I had a meeting with a group of third and fourth-grade teachers during my prep today. The topic discussed was co-teaching. The mentor in our group wanted to know how she could continue to support our efforts. There were many questions asked. At times, I felt like I was being interviewed and tested. I felt a little "under the microscope". We've actually come a long way. In terms of our mutual practice, we've done a lot of meeting in the middle. My special educator counterpart has done a lot to convince me that some kids do need supports, scaffolds, and references to succeed. While these references may be necessary at the outset, we can work to diminish the students' reliance on them. Meanwhile, I've convinced her that a lot of the instruction that our special education students require can be provided in-the-moment and that these students need not always be separated from their peers to receive explicit instruction. There has been a lot of meeting in the middle.
When the meeting had concluded, we headed back to my classroom where the conversation moved toward productive struggle. I shared that while an adult might come in my room when children are working on a task and observe me standing on the sidelines while students struggle, I am not doing so because I'm a lazy teacher. It actually takes tremendous self control to NOT step in and organize my student's work on a task. I shared that it is really difficult for me when an adult working in my room, in an effort to "help" the students and appear hard-working, steps in and takes the lead. I know that they are doing so with the best of intentions. I also know that as they're stepping in to save the day, they are likely wondering why the heck I'm doing nothing to help. My choice to stand back is intentional. Getting started is hard for kids. Making sense of the task and breaking it into workable chunks is sometimes more challenging than the task itself. When I step in and do this important work FOR the students I take away their power. The struggle is worth it. While they are struggling they are developing organizational skills, comprehension, and the ability to pace out a task. Executive function challenges don't improve when I do the work for my students. When it get's MESSY, I stand back. I hold my ground. Sometimes, kids get frustrated with one another. Sometimes the way they treat each other lacks patience or kindness. I stand my and wait.
Here is what happens while I wait. Students sometimes figure things out for themselves. Sometimes they dive in and do it all wrong and realize that work doesn't have to be a slam dunk and that it can be reworked. Sometimes they get so frustrated that they come to me and learn the POWER of self-advocacy. Sometimes, when one student barks, another barks back and learns to stand up for oneself. Sometimes students learn that if they listen to one another more and try to lead less, that the path to success becomes more clear. Students learn to become self-reliant and they learn which of their peers they can rely on. How much of this would they have learned if I stepped in to take the lead?
Trust me, I don't let it get ugly. Learning shouldn't leave a scar. I step in before the tears of frustration fall. I step in before kids get outright mean. I just don't mess with the kids while they're sorting out the messy parts. And when I do step in, I coach a little. I don't lead. I nudge. I ask kids about their thinking. I ask them why they're thinking what they're thinking. Sometimes, prompting a child to think out loud is all the prompting needed. Standing on the sidelines is hard work. Not doing the hard work of leading the way for kids is hard work. Stepping aside so that our students can see their own ability to do hard work can be hard work. So, yeah, it looks like I'm working less hard. It is far more important that I work less hard and my students work harder. The hard work of working less hard is worth the work!