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Energizing Educators for the Year Ahead with The Joyful Teacher

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How can back-to-school professional development leave teachers feeling heard, recognized, and energized for the year?

Today, we are joined by Berit Gordon, the author of The Joyful Teacher, and Erin Bailey, a district-level instructional coach from the Blue Springs School District in Missouri.

Berit and Erin talk about how Erin used The Joyful Teacher to create professional development that prioritizes teacher ownership, collaboration, and self-care in order to establish manageable and personalized goals for the year ahead.

 

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Below is a transcript of this episode.

Edie:
Welcome back to the Heinemann podcast. How can back-to-school professional development leave teachers feeling heard, recognized, and energized for the year? Today we are joined by Berit Gordon, author of The Joyful Teacher, and District Level instructional coach, Erin Bailey from the Blue Springs School District in Missouri. Berit and Erin talk about how Erin used The Joyful Teacher to create professional development that prioritizes teacher ownership, collaboration, and self-care in order to create manageable and personalized goals for the year ahead. Be sure to stay tuned at the end of the conversation for a special discount on Berit's book. Here's Berit and Erin.

Berit Gordon:
Erin, I am so glad that we could talk today. I have been loving working with schools and districts as they're thinking about protecting teacher wellbeing and growth. I'm just so glad that we could talk a little bit about how you have used the book, The Joyful Teacher, and the strategies therein to really help your teachers feel good and be good at their really essential work. I think there are other coaches and instructional leaders out there and teachers who also want a way to counteract this feeling of so many teachers who feel so burnt out from everything that's being asked of them and not always being sure if they're effective at their work. Of course, I wrote the book, The Joyful Teacher, and I titled it The Joyful Teacher, but as you and I have talked about, right, that's a high bar, I would retitle it, The Reasonably Content Teacher.

Erin Bailey:
Yeah. I know.

Berit Gordon:
That's what we've been thinking about. So, yeah, so I'd love to just have you share a little bit about how you have been thinking about supporting your teachers and helping them be, again, maybe not joyful because that feels almost like that toxic positivity that most teachers I know can sniff out a mile away these days and they're on high alert, "Don't give me a jeans day. I don't want that, I want something to make this job feel doable." So, how have you been helping teachers get to that?

Erin Bailey:
So, as I was just searching and trying to see what can we do to enhance our support of teachers, enhance our mentoring program, I came across The Joyful Teacher, and of course that stuck out to me. So, I dug a little bit deeper and started looking into more of Berit's work. I purchased myself a copy of the book, and as I started diving in, it was like the answer to all that we were looking for. The book is just beautifully written, and it dissects all that teachers have on their plates and where do you want to jump in? It's not always one size fits all for everybody, and that again, can be the challenge.
It's almost like in the classroom. You go into a classroom, and you've got varying needs, and we're always speaking to teachers about how do we differentiate this instruction to meet all the needs of our students? Well, as teachers or as instructional coaches and administrators, we have to do the same thing for our teachers. How do I meet all of those needs? And so, this has just been a resource for myself, for administrators, for teachers in our district to really just hone in on individual skills that feel good, that make that heavy lifting a little bit lighter, feeling like things are more attainable, and setting goals that are achievable. And so, that's where we've started with this work and our partnership with Berit, and it's just been amazing so far.

Berit Gordon:
And tell me a little more, I mean, I had so much fun two days that I got to spend with, what was it, it was 180 teachers all piled into the auditorium. But tell me a little more, I mean because you're the boots on the ground, Erin, you and your coaching team, how are you doing this to help teachers set those goals? What have you done in your mentoring program or apart from that to help teachers feel like, "I'm setting myself up for a win and that's going to feel good."?

Erin Bailey:
So, I think first and foremost, the biggest piece and something that I've had to work on even as a coach is just listening. Being able to find time to connect with teachers and just listen to their struggles, listen to their successes, because we have to celebrate those too. What's working, what's not working. And a colleague of mine gave me some great advice one time because as coaches it's like we're trained to always want to fix the problem and keep moving forward. But sometimes we have to really be mindful about listening and listening to hear versus listening to react or to fix the problem.
And so, that's always been in the last couple of years, my thought process is I need to meet teachers where they're at, and I also need to be a better listener and just hear them. I don't always need to fix or have the next step. And so, by hearing and listening, that allowed me then to use your book as a resource to say, "Okay, based on what I'm hearing, this would be a great place to start." So, maybe it's rituals and routines, or maybe it's classroom management.

