Let’s face it. In some way or another, we all can be a bit resistant to change. Change is such a monumental feat whole bodies of research are devoted to its study. The goal of our work is propelling professional growth, and although our approach is to refine and extend teachers’ existing strengths, we are fully aware that growth requires some degree of change.
Teachers, who do not understand our approach or our advocacy for positive professional performance, may be initially resistant to receiving instructional support and descriptive feedback about their instructional practice. Busy hardworking teachers do not have time to mince words. Their quips are often clear and direct declarations of resistance:
That’s not going to work.
I’ve tried that before.
Yeah, I do that already. You just didn’t see it today.
Not with these kids.
When we suggested trying small group instruction, centered around learning stations, Marie Diaz, a sixth grade math teacher at Brogden Middle School, may have spouted at least one or two of aforementioned declarations. Needless to say, such retorts leave little confidence for the relationship building that undergirds the professional growth we want to propel in others. Initially dismayed and disheartened by the teacher’s resistance, we were excited to see the immediate payoff in implementation the very next day! Despite her reluctance, the return on her investment of time, planning, and execution was substantial in terms of her own professional growth and the academic engagement of her students.
Before Diaz’s third core even entered the classroom, she individually assigned students to their numbered station. Clearly identifiable signs designated learning stations in the room, and students’ reactions were priceless!
“I’m in Station One!” one student excitedly exclaimed after receiving his assignment.
“Hey, where are you?” students asked each other as they quickly filed into the classroom, heading immediately to their preassigned stations.
There was a sense of excitement in the air, and Diaz capitalized on this student momentum by describing the procedures for their independent cooperative work. She outlined working timeframes, rotation schedules, and the duration of days that would be devoted to stations. To ease student concerns, Diaz confirmed that everyone would get an equal turn at each of the stations. Diaz was careful to clarify the social behaviors requisite for successful small groups. Students were encouraged to help each other as needed, using appropriate voice levels at each station. She indicated that students engaged in reading would obviously not produce much sound at all. Students at other stations, where talking was both permitted and required, were advised to be careful their voices did not disturb or distract the various processes of teaching and learning that would be occurring simultaneously.
Additionally, Diaz explained the directions for each of the stations’ learning tasks. Impressively, she did so in both English and Spanish. Her bilingual prowess put English language learners at ease, and their body language conveyed a relaxed confidence towards the academic expectations before them. We have learned from Diaz herself that students who are learning English as a second language often bristle with confusion in mathematics classrooms where English-only versions of computational explanations do not naturally translate into deep conceptual understanding.
What makes Diaz’s initial resistance so amazingly baffling is the flawless and seemingly effortless way she facilitated small group instruction at the middle grades level. We contribute the success of her immediate implementation to thoughtful and deliberate planning. In addition to the critical components of clearly defined procedures for social behaviors and concrete directions for each of the station’s learning tasks, the following three considerations were carefully constructed by the teacher:
- PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: Diaz changed the physical environment of the room, situating desks into learning pods, small circles, and pairs, depending on the intentions of learning. For her own teacher-directed group, she positioned herself at the front of the room and stationed students in view of the whiteboard. With this group’s attention on her and the whiteboard alone, she provided an inoculated learning environment for these students while keeping a cautious eye on other groups.
- ENGAGING LEARNING TASKS: The stations provided a variety of learning tasks that aligned to the central concept of study (e.g.,CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.NS.C.6.C
Find and position integers and other rational numbers on a horizontal or vertical number line diagram; find and position pairs of integers and other rational numbers on a coordinate plane). These tasks included creating anchor charts; flipping for heads or tails and creating a corresponding situation involving integers; competing at online math games; reading math-related fiction and nonfictional picture books; graphing; and playing an interactive exponent card game. The cognitive abilities of these learning tasks ranged from applying and evaluating procedures to creating end products based on conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive knowledge. Additionally, the learning tasks appealed to students’ interests, readiness, and learning preferences.
- MATERIALS & RESOURCES: Each station was stocked with the necessary materials and resources students would need to complete their tasks independent of the teacher and cooperatively with each other. Computers at the online gaming station were set up and ready. Chart paper and coloring utensils were waiting for those creating anchor charts, and plenty of pennies were stacked and ready for flipping at the Heads & Tails station. Additionally, the use of transparencies and vis-a-vis markers for positioning pairs of integers on a coordinate plane made for quick and easy clean up without the need for duplicating multiple copies for other class periods. The exponent review cards were organized and integrated a method for self-assessment.
Because we consider every coaching event, an opportunity for our own professional growth, we learned that easing teacher resistance is dependent upon a variety of factors:
- Clearly communicated professional expectations from administrators, instructional facilitators, colleagues, and other personnel within the school
- Adequate time for reflection, thoughtful planning, and deliberated implementation
- Shared goal setting by all responsible parties, including students
- Cooperative assistance, instructional support, and collaborative planning (e.g., tools, strategies, and resources)
- Immediate and descriptive feedback focused on refining and extending strengths
- Ongoing, job-embedded support that propels initially resistant teachers to keep moving forward
- Elimination of stigmas associated with coaching that tend to signal underperformance
- Strong supportive collegial relationships that lead to comfort in coaching expectations and outcomes
We are excited about Diaz’s impressive instructional practice and thrilled about our own takeaways, but the most compelling pieces of this plot are the high levels of student engagement and enthusiasm. Students’ excitement upon learning of their station assignments, their anticipation to participate in other stations, and their heightened attention to the learning tasks are the climax of this teachable moment. The students remind us that embracing new learning opportunities offers exciting chances to grow. It kind of makes us wonder how anyone could ever resist. #StoriesofIMPACT