Can These Teachers Be Saved? The Finale

Note: This blog contains the lessons I wish to share about my journey coaching the teachers of urban students. Students: sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

There is not now nor has their ever been a foolproof system for measuring teacher effectiveness. However, we can identify critical attributes of effectiveness and ineffectiveness, and we can identify when students are not being well served.

The principal has determined that Carrie’s students are not being well served and decides that she wants to place her on the unsatisfactory track which is the prelude to being released from the school system. Because Carrie is a first year teacher, the process is easier. The principal decides not to take the chance that she might improve by her second year. (Amina is off the hook for now.)
Carrie is still absent once a week. Though her lesson plans have improved, she does not consistently turn them in. And though she sends fewer students to the office, her classes are still chaotic even though we are into the second semester. Because I will be charged with helping the administration to build a case against her, the principal wants me to determine her emotional response to being placed on the unsatisfactory track. The department chair will cover Carrie’s class while I meet with her in my office.


A Coach’s Journey: The Pressure Is On

As I have written earlier in this case study, coaching can sometimes be a lonely journey of faith- there is no single path or recipe. Coaches travel an uncertain terrain and juggle an intimidating number of priorities.

Coaches empower, collaborate, challenge, confirm, cajole, communicate, flatter, guide, goad, intimidate, listen, model, push, prompt, problem solve, and problem seek.
We also serve as counselor, friend, compassionate shoulder, and confidante.

What are my roles and responsibilities this day? I try to anticipate what Carrie might say when I inform her about the principal’s agenda.

“I am my children’s sole support.”
“ I really need this job. I have student loans to repay. “
“ Please ask the principal to give me another chance.”

To start the meeting by telling her that the principal has decided to place her on the unsatisfactory track, I decide, would be unproductive. So I try another approach.
Carrie’s son and daughter are in second and fourth grades respectively and attend school in the community in which they live, a middle-class suburb outside of the city. I start by inquiring about her children’s school and their teachers. Pleased with the curriculum, enrichment activities, the school environment, the commitment of the teaching staff, Carrie wants to do whatever is in her power to maintain the status quo/stability for her children especially because she is divorcing. She and her soon-to-be divorced husband specifically selected the zip code because of the reputation of the schools.

Goading, Guiding, Listening

I ask her to close her eyes and to THINK about how she would FEEL if her children’s teachers emulated her behavior: Absent weekly, inconsistent with their lessons, sitting behind their desks instead of engaging students, not returning assignments in a timely fashion. Carrie starts to tear up. I request that she open her eyes, and I provide her with a tissue.

Teacher Reflection

Asking the Teacher to Reflect

Giving her a few minutes to compose herself, I gently explain that just because the demographic is poor and of color doesn’t mean that the parents don’t have the same dreams for their children as she has for hers.
She agrees. However, she is concerned about the amount of energy and stamina that it takes to teach the students. “Sometimes there seems to be a desperation and hopelessness in their eyes. At the end of the day, when I return home, too often, I have nothing left for my own children.”
I can hear in her voice and see in her face that she is beginning to lose the efficacy needed to teach an at-risk population. (See my blogpost:A Teacher’s Scent)

Teaching is a serious emotional and intellectual journey no matter the demographic or zip code. And, it’s an especially lonely and rocky journey for Carrie because she is attempting to balance her home life and her work life without steady, emotional support. She is reconstructing a new reality for herself and her young children.
Again, I request that she close her eyes and this time I ask her describe to me what she sees five years up the road for her career as a teacher. Again, Carrie begins to tear up. She is not so certain that she has the resilience to meet the ongoing demands of the administration and to raise her family alone. Even though the specter of unemployment looms large, Carrie comes to understand on her own that she is ill-equipped to consistently supply what the school district requires.

The reality of her situation settles in and she inquires if the principal has decided to place her on the unsatisfactory track. I reply that she has, but that it doesn’t mean that she will automatically be fired. “ You still have an opportunity to pull the rabbit out of the hat.” I smile. Using my coaching Foundational Goals I outline for her again how she must consistently and persistently perform over the next several months.
I explain that the principal is also between a rock and a hard place. Her job is at-risk as well if she does not raise the school’s test scores. I also inform Carrie that going forward, she is no longer my client; I can no longer be her confidante. I must report her weaknesses as a teacher to the principal.


