Feedback: More than “the kids got it”

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow teacher today. She returned from her evaluation conference with the administrator and was completely frustrated. She had spent an hour with her boss, and didn’t feel as though she had learned anything. The only real substantive feedback she had received was that it was a great lessons because “they really got it”.
Somehow, in many minds a great equal sign inserted itself into lesson assessment. The kids got it equals a great lesson. But there are some problems with that mindset. Does that mean that if the kids didn’t succeed and master the objective of the lesson that the lesson was somehow ‘not good’? Does it mean that lesson design and delivery are irrelevant as long as the kids accomplish the goal?
Perhaps when we were beginning teachers, this simplistic equation might have been valuable. (I’m not sure about that, but I’ll concede the point for the moment) But as we become more skilled practitioners, the feedback on our teaching needs to become increasingly specific and skilled as well. I’m thinking that its a little like an elementary school basketball team vs a professional basketball player. Perhaps for the young child, there is a simple equation — if the ball goes in the basket, it was a good shot. But for the skilled NBA player, there is so much more to consider. Was the shot taken wisely? What other choices were available but not chosen in the heat of the moment? What defensive plays were being used by the opposing team and how did the player respond to the defense? Only when those conversations can happen, only when that type of in-depth analysis occurs between the coach and the player can improvement at those high levels of achievement really happen.
Its the same for a highly skilled teacher. That teacher made a thousand “in the moment” decisions. He responded to the learners before him. He adjusted for the zillion factors in the environment during that instruction. He incorporated volumes of brain research, psychology research and child development theory. Only as all of those decisions become a part of the conversation can the growth and development of a highly skilled professional begin.

Sandy Hook School: Sad and Proud

Like many Americans, I am deeply saddened and horrified at the events at Sandy Hook School on Friday. Unlike many Americans, I have friends and former teammates who were working at that school on Friday. And I could not be prouder to call them colleagues.
While the formal dictionary definition of colleague is simply a fellow member of a profession or staff, I believe there is so much more implied in the word. A colleague is a fellow professional who executes in a highly skilled and competent manner. It is someone who raises the level of my own practice and sharpens my sense of my profession. Not every co-worker is truly a colleague.
On Friday, the teachers at Sandy Hook faced the unthinkable. But even in the face of that horror, they thought — and they acted. They executed a lockdown without a lockdown order. They effectively and efficiently protected over 600 children from the horror that was unfolding. These colleagues set aside their own fears and nerves and behaved in highly skilled and competent ways to serve the children in their care.
Sunday’s paper ran a photo of a line of children being led from the school by State Police professionals and their teacher. While standing in a line in a coffee shop, the conversation naturally turned to that photo on the paper in front of us. Some confusion was evident over who were the police and who was the teacher. I glanced down, put my finger on one woman and said, “That’s the teacher. She has the clipboard.” Only when I was questioned about it by fellow coffee-shoppers did I realize the enormity of it. Even in the face of unimaginable fear and confusion, this young teacher grabbed the clipboard with the emergency information for her students. She set aside her own emotions and reactions, and did the professional thing. Its a small thing, that clipboard. But it is so indicative of what that staff did on Friday morning.
I am awed and humbled.