Advice from the field on how to navigate the shift from teaching to coaching.
Adult Learning Specialist
Teachers have always done much more than teach. They play a variety of roles, both in and outside of the classroom, and address needs or existing gaps in their school community. These roles may include mentoring other teachers, leading departments and grade levels, spearheading projects and initiatives, turnkeying professional learning, and serving as a dean or an assessment or technology coordinator.
It may seem like a natural move for strong teachers who are leaders in their own classrooms to step into a role as a leader in the larger context of their own schools; however, as with any transition, this shift comes with challenges. As teachers take on additional roles, the added work can create complications for both school administrators and teachers, especially in places where roles, responsibilities, and expectations are unclear.
Advice from teacher leaders
In my work with teachers, schools, and districts, I find it helpful to begin by asking questions that address common concerns surrounding this process: What are some challenges that arise as you step into a leadership role? What skills or tools do teachers need to possess in order to smoothly transition to the role of teacher leader? How can administrators best support their teachers as they shift their roles and responsibilities?
To find answers to these questions, I turned to two wonderful educators with whom I work at a high school in the South Bronx — Leah Clark, an English teacher who has taken on the role of department lead and literacy coordinator, and is planning to move into school leadership; and Chris Mastrocola, who has moved from English teacher to teacher leader to Assistant Principal. They offered words of wisdom for teachers planning or hoping to move into a leadership role, and advice to administrators who are looking for ways to support teacher leaders in their community.
Becoming a role model
When I asked Leah about her recent experience of moving into her role as a high school department lead and literacy coordinator, she cautioned teachers to be mindful about which of their practices are successful in their classroom, but may not be recommended as a standard practice for the community. She notes, “When you take on a leadership role, you become more of a role model, and as a role model, certain practices that worked for you as a teacher may not be appropriate to share as a model to other teachers. What works for you may not work as well for everyone.”
As an honest example, Leah notes that while her strategy of occasionally calling home during class — in front of other students — when a student didn’t show up for class or was late, may have had results, it could be seen as a questionable practice, and one that could even breach school or district rules. In hindsight, she wouldn’t recommend this to other teachers.
In summary, Leah reflects: “The switch from being a classroom teacher to being a role model means that you have to think about what you recommend to other teachers and maybe even adjust your practices. As a teacher leader, other teachers look to you as a representation of the school’s policies and administration in a new way.” Chris Mastrocola, who moved from high school teacher to department leader, also echoes Leah’s reflection that teacher leaders need to recognize that everything they do or say is a model for others.
Leah admits that as she has moved into her new leadership role, she has had to become more conscious of how she talks about other people. She advises aspiring teacher leaders to “choose your words a little bit more carefully and be aware that your words and actions represent what you would like the staff environment to be. Sometimes you can’t say the things that you actually might want to say!”
Chris also emphasizes that “everything you do or say as a teacher leader or school administrator can serve to help draw teachers and staff in to support the community, or alienate them — push them away from feeling like a productive member of the school community.”
The importance of clear and thoughtful communication also extends to what teacher leaders need to receive from administrators, in order to feel supported and successful in their role. At their school, Leah and Chris both attest to the importance of the support of their administrators, noting that their principal, Santiago Taveras, consistently offers constructive feedback and opportunities for them to talk through challenges, finding both regular and impromptu times to meet to check in about how their work is going.
Shifting from teaching to coaching
In his assistant principalship role, Chris has taken on the role of instructional lead. While this is a natural evolution for anyone like Chris, who is an outstanding classroom teacher and curriculum planner, he quickly realized that working with adults — teachers — is different from working with students, and this shift demands new skills and perspectives.
According to Chris, “As a teacher, with your students, you often feel it is your job to intervene in everything, but as a leader, you need to be thoughtful about not undermining teachers’ autonomy. Teacher leaders, like school administrators, need to strive to be patient and take the long view of change and development. You can fix and change systems, but not teachers. Development and growth takes time.”
To me, Chris’s advice is crucial. We would love for all our teachers to be expert practitioners, able to step into the classroom and seamlessly juggle all the complications of teaching. However, like our students, and like any professionals, teachers are each learning and developing their practice at their own pace. It takes time.