A Revolving Door or the Dance of the Lemons

The next day Carrie meets with the school’s union representative who advises her to shape up because the principal is within her legal rights to release her at the end of the year.
Carrie meets with the principal and makes a deal with her. If she promises not to start the unsatisfactory process for firing, she will not return to the school in the fall. The principal is in accord; however, she warns her in no uncertain terms that if she does return: HEAVEN HELP HER!

In the fall, Carrie secures a teaching position in another district, in an unstable high school that has experienced a revolving door of administrators and staff. Her REAL job description: Show up and don’t send too many students to the office. Oh by the way, don’t fail too many while you are at it.

I don’t pretend to have an answer to the challenges of recruiting, supporting, and retaining the Aminas and Carries, who need an income to support their families, into a system with a population in need of the most resilient teachers who BELIEVE they can succeed. My years of coaching teachers have taught me that scholarship and content knowledge, though critical to the role of teacher effectiveness, are NOT enough.

Recently, I viewed a dispiriting PBS video which showcases the new faces of America’s poverty. ( Children who are increasingly white, articulate, intelligent and once middle class.

Is there a cautionary tale from my urban coaching journey for coaches in other school communities in America? If so, where do we go from here?

Can These Teachers Be Saved? Case Study Pt.3

Note: This blog contains the lessons I wish to share about my journey coaching the teachers of urban students. Students: sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

There is not now nor has their ever been a foolproof system for measuring teacher effectiveness. However, we can identify critical attributes of effectiveness and ineffectiveness, and we can identify when students are not be well served.
Below is the RESULT of my intervention strategy that I employed with both Amina and Carrie. As you read can you determine what the principal decides to do with both teachers?

1 I worked to build a shared system of responsibility.

Collaborate/Challenge: I paired Amina and Carrie with one another and with a veteran teacher in the same department who was charged with chatting with them each day. She shared some of her classroom management strategies with both women as well a unit plan for a novel she taught the previous year. That saved the two young teachers many hours of creating lessons.
The department head’s brief visits paid off because students got the message that someone in a position of authority had the teachers’ backs. On several occasions, the administrator took a misbehaving student with her to the office. I found sitting in both teachers’ classrooms for five or more minutes seemed to have a calming effect on the students. Sometimes I made a recommendation to both about a lesson or students who were inattentive/not engaged.

2. I identified areas of strength (assets, gifts, talents) for teachers to share with others.

Empower/Flatter: Since both teachers are new, they are up-to-date on the pedagogy of teaching the writing process. The department chair scheduled some time in the computer lab for the teachers in the department. Amina and Carrie paired with some of the more seasoned teachers to demonstrate how to use search engines to gather information for pre-writing assignments. I want Amina and Carrie to feel that though they are young, they still have skills to share. Later, Amina shares a webquest assignment with the entire department that she created.

3. I identified areas for growth to enhance both teachers’ career longevity.

Challenge/Goad I threatened them both with the specter of unemployment. Amina had a serious talk with her husband who was underemployed and explained what would happen to them economically if she lost her job. It took some time, but he got with the program and started making a concerted effort to placate his step-daughter. There were no more crying jags in front of the students. Amina made strides at teaching on her feet and interacting with students to keep them on task. She found it reduced the numbers of students she sent to the office because she had the opportunity to “put out fires” before they had a chance to start.

However, Carrie’s soon to be ex-husband was not so easily persuaded. Nothing short of reconciliation was his demand. She threatened him with a restraining order. They went back and forth for several months with the threats and the phone calls. Because of this upheaval, she lacked the emotional and physical stamina to teach on her feet and engage on a regular basis with children. The department chair reported that initially two or three times a week when she entered Carrie’s room she was generally seated at her desk. She would get up when the department head entered the room. Sadly, I found the same scenario when I visited. However, by the second month, she began making a concerted effort when Amina reported that she was sending fewer students to the office.

4. I assisted both teachers to move past their current level of performance.

Problem Solve/Problem Seek: Both were weak in classroom management-sending students to the office EACH day. We started by examining their syllabus which,in part, is supposed to outline their philosophy for classroom management. I suggested that read or reread the classroom management book that was purchased by the principal for the school. Over the summer they can revise the syllabus. Both agree. I teach them the difference between developmental behaviorr that comes with the job and deviant behavior that needs to be reported for outside intervention. We identify the top three developmental behaviors and they begin to work on them in order to reduce the number of students they send to the office:talking back, yelling out the answer without being called on and talking while the teacher is talking. These behaviors come with the job and they must learn to handle the situation themselves. However, bullying, insubordination, stealing, destroying school property are deviant and need outside intervention.

