Classroom Observation: Win

July 1, 2014

Oh!  Here we go.  I’ve repurposed a notebook I found in my house to be my “Philippines Notebook”, and after paging through some years-old communication and some weird notes on a Paul McCartney/Spice Girls collaboration which I’m assuming never happened, I’ve finally happened across my jottings from today, entitled:

A Hero’s Journey

If you were a colleague of mine in the mid-2000s, your gag reflex has probably already been activated in remembrance of some just horrible required staff reading.  I got about three pages into the mythological mumbo-jumbo that was interspersed with Oz allusions and, strangely, Superman, before throwing it in disgust off the sunporch at Round Pond and declaring that I’d rather be fired.

The hero’s epic journey is the subject of this seventh grade English lecture, but thankfully it’s a grand departure from my preconceived notions.  For starters, this teacher is incredibly engaging.  I find myself evaluating him Danielson-style and I sort of want to give him a hug for proving that distinguished teaching exists.

Side note: it has been a professional privilege to work with district and union leaders on the new evaluation system in Portland.  I think people would universally agree that it’s been sorely needed, but the pleasure lies not only in being a part of creating something necessary, but also (and mostly) in being able to look behind the scenes at a group who is uniformly keeping kids at the forefront of its action.  This is not designed to be one of those scary “gotcha” systems that are dotting the nation.  The intent, rather, is to provide an effective reflection tool for educators, to identify master teachers in order to celebrate and share best practice tools, and to support and coach those who struggle.  If a teacher can’t hack it after that?  Sorry/not sorry, as the kids would say.  Nobody is in this to protect a bad apple.

Anyway, this woman named Charlotte Danielson came up with some rubrics for teaching, and they’re great.  Honestly, just reading them and self-assessing made me a better teacher, especially since I can’t in good conscience promote the system if I’m not doing my best to be on top of it.  I even changed them to kid language and had my classes fill them out for me as a sub plan one day, and boy, did I learn a lot.  I was sort of annoyed that I hadn’t done it early enough to change my practice with that particular group.

So, right- missed opportunity- but the point is that I was consciously evaluating this teacher today and he was phenomenal.  On a topic that was for me- an adult reading a professional publication- straight torture, this guy managed to engage his entire class and purposefully lead them, via the Incredible Hulk and connections to their daily existence, through the six elements of a hero’s epic journey.

At the close of class, he had them ponder: how can you make your life epic?

I think I’m doing okay with that one right now.


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