What happens to any of us when we work alone? Because the feedback that many of us get is so infrequent (most teachers are observed a couple of times a year by principals who supervise too many teachers), individual teachers’ ability to grow their skill set is limited by what they know and by what happens in their classrooms.
Don’t misunderstand me: individual experience is incredibly valuable but for too many teachers it becomes the single, most important source of growth. Because others who see your work have different experiences, they open up new possible interpretations and strategies for you to try.
I learned more about this when a niece did graduate work to become an artist. Megan went to Parsons school of Design in NYC for a Master’s Degree. She came howling over to our apartment after her second week of school: “We had a critique session today. Everyone in my art studio showed one piece of work to all the other students and a notable practicing artist and everyone gave us feedback on our piece. One of the guys said my work was derivative!” She was shocked and wounded and ready to quit.
Because we weren’t her parents or paying the tuition, we said, “By all means. Quit. Who needs feedback?!” Slowly, over dinner as we discussed what she had actually learned about her work, she began to see the feedback as interesting. In the months ahead, she worked all week with those feedback sessions in mind; they became a critical source of growth.
This is what I am hoping for all educators—that we build towards a culture that throws open classroom doors and seeks various perspectives and tough critical feedback in order to get better. If you watch the video of Ms. Santos’s classroom where instructional expert Jim Knight gives her feedback, you can see the advantages of have another set of eyes on your teaching!