Breaking Out of Teacher Silos

Let’s talk about silos. Professional silos.

Fun fact: I’m from rural Kansas and silos mean something really different in the ag world than they do in the office world. So even though I kind of dig silos in a country setting (my childhood bestie had a sweet cow painted on her family’s silo), I’ve never been a fan of them in a professional setting.

In agriculture, the purpose of a silo is to store grain temporarily — it’s not the final resting place for its contents. The grain stored in silos is intended to be shipped out to feed animals and humans and to grow more crops. If grain remains in a silo too long it spoils and is wasted.

There’s a lesson here for educators. Silos are damaging in every workplace but I find them especially dangerous in education. Often we’re so busy within our own classroom we find ourselves accidentally living in a silo. The solution is to openly share what we’re doing and learning, what works, and why. But how?

Breaking Out of Our Teacher-to-Teacher Silos

The first step to getting that knowledge out into the world is lateral transparency in our schools. Our peers are some of our most relevant resources for feedback and inspiration. Some of the best teaching guidance I ever received was from one of my paraeducators, a retired English teacher, who spent hours upon hours in my room each week. The time we spent brainstorming lesson improvements and the open line of communication for her to give me positive and negative feedback led to some of my most brilliant lessons and is undoubtedly responsible for a large portion of my professional growth.

Robert Kaplinsky’s blog post on #observeme is a great study on facilitating intentional interaction between educators. The original idea was to extend an open invitation to peers to drop in to observe your class and provide you with feedback afterward.

Pear Deck’s Student Takeaway feature would be a great way to convey peer observation feedback. The observer could jot down his or her responses right into their Student Takeaway document for the presenter to read later. Furthermore, because all Pear Decks live in your Google Drive, why not share your Decks folder with other teachers as a way to inspire one another and provide clarity into what you’re teaching in your classroom?

I could go on and on about the benefits of lateral transparency and the dangers of isolating teachers from one another, but I’ll save that for another day.

Harnessing the Teacher Evaluation Process for Good

In the last five to seven years, mandates to implement system-wide teacher evaluation programs have swept across the states. Although there’s been heated debate about hot to approach and implement mandates, the ideas behind these initiatives are largely healthy. The intent is to set clear expectations for teachers and provide school leadership with insight into a teacher’s process and professional growth.

There are numerous frameworks to choose from, but the one I like best and have become most familiar with is the Charlotte Danielson framework. I especially like it because its domains, especially Domain 3: Instruction, align so closely to the purpose and functionality of Pear Deck.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are a few examples of “highly effective” criteria from Domain 3 and how Pear Deck can help teachers meet them.

  1. 3a: Teachers use rich language, offering brief vocabulary lessons where appropriate.
    Did someone say Flashcard Factory? Pear Deck’s vocabulary game is a perfect way to offer brief a vocabulary lesson during a lesson.
  2. 3b: The teacher calls on most students, even those who don’t initially volunteer.
    I love this because Pear Deck offers a sneaky way to “call” on every student. With the teacher dashboard offered in Pear Deck’s premium version, a teacher can highlight and project exemplary student responses, allowing students’ voices to be heard whether they raise their hands or not. Better yet, a student’s “win” can be publicly (anonymously) touted while keeping “losses” private — just between student and teacher.
  3. 3c: Virtually all students students are highly engaged in the lesson.
    Why settle for anything less than 100% engagement? The heart of Pear Deck is the drive to achieve 100% student engagement during every lesson.
  4. 3d Teacher monitoring of student understanding is sophisticated and continuous.
    The free version of Pear Deck allows continuous monitoring, as a teacher can see the answers come through on the projector view. The Premium version gives you even more power with access to the Teacher Dashboard which lets you to see each individual’s answer.
  5. 3e Teacher successfully makes a minor modification to the lesson as needed.
    With the “Ask a New Question” button, teachers can add new questions or re-ask questions on the fly. This function is perfect for real-time scaffolding when the response data shows not every student is tracking at the intended level.

So what’s In Your Silo?

Do you see what I’m getting at? If we hold our knowledge, our inspiration and our resources captive inside our classroom silo, the resources we hold onto ultimately go to waste. Rather, let’s share out what we know — and what we don’t know — for the growth and edification of those around us.

This week’s blog post was written by Teacher Advocate, Risa Fadenrecht.