By Brian Lane Stanley
May had always been my favorite month. With standardized assessments finished, it’s my time to finally breathe, slow down to reflect on the year, and work on my goals. As I dug through my desk, I found my reflection journal full of ideas and goals from the beginning of the year. It has gone untouched until now. Why?
My long to-do list.
Beyond ensuring that the academic needs of my students are being met, I have been managing classroom behavior, helping students negotiate difficulties outside of school, maintaining student records, and collaborating with families. There is no time on my to-do list to reflect on my work and improve the efficacy of lessons; instead, I find myself catching up on everything from grading to parent communication.
I am not alone. Nearly two-thirds of teachers experience work as always or often stressful. It is no wonder that nearly half of teachers leave the field within five years. For those who remain, 70 percent report feeling disengaged and unconnected to their work.
It does not need to be like this.
Revere Public Schools has taken a big step towards ensuring that teachers have the support they need to remain engaged. This year, the district is piloting a Colleague to Colleague program in which four teachers, representing various grade spans and skillsets, are stepping out of the classroom with the sole purpose of supporting and challenging reflective teachers who want to expand their craft. Teachers voluntarily participate in the program and meet on a regular basis with their consulting teacher to receive support in an area they select. This can include planning, instruction, or behavior.
As a consulting teacher for grades 3–5, I work with nine teachers on goals ranging from small group collaboration to student-setting goals around effort and character. In learning about these topics, my collaborators and I are becoming experts together and, as a result, are creating change.
I am a partner and not an evaluator of my peers. We struggle together, laugh together, cry together, and succeed together. Because we collaborate as equals throughout the year, all of the participating teachers are able to take risks. Both novice and veteran teachers have branched from their routines to incorporate new strategies and reenergize their practice and attitudes around teaching. For one teacher, these reflections led to both greater student talk and sparked a curiosity to locate materials that heightened student discourse. With another, the reflections led to clear and actionable lesson objectives through backward planning. No matter the focus, teachers feel empowered because the Colleague to Colleague program provides them with an opportunity to receive support and guidance on topics that are valuable to them.
Accepting one’s limits and being vulnerable are at the root of the program’s success. During the school day, I have little time to focus on what can be done to make my practice better in the future; in the past, I made no time for personal reflection because I did not perceive that time as productive. Now as a consulting teacher, I understand how shortsighted this is. Taking that time to reflect, not only about the lessons but about myself, does, in fact, benefit my students. That reflection is the key to feeling fully engaged in the work. But for this to occur, teachers like me need dedicated time and support. With nearly 96 percent of teachers believing the support they’ve received was helpful or very helpful, the Colleague to Colleague program provides the support that teachers need.
That feeling of support not only translates into engagement but excitement as well. Within one partnership, the teacher’s focus on student ownership enabled her class to reflect on their work and self-identify next steps. Students were able to achieve this through the teacher’s own reflections to explicitly review and model behavioral expectations. And she could not wait to share this growth with others. So much so that she asked me to speak with her about how our collaboration strengthened her and her students’ reflective abilities in front of multiple districts. She never imagined presenting at all last year.
Goals should not be stored in a desk until the end of the year. They need to be lived. Teachers should be provided with the time and peer support to set goals and reflect on their work. Providing opportunities for colleagues to support one another allows teachers to do just that.
Brian Lane Stanley is a consulting teacher for grades 3rd-5th in Revere Public Schools. He is a Teach Plus Commonwealth Teaching Policy Fellow.