"She Sought Feedback Constantly"

The teachers we trained and licensed in our 2008-09 teacher prep program are now entering their second year of full-time teaching. We've been polling principals this summer on how they did last year, from September to June of rookie year. I'll post the full results when complete. Some interesting nuggets. This from one school leader at a very high-performing charter:

Your Grad = 9 out of 10 Rookie A = 4 out of 10 Rookie B = 7 out of 10

Your Grad had the typical struggles of a new teacher, primarily with classroom management; the kids tested her as they do all new teachers. What distinguished YG was her perseverance and constant striving to improve; she sought feedback constantly and looked to veteran teachers for wisdom constantly.

By the end of the year, it would be difficult to tell that YG was a rookie teacher; she had won the kids' respect and was teaching at a high level.

There are two things at play here.

1. What Teach For America calls locus-of-control. If a kid doesn't learn, a teacher can say "I can fix that" or say "There are factors here outside my control"...bad curriculum, no parent support, kid isn't trying, etc.

2. Even people with high locus-of-control may or may not respond well to feedback. (The alternative is "I know what's wrong" and "I'll fix it myself.") As I've written before, there's a dopamine component to this. I sometimes resemble this remark.

We vie to get our Teacher Residents to:

a) Get used to coaching, even though it stings at first. We do that by peppering them with tons of it. We train coaches to be blunt (which is not the same as jerk-y), direct, specific, and demanding ("I want to see X next time").

b) React to the coaching: not just nod and take notes, but affirmatively do what the coach says at the very next teaching at-bat.

(A key micro-point here: We learned we need teachers to bring their next lesson plan to each coaching session. That way, they annotate tomorrow's lesson plan itself with how to improve, instead of jotting notes in some random place and hoping those notes emerge at just the right time).

c) Know that once in a full-time job, rookie teachers need to aggressively hunt out coaching and drag it back to their classroom lairs. Charter leaders are often pinned down maintaining school culture. Therefore the dosage of principal feedback to teachers is much lower than optimal.

But nothing is stopping a rookie teacher from getting her own high dosage of feedback. Often it's as easy as bribing a strong teacher with, say, brownies or iced coffee. Teachers are cheap dates in this regard.

One rumor is even that a heart-felt "thank you" seems to result in a large supply of observation and feedback from veteran teachers. I can't confirm that, though.