Many Ways To Help Our Students Grieve is my latest Education Week Teacher post.
Several exceptional educators have contributed to today’s column, including Mary Tedrow, Stephen Lazar, Larry Swartz, Dr. Sherrel Bergmann and Dr. Judith Brough. In addition, I’ve included responses from readers.
I’m going to share some excerpts, and then scroll down for a special bonus for readers of this blog:
Stephen Lazar, one of the contributors to today’s Ed Week post, writes regularly for that blog.
He provided a response to a question I covered in December:
What are strategies to close the gap between new ideas and implementation?
However, I filed it under the wrong question, and didn’t include it in that two-part post.
So, here’s Stephen’s response to that question:
Stephen Lazar, a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher, is a co-founder of Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City where he teaches students Social Studies and English, is Assessment Coordinator, and union chapter leader. Lazar works with Social Studies teachers across NYC and the nation to support to support inquiry-based instruction, project-based learning, and Common Core implementation. He is profiled in Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave, by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wieder:
When it comes to implementing new and innovative ideas, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that most things do not go well the first time. They’re often not much better the second time. As a high school teacher, I’m lucky to teach the same class multiple times a day, so I can often get a new lesson right by the end of the day. Many teachers don’t have this luxury. The most significant thing leaders can do to support teachers trying new things is to manage expectations.
An even scarier proposition is when something goes well the first time, but not the second time. One of my best units ever was a loosely-veiled simulation of the Constitutional Convention I used to start my US History course. The first time I did it, things were magical. My students were into it, had deep conversations, and wrote thoughtful Constitutions. The second year it was a complete dud. In hindsight, the first year went so well because I had taught those same students the previous year, so I had already built up the trust necessary for them to go through a multi-week simulation that didn’t immediately appear to be connected to history. When I attempted the simulation a third time, I moved it back to the second week of school and got much better buy-in from my students. Therefore, the second most important thing we can do to support teachers is to help consider all possible reasons for the success and failure of an idea, and hold our conclusions to be quite tentative until they are repeated.
Both these suggestions assume we already have the ideas ready to implement, but it’s important to consider how we generate ideas. I’ve always found that new ideas I implement come through one of two avenues: either I watch somebody else do something and then borrow and adapt it, or I have the opportunity to plan with small groups of like-minded teachers who mutually push each others’ thinking. To make the first situation happen more often, leaders can come into teachers’ classrooms (with their permission, of course) and model new ideas for the first time, team teach them the second time, and then observe when the teacher tries it out for her or himself the third time. For the latter situation to occur, leaders need to prioritize scheduling in a way to give teachers the time necessary to collaborate. At the school I’ve helped create, Harvest Collegiate High School, departments have a daily planning period in common to allow for this collaboration.