I had the chance to hear from two great teacher-leaders, Marcy Yoshida and Gail Jessett, as part of OSPI's Mentor Academy this past June. Hands-down, this was one of the best professional development experiences I've had. Many, many things resonated, but one was this concept of the "positive presupposition." It is best illustrated for me by an anecdote they shared about a high school student who kept falling asleep in class:
This kid's teacher was frustrated that he cared so little about her class that he'd doze off. Then Marcy said something that will change the way I think about everything: Where one teacher sees an indifferent student falling asleep in class and willfully disregarding learning, she sees a student struggling to stay awake in order to to learn as much as he can.
That shift in perspective doesn't condone the behavior, but it can sure change the way the teacher handles it.
Instead of a knee-jerk reprimand, there might be a conversation to seek understanding. Maybe it will be discovered that the kid wasn't up playing video games all night, as it would be easy to assume, but that there truly was more to the story. Maybe together the teacher and the student can devise some strategies to help battle the body clock: standing to take notes, taking a water break, even sitting on a yoga ball. What could have been a wedge in the teacher-student relationship and one more reason for that kid to maybe grow indifferent and willfully disregard learning instead becomes an opportunity for him to figure out a very grown-up kind of coping–and discover that his teacher would rather he learn and grow than be punished. There's a NCLB comment I won't make here…positive presupposition gets more difficult when we start talking policy, though it is probably just as important.
Nonetheless, that shift in perspective will make a huge difference in how I work with my colleagues and my students this coming year. This is what happens when professional development works.
(And then of course, there is this, my other simple learning from this summer that will make a huge difference.)