School districts that use the Danielson Framework for Teaching have long recognized the value of anchoring their professional learning priorities for individual teachers and teacher teams in the Framework itself. Linking professional learning opportunities to the domains, components and common themes of the Framework allows schools and districts to take a coherent approach to decisions around ongoing professional development. In addition to making sound decisions about what to offer, we at the Danielson Group also believe that the environment in which professional learning occurs is equally important. We emphasize that schools should strive to create supportive learning environments for both students and teachers and that the two learning environments should be symmetrical. Just like we encourage building learning communities in classrooms where there is shared ownership between teachers and students, so too should we build shared ownership between teachers and administrators in the professional learning environment. Just as in classrooms where teachers build high-functioning learning communities in which the lines between the roles of students and teachers become blurred, so too should lines blur between the roles of teachers and administrators as teachers assume responsibility for their own professional learning.
And yet, school and district leaders often feel the need to be the problem solver in their school buildings. A common refrain we hear from school leaders is: “It’s my job to solve problems so that teachers can focus on teaching.” While that may be true in some instances — no one wants their teachers figuring out how to acquire PPE so they can return to classrooms — administrators should consider how they involve their team in problem solving in ways similar to how their teachers engage with their students. By treating teachers as the experts of their own learning and problem solving, we create the symmetrical learning environments that can have a dramatic impact on the school community and on teacher morale.
When it comes to challenges in the classroom, teachers don’t need top-down mandates; they need to be a part of the solution.
To do this, we must employ similar methods to what makes for effective teaching in the classroom: ownership, celebration, and reflection. To elevate teachers’ voices in problem solving:
- Engage your teachers in creating solutions to the problems the school is facing.
Students are experts in their own learning, just as teachers are experts in their work. Teachers are in their classrooms every day, noticing — and often solving — problems that administrators may not even know exist. School and district leadership will learn a lot if they make the time to proactively seek out teachers’ opinions and problem-solving abilities. The more you engage with teachers in this way, the more likely you are to identify school-wide challenges and creative solutions that are already being implemented. Solutions don’t always need to come from the top down. It’s school administrators’ responsibility to harness teachers’ creativity and find ways to share that knowledge across your team.
- Celebrate when a teacher-led solution is implemented.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Just as we celebrate students’ learning in the classroom, so too should we recognize teachers for their contributions to the entire school community, especially when they’ve helped to identify and solve a persistent challenge. This shows teachers the value we have for their work. It also creates buy-in among colleagues and empowers other teammates to contribute in similar ways. We must elevate the teaching profession so that teachers don’t feel like they’re just executing a predetermined curriculum, instructional model or classroom management technique. We do this by actively seeking out and celebrating teacher-led solutions.
- Build in opportunities for teachers to reflect.
Just as we ask students to reflect on their learning, teachers need this opportunity as well. This can create consistency in the ever-changing environment that teachers are being asked to navigate. Teachers’ days are so packed with instruction, lesson planning, family communication and grading that they often don’t have opportunities to reflect on what is going well and what challenges they are facing. We must be intentional about building in time for teachers’ reflection. Consider using a small part of professional learning time for teachers to reflect on their practice and identify what challenges they are dealing with. Share prompts such as:
- What was the best moment today (or this week) and how can I have more moments like it?
- What was my most challenging moment and why? How will I respond next time?
By creating symmetrical learning environments for students and teachers, we reinforce our values. Now more than ever, we need to think differently about how we approach teacher engagement and problem solving in our classrooms and throughout our school. By mirroring effective teaching practices, by providing structured opportunities for teachers to reflect and share their opinions, we demonstrate the unique value they bring to the school and emphasize their role in helping all students to learn.