My mom and I are close. We are only nineteen years apart; she is a professional novelist and I am an English teacher. We have similar tastes, have traveled to many of the same countries and, as far as adult children and their parents go, I think we communicate pretty well. There is an interesting quirk to our relationship that has cemented over the years into a comic cornerstone of our relationship- my mother doesn’t believe me. She will believe friends, strangers, and the media within reason. For example, if I tell my mom I think the new Honda Civic is a quality car and has a really cool look to it, my mom might say, “Oh, I don’t know.” But, if my neighbor, Doug, tells my mom the exact same phrase a few hours later, my mom will show up in a new, dark blue Honda Civic, get out in the driveway and say to me, “this is a quality car and has a really cool look to it,” with no hint of irony.
This is how I learned about the importance to people about the source of information and feedback. My mom and I are close, maybe too close for certain conversations. The truth is that if my mom hates the Honda, she doesn’t want to be upset with me, but thinking Doug gave bad advice doesn’t really hurt anyone. Maybe my mom thinks our relationship is more important than the car or whatever detail of life we are discussing.
I think the same is true in a school. Educators form relationships in their departments, their schools, and their districts. My experience has been mostly positive but negative relationships do exist, it’s true. I wonder sometimes if the feedback I receive from a certain individual has more to do with the time I bumped into his car in the parking lot that it does with the quality of my activity. The reverse can be just as dangerous. There is a teacher at my school who is like my mentor, not in any official capacity, but I emulate many of the ways he conducts himself professionally. I worry sometimes that if I take him something specific he may tone down his criticisms by putting our relationship ahead of the work. If that happens, there is the potential for me to lose an opportunity for growth and in our world, an opportunity for teacher growth is an exponential opportunity for student growth. That is how we have decided to change the world; as we grow as educators, the world grows and changes with our influence.
The single greatest impact on student achievement is the ability of teachers to communicate and inspire growth. Basically, a good teacher makes a difference. Teachers become good through professional growth. They evolve through reliable, objective, constructive, applicable feedback and the opportunity to reflect and implement change. Think about how much better you were in year three than you were in your first year of teaching! That change is the result of the feedback you gave yourself about what worked and what did not work in the classroom. Imagine now the possibilities if that information and feedback were coming from a variety of educators facing a variety of obstacles and challenges in the classroom and was focused on the needs of your reality in the classroom each day.
This is what we want to achieve. We think a little distance, a little space might be a good thing! We want educators to reflect on feedback that is coming from a place of helpful energy. Let’s leave the structure and relationship out of it and have some great conversations about how we can improve so our students can improve.
If you want to join the hundreds of educators interested in having a positive impact on education, click on the link below and sign up:
Ry & Justin, July 2018