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TitleDeveloping Proficiencies and Managing Deficiencies
SourceCASLS Topic of the Week
Body

By Stephanie Knight, CASLS Assisstant Director

Clouds ooze their way over the rising sun and darkness fills the room. The once dancing pinks and reds are muted by an ominous shadow. It is 7:05 AM on Valentine’s Day, and you are delivering a review lesson to more than 30 high school seniors, students who are already buzzing with sugar and love. The door creaks as your principal walks in to evaluate you, and he begins to multiply. Before you know it, 20 principals armed with clipboards and pens are lining the perimeter of your classroom, furiously taking notes. You gulp, a bit dizzy from either the intimidation, the overwhelming smell of candy and body spray that has filled your room, or both. You open your mouth to speak, and you begin speaking a language that none of the principals understand.

To educators, this story may feel like a scene from a recurring nightmare, or at the very least, the beginning of a low-budget horror film. However, it was precisely how the most transformational day of my career began. I got myself into the situation innocently enough; I asked my principal for feedback after he popped into my classroom for about 10 minutes, and he said I would get plenty of feedback if I would “just” allow a group of principals training in teacher evaluation to observe my class. I consented, dealt with the immediate panic, and prepared for the next day.

As I approached the group of principals for my evaluation during my planning period, I began to brace myself for an in-depth discussion of my faults. I glanced at the chart paper with my name scrawled across the top and agreed to document the feedback with some trepidation. Then I heard the question that would melt my fears: What are Stephanie’s most obvious strengths?

The principals were training in the 23 Artisan Teacher Themes as identified by the Mike Rutherford Group after a series of classroom observations of highly effective teachers. The central crux of the training I was participating in is that “artisan themes” (e.g., clear learning goals, chunking, and delight) are apparent in the craft of all great teachers. However, most only exhibit one or two of the 23 identified themes (and might even be considered to be horrific practitioners were they to only be evaluated on the themes that they don’t naturally demonstrate). The principals training at my school that day were learning how to identify teachers’ artisan themes as a vehicle to mentor professional growth, and it was a breath of fresh air for me. As a perfectionist someone who was accustomed to the frustration of evaluation centered on highlighting deficiencies, I was excited to refocus my plan for professional growth on exploring the potential of my strengths.  

The almost axiomatic, yet unnatural (to me, at least), notion that focusing on one’s abilities is more facilitative of growth than lamenting deficiencies changed how I approached my self-evaluation, the evaluation of my students, and the peer evaluations I was engaging in as part of my professional learning community (PLC). I began to be more objective and less judgmental in my feedback (e.g., Three students were looking at their phones instead of Three students were obviously bored), and that shift made conversations, even those centered around relative failures, take on a positive, growth-oriented tenor. Additionally, I began to listen more, talk less, and collaborate with people with how our strengths could lead to improvement. Indeed, my most critical roles as a (self-)evaluator were to 1) identify strengths and 2) think about how to use those strengths in distinct contexts so that weaknesses became less problematic. In other words, my role was to use a conceptualization of one’s best self to bring about more positive iterations of that self.

This shift from a deficiency mindset to a proficiency mindset requires continual, intentional focus, and I can admit that eight years later, I still have to suppress my natural tendency to highlight faults. This week’s Activity of the Week seeks to address that tendency directly and provides guidance to educators wishing to develop peer observation tools to use to engage one another in positive, proficiency-oriented PLCs that identify, celebrate, and build upon the strengths of their members. Happy growing!

Publishdate2018-11-05 02:15:01