Craving Criticism

I crave criticism. I think it is a holdover from my years of training as an artist. People don’t realize that is what really happens in art school and art classes. You spend several weeks working on a project, put it out there for everybody to see, and then you pick at it, look under the hood, ask and answer questions. It is a called a critique, and that is how you learn. In order to learn, an artist prostrates him/herself on the body of knowledge of the collective. There are no right answers.

These thoughts resurfaced recently when super hero teacher leader Megan Allen gave me the opportunity to lead a session for the inaugural Mount Holyoke Teacher Leadership Cohort. The course, Coaching, Mentoring, and Facilitating Instructional Improvements, is designed to help teachers facilitate change in their schools. My session was to focus on coaching for equity. As a National Board Certified Teacher I am comfortable video taping myself and examining it with a critical eye. Connecting analysis of teaching with equity is a core component of the NBCT process. As I prepared, I found myself realizing how much of coaching for equity vs. coaching for effectiveness has to do with the tools of the therapist. I considered the crucial role of trust in mentoring for equity the necessity for coaches to have facility with active listening, and asking probing and clarifying questions, and finally – the part that fits in with my area of expertise as a researcher and teacher leader – identity. In my research I found the following quote  in Focusing new teachers on diversity and equity: Toward a knowledge base for mentors from Achinstein & Athanases (2005).

When mentoring focuses on equity, clearly it requires more than a technical ‘‘knowing how to’’ (as it often gets cast in mentoring programs). It requires also a ‘‘being someone who’’ perspective that includes moral dimensions related to justice, fairness, and ethics, and political dimensions related to power, interest, and conflict (Kelchtermans & Hamilton, 2004).

I realized the safest way for the cohort to practice coaching, without laying themselves or their peers on the couch, was to make myself the guinea pig and model reciprocal teaching/coaching. At this point, I decided to show the participants a video. My first inclination was to share one of the teaching moments I am proud of, but instead, I shared the following video. This is not my best teaching at all. I had the participants practice asking coaching of questions based on the work of Elena Aguilar.



I am not sure there is a “right” way to coach for equity, but I know there are some wrong ways so the cohort practiced asking bad questions. One of my favorites was, “Do you even know how to teach math?” When they asked cathartic questions, I realized how much I miss the critique environment. The one question I remember most was, “You mentioned this is not your best teaching of math. Can you share what it would look like if this were good teaching?” This question fired off an explosion of thoughts about what learning and teaching look like in my classroom. I ended up so thankful for the opportunity to place myself in the hands of the community of knowledge. Thank you, Mount Holyoke Teacher Leadership Cohort, for allowing me to teach you. I learned a great deal.

  • ReneeMoore

    Hallmark of Professionalism

    Sharing one of your less successful teaching moments with those students was one of the best and bravest things you could have done. Sadly, I think such sharing is too rare in our profession overall. I’ve attended too many education conferences or PD sessions in which presenters try to persuade us that everything they do in their classrooms is golden. Althought intended to encourage people with a model, it often has the opposite effect. Not only that, some of these presenters and commenters are lying to themselves about how great a teacher they are. Critical self-reflection is the regular practice of highly accomplished teachers, but I agree with you, what we could all use is more thoughtful peer review of our classroom work, especially to help us identify gaps and weaknesses.