Beyond the Bubble

The role of the principal
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Joined: Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:01 pm

Beyond the Bubble

Postby HeatherLyke » Wed Jan 20, 2016 2:29 pm

This morning I assisted some Instructional Coaches at a meeting where they had gathered together ELA teachers in order to assess which of their students needed some extra assistance and then to plan out what that assistance would look like. We poured over data, we checked students’ schedules, we talked in detail about each student's successes and failures. In the end, this lead to us identifying more students who needed help than could be actually accommodated by the intervention systems already established within the building. It was then that the question was asked, "So, then who do we help?"

The optimist who lives inside of me screamed, "help them all!" But, I was sitting at a table of realists. That, and it's easy for me--the one who doesn't have to do the work--to say "help them all." In reality, can we? Should we? Is it ethical to not help all students?

So the conversation began, and among the teachers the consensus was strong: we help the students on the bubble. We help those students who are already close to grade-level but just need a little push. We help the students who can be helped and we leave those extremely low learners to fend for themselves.

I'll be honest; in that moment my heart broke. I mean, you could audibly hear the crack form right down the middle.

Is it morally just for us to not teach every student? Should we give up on one in order to shift all supports to the others? And what about those not even being discussed? What about those gifted students, or even those fly-under-the-radar students? Should we not be focusing on their successes as well?

Furthermore, if I take a step away from talking about students and shift the focus, does it change the answer? What if these were teachers we were talking about instead of students? Should we only help those that can be helped? Should we let those who are likely to fail their students, fail them? (And I don't mean grade-wise.) Should we leave those who are successful with students to just do their thing and thereby plateau in their growth? Again, I say, “No! Help them all!”

Last month I observed a teacher and she seemed to be standing on solid ground. From my perspective, she didn’t really need any help; however, as I stated in a previous post, I try not to make assumptions. For this reason I asked her if there was anything I could do to help out her and her students. As it happened, she was thirsty for assistance. She asked if I could come in the following week and do an observation of a class she was struggling with and follow it up with a conversation during her lunch hour. I was glad to accommodate. From my lens, she didn’t really have much to work on, but she was eager. You see, she had reached a plateau and just needed a little push in order to keep growing. Easy. Simple. Yet, my two observations of her this fall combined with that one lunch-time chat were the only observation/coaching sessions she has had in five years (outside of her 20 minute PGP observation that she had three years ago).

There is a teacher at one of our middle schools who is really struggling, yet he is also certain he doesn't need help. His coaches have offered assistance. His principal has shared her concerns. One of the IAs has been in touch. So, do we give up on him? His coaches have decided he is not worth the extra effort. His principal has stopped meeting with him--waiting for the end of the year to arrive so she can replace him then. The IA has been told by building leaders to walk away. In doing this, however, are we not doing a disservice to our students? Is it okay for them to remain in a holding pattern while a sub-par teacher returns to them day after day? Compare this to a new teacher at one of the high school teachers across town. She too has been really struggling and has been certain that she doesn't need help. Her coaches have offered assistance repeatedly. Her principal has shared his concerns multiple time. As an IA, I have been in touch every few weeks. Then, magic happened. Last week, this new teacher decided to try a strategy her coach had shared with her, which in turn lead to a great observation by her principal. She even mentioned to me at a meeting last Thursday that she was feeling like maybe she was ready to let her students talk more about Hamlet rather then she personally feeding them all of the information via PowerPoint. WOOT! WOOT! And what is the difference here? Grit? Sticktoitiveness? A belief that no one is worth giving up on? Whatever the reason, we now have 160 students who are more engaged and thereby learning more. (And, ideally, we maybe have one less teacher getting sucked into the void that is our district's 10+% turnover rate.)

Teachers are, in many ways, simply older students. ALL of them need to be challenged. Frankly, I will not settle for only helping those on the bubble.
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Dave Pugh
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Re: Beyond the Bubble

Postby Dave Pugh » Mon Jan 25, 2016 2:19 pm

I agree with all you are saying and I also cringe when I hear talk of who is deserving of our best efforts, but does there come a time when we have to triage? If I work more hours I can and will help more students, but then I'll burn out and my career will be shortened. So I work reasonable hours knowing that by helping fewer students today I can help more in my career. But who are those who fall/fail when I pull back from 60 to 50 hours a week? Isn't it better to decide where to focus the hours I have rather than leave it to chance?
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Joined: Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:01 pm

Re: Beyond the Bubble

Postby HeatherLyke » Wed Jan 27, 2016 4:51 pm


This is something I struggle with. There are only so many hours in the day, and we must maintain a work/life balance or we will burn out. So, how do we divide our time? In my Utopian school, all students learn equally. I don't mean we plateau the gifted until all other learners catch up--I mean all students build their knowledge, year after year, until they turn 18. All students experience an educational challenge every day, every year, for 12 years.

But, alas, my Utopian school only exists in my mind. You're right, in reality, there is only so much time, so many people, so much money to go around. So, we triage. I just hate it. And, I assure you, until I go gentle into that good night, I will rage, rage against the dying of education's light.

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