High School Students

Normal Developmental Behavior

5. I assisted both teachers to reflect on and articulate their reasons for their actions.

Close your eyes and describe the lesson you taught.
What were your goals? Did the lesson go as you planned? Why or why not?
How do you plan to correct or reinforce your actions?”

Guide/Goad I notice after a couple of SCHEDULED observations that Amina’s classes start on time and run smoothly The students connect with the goals and objectives for her lessons because she better understands their experiences. She is better at bridging new knowledge with old knowledge/experiences. Because she still doesn’t know all of her students by name, the question and answer part of the lesson is choppy. She has to depend on her seating chart or point to students.
I find on scheduled visits with Carrie that when the bell rings, her students still are walking around and have not settled down. It’s ten minutes or more into the hour before she is able to start the lesson. I inform her that losing ten minutes daily is the equivalent to losing one instructional period a week. Once the lesson gets underway, students connect with the goals/objectives; however, she has difficulty sustaining their interest/engagement. On both occasions she has provided seatwork for the students and they don’t remain on task. Carrie seems overwhelmed and she too cannot call all of her students by name.

6. I worked to increase both teachers’ efficacy (belief that their actions can and will make a difference.

Listen/Strategize Amina and Carrie both appeared to have faith in their ability to teach inner-city students; however, their personal lives are interfering with their emotional and physical stamina to do the job. I pointed that out to them that teaching in urban schools requires a resiliency that may not be necessary in a private or suburban school environment. We identified bonding/relationship building strategies that are teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher and student-to-student that will better secure students’ cooperation. They both have seating charts but not a seating plan. We discuss the difference. I asked them to provide me with a rationale for why students sit where they sit.

7. I identified challenges that might interfere with a positive teaching experience for both teachers.

Listen/Empathize: Again, because their personal lives were spilling over into the classroom, we discussed support systems: family, friends, church, organizations, social outlets. Is there anyplace in their lives where they are having fun? Amina seemed to have more family and friends for support. Her husband has become more supportive and they now spend time alone and away from Amina’s daughter. Carrie has been attempting to reestablish the bonds with her family who disapproved of her inter-racial marriage. She has to reconstruct her foundation.
I communicated to both that I am aware they are juggling an inordinate number of balls in the air. And that teaching’s never ending journey tugs on their emotions, physical stamina, and spirits. They agreed.

How Much More Can I Juggle?

How Much More Can I Juggle?

8. I identified potential conflicts and ethical dilemmas.

Intimidate: We discussed the reasons both teachers decided on a teaching career: Steady income and to make a difference. Amina’s husband has stepped up to the plate with her daughter and with tasks around the house. She explained the concept of “taking money under false pretenses” to him. However, Carrie has not so fortunate. Her attendance and lesson planning are still sporadic. She made strides only to lose them when her soon-to-be ex-husband showers her with phone calls or unwanted visits. On occasion, she has taken her frustration out on her peers. I inquire about her getting counseling from a church or counseling center.

Final Installment: What happens to both teachers?

Note: These are the lessons I am sharing about coaching the teachers of urban students. Students are sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

Can These Teachers Be Saved? Case Study Pt. 2

In a previous post, February 12, I described two young teachers who are experiencing emotional challenges in their home life. The principal is considering putting them on what is called the unsatisfactory track which is a prelude to being released. I have been charged with working with them.

A coach’s role is to move teachers from where they are to where they need or want to be. As the keeper of the vision, the coach works with teachers to set goals that will lead to improved student achievement. Though they do not pay me, I consider the teachers to be my clients.

Coaching can sometimes be a lonely journey of faith- there is no single path or recipe. We travel an uncertain terrain, and we juggle an intimidating number of demands.

Coaches empower, collaborate, challenge, confirm, cajole, communicate, flatter, guide, goad, intimidate, listen, model, push, prompt, problem solve, and problem seek. We serve as counselor, friend, compassionate shoulder, and confidante.

A Coach Juggles Too

A Coach Juggles Too

Getting to Know You!
Before coaches can determine how fast and how far teachers can be coached, my practice is to get to know them first.

