Tag Archives: Education

Alchemy: A Magical Transformation of (Gray) Matter

coaching imageIf you’re reading this, you need to know this is my first blog post — ever. As I write, I am rapidly approaching the start date of my new position as an instructional coach/reading specialist in the school where I’ve been teaching for nearly fifteen years (a position not really carried out in the coaching sense prior to me, so I’m charged with blazing that particular trail on my own). In looking around the Internet for how to be an instructional coach, I’ve found a ton of help and yet still felt there was a little gap I could possibly fill. So here I am trying to begin. A daunting prospect in any endeavor — and even more so knowing where to begin. So, for me, what made sense was to really distill for both of us, writer and reader, why I’m taking up cloud space.

Following the Science is Imperative.

The foundational reason why I’m here in the cloud is because I believe in keeping up with the latest and greatest in the science of teaching and learning. We know so much more than we ever have about how people learn and ways to maximize learning through the research and the best practices that come out of it. Specifically, my focus will be to help teachers implement the formative assessment process and UDL principles in their classrooms. UDL is a focus of my district and formative assessment –through Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators (FAME) is a focus in my school. (More to come on my take on the intersection of both of these in upcoming posts.) And these are just two initiatives of many that teachers must grapple with. What’s really clear to me is that teachers don’t have time to digest, apply, reflect-on, adjust, and become skilled at all the latest research that gets thrown at them. And yet, it’s imperative that they do, so partly I’m here to share how I’m trying to support teachers in doing just that.

So let’s talk alchemy for a minute. Since the last couple of decades have given us some of the highest-quality, definitive research on teaching and learning — neuroscience, efficacy meta-analyses, psychometrics, leadership, school culture, and the list goes on. I am left wondering how can I help amalgamate this essential knowledge into usable practices that help the learners in my school? Sure lots of companies are out there creating stuff to sell, but let’s face it — in my experience it’s usually focused on a particular initiative, rushed to publication without enough focus on quality or efficacy, and not tailored to the students in front of you. Rather than focus on how to make a purchased product fit, I’d rather focus on building the capacity of teachers to harness the power of the most effective practices to best help the learner learn. After all — that’s the goal –learning. And it does seem like alchemy a magical transformation of matter — gray matter.

No Flair, No Transfer.

And that brings me to teachers and students-where the art and magic happens. Many folks have described a great lesson or great teaching as art– teachers are, like any artist, creators. For us, there’s no feeling better than to create something that works, that is engaging, effective, and flows. Art is an undeniable aspect of teaching that must be balanced with science. Focus too much on the technicalities and teaching has no flair. And in my opinion: no flair, no transfer.

Humans are Magical Creatures.

But neither are art and science alone enough, because we are humans. And humans are magical creatures. Nowhere is this magic unleashed more than when we collaborate. If you’ve ever been caught up in a conversation with other educators and become excited by the upward-spiraling that happens when you start bouncing ideas off one another, you have experienced magic. Better yet, if you’ve seen the collaboration of students result in their own ‘aha’ moments, you have also experienced human magic. Human collaboration is an enchantment. This is why I’ve never believed in a “business model” approach to education. Kids are not products, nor are teachers/school systems producers — we are, at best, revealers of what lies dormant within, waiting to be unleashed in the world. When we reduce ourselves to focusing only on the “bottom-line” (high-stakes testing data), we miss the mark completely, as Texas principal, Todd Nelsoney, so poignantly revealed in his recent blog post.

And to my realist readers: yes, I know, some kids end up in prison, or on meth, or in some other sad, sad circumstance we didn’t want for them…but if we focus on that, we’ll get more of it…we have to focus on what we want to see in the world, not what discourages us, so my tone here is driven by that. If collaboration supports the magic, then I want to be about supporting the collaboration-teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-student, student-to-student.

So, there you have it. Follow the science. Cultivate art over technicality. Support the magic of collaboration.