Chris highlights the importance of having a growth mindset and cultivating teachers’ strengths, as opposed to working from an evaluative, deficit perspective. He notes that when working with teachers, leaders can “help them identify their strengths and how to leverage them inside and outside the classroom — find out where you can support them to shine. Work alongside teachers to help them articulate their areas for growth — helping teachers to articulate in one sentence about just one specific area for growth is helpful to leverage change.”
Establishing trust and agency
Leah appreciates that at her school, teachers are recognized for the qualities and skills that they add to the school community, and are trusted with the opportunity for leadership. “Being a leader in your own classroom is the best place to start. Even if you don’t have a title, by leading well in your own classroom, you can spread positive classroom practices and classroom culture to your community.”
Based on his experience, Chris suggests that as teachers move from classroom leaders to school community leaders, they can continue to contribute to a positive environment by adjusting their expectations — not only for themselves, but for their colleagues. He shares that when making the shift into leadership, it’s important not to come down too hard on yourself nor expect too much, and instead meet teachers where they are.
Leah notes that trust is also a part of the equation, at all levels: “Be trusting of your colleagues and your community. You don’t need to micromanage departments or each teacher at your school to get the kind of impact and transformation of your school that you want. Trust goes a long way toward building agency and confidence for teachers and teacher leaders.”
Chris’s final words about stepping into any kind of school leadership role feel important to hold onto: “You need to be kind to yourself in order to be patient and kind to the teachers in your community.”
Are you taking on the role of teacher leader, and wondering how you can bridge the gap between coaching and teaching? Check out Coaching for Change, which will support you in cultivating the strengths of teachers in your community, increasing your effectiveness as a team leader, and establishing confident, compassionate coaching practices.
A suggested sequence of sessions that encourages learning, application, reflection, and the sharing of promising practices.
ROBERTA LENGER KANG, Instructional Design Specialist and SHERRISH HOLLOMAN, CRSP & Adult Learning Specialist
Effective professional development can be defined as structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practice and improvements in student learning. Features such as strong content focus, inquiry-oriented learning approaches, collaborative participation, and coherence with school curricula and policies can be the difference between good and great professional learning experiences.
Since the 1970s, there has been a growing body of literature about learning and the application of reflective practice, which is a way of allowing educators to step back from their professional experience, develop critical thinking skills, and improve future performance.
When educators can learn a new idea or concept, apply this learning to their specific context/content area, reflect on the experience and share their experiences with colleagues — a cycle we call LARS — they can bring their professional learning experience to fruition.
Using the LARS model
The LARS model is a structure for developing ongoing professional development sessions that prioritize developing community knowledge, shared practices, and deepening reflection on what works, and why. In the planning process, facilitators should conduct a needs assessment to determine the strengths and struggles across the community and strategize an area of focus.
For example, one school recently discovered student performance in reading was struggling. After conducting a series of Learning Walks, the school leadership team noticed that literacy instruction was inconsistent across classrooms. The leadership debriefed their experiences and came to the conclusion that if teachers were using similar instructional strategies for Before, During and After reading, students would have increased their comprehension and confidence. The leadership team reviewed several research-based strategies and identified two strategies for each stage of the reading process, for a total of six literacy strategies to share with the whole school. They began to use the LARS framework to structure a 12-week PD series. They knew that they needed two weeks per topic: one session to introduce the strategy and make a plan to implement it, and a second session to reflect on their implementation and make adjustments.
The first session in the LARS model is focused on learning a new strategy, and making a plan to integrate or apply that strategy into instruction. This workshop should communicate the essential components of the topic, provide active engagement and an exchange of ideas between participants.
In leading the first workshop on literacy strategies using the example above, the facilitators would share more about why literacy is important across content areas, as well as the concept of Before, During and After reading strategies. They’d then provide a hands-on experience with the first literacy strategy. They may choose to model the strategy using a professional text, show a video of a teacher using the strategy in a real classroom, or create a challenge for teachers to collaborate on developing a model after learning about the strategy from a shared text.
