I’m surprised that more people weren’t demanding that my contact person do more if she in fact knew this guy’s habits. But there is nothing she can do beyond inform the Supervisor. Which she did, in fact, do. To no avail.

5. I’m surprised that more people didn’t support the student side. A few suggested that their input should be sought in surveys with which I fully agree. More deeply, I deliberately asked: how long should we allow untenable pedagogies to go on? And no one really addressed that question – which for me is a key question in supervision. That was why I added the note at the end about Andy Greene and his AP being in classes every day.

Most people, however, saw this as a problem to be addressed by more coaching and support. But I painted a picture – deliberately – to suggest that this guy is unlikely to change any time soon. Whether or not that is true, my last question is this: when and how do supervisors hold teachers accountable for being out of touch with Mission and best practice? When do we get tough on mere weak unimproving teaching instead of noting only terrible teaching?

 

I’ll have another such provocation soon.

 

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