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  • by Blaine Helwig

Pedagogical Reflection – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It is one of the primary functions of the campus administration’s job to support classroom teachers in improving core instruction and classroom management. Campus administrators are the school's 'Instructional Leaders' and 'Teachers of Teachers.' Principals need to communicate with their teachers in three main classroom areas not only when the teacher is struggling (e.g. bad) or in dire straits (e.g. ugly), but also when the teacher is functioning at average to heightened performance levels. Consequently, three unique classroom situations when teachers and administrators must reflect upon their pedagogical practice are categorized via Clint Eastwood's famous movie: 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'.

The Good – But, why is it working so well?

When I was a fifth grade teacher, my teammate and I implemented a numeracy mathematics program of my design. It was producing incredible student outcomes in mathematics. My colleague asked me one afternoon, “Are we certain we understand exactly why this numeracy program is so successful?”

My immediate reply was simply, “Of course. It is this and this and this.” However, upon reflecting upon the daily practice of the numeracy program over the course of the next year, I realized I was incorrect. The reasons I thought the daily numeracy was so impactful were far too trite and superficial. The actual pragmatic and underpinnings of the numeracy program were much deeper than I initially believed.

Campus administrators must do more than encourage their teachers to reflect on their practices when outcomes are substandard – of course, this is when adjustments are absolutely essential! However, teachers should also reflect upon the positive things in their classroom to ensure they truly understand why their daily practice is effective. Upon deep contemplation and analysis, the teacher may discover their practice is successful for reasons other than they initially thought. In turn, this metacognitive process foments the deeper evaluation to better those practices that are already working well.

The Bad – Improvement is needed

When there is a problem in the classroom, campus administrators must provide direct support to improve the pedagogical efficacy and assist teachers in the self-evaluation of their daily practice. A variety of impactful options frequently considered to heighten and improve a teacher’s efficacy are as follows: mentoring from a colleague or instructional coach, team teaching with a peer, observing a respected teacher’s instruction and the administrator or coach modeling in-class instruction.

After each implementation of a support vehicle, a debriefing between the teacher and administration/support personnel to discuss specificity of pedagogical strategies that were effective. Readjust and Repeat after each session. Finally, it has been my professional experience over the last two decades, effective classroom management is often the first place to begin a support system with new teachers - organizing the classroom with consistent and sustainable classroom routines.

The Ugly – Impending doom is too close for comfort!

If the problem in the classroom can only be characterized as "ugly," dramatic and immediate steps must be employed to support the teacher. The administration, support personnel and the teacher must collectively work to improve both pedagogical and classroom management effectiveness. The success of these efforts to significantly improve a teacher’s classroom efficacy is highly dependent upon the teachers’ ability to effectively implement needed improvements and introspectively examine their teaching practices. The administrator may need to 'Readjust and Repeat the Process' after every session with written documentation.

In only extreme situations, administrative action requiring professional growth plans and potential termination need to be taken. In a decade as the principal of a large urban Title 1 school, only two teachers required the highest levels of campus administrative action. With support – occasionally high levels of support – struggling classroom teachers significantly improve and professionally mature into effective classroom educators. However, 99 percent of teachers in this position will NOT self-correct by the discovery method - these teachers require external support across the classroom!

Again, school administrators wear many hats. One of the most important is to train and support classroom teachers in all aspects of pedagogy. Campus principals must be hands-on and actively visible to generate success in this process – perspiration will be required of all involved. Beginning with the most impactful pedagogical classroom areas and focusing on the smaller aspects later, with collective efforts, teachers significantly improve their instructional practice.

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