At the end of the workshop, teachers consider how they can implement what they’ve learned into their practice. This is the apply portion of the session. Participants can complete an application plan where they write ideas about how they can implement the strategy, and what artifacts they will be able to bring to the next session. When teachers choose for themselves what to implement and what they want to bring back to the group, they have increased ownership in the process. By asking all participants to bring an artifact to represent what they implemented, we are able to create reciprocal accountability within the community. Additionally, when teachers across the school begin using a shared strategy at the same time, it exponentially increases the students’ understanding of how to use that strategy, and kickstarts the impact of that strategy on their learning experiences.
Reflection and sharing
The second session has a focus of reflection and community sharing. In Session 2, participants regroup through written reflection using either open-ended journaling practices, or by responding to a variety of prompts specific to the focus strategy. By reflecting on their experiences of implementing the strategy, teachers are able to synthesize the impact of that strategy on student learning and their own teaching practices. Their reflections become concrete texts and when shared, culminate as an archive of the professional learning that has occurred. After reflection, participants share their artifacts and experiences together in small groups, identifying similarities and differences in the samples of student work and their implementation experiences. Participants may celebrate successes, as well as take the opportunity to identify challenges and ways that their process can be extended.
After the first two sessions, the school may choose to retry the focus strategy, or to move onto the next topic, with the expectation that teachers will be adding to their instructional tool kit with each new move they learn.
Using the LARS cycle supports the most challenging aspect of professional learning: application.
Without application, learning just floats in the air as a neat idea. Engaging in the LARS process as a school community and/or department builds in time to apply new skills and reflect on them with colleagues. The reflection aspect promotes individual thinking about what went well, and how individual teachers might tweak it to make more sense for their classroom. This can become a rigorous process where teachers in the community test and vet instructional strategies that are most effective for their unique students. The LARS model is a cycle of inquiry that lends itself to not just learning a new concept, but creates a structure that helps communities cultivate ways of working, learning and growing together to meeting the evolving needs of students.
Educators weigh in on how they prefer to receive feedback and where they struggle when offering it to others.
ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Instructional Design Specialist
When I started my leadership journey, I was confident that with the right effort and the right systems and structures, the team I was leading would simply be successful. I imagined that I would avoid confrontation through planning, modeling, and being nice. We’d never have any problems!
But we can’t lead a team this way. Each individual needs feedback to increase self-awareness, identify goals, and strategize a path forward. They deserve actionable feedback that supports their work, and it needs to be direct, clear, and kind.
Whether you’re the person receiving feedback or providing it to others, you bring your entire self to the conversation, which means there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We recently spoke with a group of educators who were kind enough to share how they would like to receive feedback, as well as some of their most pressing concerns when it comes to offering feedback to others.
How do you want to receive feedback?
Jeff, Costa Rica
I think the most important thing is that feedback is driven by compassion, and even love and care for me. This is not a time for scolding or trying to make someone feel less than, but a chance to build someone up by helping them be successful.
I like when people are direct and actionable. If they notice something can be improved about my practice, then I like to hear what can be improved and a suggestion of how to approach it, or at least the willingness to brainstorm solutions with me.
I would like to receive feedback that is clear and has strategies I can try, in order to meet the desired target.
Feedback that is easy to understand and not too overwhelming.
When I receive feedback, I want to hear specific suggestions. I want those to be couched in supportive terms; I want to feel like the person giving me feedback is on my team, working with me to try to improve my practice, rather than "grading" my practice.
I want direct and honest feedback myself, but struggle with consistently offering that to others, instead allowing a fear of damaging the relationship or contributing to hurt feelings get in my way.
I like to receive clear, kind feedback. It doesn’t need to be “nice” but I bristle if it’s unkind.
I’d like to receive constructive feedback that focuses on promoting the quality of my work and addresses both strengths and weaknesses, or the sandwich of “glows” and “grows”. Although some people are not in favor of the sandwich feedback, I still prefer to hear some positivity before pinpointing the flaws.
Shannon, New York
I like being invited into the conversation, and being asked what I think went well, what part of the lesson I felt could have been stronger, or where were I was hoping for a different outcome. These types of questions open up to a conversation rather than just finding areas to critique without context.
