After visiting math classrooms around the district (we ended up seeing over 90 lessons over 8 days, scattered around other duties, spread over 4 weeks), Paula and I decided that we needed to switch things up. We had seen some good instruction, gained some new ideas, and wanted to find ways to spread the wealth that we had gained. While we had sent out emails to let people know we were available, there just wasn't the demand to have us come in. I get it (I think): having a coach come in takes a lot of time, means you're going to do a lot of planning, and it's really more work than it's worth. So, instead of sending out an invitation for us to work together, Paula and I requested to give teachers the "day off" from teaching.
This is the email template we sent out:
Once we sent the email out to department chairs, we waited. And waited. And then it came, slowly but surely, a few teachers replying back with the desire to take us up on the offer. After all, they're getting the day off! No planning, no delivery, no stress; just showing up to work and watching.
Well, you see, that's where things get fun. Call it evil or call it tricky, but either way, the real goal was not to "give the teacher a day off" but to give the teacher an alternative perspective on a lesson they were planning to teach. For each teacher who said yes to us coming in, we worked with them on the following points:
- What standards do you hope to address?
- What learning do you want to take place during the lesson?
- What do you want to see modeled during the lesson?
- What do you not want to see modeled during the lesson?
- How would you have taught this lesson if I wasn't showing up?
One thing I have learned since taking on this role as a math instructional coach is that many, many math teachers don't write lesson plans. Sometimes, and no judgment here, they just... wing it. I know. Crazy. But so true. And then I saw this tweet from Jen Poole.
No, I don't think so. I think it's because we fall into patterns and comfort zones, and lesson planning is something that can perceivably be trimmed from the to-do list because "I've taught this before" or "I already know what I'm doing."
One thing I find helpful in the lesson design process is the methodical intent behind each facet of a lesson. Wondering about how we can best pivot from the warm-up to the objective of the day to the lesson and keeping students' attention and curiosity at the same time is a challenge, and not one that can effectively be executed by winging it on a regular basis. Another is someone to bounce ideas off of. While Paula bullies me into doing things and taking on new tasks (thanks, btw), she is also a fantastic sounding board for how a lesson might flow, what a better prompt may be, and how to get just a little more out of students.
After we received the feedback from the teachers, it was to the planning board, where we found a new and risky way to teach whatever was paced out to be taught. I broke away and began planning my IM1 or 2 lessons and Paula planned hers. The first place I would always look was the MTBoS search engine, which I strongly recommend you check out. Every single lesson I was about to teach had been taught (imagine that) by someone in the search engine, and there was a handout, a template, a presentation ready to go. No, I didn't use something from the engine each time, but knowing it was there gave me a different way of approaching it. It broke me out of my bubble, which is even more important the longer you've been in the profession.
After the lesson had been designed, I sent it off to the teacher to see what he/she thought of the design. Is that what you're looking for? How would you make it better? Is there anything you would recommend I change?
As promised, we would come in and do everything, which included making copies and all instruction. However, the sneaky part was that we knew it would be hard to watch someone else teach your students in your classroom all day, so we offered to cede the floor. After all, those are my kids! If the teacher wanted, we would co-teach a period, or even give them back their class and let them try the lesson. This wasn't always used, but it was always offered, and the results were well worth the effort. What has happened more often than not has been the teacher jumping in and helping the students with the activity, the problem, and even the lesson itself.
Overall, the experience has been:
humbling. You, the regular classroom teacher, gave up a day in your pacing to let someone else teach. That says a lot about who you are and how comfortable you must be to try something new. Thank you.
humbling. Kids are still kids, and sometimes they couldn't care less that you're some district office coach, that you have some things to share, or that you're trying something new. The baggage they come with outweighs whatever you bring in. I needed that, so thank you.
uplifting. We have a district full of teachers who are ready to take risks and try new things. No matter which teacher we collaborated with, the mood was always respectable and positive, leaning in and learning with each other rather than "hearing from the DO."
invigorating. I'm not sure you realize how hard it is to not be in the classroom. I enjoy kids, I love the energy they bring, and I feed off their desire to learn. So when people are jealous of me being a coach while they're in the classroom, they need to know that the students are where it's at.
If you are a TOSA, no matter the grade level or the content specialty, I strongly encourage you to offer your teachers the day off. Yes, it is a lot of work, and you end up going home exhausted, out of breath, and hungry, but it is so worth the effort. If nothing else, there is value in reminding yourself what it is like to be a classroom teacher, to stay relevant, and to feel the energy of a classroom full of students.
In case you miss them, here are my reflections from most of the days I have gotten to teach in this round, which include all resources I used for each lesson:
Parallel Lines and Transversals
Triangle Sum Theorem
Angle Addition Postulate
Stats 3D Printed Dice
Happy "Day Off" Fishing