I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care. Mother Teresa

Information Gathering Guide:
Age Range of the Teacher – A Guess: Under 30? over 30? over 40? etc

Experience in other schools/district

Content areas and grade levels taught

Certification: Lack of certification, alternative certification , career path change, Teach for America

Credentials- Degrees

Average years of service

Hobbies/Outside interests

Life Issues/Challenges: What is going on inside of the teacher’s head and heart: marriage, divorce, family, children, health, second job, death in the family, working on advanced degree, other?


The Foundational Goals I use to begin to coach the teachers in listed on my insights page of this blog.

Coaching Goals:

1. I will work to build a shared system of responsibility.

Collaborate/Challenge: I pair Amina and Carrie with one another and a veteran teacher in the same dept who will spend a few minutes chatting with them each day. In return the teacher will represent the school at a university professional development seminar for teachers during the summer. The veteran teacher will answer questions about classroom managetment and lesson planning. The department chairman will spend five minutes daily in each teacher’s classroom for the next couple of months just to let the students know that some one in a position of authority has the teacher’s back. And to make sure Amina and Carrie are on task, I will do the same. Philosophy: I care; I’m concerned; I’m curious.

2. I work to identify areas of strength (assets, gifts, talents) for teachers to share with one another

Empower/Flatter: Since both teachers are new, they are up-to-date on the pedagogy of teaching the writing process. I recommend that the department chair encourage them to collaborate on a brief presentation for a departmental meeting. I want Amina and Carrie to feel that they belong and that they matter.

3. I will identify areas for growth to enhance teachers’ career longevity

Challenge/Goal I inform them that they need to begin by improving their attendance and not allowing students to know what’s going on in their personal lives because doing so detracts from their credibility. No more crying in front of students or showing up late. No more sitting repeatedly at their desks day after day which communicates a nonverbal: “Do not disturb” to students. An effective teacher teaches on her feet and not from her seat. I threaten them with the specter of unemployment

4. I will work to assist teachers to move past their current level of performance.

Problem Solve/Problem Seek: Both are weak in classroom management-sending students to the office EACH day. We start by examining their syllabus which, in part, is supposed to outline their philosophy for classroom management. I remind them that an effective teacher is firm, fair, consistent and persistent-sometimes needing an iron will. Both agree. I suggest they review the syllabus regularly with students until it is internalized. We discuss the difference between deviant behavior and normal developmental behavior as well as the consequences for each.

Student Misbehavior

Teachers are responsible for student behavior.

5. I will assist teachers as they reflect on and articulate reasons for their actions.


Guide/Goal
After a couple of SCHEDULED observations, I meet with the teachers individually. My process: “Close your eyes and describe the lesson you taught; What were your goals? Did the lesson go as you planned? Why or why not? How do you plan to correct or reinforce your actions?” Amina and Carrie both become aware of their shortcomings without my having to tell them. Both are weak at introducing the lesson which leads to confusion on the part of students and frustration on the part of the teachers. They realize that they are not getting through to them. I start each with brainstorming ways to bridge/link new knowledge to past experiences/knowledge of their students (population). I inform each that I will ask the department chair to monitor only the introductory portion of their lesson plans for the next month. I will drop in to see how they are doing.

6. I will work to increase teacher efficacy (belief that one’s actions can make a difference)

Listen/Strategize Amina and Carrie both appear to have faith in their ability to teach inner-city students; however, their personal lives are interfering with their emotional and physical stamina to do the job. I point that out to them that teaching in urban schools requires a resiliency that may not be necessary in a private or suburban school environment. We identify bonding/relationship building strategies that are teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher and student-to-student that will better secure students’ cooperation. And to secure Carrie and Amina’s ability to make a difference.

7. I will identify challenges that might interfere with a positive teaching experience.


Listen/Empathize:
Again, because their personal lives are spilling over into the classroom, we discuss support systems: family, friends, church, organizations, social outlets. Is there anyplace in their lives where they are having fun?

8. I will identify potential conflicts and ethical dilemmas.


Intimidate:
I start by asking them how much they need the income from teaching. Both would be economically devastated w/o the income. I remind them that the taxpayers are spending over $7,000 annually to educate each student. That is how their salary is derived. When they don’t show up or merely sit at their desks day after day and only provide busy work to students, they are in essence taking money under false pretenses. I warn both that this behavior is ethically indefensible. I also warn both that they are in danger of being rated unsatisfactory. I assure them that at this point I am NOT sharing what I am learning about them with the administration; however, that could change if they don’t. Amina and Carrie seem contrite.

