Customer Service – Part 1

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Yesterday I did something that I am at once exhilarated and terrified by – I asked my students to rate my effectiveness as a teacher.  I went to a session at the ASCD conference in Chicago where 2 New Jersey teachers, one 8th grade and one high school, described their journey to find out what their kids really thought about them.  It was similar to the moment many years ago when I first heard about going into a general education classroom to co-teach my special education students – a little like being struck by lightning.  I couldn’t wait to get home and try it!

As I listened to the 8th grade teacher talk about how shocked she was that every child in her class did not love her completely and how hard and necessary that was for her to hear, I thought – why do we not ask the students what they think?  Politicians weigh in, school board members weigh in, administrators weigh in, even parents weigh in about my teaching effectiveness and how to measure it but I really don’t care about them – I care what my kids think.

I have surveyed my students before but it was more about the classroom or the curriculum, what they wanted to do more of, less of, that kind of thing.  I even have them give me a letter grade occasionally.  But I never asked them, ‘How am I doing for YOU?’  We teach how we are and that is not always a match for every kiddo.  I need to pay attention to that.  I have more boys than girls – do I teach them differently?  I don’t think I do, but they would be the ones to really know that answer.  This is the first year I have taught ‘honors’ classes – am I reaching them? I hope I am, I even think I am, but now I will know if I am.  And if I’m not – I can take steps to improve!

So, the first day back from the conference I went to one of my administrators, Patrick, (whom I adore) and asked him for his help.  The New Jersey teachers recommended that the teacher not administer the survey themselves because the kids might not be as honest.  They recommended having an administrator explain the process and ask the kids to be honest and fair and to assure them that yes, Mrs. McG. really did want them to do this.

Next, the technology teacher showed me how to set up the 42 questions (I tweaked an existing Teacher Effectiveness Survey from Robert Marzano because I respect and understand his work) on my webpage so the kids could do it online and I could analyze the results with ease. ( It was a much more involved process than I would have hoped but there it is.)

Patrick then went into each study hall and explained the process to the kids.  He told me later that they had two main reactions – they were REALLY excited to share their opinions because no one had ever asked them before, and …they wondered why in the world  I wanted to do this.

The main reason is that I crave feedback. I think it’s one of the reasons I loved coteaching – having someone to provide feedback daily was amazing!  I actually love feedback no matter where it comes from – it makes me more thoughtful about my instructional choices and forces me to reflect on why I do, what I do, the way I do it. I always hated it when principals would do walk-throughs and then never tell me what I could improve – I want to know how to get better!

It struck me that this may one of the most important steps I have ever taken in my teaching career.  I am going to know, without having to guess or infer, what my kids think of me.  It is so scary that I have regretted my decision countless times since.

The N.J. teacher said when she got her results back she immediately went to the ‘negative’ responses, even though the positive far outweighed those.  I know I will do the same.  But once she had time to process the results she realized they were right about many things they said.  For example, she did take on more of the instruction instead of giving some of it back to the kids to create on their own.

She told of a review session she did after seeing her results that had several students disagreeing with the statement, “My teacher lets me struggle with my learning.”  She freely admitted she NEVER let her kids struggle – she jumped in with a million strategies instead of just letting the kids figure out their own solution.  I do that, too!  So, after getting those results, she gave the review over to the kids that day. She told them to have scribes create the study guide on the board and to work together to find the critical information.  The final product had every item she would have given them and MORE!  A bonus for her was that two of her students who rarely participated volunteered to be the scribes and actively discussed what items to include.  The teacher as learner, indeed.

Once all the surveys are completed I plan to have a debriefing with Patrick and then he and I will have a discussion with each class.  We will need to talk through some of the questions and responses and learn from each other how to make the end of the year the best it can be for all of us.

I’m terrified but I also can’t wait…:)