I would like to receive feedback that is clear, actionable, and includes the full truth. It lets me know where I stand and how I’ve been progressing.
I like honesty and direct feedback that will help me improve.
Addressing the challenges of giving feedback
What do you do when, regardless of how you give feedback, the other person takes it personal? I have a couple of teachers that have had different people try different approaches to offering feedback, and yet they still get defensive and take it as a personal slight. How do you get past these walls?
What is the balance between questioning and providing direct feedback?
As someone who partakes in teacher evaluations, I often wonder about positionality. I tend to position myself as a teammate working to help colleagues improve their practice, but how genuine does that feel if I am also writing up an observation as part of someone’s professional evaluation? My struggle lately, I think, is how to separate feedback from "grades".
When we want people to take action, we need to be strategic about how and when we offer feedback — more is not always more.
Even when we’re not in a position of power, our words carry a lot of weight — and it’s worth examining how we can communicate feedback to others with authenticity and clarity, and in a way that allows them to receive our words.
A look at how schools are managing competing priorities while re-acclimating to in-person instruction.
Throughout the New Normal series on our Teaching Today podcast, we’ve been taking a look at the instructional interruptions and innovations that have surfaced over the past two years as a result of the pandemic. As schools continue to re-acclimate to in-person teaching and learning, our panel of school leaders returns to discuss the opportunities and challenges they’re witnessing in their communities.
Let’s “listen” in on the conversation between:
Roberta: It feels like we are coming full circle with our New Normal series. And now that school is back in session, I wonder, what does “normal” mean, and will it ever return? How are things with you since we last had you on?
Candace: Returning definitely came with a lot of anxiety which hasn’t actually gone away, but I think that every stakeholder involved in the life of a student saw the need to return to school, and the kids more so than anyone else. They have been here. I’m seeing attendance at 93% every day! We’ve seen the emotional journey as we make sure we satisfy the needs of everyone who needs so much attention but also make sure that we are working in tandem — always focusing on the academic needs and not using that as a crutch or a reason why we're not focusing on instruction.
Ryan: Candace, it’s great to hear about what you're doing and the challenges there. I was a principal in a Benton Harbor area school, and I have recently left that role. Now I'm working at a Silicon Valley consultancy, and I’m working remotely out of Chicago. I'm in charge of professional learning opportunities, so I can certainly speak to what it's like not being a principal, but I can also talk about what I see going on in schools both as a parent and because I’m still working in schools as a collaborator.
Assessing the damage
Roberta: We’ve experienced that cycle of openings and closures along with logistical challenges, but now that we’re settling in, there is a renewed focus on instruction. What are some of the early experiences in terms of atrophy, or what some are referring to as a learning gap, that may have happened in the learning over the last couple of years?
Candace: I think staff members, students, and parents feel a renewed sense of life and appreciation. It has become a central focal point — the reintroduction into school. We’ve had logistical challenges like losing staff members who resigned, moved, or found remote jobs alongside the reality of vaccine mandates. Even with bountiful stimulus money, it doesn’t replace good people. Five years ago, we would have said this is ridiculous, but today we have to actually make meaning, create a path forward, and make goals come to fruition.
So, it has been an interesting kind of tension for me personally, as a principal because, while I care deeply about my students I have to focus on these challenges — all of these different variables. Even when I can think of excuses to let up, I’m not going to give any. Every day is valuable, so you have to always keep a straight face and hold on to the mission and vision.
Ryan: I think we saw the same thing in Benton Harbor. Staffing was the biggest challenge and it’s very hard to climb up the hierarchy of learning when you don’t have enough bodies. Even prior to COVID, we had situations when multiple teachers would be out, and our PE teacher would have 90 kids in the gym. In my home district here in the Chicago suburbs, we just had a parent teacher conference last night. The first thing you see when you walk in is like a job fair. It’s a huge 25,000 child district, and it’s like we’re going to speed interview. We had to cancel a couple of days of school because we didn’t have enough bus drivers. I was very proud that we were able to offer a kind of hybrid experience, because at the end of the day, kids had about half the time in school, and half is better than none.
