In 28 years of teaching I have probably spent one year of my career attending faculty meetings, conferences, and workshops. The bulk of the information dispensed varied from somewhat helpful to barely useful; little of it was illuminating.
The one staff development activity, however, that has always been worthwhile missing a day of work for is the walk-through.
In recent years, schools have been implementing the concept of having teachers walk into other teachers’ classrooms to observe the teaching and learning taking place.
While initially some teachers balked at the idea of opening their doors to their colleagues, the walk-through has now become standard practice where I work. We have been doing it for so long now that newer teachers have no memory of when we weren’t doing it.
While teachers are given observation forms to fill out and concepts to watch for, teachers are on their own for most of the day, something that is not true with other staff development.
Teachers are put in pre-arranged teams, purposely from different departments. Doing it this way ensures that people don’t gravitate towards those with whom they regularly interact. Integrating teachers from different departments takes the walk-through to another dimension, becoming a “getting to know you” day.
One of the peculiarities of teaching is that it is a vocation performed by one person in individual rooms. Dialoging with colleagues to discuss methodologies and students is an independent study venture.
Because of this solitary confinement, it is easy to overlook what a student’s whole day looks like. Teachers focus on their curriculum often forgetting that at the secondary level these students have five other classes.
It’s not just the homework; it’s how adaptive students need to be in understanding the expectations from their other five instructors. Yet, it is that variety of teachers and teaching styles that makes their day dynamic and not boring. If one teacher speaks in a monotone and stays immobile in front of the class, the next period may have one teacher who constantly moves around, having students work with partners and in groups.
Another benefit of walking through other classrooms is coming away with fresh ideas: a creative way to have students write on the board, a decoration hung from the ceiling, an unusual table arrangement.
And it’s fun seeing one’s students in different settings. One former student had a huge grin that I was watching her play the cello. Another was making a sculpture, and after discussing the particulars of that work of art, good-naturedly debated where the best breakfast burritos can be found (he says Corner Cottage, I say Larry’s). Such conversation pays in dividends, deepening the connection between student and teacher.
As much as I enjoy the walk-throughs, each teacher does just one a year. It would be wonderful if teacher observations and conversations were a regular part of the work day or even work week.
Another next step would be to record those teachers who are doing marvelous work as a video library for others to reference.
If a were a student that day, I would have gone to school and learned what makes people mammals, that what separates us from other mammals is our ability to show compassion, and it is that compassion that can be expressed through writing a sonnet, playing a piece of music and creating a work of art.
Not a bad way for a teenager to spend a day. And it’s free. What a deal.