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I have previously shared how I had developed an action plan and emphasized using volunteers for the professional development. Because I have worked in this district for my entire teaching career a lot of people know me, some people know of me, and some people have developed their own perception of me based on what they have heard. In this particular situation or circumstance, my professionalism spoke for me; my reputation preceded me in the implementation of this program. It is essential, to us as teachers; to maintain and cultivate our reputations for this very reason. I chose to speak to teachers that knew me personally and professionally to seek out my volunteers. I relied on the special education teacher to arrange for a co-teaching team to be observed at the high school, while I recruited at the middle school. With our volunteers in place, we began executing the program.
Part 3: Working the solution
Our first observation occurred in my own classroom while I co-taught with my team teacher in one of our classes. We were observed by members of the working team. Then, according to the plan we had a debriefing session. During this session we discussed not only what was observed in my classroom but also what documentation instruments we might need in future class observations. Therefore I created a document that included some guiding questions:
- What evidence of differentiation was observed? Seam-less?
- Co-teaching strategy/strategies observed?
- Observable transitions between teachers–taking lead role or stepping to support roles?
- Working with all students (both or either teachers)?
I also included on the document a reminder that this activity was not evaluative, but a learning opportunity for all involved. I wanted the observers to be able to have something to make notes about what the regular education teacher was doing and saying and likewise what the special education teacher was doing and saying. This document was to help the observers notate anything that they might want to add to the debriefing session. The documents were not collected to ensure that the activity did not become evaluative.
The next step was to take a team and visit the high school. This professional development was for teachers and about teachers. As the designer/manager of this project, I did not want them to have to give up their planning period to participate in this activity. I believed then, and still do now, that the staff would resent volunteering and then to be requested to give up their planning period. Resentment would lead to disaster for the professional development, it would build resistance in the staff, even though it might have only been passive resistance, it would still keep the teachers from learning and implementing effective co-teaching in their classrooms. My leadership and diplomatic skills were called on quite heavily. How do I, as a teacher, request substitutes for the participants? I do not have, and did not have the authority “to really make this happen.” At this point, while the project was still in its infancy, it would have been a “quick death” for the professional development if I was not determined to see it through. I used the resources I had, I asked some teacher friends to help me out. Later, I did secure other resources that assisted in the problem of substitutes for the teachers who were participating.
One of the lessons that I am taking away from this project and process is the realization that the bulk of the failure of programs that are instituted in our schools is due to passive resistance. Passive resistance to change in schools is a very large factor that should be addressed in a subtle manner that is supportive and from the perspective of a mentor. As a project manager this is a crucial aspect that can at times be uncomfortable, although with persistence and an attitude of understanding you can overcome this and in some cases turn the “resistor” into your biggest cheerleader for your project. Passive resistance can be found at all levels in schools: from the custodians, secretaries, aides, and other classified staff up to and including certified staff such as teachers and administrators. Teacher leadership is a “double-edged sword” and requires a very skillful balancing act. I found that “buy in” for the project came more from the participants’ involvement and reflections than from the threat of evaluation in the future.
As the cycles of observations continued and as the teacher participants completed the cycles, the project began to take on a “life of its own,” enthusiasm of the participants began spreading through “teacher-talk” in the workrooms and hallways. During the debriefing sessions much more than co-teaching and collaboration became evident from those conversations; one very important topic was the scheduling of teachers. All of the teachers emphasized that teaching teams should be scheduled together year after year as long as circumstances allowed that to happen. Another topic that was discussed at great length was the need for vertical alignment of the curriculum between the middle school and the high school. These two issues (scheduling and vertical alignment) arose due to teachers talking to teachers, learning from teachers leads to discoveries of important issues and the examination of those issues. Meeting and addressing the challenges that the teachers discussed will help create more success for all of our students in these two schools.