When I talk to the teachers here locally, they are much more concerned about the social-emotional issues with the little kids. For example, for the kid that missed kindergarten and then went into first grade and maybe didn't have preschool doesn't know how to do school yet. So this is a big deal, especially for the younger children because they just don't know how to function in this environment. They're used to pressing mute, not being in a physical classroom, engaging with humans. I wouldn't even say it's a learning loss. It’s more like you've been raised by a computer for a year, instead of people. Of course, I’m being facetious but how do we do group work in this landscape? I think we forget how intense that social learning is in those first three years, especially.
Roberta: I want to build on that because I think that one of the things that we're really seeing across city schools is a focus on social-emotional learning, and I don't know that it's just at the elementary level. I think that we're really seeing it manifesting in pretty big ways in middle schools and high schools as well. Teachers are also experiencing challenges around their own social-emotional health as we're all kind of coming out of the pandemic and beginning to assess the damage both internally and externally.
Ryan: It’s funny you mentioned this, because in local districts in the Chicago suburbs, the report was that teachers “stormed” a board meeting about work conditions. Now, maybe the report was a bit overcooked, but at the end of the day teaching really is a 24/7 job, even if you're phoning it in. There’s no such thing as an easy day of teaching, and then to juggle all the COVID protocols — then, to communicate all these things with the central office when there aren't robust systems in place to make that frictionless. I think that working conditions for educators in general are a concern for teachers and their mental health. Candace, you just alluded to that when you said you've got to have a game face, so your teachers can keep their seatbelt on.
Sherrish: Yes. What's really happening is that it's different for everybody, so everyone is dealing with some form of a different kind of socialization, some emotionalism around this whole pandemic and returning to school. It looks different if you're in high school, it looks different if you’re in middle school, and from the perspective of a parent or a teacher. Whatever the case, it exists. We're all going through this.
Re-acclimating to the physical classroom
Roberta: One of the conversations I've been having is thinking about teachers who are new to the field within the last couple of years. The reality is, if your first- and second-year teacher are teaching in a primarily remote or in a hybrid situation, there are a lot of brand new things that you're experiencing that you have never had to do before. You’ve never had to pass out papers, figure out how to negotiate the bathroom pass — you’ve never really had to deal with interruptions in your lesson, because you could absolutely put your whole class on mute and finish talking. You can't do that in real life, and that's one of the challenges that a lot of educators are facing right now.
Ryan: I want to jump in and talk about class size. We saw that was one thing people appreciated during the pandemic — small class size. Now that we’re back in person, we have challenges like: in my daughter’s class, five kids just kind of vanished — we know one decided to be homeschooled — and that was enough for the school to cut one fifth grade teacher, so then all of the sudden the class size is even larger than before the pandemic.
I’m also thinking about the hopes we have that people are getting vaccinated to scale, but what if that doesn’t happen? Are we going to see a dramatic uptick in COVID and then more disruptive shutdowns? What are you thinking, Candace?
Candace: I can't even allow myself to think in that way. With what we’ve been through last year — we're open today, we're closed the next — to me, no matter what happens, just have a plan. I think your city has to have a plan to handle testing, so it might take a lot to close your city, if at all. I’m not really worried about it, because I can't get caught up in what happens. We have to be prepared for it, and have a mentality that we can handle it. With what we lived through, I have that mindset.
What I’m focusing on is dealing with teachers that have been around and want to go back to some very traditional teaching, like handing out worksheets or thinking that students need to sit and listen to me teach, watch me write, especially now, when kids have not sat for a long time. Then we have the brand new Gen Z teachers who haven't done anything like this yet. So, I’m just going to say that when you’re a teacher you can’t really prioritize mental health by asking for mental health days in September, which is what I’m seeing here. It’s just a very different way of thinking.
Ryan: This is an interesting statement, though. There’s this paradox. We all know the funny stories about kids gaming while they were on Zoom, but from a teacher’s point of view, they could do very linear teaching and we know great teaching is only linear in the sense that you’re building towards something — hopefully a cool assessment. But rarely does direct instruction get you through more than 10 solid minutes, so I think people got used to this sort of luxurious way of not having to think as hard about pedagogy.
