You see these words in business marketing all the time…”satisfaction guaranteed”. And why wouldn’t it be guaranteed? We pay for something, and if a business can stand behind it – shouldn’t our satisfaction be assumed or our money back?
It makes me wonder why we don’t have the same phrase attached to our schools. I realize that schools are living systems, can’t be managed and evaluated the same as businesses, due to the complexities that exist from teaching living humans as the product, but shouldn’t we try to ensure ways that satisfaction would be guaranteed? Can schools be places where there are evaluations of what we are doing and how well we are doing it; where there are meaningful and ongoing professional development opportunities to address needs that exist; so as to make sure that satisfaction is guaranteed to the greatest extent possible to the families, the teachers and the students? Hmmm…what would that look like?
I was asked to observe in a classroom not too long ago, with one little boy in mind. This teacher was one that was held up in the school community by parents and teachers alike, as absolutely top notch. Once I spent a few hours, and then two days in her classroom observing, it was no wonder why she was held in such high esteem. Her lessons were grounded in ways that made sense for the students; the structures she had in place for them to access what she was teaching was intuitive, creative and predictable; and her expectations for all students were very high, along with diverse supports she put in place for all students to achieve success. After my observation, I had the opportunity to sit down with her and debrief her about all that I found was going well, as I saw it from my balcony view. Then, after talking through the positive aspects of her practice, we were able to talk about the specific needs of the one little boy that warranted my being there in the first place.
This is where the “satisfaction guaranteed” fits in…this little boy, and his parents, were NOT satisfied…and, quite honestly, neither was this teacher. She was stumped, explained that she had tried her best, and gave it her all, but despite attempts – was not able to reach out in ways that made sense for him. The parents were concerned, wanted the best for their son, and didn’t know quite how to address what was going on from their point of influence. All of the other parents they talked to seemed impressed and happy with this teacher, and there wasn’t a clear way for them to express their dissatisfaction – only their ongoing concern, and hope for the best.
They asked the teacher for me to come in and observe, and the teacher agreed. We had a trusting relationship. She knew that I was not there to harpoon her practice, nor her personally. She was open to my critical friend “hat” that I was wearing, because she wanted it to look differently for this little boy. We talked about how it is that he learns best, and where that mismatched how she taught best. It took the personal nature of the conversation away, and thus the natural defenses and barriers were gone – and allowed the conversation to be about the skills and strengths that both she and the little boy brought to the classroom. It didn’t feel negative anymore, didn’t focus on the deficits that she had outlined about the boy to the parents before my observation – nor was conversation focused anymore about how it was that she couldn’t remedy them. The common adage that she had said of, “there are so many students, I just can’t meet the needs of them all” dropped away. We were able to focus on how to create more pathways to learning for students in her class – not only this student, but all of them. Our conversation went beyond this one little boy, and we ended up having follow up conversations that were about other students in her class as well, that she didn’t feel she was meeting the needs of from day to day.
What happened in this scenario? How does it apply to satisfaction being guaranteed in schools? In my opinion, the one thing that jumps to mind for me in our reaching closer to the guarantee of satisfaction is acknowledging that within any school, at any time, there are teachers that are at the top of their game, as well as teachers that are in need of being re-engaged in their profession. This is not to say that we need to bash teachers and what they are doing from day to day – quite the contrary, I believe that the complexities that they face daily are daunting, and teachers are inherently there for the right reasons, doing right by our kids every day to the best of their ability. Something that has come up over and over again through my work, however, is that many teachers are isolated in their work, and thus reach a point where their learning stops unless there is purposeful engagement around new and different ways of thinking about their practice and learning with other teachers within the school.
One way to enrich and engage teachers is through ongoing, job-embedded professional development and coaching. Professional development that is focused on specific needs that exist within a school, draws on the strengths of the teachers and their rich experiences with the students they teach, and allows for teachers to coach one another in their practice is a powerful tool. Adults do not learn from an experience itself, rather, they learn by processing their experience together. Creating spaces and times for teachers to learn from one another about the students that make up their schools and classrooms is a vital point of leverage to be realized.
Schedules need to be tweaked; time and money set aside, and then participants need to know the specific areas they want to address, before diving into the “pool” together. Once in the pool, teachers can focus on creating a significant, trusting relationship with one another. James Comer has been quoted saying that, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship”. I believe the type of teacher learning that will re-engage and revitalize schools, and thus create more “customer satisfaction”, is one built upon relationships and making meaning together around the students that they teach.
The scenario I described of the little boy and the master teacher highlights how this can look in schools. The teacher told me after our conversation, that by talking to me, and having my critical friend feedback about what it looked like in her class, that she was able to remember those things that she used to do, that had fallen away as tenets of her practice over the years. It was all there, under the surface, but until we talked about it together, she had forgotten how to think of students in those ways. She asked me why it is that schools don’t look like that – like places where teachers just simply (or complexly) can discuss what is happening and have learning conversations about it regularly and ongoing throughout the year. My answer didn’t bring much solace…I simply told her that very often there are not systems in place that allow for it. “It needs to happen”, she said…and I couldn’t agree more.
Through the process of observation and feedback, the conversation focused on what she was doing well, and areas that she wanted to improve in her classroom. It allowed her to analyze critically how she was meeting the needs of the students she served – all of them, and be able to talk about what she wanted to do better. We processed the experiences she had together, learning from them and creating a significant relationship between us. The focus was no longer about what this little boy struggled with from day to day in her class, and became about re-engaging her in her practice to meet the needs that existed of the students she served. She told me that day that she wanted this school to be a place where teachers could do that for one another all of the time. She acknowledged the fact that she had been isolated in her thinking, and could see where the teachers at this school could learn from one another a great deal more than they currently do, just by regularly observing and giving each other critical feedback.
What a great loss we have in schools, when we don’t set up pathways for teachers to come out of isolation and share what they know with one another. Purposeful scheduling of times for teachers to watch what each other are doing, and to create significant relationships where they can be critical friends to one another takes planning, time and money. When teachers, families and students are the consumers, is their satisfaction guaranteed? Can teachers, families, and students get their money back if they are not completely satisfied? Of course the answer is no, but can we at least agree that the time and money spent in schools to create these pathways of learning would be worthwhile and bring us more customer satisfaction? Would it bring us closer to “satisfaction guaranteed” in our schools? If the answer is yes, then let’s start asking for it…
The WINNER of the “Joyful Learning” book giveaway is Troy Kubly!! Thanks for all of the comments, and hope you enjoy the book, Troy!