Moral Crossroads

I know that this process seems arduous and time consuming; however, Amina and Carrie are both intelligent women who invested enormous amounts of time, effort, and money to become teachers. And thousands of dollars of tax payer money is lost each time a teacher abandons the field or is pushed out the door. That doesn’t include the emotional toil on students who must adjust to a new teacher. Is it easier to merely force Amina and Carrie out or to invest in them?

In my next blog post, I will share the outcomes for both teachers.

A Cautionary Tale: The Scent of a Teacher

The pool of at-risk children in America is expanding from urban, inner cities to suburban, outlying areas. What are the challenges of teaching and working with teachers in an American landscape that is filling with sporadic safety, patchy security, and erratic stability? I can tell you first hand how with stealth these actors can insinuate themselves into the spirits of some of our smartest educational workforce because for over 15 years I served as an improvement teacher/instructional coach in Metropolitan Detroit
One day as I was making my rounds of the schools, classrooms, and teachers I served, a 10th grader approached me to inquire if I were that lady from the district office who made the lessons for the teachers to prepare them for “the test”. I replied that I was. He then pointed to a classroom that he had just exited, blurted out that the teacher in there didn’t believe in herself, so she couldn’t believe in the students. They weren’t going to pass that “damn test”. Disgusted, he wandered off.  Suddenly, I felt weak, wilted. What did he mean? I was fairly acquainted with the teacher; she seemed smart and dedicated.

Coaching Observation
Steeped with concern, I entered her classroom and inquired with a smile in my voice as to how the lessons were working. She assured me that all was well and invited me to observe. Keeping a poker face and taking no notes in order to not raise her level of concern, I watched as she delivered a lesson I had designed. In time, I began to hear and see what the young student shared with me. There was a slight tentativeness in her voice and an uncertainty in her smiling face that informed, “I’m not so certain that you are capable of learning this material, and I am not so certain I am capable of teaching it so that you can.” It was subtle, almost invisible, and I’m not certain whether or not I would have recognized it had the student not shared his concern.
That day was the start an eye-opening journey of discovery: intellectual firepower, content expertise, certification, and credentials are not always enough to ensure that students master lessons that are carefully crafted. Just as a songwriter might craft a great song, it doesn’t mean he can deliver it to a paying audience. On my coaching journey, I would discover scholarly, white teachers who were uncertain of their ability to impact poor, white students who some deemed “poor, white trash”. I would coach certified, African-American teachers who were uncertain if they could elevate the skills of so many poor African-American students from so many troubled homes, and credentialed, Hispanic teachers who lacked faith in their ability to influence the future of Hispanic students. All of them lacked self-efficacy, a belief that their actions and efforts could or would make a difference.

Content Knowledge AND Efficacy Are Key!

Content Knowledge AND Efficacy Are Key!

Scent of a Teacher: The Placebo Effect
During this period, I read about single-blind studies that indicate when doctors dispense a placebo to patients, stating that taking it in the prescribed manner would make them better, some patients actually had a perceived or actual improvement in their medical condition, a phenomenon commonly known as the placebo effect.
However, some double-blind studies suggested that when doctors don’t know that they are dispensing a placebo even more patients have a perceived or actual improvement in their medical condition. Efficacy dictates that success begins with believing that success is possible.
Some sort of placebo effect was going on in the inner city schools and classrooms I was tasked with improving/supporting. Unconsciously, overwhelmed and overworked teachers were sending signals through tone of voice, facial expression, body language that perhaps their students were incapable of learning the content, and the students who needed the most support picked up on this negative energy force or  “scent” like the young male student who approached me about his teacher’s lack of faith.

A Teacher Must Believe At-Risk Students Can Succeed

As CEO of the classroom community, the teacher like a doctor builds confidence in subtle, artful ways. In order to persuade students that the content is worth learning and can be learned, the teacher must be perceived by students as more than intelligent – just like a doctor trying to convince patients they can get well. Credentials and certification help provide credence that the teacher, like the doctor, is an expert in his field; however, highly effective teachers like doctors know that there is something more – an inner confidence that beams: I own my inner assets; I’ve got this. Whatever you throw at me I can handle because I am wise, brave, and strong.
Self-efficacy inspires students to BELIEVE: To believe in and feel they can learn from the teacher.

