The Art of Teaching Teachers
I failed to consider the emotional state of the players …next time I’ll chose my words more carefully
At some point adults reach maximum maturity, a point where we simply react before thinking – like an end to our emotional coping skills. I have no scientific proof of this but can say with great certainty that although learning may occur forever, people just seem to stop growing emotionally sometime in their forties. I know this isn’t true, but ironically this is also about the same age our eye sight begins to decline, which, metaphorically supports my theory that adult growth has limits. By the way, I’m well past this age.
So the question begs to be answered, “Can old teachers learn new tricks?” Of course they can learn, but teaching them is an art which is tricky to master, and in no way am I suggesting I have done so. My recent experience serves as an example to support my narrow-minded philosophy about limited emotional growth in adults, including in myself – a philosophy I hope will be proven untrue over time. Teaching adults requires conscious effort to honor their experience, support their personal objectives, and show empathy and compassion. (Cheliotes, Reilly 2010). In short, teaching teachers is far more challenging than teaching children, in my opinion. In this instance, “I failed to consider the emotional state of the players …next time I’ll chose my words more carefully.”
Case in point: a grade level website to share with parents
In theory creating a website was a great idea. All three teachers nodded in agreement that parents would appreciate connecting to the classrooms in this way and that the medium would eliminate the drudgery of fighting with the copy machine which had an insatiable desire to jam. The idea met the school’s strategic plan for communication, and could become the standard format at all grade levels, if successful – and the price was right – free!
The team of teachers was unique, two women over 40; one with years of experience, the other having only a few. The third teacher was in her early 20’s, in her third year of teaching, and demonstrated exceptional class management and technology skills. The only issue going against her was the maturity of her coworkers. While the older teachers were counting the days before their own children entered college, the younger teacher, a newlywed DINK (double income, no kids), counted the days since her own graduation. Disaster was right around the corner.
I should have slowed down before celebrating their nods. I should have reflected on the emotional position of each teacher and the impact it would have on their willingness to try something new. I should have chosen my words more carefully than I did before saying that all three teachers would have to be responsible for the success of the site. What I didn’t count on was the fully developed resistance to change by the 40 somethings, their attitude about the naivete of youth, and the disappointed utterances of their under-appreciated teammate.
So I had to regroup. With some guidance from my principal, I went door-to-door, working with one teacher at a time, relying on the elements of Cheliotes & Reilly’s “Coaching Zone”:
- creating awareness
- designing actions
- planning & goal setting
- monitoring progress
- celebrating success
Armed with a process and more awareness of the teachers’ emotional states proved to ease the tension. I adjusted my expectations, my approach, and my delivery. I mistook age for maturity. I was wrong. I should have left my own assumptions at the door. What I encountered was fear, by an experienced teacher, trepidation by an equally experienced adult, and fearlessness by a young woman ready to take on the world. Is it true that our maturity has an end-point? Who am I to judge? Their website is finally published and everyone still likes each other. Mission accomplished.
L. Cheliotes, M. Reilly. (2010). COACHING CONVERSATIONS: TRANSFORMING YOUR SCHOOL ONE CONVERSATION AT A TIME. Thousand Oaks CA. Corwin.