Slapping in and Waterskiing Cats

I am watching a lesson and trying to make up my mind.  A high performing teacher tried to amp up participation in her classes by having kids “slap-in” to participate.  Instead of raising hands the students would slap their hands together before raising.  The slap in brought in a rapid fire game show vibe to certain sections of the lesson (going over the do now, cumulative review of vocabulary synonyms). It’s been about two weeks since I saw Ms. M try this in a lesson and now I am watching the same move in the third different classroom today.

Is this a good or a bad thing?

Good obviously.  Teachers are sharing practice.  Sharing is good. Voila!

On another level I am not so sure.   More precisely,  I am unsure that this is the best we can do when it comes to sharing.  Why does this idea spread and not Ms. M’s use of summarizing or her responses to student questions that invariably spark more dialogue and better thinking?  Are schools like youtube where videos of waterskiing cats and farting babies go viral while the practices that drive students’ thinking the most are never “downloaded”?

My fellow GCP founder Tammi Sutton is one of the most oft-imitated teachers I have seen.  It used to drive her crazy because she would introduce a routine or activity on Monday and by Wednesday three or four paler imitations of the activity would appear across the school.  Her objections to this imitation were two fold:

A-She did not plan the routine or activity in isolation.  The routine or activity worked because of planning, relationships, strategies, and pre-work that the imitators often didn’t see.

B-While our schools strive for consistency across classrooms it can be painfully boring  to play the same games, do the same projects, and see the same hooks class after class.  Quick Aside:  This is one reason why I want every teacher/leader/person in our schools to spend a day following a student.   It’s revelatory to experience the day from a student’s lens.

So what do we do to  maximize quality sharing in schools?

Run Department Meetings that focus on error analysis rather than broad philosophical rambles.   It almost seems like a formula: the more time we spend talking about student work, the higher the impact of the conversation.  The more time we spend talking about “the best way to teach reading” the less actually happens.

Start quick shares at the start of PD.  We have talked about doing this for two years in Lynn but not yet started.  Each week I want to ask a teacher to model something that is working in their classroom.  I think the keys to success would be having the teacher explain their thinking so other teachers start to see that the creative process in teaching isn’t magic.  It might help to close this five minute share by asking “how could you adapt this idea to your kids and content?”

Make grade level meetings include sharing of instructional strategy.  These meetings are necessarily heavy on logistics and kid specific issues.  I wonder if getting people to talk about.  These meetings would also be a great spot to spell out what shouldn’t be shared by asking the question

Co-observations especially with new teachers.  I have harped on this before but I think it’s essential.  This is a great dual, perhaps triple purpose move for principals, coaches, deans, etc. New teachers often don’t know what to look for in an observation.  If you co-observe you get to observe a strong teacher, spend quality thinking time with a new teacher, and help the new teacher imitate the teacher behaviors that matter most.

What else do we do to make quality sharing happen?  Another question marinating for a future post: how do we teach teachers to be creative?

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