Not Just Urban Schools Anymore

In the wake of the Sandy Hook School Tragedy, “Superstorm Sandy,” the “fiscal cliff,”  and other bubbles, I wonder about the invisible impact of perpetual disasters on American teachers’ psyche as they face a firestorm of never ending demands on their emotions, intellect, and spirits from their students. When teachers see only a sea of poverty seated before them in their classrooms on a daily basis, see students who have experienced or witnessed recurring tragedies, how long will it be before suburban teachers – like too many urban teachers – feel helpless, powerless, and subconsciously BELIEVE that they are incapable of delivering a more complex problem-solving, problem-seeking curriculum (Common Core) to an increasingly at-risk population?
As we move forward in reimagining the teaching profession in America, we must keep in mind that that the safety, security, stability of more of our children are dissolving like sugar in a cup of hot water, and with them a potential meltdown of the self-efficacy of more of our teachers.
What kind of disempowering “scent” will a wider swath of American teachers perspire daily that a wider swath of American students will pick up on?
Will we/Can we use our collective wisdom to provide teachers with the resilience to weather the mightiest societal storms?
Or will teaching be he next bubble?

Want Ad: Teachers Who BELIEVE At-Risk Children Can Succeed

Can These Teachers Be Saved? A Coach’s Journey Pt. !

When I came of age as a teacher, for women who entered the field, teaching was a first career choice. Generally, we were not single parents with children. Other than juggling the responsibilities of teaching our students, our outside the school house juggling acts included hanging out with friends or a significant other, going to the club, shopping, attending a movie or concert, traveling. Having escaped our parents’ watchful eyes and having graduated from college, we could EXHALE
.

New teachers who were married were on a different path: perhaps putting a spouse though medical or law school, saving money for a down payment on a home. When children came along some stayed home or took time off until they were in school. Even those who returned to teaching after a maternity leave looked forward to the scheduled time off.  In reality, many women opted for the teaching profession because the school calendar/schedule enabled us to navigate a family and to earn an income. By the time life’s BIG CHALLENGES came along, most of us had mastered teaching the content and fine tuned our classroom management strategies. 
Not the case with Amina and Carrie who entered the field as 30  something women, the primary economic heads of their households, coping with failed relationships and child(ren).


Amina
A  young high school teacher bursts into my office emotionally distraught. Recently married and with a young daughter who is not her husband’s child, she shares with me that she feels as if she is being torn between two competing forces. Her daughter is needy because for most of her young life they have been a duo. She resents having to share her mother’s attention with the husband. The new husband feels as if he should be first in his wife’s life. That’s what the Bible says.  Every night Amina is caught up in a tug of war which prevents her from proper

How Much More Can I Juggle?

How Much More Can I Juggle?



Carrie

The chair of the department has requested that I work with Carrie,  a young, 1st year teacher who is experiencing classroom management difficulties. Her attendance is poor and her lesson plans when she turns them in are incomplete.

After chatting with the teacher informally on several occasions, I learn that she is in the process of divorcing her husband. Carrie is leaving an interracial marriage with two children. Her husband doesn’t want to divorce; her parents never approved of the union. Every evening is a steady stream/barrage  of phone calls, unexpected knocks at the door, meal preparation,  homework monitoring. Of course,  lesson planning and assessing papers are  an afterthought.  Each day is a struggle to get up, get the children off to school and get to work. Carrie  is emotionally and physically spent by the time she arrives in front of her classroom door to greet her students. Daily, she hides behind her desk which nonverbally communicates to students: Do not disturb.

Coaching Challenge: Can These Teachers Be Saved?

Eventually, I am called to the office by the principal who is concerned about both teachers and wants to know what I am doing about the situation. Naturally, she is worried about the school’s test scores because both teachers teach in content areas that are tested. Priestlike in my demeanor, I DO NOT divulge any information about the two teachers’ personal lives or their weaknesses as teachers. However, because they send so many students to the office and their department chair has reported to her the state of their lesson plans, she is aware. She informs me that she is considering placing both teachers on the unsatisfactory track which is the prelude to being released.

