Guest Blog Part 2: Randall

Day 2: Way Too Loose Randall Lahann writes:

I have 2 kids. But in anticipation of the grueling week, I shipped them out for the week. My beautiful and supportive and did I mention beautiful wife took them to her parents’ house. I was home alone.

So after Day 1, I called all my students’ parents. Got through to about half of them. It was a really good first day…hardly any misbehaviors after we got going, so I only had positive things to report. In the moment it felt awesome. A few parents said “Well thank you so much, I’ve never had a call like this, X really enjoyed today.” Then, to start off the second day, there was definitely a really positive vibe to the class. All: “You called my mom!”…many smiles, good times.

So, riding the love wave, I immediately took my foot off the gas pedal.

I started letting things slide. A shout-out here, a student not tracking there…we were all now friends after all, why be that guy? Instead of doing the 100% thing, I retreated to my old ways. I upped the J-Factor and Ratio and tried “the best defense is a good offense” approach. I tried to entertain. Even though my curriculum was tighter (I knew something about their math levels), learning was way down because of the misbehavior tax I was paying.

I sensed the trap I was falling into after a couple hours. Around noon I started to try to gradually reverse the current as the day went on. Ouch. I always coach our trainees: once you’ve set a “loose” precedent, it’s a battle. You’ve got to overcome your instinct – which is not to tighten things up, because you feel that wouldn't be consistent or fair. Yet I was reluctant to take my own advice.

I had a break, so went next door to check out Ryan’s class. It was seriously strong. He hadn't wavered at all—the dude had founded a Roxbury Prep colony, his class was firing on all cylinders, with 100% respect and effort.

That was all the reinforcement I needed. I steeled myself and finished Day 2 with a mighty push for 100%. The short term was tough. Kids understandably wondered where lax Randall from this morning had gone. But I closed the day with the message that this was what we’d do the rest of the week.

Two reflections: 1. Why was I using manual override in the morning? I knew the moves to make, and just didn’t feel like it. 2. If any of my colleagues or trainees had been observing me, I know I’d have tightened up a lot quicker. This is why I rate myself kind of low on “Natural Firmness with Kids” – something I always need to be on guard against when I’m teaching.

Day 3: Re-Commitment to Firmness Outstanding day. I came out of the gates firing on all our moves. I was not budging from 100%, and I also had a little relationship capital to work with, plus a better-calibrated curriculum. There wasn’t much push back. By the second hour it was like yesterday hadn’t even happened.

I started pushing the higher-order teaching moves. More “Break It Down. More “Stretch It.” Tons of good energy…hit all of our aims…kids were definitely aware that they were learning.

And this was the day that the NBA project really paid dividends. They went around fixing each other’s formulas so that the backup player Big Baby Davis didn’t come up as the Celtics MVP. That project had some scary quagmire possibilities, but it turned out to generate some solid learning around number sense and Algebra.

Day 4: Popular Revolt The first half of the day: awesome. But it was awesome with only half of the students I was supposed to have. The other half…absent. Significantly tardy would probably be a better way to put it. They’d decided to just come in really late. They’d found the gap in the Sontag Prize incentive program: being incredibly late didn’t affect their payment for attending for the week of school, nor their chance in the attendance prize raffle at the end of the day. Paging Roland Fryer.

Actually, I’d heard the kids talking about this gap – kids are geniuses at finding loopholes – after school on Day 3. In hindsight, I should’ve called all of their parents and told them, headed things off proactively. But I didn’t. I kind of thought/hoped they were joking? Sometimes you hope for these things because you’re tired and want to watch the NBA playoffs.

So, they rolled in just before lunch: 3 hours late. Then, after lunch, they were in no mood to learn. They were there for the cash/prizes. They were not going to be flipped in a single day. As strong as Day Three had been – as much as they’d learned –they weren’t sold. I sent a few of them out of class in rapid succession after all-out refusal to work.

Alas. They sat in the main office…no processing…nothing. The principal wasn't even there--she was out gathering supplies for the big end-of-academy party later in the day. Eventually they started wandering back to class. When they did, after they refused to work again, I started sending them back out again…this time making sure someone was there. When my prep hit, I went down there, to see who was holding them accountable. The kids were checking out websites with the receptionist. Not cool.

I keep realizing that our teacher prep program is deliberately limiting: we’re preparing teachers for high-poverty charter and turnaround schools where there will be someone to back up the teacher. Ed Schools and TFA prepare teachers for all sorts of schools, including some where teachers will have to be islands of excellence, where there’s camaraderie but not teamwork--at least not like you see at the schools we're preparing teachers to work in.

In their wake the recently departed left a slightly rattled class that didn’t quite have the energy of the day before. Not terrible…but not great. Would’ve loved another week to try to fix that mess…left kind of a bad taste in my mouth. The upside was that I think I was fair to all involved, the kids who were shirking and the kids trying to learn.

Final Thought: Did I develop as a teacher coach? OMG yes. So much more in touch with our moves…got back in touch with the schoolteacher brain. Can’t recommend doing something like this for anyone in a teacher ed position highly enough. I think it’ll add a lot to my coaching…I hope it’s going to make me more “present”…which is something I’ve been worrying about lately. I think I’ve been slipping into the Coaching Robot lately…just as bad as the Teacher Robot…we’ll see, but I’ve got high hopes that this is going to help ground my feedback in the trainees’ perspective a little bit better. Make the feedback a little more precise…dig into their thinking a bit more. And I fully intend on doing the Sontag program next year. Would love another week with those kids!