Editor's Note: Through video observation, collaborative planning, and candid, constructive criticism, California high school math teachers Mike Fauteux and Rose Zapata have devised a formula to improve their practice and increase student achievement. After Edutopia produced this video, Mike and Rose, who teach at Leadership Public School in Hayward, CA, shared their insights with me about how to create a successful team teaching partnership.
What are some things to look for in a team-teacher partner? How do you pick a "good" one?
Rose Zapata: It was important for me to be working with someone who had the same general philosophy of education and the same core belief that, with the correct scaffolds, all students can achieve. It was also important for my partner to be open to feedback and willing to have conversations around what is best because, ultimately, I want to grow professionally and to do so, I need a partner who wants that too.
Mike Fauteux: When looking for a teaching partner, I would look for someone who is patient, open to new ideas, and willing to compromise. She needs to be willing to express her honest opinion in a respectful way, to break out of the "culture of nice" that so often keeps us from giving helpful feedback. But most of the time, we don't get to pick the other people who are teaching the same class that we teach. So the important issue becomes how you build a highly functioning, collaborative relationship with the teacher who ends up being your partner.
How do you get over being observed by a peer?
RZ: You always have to remember that you want feedback in order to improve and grow. No teacher should be 100 percent satisfied with where he is professionally. There is always something to improve on. (Isn't that what we are preaching to our kids?) An observation from a peer provides real and authentic feedback that you can use to improve your craft and profession and ultimately increase student achievement.
MF: My biggest worry about being observed by a peer is that they might see me on a bad day and think I am a fraud. Deep down, I think that's what most people worry about, being judged as a person and professional based on a lesson or two. Just telling a teacher to practice observing and being observed won't work. In many cases, it can make things worse. The way to get over being observed by a peer is to learn and follow ways of observing and reporting feedback that depersonalize the process, making it objective, safe, and productive.
How do you give, and receive, constructive criticism?
RZ: Feedback always starts with observation notes that can be based on data. It is important to try to stay away from comments that are subjective. I also try to keep a lens on student achievement. "What is it you are doing to help foster student achievement?" or "What are you doing that might be hindering student achievement?" are questions that are foremost in my mind. When receiving feedback, I listen. That sounds elementary, but rather than questioning feedback -- which is our first instinct -- I listen to all the person has to say. I then follow with clarifying questions and directly think about how I can take the feedback and work it in with my teaching personality and the "flow" of my lessons.
MF: The most important thing when giving and receiving feedback is paying attention to a crucial way of talking. When teachers are giving feedback, they need to talk about the lesson, not the teacher, and the work products, not the student. This lessens the personal nature of the conversation, making it feel safer to engage with the topic in an authentic way. When making observations, state what you see, look for a pattern, and base your conclusions on the data.
For example, Rose observed me to help me figure out why her students outperformed mine on a couple of tests. She noticed that I wasn't finishing our lessons consistently. I was rushing the last task we had planned, which happened to be the highest-level task in the lesson. She used video and a record of the time I spent on each section of the lesson as objective data to make her prediction that my students would do better if I more consistently covered all the tasks. She started her feedback with her data, stated a pattern she saw, and made the prediction. Starting with the data kept things objective and the anxiety low. Instead of her saying, "Mike, you're talking too much" and potentially making me defensive, she showed me that I was regularly spending more time on the prior-knowledge section of the lesson than we had allotted for. This came at the expense of the new material. As a result, I made adjustments to my time management and began finishing the lessons, and my students pulled even with Rose's on the rest of our tests.
Whether talking about practice, lesson design, or student results, doing so objectively and with data is the key to a productive professional collaboration.