I’m trying something new this year with my coaching schedule. Rather than try to get into everyone’s room regularly, I’m focusing on one lab class per grade level. Part of the reason I wanted to try a different approach was to build momentum. It’s hard to get anything going or really study something if you only get into a room once a week.
So far, I’m loving the continuity that sticking with a class and a teacher has brought. Much of the work in the lab classrooms has focused on small group work- everything from methods, planning, record keeping, and feedback.
On day one, in a first grade classroom, I modeled a few small groups. One on planning and another on adding more than one sentence to a page. I left feeling like the kids had learned but I had somehow underwhelmed the teacher. I hadn’t made any special tools and I didn’t say anything profound. I noticed then shared a teaching point and strategy. Next, I coached the students as they worked. It wasn’t very fancy.
Then last week, we had a professional development session with Natalie Louis from Teachers College. She modeled some small group lessons from their new Phonics Units of Study (a thoughtful and joyful approach to Phonics!). She noticed. Shared a strategy and coached. It was beautiful.
Afterwards, questions arose about tools and post-it leave behinds to remind kids of what they should work on. I adored Natalie’s response. She said something like, “When we make the leave behind before the group, our purpose becomes to deliver the post-it. Bring less stuff to the small group. Say to the kids, ‘I see you. I can respond to you.'”
“I see you.” It seemed so simple and obvious. But had the seeing part become blurry?
In the classrooms where we have gained some momentum recently, we made some adjustments to our small group plans to allow for more responsive teaching. I’ve been keeping an eye on what happens when we truly see the kids in front of us. Let me tell you, it’s pretty amazing.
In a fifth grade classroom, kids have been using their notebooks in really thoughtful and purposeful ways. They’ve been writing to make meaning and push their thinking. My favorite line this week was, “I never liked using my notebook. But now that I can choose how to keep track of my thinking, I really like it.”
In first grade, I’ve witnessed some of our most reluctant writers blossom into the kinds of writers that independently write book after book, bursting with pride and a sense of accomplishment that you can tell is new and thrilling. Kids who are thinking about how they want their writing to be read and transferring all they’re learning about reading tricky words to use those same words in their writing.
All of this because we’re making the time to see them,to notice the small gains along the way, and to gently push them to keep growing.
The most interesting and exciting observation I’ve had in watching this work unfold has actually been watching the teachers. The joy and reward of teaching comes when your students flourish right there in front of you. Teachers are working so hard to juggle so many things these days. It’s refreshing to see that we don’t need all of the flashy equipment and tools. We just need to make the time to see, really see, and respond to the kids in front of us.
At the end of a recent session in first grade, The teacher turned to me and said, ” That was so fun. I could pull small groups all day.”
There is value in saying to kids, “I see you. I can respond to you.”