Osmosis is…

not a professional development strategy.

Like many KIPP schools GCP’s new fifth graders spent their first three days in the cafeteria.  As our staff grew, we had more and more new teachers in the room observing.  We asked the new teachers to perform discrete tasks (dismiss tables to lunch, check planners, etc.) but our main expectation was for the new teachers to soak in the culture.  In other words, we asked teachers to behave like cells.

Teachers don’t replicate like cells and they certainly don’t take in knowledge via osmosis.  This dynamic played out in other situations. We assumed that the new teacher sharing the room with the veteran award winner would gather excellence from the ether. Jon Saphier says (I am paraphrasing): “you can not ask a new teacher to observe great teaching and expect them to take away the right lessons.”

This year at KIPP Lynn I am supervising eight new to KIPP teachers.  They range  from brand new to the profession to some with several years of teaching experience. I am trying a new tact and co-observing veteran KIPP teachers with the new to KIPP folks.  I hope to see three potentially positive outcomes…

  • As the new teachers share their insights I hope to learn a lot about how they think and what matters to them
  • Describing what I see to a third party (not the person who teaches the lesson) forces me to articulate how a teacher’s action impacts students.
  • The shared process of watching a rockstar teacher and then pulling back the curtain on their process hopefully eliminates the “I will never be this good.  They are magic” feeling some new teachers have while watching veterans.  As a result more teachers should wind up observing each other.

During these  summer school sessions and many other whole group times  like lunch new teachers wind up as spectators.  Many times the new teachers are doing a great job of tracking the veteran teacher speak in the cafeteria about discipline, culture, or procedure; often in fact they are tracking the veteran teacher better than the kids they are supervising.   I wonder if these moments could be better spent developing new teacher’s noticing skills.  Perhaps pulling the new teachers to the side  in the cafeteria and pointing out the things experience has taught me to notice. For example:

Which kids aren’t eating their lunch?

Who brought name brand  Lunchables (a sure a status symbol as can be found in the world of 5th grade)?

Who has his or her head on a swivel to find old friends and is ignoring their table mates?

Who is doing a great job of talking to everyone at the table? This one is particularly important to me because I used to only praise kids who worked on homework at lunch.  This ignored the fact that some kids did that to avoid taking social risks and ignoring the strengths of certain kids who made their whole table feel loved.

What habits of noticing and observation do you want to cultivate?

How do you structure  the formal and facilitate informal interactions between new and veteran teachers to encourage professional learning?

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