In an attempt to improve my practice, I took part in some intervisitations this semester. (It was one of my New Year’s resolutions.) Myself, along with a colleague at my school, Shane Coleman, connected with Michael Zitolo and his student teacher, Lucy, and visited each other’s classrooms over the last couple of months.
I’ve always been a huge fan of intervisitations. Observing and listening are immensely underrated skills! Seeing another teacher teach always provides me with new ideas on improving and receiving fresh feedback spurs me to reflect deeply on my teaching.
My department took part in lesson studies a couple of years ago that included intervisitations, but this was my first experience volunteerily visiting another teacher at another school. Our principals didn’t mandate that we participate or even suggest it. This entire experience was a grassroots approach of four teachers looking to improve from one another. We organized it, we structured it, we made it happen.
My experience was awesome! Not only did I learn new ways of teaching and reaching my kids, but I also found myself revising and reimagining my deeply-rooted teaching philosophy.
Here were some of the strategies I picked up from Shane, Mike, and Lucy:
- Incorporating more writing. I suck at this, but after the visits my kids are now doing this regularly in my lessons. Stop & Jot, Two Minute Summary, etc.
- If there are no answers to a question I pose, give students 20 seconds to discuss it with a neighbor. Then ask again.
- I need more student-created posters. Student work doesn’t count for this.
- Whenever possible or necessary, infusing my teacher-centered approach at the end of the lesson, not at the beginning. I’m getting there.
- “Rules to Begin.” At the start of each lesson, access prerequisite skills (not necessarily content knowledge). Example: I can persist, I remember vectors, etc. Explicitly identify these things with students.
- When a student says “I don’t know”, correct them by saying: “You don’t know yet.” Reinforce growth mindset in subtle ways.
- A “Significant Say Back” exit slip. Students explain why what they learned is important. Connected to third item below.
- Wind chimes or similar thing to get class’s immediate attention.
On more philosophical level, here were some of the things that stuck with me:
- How are students taking ownership of their learning in my classroom? Right now, I can’t answer that. That’s a huge problem.
- What does my unit flow look like?
- My students need to be able to answer the question Why am I learning this? in a way that’s meaningful, relevant, and truthful. This needs to be at the heart of all my lessons! I’m not even close right now.
- Does me providing unit packets (i.e. guided notes, worksheets, and practice problems for the entire unit) inhibit my students’ organizational and ownership skills?
- What is an effective protocol for intervisitations? It helps maximize and coordinate one’s experience, but how autonomous should the experience be?
- The classroom slowed down when I was observing. I forgot how busy teaching is.
- Being asked questions about my teaching from people who are generally interested in what I do and why I do it. It was empowering and made me reflect on my teaching with naked eyes.
Just a side note: being outside of my school played a huge role in the intervisitations. It gave me the opportunity to break the habitual mindset that the walls of my school creates and take a completely different perspective on teaching and learning. The intervisitations I take part in at my own school are very useful, but being outside school seemed to provide a better platform.
On a bigger level, this experience is another testimony to how true growth cannot be mandated. I either seek to get better or don’t. So many of us are required to sit through PD after PD throughout our careers. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about that. But what we can do is actively seek out ways to improve outside of traditional means. This, I feel, is a truly effective way of becoming a better teacher.
Take charge of your own growth.