by Edison Garrone, Professional Coach/IB Math Teacher, Uruguayan American School
Being prepared versus being ready
As educators, we all have gone through the implementation of new curricula, revolutionary programs, and modern trends in education. The main goal of an educational system is to create the best possible and most enriching journey for the students. The emphasis is always put on what schools and teachers should do to make these changes work.
When reading programs outlines, guidelines, and handbooks, expectations from teachers are clearly and specifically stated:
“The teacher is expected to give appropriate guidance at all stages…” (IBDP)
“Teachers are responsible for indicating to students…”( IBDP)
“The teacher should play an important role…” (IBDP)
“It is responsibility of the teacher…”(IBDP)
“Teachers need to model happiness.” (Georgia Holleran, founder of the Teacher Wellness Festival)
I think any educator, administrator, or any person involved in the field of education can easily relate to this.
It is very frequent that reflections about education focus on creating a universe where the students are motivated, happy, where they experience success and enjoy the educational journey. Under this perspective, teachers are expected to play a key role in making this universe work.
With that said, what is not at all usual is to find reflections and practices that aim at supporting teachers so they are emotionally equipped to make all this happen, as well as reflections that put an emphasis on how to ´take care of the caretaker´. When we picture a well-equipped teacher, we naturally think of a professional educator with a solid academic background and strong teaching skills.
But what about teachers’ well-being, motivation and happiness?
Not long ago, I heard the Principal of the school where I work say: “Happy teachers make happy children.”
It sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it? A teacher with the strongest academic background, and the soundest pedagogic skills will be a much better teacher if this person feels happy at the workplace. A lot has been written about students’ well-being and happiness, but there is practically no literature where these aspects are considered relevant for teachers and therefore, appropriately addressed.
If we want our teachers to create this type of enriching environment for our students, wouldn’t it be logical for our schools to provide a support system for the teachers so that they can do the best possible job?
It is always taken for granted that, in order for any educational system to work, all we have to do is implement it ‘correctly’: school infrastructure, training and professional development for teachers, materials, textbooks, resources, etc. As we mentioned before, teachers are considered to be ready when they are academically trained, and know how to teach their subject.
However, is academic competence enough for teachers to make an educational program succeed? Cognitive abilities are necessary. Are they enough? What about soft skills?
Do you think it is usual practice to consider teachers’ happiness as one of the priorities of a school?
If we think about the last question: when was the last time your boss, Principal, Director, Supervisor, asked you if you were happy doing your job? When was the last time your superior came to you and expressed genuine interest in your well-being? Do you believe it is important that teachers feel happy at the school?
This project aims at approaching school management from a different angle: how to foster healthy, nourishing and positive relationships with/among the educators, the staff, and the administration, having in place standards for staff well-being that promote happiness and a spirit of communion among all of the members of a school. Students who are educated by motivated, committed and happy educators, as well as immersed in this enriching universe, will have the privilege to be part of a transcendental educational journey.
If a student is struggling, having a hard time, academically or emotionally, the system is ready to protect them, to take care of them, to develop a strategic plan so the student feels supported and can overcome obstacles and make progress.
In my extensive experience at a number of schools, if a teacher is struggling or not doing a good job, the system is not prepared to explore solutions or alternatives. There is usually no support system or standardized protocols to work with the teachers to allow them to improve, review, reflect, and fight frustrations, together with the administration.
It is very frequent to hear speeches, read mission statements or guiding principles expressing that the school is a community where everybody counts, where everybody is respected, valued, appreciated, etc.
We are all aware of the fact that students are children and teachers are adults, but aren’t they all part of the same community, where values and beliefs should apply to everybody in it?
An educational philosophy that contributes to support and care about everybody in its community would provide the school with a sense of coherence between reality and mission statements, core values and beliefs.
It is well known that fear is not a good ingredient in the learning process. Students who are afraid in class, will feel threatened, or not safe, will not trust the system and, therefore, will not perform at their best.
“When you create a positive classroom atmosphere, students learn better. Every student must feel safe and important in the class in order for maximum learning to take place. A positive classroom environment does not just happen; the teacher creates it.” — Ministry of Education, Guyana, Venezuela.
Or as W. Theo Dalton, professor of education at the University of Georgia says: “Classroom atmosphere reflects quality of learning.”
Now, what about quality of teaching? Are all these factors (security, fear, safety, trust, feeling valued) important when it comes to professional performance?
Would it be possible to think of a new version of the previous statement?
“School atmosphere reflects quality of teaching and learning.”
Being aligned with the previous statement would imply to work towards the creation of a school atmosphere where everybody feels safe, valued, respected, where trust is genuinely experienced and therefore, community members feel motivated and happy.
It is hard to imagine a better environment, than the one described above, to promote interactions among teachers, teamwork and a spirit of communion. Therefore, the consolidation of both, a strong school spirit and a solid sense of belonging, will become a natural consequence.
Having said that, school leaders have the responsibility to work hard to contribute to build this type of environment. There are many factors related to this goal, but a substantial one has to do with communication skills. High-quality communication among the members of a community is a key factor in the process of building significant relationships. Because coaching skills can be used to improve the quality of communication within a group, it would be very important for school leaders to develop these skills.
There are many definitions of coaching; which will not be addressed here. Instead, we will focus on the main objectives of this discipline.
Below we have three very important goals of coaching:
- It helps people become the best versions of themselves.
- It helps people identify, set and achieve their goals.
- It helps improve communication, therefore the quality of relationships.
A life coach is an expert listener and observer, who guides through asking questions rather than by giving answers or advice. The life coach is professionally trained to help people reach their full potential.
As an educational leader, being an active listener is fundamental to improve the quality of communication with/among the teachers. As leaders of a school, it would be extremely useful to develop coaching skills to be able to help our teachers manage and reach their goals as well as to help them become the best versions of educators they could possibly be.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” — Aristotle
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An experienced Mathematics Teacher with a demonstrated history of teaching Calculus, Geometry, Trigonometry and Algebra, Edison Garrone currently teaches at the Uruguayan American School, an international IB school. He has served as a reader for the AP Calculus exam and is certified as a Life Coach from the iPNL. He holds a Master’s degree in Math Education from the University of New Hampshire.