Sharing practice – whose responsibility is it?

Over the last few years, I have seen amazing teachers get dragged down and raked over the coals for “not sharing what they do”. This accusation is often made as a way of labeling a teacher as “uncollaborative” – a really serious crime in modern schools, it seems.

“I just don’t know what she’s doing… I wish she would share” they say.

And yet, it is often more about the person making the accusation than the accused.

By saying you don’t know what they are doing, you are basically admitting that you have made zero effort to be curious enough to find out! Weird.

But then, it does make me wonder about that sense of entitlement many teachers have… and a tendency to operate from a transactional perspective rather than a transformational one. How many times do you hear things like:

  • “I would do more inquiry if my students were more curious”
  • “I would use maths manipulatives if the school ordered more”
  • “I would do play-based learning if we had more time”
  • “I would take my students out there if there was more equipment”
  • “I would do that if you show me exactly what to do”

and…

“I would know all the wonderful things that teacher is doing if they shared them with me”

There is one, very quick, very easy and very powerful way to find out what people are doing. Go and take a look. Walk in the door. Speak to the kids. Listen in. Take some photos.

Its not threatening – it is flattering.

Let’s face it, most of the best teachers we know are not 100% sure what they’re going to be doing with their students until they are doing it. Also, most of those teachers do share their ideas with us during planning sessions… but other people often just don’t get it until they see it.

The best way to share is to show, not tell. The best way to have something shared with you… is to go and take a look for yourself.

Whose classroom are you going into today???

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13 comments

  1. Chye

    Hi Sam!
    Funny… I was just talking with our Grade 4 team about creating an opportunity for teachers to visit one another’s classrooms at an up-coming staff meeting. Peer observation is built into our appraisal system and teachers collaborate on units of inquiry on a regular basis; however, teachers do not walk into each other’s classrooms on a regular or informal basis, especially those working in different sections of the school. What we know is that teachers love talking about their students’ learning and there is much to learn when we share our experiences.
    We’re planning a “Best Practice” scavenger hunt with specific items that our school values that will take place during a staff meeting. Teachers will work in teams to find certain items in each other’s classrooms. Items on the list might include ‘evidence of our host culture’ or ‘the learner profile in action’. At the end of the meeting we will come together and share learning from the experience. The purpose of this exercise will be to collaborate for school improvement and reflect on student learning.

    • sherrattsam

      Yes… we want it to happen, so we set it up. But really… we want teachers to want it to happen and do it themselves – and setting it up for them doesn’t necessarily achieve that.

      However, I love your scavenger hunt ideas and will certainly steal them!!!

      • Chye

        I agree completely, but I also have the time in my daily schedule (and the responsibility) to talk with students and teachers about what they are learning. Teachers have different responsibilities and I’ve observed that visiting other classes is not high on the priority list. If I put myself in the shoes of a teacher, I am not sure it would be high on my list either although I always find inspiration from the experience. What I have found is that creating opportunities for teachers to visit one another’s classrooms opens the door for some who want to visit but don’t make the time or don’t have the courage to ask. On the other hand, it requires others teachers who don’t see the value in ‘sharing practice’ or don’t want to make the time for it.

        Remember when we rotated meetings from one teacher’s classroom to another in a former school? That required us to move into different learning spaces in the school and it opened doors – it forced me to visit places like the ELC, a section I rarely visited but should have much more frequently ; )

        Creating a school culture where ‘practices are shared’ must come from a …. model of shared responsibility.

  2. jelena100janovic

    Great post!
    I thought it was specific problem for my country (Serbia) where there is no motivation for anything except internal. I teach math in vocational (polytechnic) school, and the first thing I do is going to practical classes to see what part of math is important for students because they are going to use it, and how. So I can make my classes more interesting and meaningful.
    Loved the story!

    • sherrattsam

      Great to hear a perspective from outside primary school… thanks for your comment. I love your approach of going to other classes to see where maths adds value to them. What do you mean by “practical classes”? I would love to know some more details…

      • jelena100janovic

        My English is obviously not so good… It is secondary school, but not gymnasium. It is Polytechnical school, mostly for machining. So “practical” subject could be technical drawing, modelling, electrical circuits, or programming CNC machines. Teachers who teach those subjects are mostly engineers, and they use math, but can’t see all of it in their subjects. That’s why I think it is important for me to visit their classes.

        • sherrattsam

          Yes, looking “through a maths lens” exposes so many things that were not obvious before. It is good to have something like a description of the strands of maths to refer to when looking “through the lens” – it really helps us to notice and name the learning that is going on.

  3. concentricthinking

    Sam, you know this post resonates with me on so many levels. It appears to be a lot easier to stay on the sidelines knocking and putting down others who really are just doing what they love to do – teach. Why is it the spotlight always illuminates the adults? Again, I am asking myself we always say we are about the kids, are we? It’s the teacher ego that gets bruised. People feel left out if they feel other teachers are pulling away and doing interesting stuff with their kids. This is very un-PYP (unacceptable in all school systems) and the polar opposite of what it means to differentiate, so that are kids and teachers prosper and flourish. You said it best, it is a “flattery” to acknowledge what someone else is doing. If we are just walking the hallways and teachers are not stopping and showing curiosity that tells me we are either:

    Too busy;
    Don’t care;
    The same things are being done every year;
    There is nothing really seductive enough to pull you in.

    All of these equate to the same result – nothing. No betterment or improvement in the profession. Scary!

    • sherrattsam

      I like the idea of “seductive learning” or the “seductive classroom”. The fact is, many classrooms and types of learning are seductive and invite us in to take a closer look… but still people walk by. I mean, think of our experiences in Year 6… there were no doors, but still people said we weren’t sharing. So, in conclusion… it must be caused by one the first three things.

  4. Stephanie

    I think Dumbledore said it best ‘Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.’ In my years of dropping in to classrooms very rarely do I get a ‘no.’ Most teachers are happy to show you what they have been doing and are proud that someone takes an interest in what they are doing.

    • sherrattsam

      Exactly. I stuck my head in a few doors to test the theory after writing this posting yesterday and every single teacher simply couldn’t wait to talk about what their students ha been doing earlier and to pick my brains and share ideas about what could come next for them.

      This is collaboration.

  5. Pingback: Collaboration takes courage | Teaching the Teacher

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