Roberta: I don't know how you're doing things, Candace, but I think a lot of schools are dealing with that hard question: to what extent do we go back to paper handouts and textbooks in the classroom, and to what extent do we continue in the more digital and virtual world? Schools I'm working with have worked very hard to make sure that they can have a one-to-one laptop ratio or Chromebooks within the school building so that kids can potentially have a device at home and also have a device at school. They have eliminated paper and handouts in favor of continuing on with some of those virtual practices.
This brings up the question around hybrid work. Today, we had a staff meeting with 15 people in person and five online. How do we do group work in this situation? It’s easy to fall back on the very traditional, “I’m going to talk for a while and you should sit quietly and answer some questions.” Working individually and independently on my laptop in class perpetuates that traditional model, even though you're working in technology which many people assume is very 21st century.
Candace: Yes. Exactly. We started to discuss this at the end of last year. Our building is very traditional in the sense that it's old, so we literally have power outages every single day. I have generators that I bought from Amazon that we have in order to charge a smart board so it stays on when the power goes out. At this point, the kids aren't even phased. It’s more like, “Oh, the power’s out again.” We had a discussion at the start of the year about what to prioritize — how to get and keep students talking, especially as many get used to acclimating themselves in a classroom, simply being around one another. We had to talk about how much technology to keep using, trying to move from online to in person, and how to move from being in front of the smart board to moving around the classroom during class.
We actually had our interim superintendent ask why attendance was so high, and I think it's because students weren’t able to have a genuine connection without us, fostering conversation and connecting with each student. This led to kids really wanting to come to school.
Ryan: That's interesting because if you've read Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology at UCLA, and the Ted talk is out there too, he basically proposes that Maslow's hierarchy of needs — food, shelter, all the way to your self-actualization is incorrect. He says, the first you know when a baby is born, the first thing they do, why they cry, is because they're trying to make a social connection because they're not going to get food and shelter unless they can make that connection with mom or dad.
Any school that can capitalize on that basic psychology of humans first is going to have spectacular outcomes like you’re having. It also brings in questions of digital technology, and what happens when we have incredibly shallow meaningless connections. It’s a skill, because you may be connected, but you have to determine if it’s a meaningful connection. Those are big questions as a society we’re addressing now. It’s exciting to hear that getting off the devices was making them tune into each other as human beings and engaging in different ways.
At the end of the day, there's real power in saying we're going to do more with less. We’re going to focus on what matters, which is people and relationships — making curricula social is a very powerful thing. This is why we knew intuitively, and we've now found through research, if you have kids going out and doing stuff in the world they'll engage differently than how they engage with just the dreaded worksheets all the time.
Roberta: One of the things that happens around this time of year for many schools is the influx of observation. We’ve established our classrooms, our student programming, getting everyone in their classes and getting their schedules correct, and now is the time for a teacher evaluation. But we're still in a time of a lot of stress and pressure, and it feels like we're still changing. We’ve got teacher shortage issues, and maybe don't have enough bodies in the building — how are you managing that as a school leader in terms of getting back into an observation cycle? What are some of the things that you're concerned about?
Candace: Well, even with the mandate for observations, we never viewed them from a punitive standpoint, so it doesn't feel as painful. It's really about feedback and a conversation. I’ve done a first round that was focused on a non-invasive process, especially for the teachers who needed an introduction to the process. We want our teachers to invite us to two lessons they think will go well, so they feel more comfortable from the start.
We look at the Danielson rubric as a tool instead of something punitive, and we invite people to refresh the content for themselves in hopes that it can actually improve the quality instruction for students. It’s about how you show up for kids.
Ryan: In Michigan, when we had the first pandemic spring, it was like, “Yeah evaluations: don't worry about it,” and then it went immediately back to normal. We found ways to make it less painful. Like Candace mentioned, teachers invite us in, so it’s less stressful for them — we’ll do anything we can do to mitigate the anxiety this causes because, no matter how you frame it, teachers are concerned because it's their life, their livelihood.