  Historically, American schools have been the least successful educating a population living in poverty, a population often parented by the chronically unemployed, or underemployed, or chemically dependent. We call such a population at-risk. We are well aware of the adversities they face daily and our moral responsibility to try to overcome them
However, some of our teachers go through periods of living on an emotional roller coaster in their personal lives too. What is our responsibility to them?     What is my responsibility to Amina and Carrie vs. my responsibility to their students? Can they be reconciled? Can these teachers be saved? Should they be? Should I recommend to the principal that they be placed on the unsatisfactory track? Once she decides on that option, all confidentiality goes out the window because the principal becomes my client. I am obligated to report to her all that I know so that she can build a case against them. As professionals, how much of a responsibility do we have to one another? As humans, how much of a stake do we have in one another? What would you do?

A Coach’s Journey

Which Path Should I Take?

Which Path Should I Take?

Educator: Is It Your Scent?


Communication requires a message, a sender, and a receiver.

Often, we communicate more through body movement, through facial expression, and/or through tone of voice than through our actual words. These communication tools can be voluntary, involuntary, positive, negative; most often we send and interpret such signals or “scents” subconsciously.

Such signals can be practiced and learned as witnessed in the 2012 Presidential Debates. Both candidates practiced and masterfully displayed communication beyond the content of their ideas and words.
Both candidates through body language, tone of voice and facial expression displayed condescension, disbelief, nervousness, tension, or frustration. “I am the President!” vs. I am Presidential.” “Sit at my elbow and listen.” “No, you don’t know what you are doing.”

Body Language: Is it your Scent?

Body Language Speaks Volumns

Teaching Challenge
An energetic, intelligent, young math teacher stands outside of his classroom door each period of the day greeting students as they enter the room. His bulletin boards, impeccable; the walls, covered with learning charts and a variety student work that entice the eye and the learning process. The desks are arranged in small groups to promote the communication, collaboration, cooperation students need to participate in the competitive and innovation-based global economy. He spends hours each week planning creative lessons to align the connection between the real world of math and the Common Core Curriculum.
However, he is unaware that his body language signals the state of mind: “I am here to help you if only you would permit me. Pleeease allow me to teach you.” The frantic cadence of his voice reinforces his nonverbal message. A small band of students pick up on his scent, that he is unsure of himself, and they decide on which days the class will cooperate. A daily power struggle ensues.

Frustrated by his lack of control and his principal’s warnings about his classroom management, the young educator changes his approach from a problem-solving/critical thinking curriculum to vocabulary puzzles, basic math reinforcement assignments, and software activities that can be assessed by a computer. These busy seatwork activities must be completed during one instructional period or face the consequences of a poor grade. These types of assignments are holdovers from the industrial economy school house that promoted obedience, silence, conformity, reward, and punishment. (
Hamstrung by the constant classroom turmoil and a peace at any price curriculum, he contemplates leaving the teaching field.

Math Lesson Didn't Go Well

Please Let Me Teach You!



Coaching Challenge

After an observation session, I honed in immediately on the situation. Unfortunately, it is a scene played out far too often in too many classrooms and schools across America and indeed the globe. Would be effective teachers sabotage themselves with poor body language and a weaker teaching voice; students smell the fear and uncertainty. The nonverbal message is a scent, an energy force that communicates to students that teachers believe in them or are afraid of them. An effective teacher’s energy radiates, “I own my inner assets; I’ve got this. Whatever you throw at me, I can handle.”

Thus, it is critical that the “scent” of a teacher demonstrates a positive, confident bearing rather than one that is unsure or easily intimidated. And their facial expression is capable of signaling approval or disapproval. Eye contact that says that I am in control –“Don’t trespass because I am wiser, braver, and stronger. “
Like a musical instrument capable of spanning a wide range of moods and emotions, theteaching voice can convey happiness, frustration, trust, belief, doubt, faith, fear, anger, or sadness. When we were children and our parents called us, we could tell by their tone how fast we should respond. We can teach students to respond to us in the same manner. Used effectively, the voice demonstrates our confidence that students’ success in possible and probable.

If you are a teacher, how has your “scent” impacted your teaching? How do you know? Have you ever stared a student down? How did it feel? Have you ever audio-taped a lesson to study your vocal quality? Have you used video equipment to study your body language?
If you are a professional who works with teachers, have you ever coached a teacher to improve his/her “scent”?
As a coach, have you examined your scent?