Roberta: Yes, and there's only so much that a principal has control over in this situation. The evaluation criteria is actually set by the state, in terms of what percentage of their rating is based on observations and what percentage is based on student performance on state tests.
Candace: Yeah, I think because of the pandemic, many educators were hoping that the powers that be will actually see that there should be a different way we evaluate students — in a more holistic way.
Roberta: Thinking of operations and feedback, there is an art to actionable feedback, an essential intervention that helps cultivate a culture of shared values, but teachers and leaders often struggle to find the balance between positive, critical, and sometimes destructive feedback.
Promising pandemic practices
Sherrish: Yes, that conversation about actionable feedback is so valuable. We’ve had a lot of realizations today during our conversation, and I think many of us had ideas about what it would be like to return to school, and some of those things turned out to be true and some were not so true.
What is something that you're seeing this year, possibly as a result of the pandemic, that is exciting you for the future of education?
Ryan: One of the most incredible things for me was witnessing elementary teachers who didn’t find technology to be their jam. You're supposed to be tactile and you're supposed to have scissors and construction paper. It's not about clicking, but within a month, my teachers — although they were not a very tech savvy bunch — were Google Suite pros and it was very exciting to see that kind of growth around technology happen at a quantum pace.
We know that some people are saying you can use this or that software for all of your courses — my question is where are there good ways to use Ed Tech, where are there ways to rethink the classroom schedule, ways we can start doing more dynamic assessments? It’s more like everybody wanted to return back to normal so bad, right, it’s like, let’s go back to the way it was, and I think there is still an opening here to rethink Ed Tech. We’ve got a long way to go, but it might open up more possibilities.
Roberta: I hear the concern that you're implying Ryan, which is yes, we want to go back to normal, but not back to the 70s, not back to the 80s in terms of pedagogy in the classroom, and we need to be thinking — how do we take the best of what we learned and the skills that we learned, and really continue to refine them how and work through, “How do you teach today for tomorrow?”
Ryan: Yes, and the other interesting insight I have to add is that I've been working with a lot of companies in Silicon Valley, so whether they’re tech firms or firms working on their tech part of the business, the amount of thought and creativity that goes into things we take for granted is just as impressive as you would think. We don't see that kind of capital, both intellectual and monetary, being directed into Ed Tech.
Candace: I agree. That said, as a leader trying to figure out how to do that within the box of our constraints, it is a challenge. This could have been a time to reconstruct school schedules, and not because we need to reduce class, but because this could be a different way for students to receive instruction that could have met their needs. There were so many different ways to construct things to meet all kinds of needs, and it felt kind of like we threw everybody back in and literally crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
I am hopeful that somehow, someone does see some innovation, and through the conversation among teachers, they can see the power and kind of the work that they do in classrooms. There are sparks. People are collaborating and pushing. I think when teachers got over their fear of technology, they could move forward and now they can continue to push into new ways of working.
Ryan: That’s the central thing — can we put some of the good things we learned in the pandemic in a bottle and start spreading them out in other ways? We know school systems haven't changed in 150 years, really. Now we have a lot of proof of concept that people can do stuff they thought they could never do.
You can always use this whole pandemic time as a case study. We published two books during the pandemic, Benton Harbor with CPET. Nobody prior to the pandemic would have thought about doing that.
Roberta: Teacher shortages, learning losses, social stressors, anxieties about returning to in person school — it has been a bit of a bumpy ride, but our school leaders see the possibilities of what's to come with hardcore dedication to their team and a deep commitment to their students who are setting a clear agenda for forward momentum, no matter what.
Roberta: Ryan, you’re on mute.
Ryan: That is the funniest post-pandemic thing — like everybody's been on Zoom for almost two years, and at least once a week, “You're on mute.” [Laughter]
Roberta: And then that pause of looking for it — where is it again? It's in the same place as last time, on every call. [Laughter]
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In this episode
There is a natural — and often overlooked — link between leadership development and adult learning. Effective leaders recognize that adults are practical, hands-on learners who come equipped with prior knowledge and many years of experience — and adjust their leadership and professional development accordingly. This week, The Aspen Institute's Cheryl Green returns for a conversation around how leaders can better connect with the adult learners in their school communities.