Berit Gordon:
And I know how time-strapped you and so many coaches are, right? You're K through 10 of a really big district, and so many other instructional leaders I know too are responsible for a lot of teachers and a lot of other side jobs, I know you work in assessment and so when you're strapped for time, how has this resource helped you?

Erin Bailey:
Yes, and that is true. I mean, trying to meet the needs of a large district, students and teachers and administrators can be a challenge. And going back to how well-written this book was, it helps to see that you don't have to read the book cover to cover. You can jump in on whatever goal, whatever strategy is speaking to you or to that particular teacher. And so, that's been so nice is just again, taking the time to confer with teachers and listen and then identify a goal. And we can go right there in that book or the chapter, and each chapter has amazing checklists. So, I have found the checklist to be one of the most beneficial tools to really help identify not only as a coach, the needs of the teacher, but the teacher identifying those as well. A lot of times too, because there's so many teachers that we're trying to get out and support, it can be a challenge. And so, a lot of times, again, going back to being a more mindful listener, a lot of times I listened in the past and would say, "Okay, this is your goal, and this is how we're going to do it." The ownership was more mine than it was the teachers.
So, we had to flip the script on that a little bit. And so, your checklist in the book at every chapter really allowed for more autonomy, more teacher choice, more teacher ownership, so they could choose those goals. And now I have steps as a coach and an educational leader to help guide them and support them on what those goals are. A lot of times it's like we know what needs to be worked on, but it's hard to always grasp at that and identify it in a timely manner that we know we can work and set goals towards, and it helps us track are we getting better at this goal or does there need to be more work or more support or more professional development within that goal?
So, it's multifaceted in how that helps not only the coach or the administrator, but also the teacher. And it's made it a much more collaborative process versus an I process or a you process. And so, that's been just key, your book has really allowed us to get back to that relationship piece.

Berit Gordon:
Wow. It's lovely that you have prioritized that listening to them and that you've found it a useful tool to really give teachers that autonomy, because I hear that a lot from teachers now they feel like they want to be respected as professionals, and when they're given one blanket goal across the entire school and it may or may not speak to what they need or what they already have in place, it feels like they're not being listened to. And so, I love that you're taking that time to help them identify what they need to and want to work on. And then you say, "Great, and here's some really practical steps." I'm curious because I know you do so much coaching, and I love this. You don't just coach your new teachers, you're coaching your veteran teachers, you're also coaching your incoming new teachers who have a lot of experience. As you've been listening to them, what are you hearing them say are some of their goals? What are some of the things that they say make teaching feel really hard? And then what goals do you pick with them as a result?

Erin Bailey:
So, as we started thinking about how are we going to meet all the needs of our teachers this year we've got 122 new teachers in an even split of veteran versus brand new to the classroom and that includes alternative certification. So, they're coming into education from a previous career. So, we had a varying group with many, many needs. And how were you going to do that? So, we had to reframe how we were going to structure our work and our training this week for those teachers. And so, as a coaching team, we sat down and went through The Joyful Teacher and dissected what components really need to be addressed and shared. So, no matter what stage they're at in their career, they can be a reflective practitioner on their individual needs and again, giving them that ownership. So, the great thing was at some of our tables, we had brand new teachers at the same time we had veteran teachers and being able to share what their goals were, what they were looking at, sometimes some of them had the same goals.
And it was interesting to hear the conversations on how that was going to look for the veteran teacher versus how that was looking for the new teacher and being able to share those experiences. And sometimes a new teacher has this great idea, and we know it's going to work, but then they have that veteran teacher there to also be like, "I've tried that. This is something to think about." And so, the collaboration was just amazing to see. And being able to facilitate that and watch how that interaction occurred was just really powerful for us as coaches.
And now we as coaches have our entry points identified of what our next steps are, and so now we're coming out of the shoot ready to roll goals in hand and what are our next steps, whether you're veteran or whether you're a brand-new teacher. And so, we'll see how it all goes, but it's a really great feeling.

Berit Gordon:
Oh, it's got to feel good. And I know that they have those strategies they can go try. They have ways they can go try the strategies together and then they have those indicators. I love that you feel like you're hitting the ground running, and I hope that tone just carries throughout the year.

Erin Bailey:
I hope so too.

Berit Gordon:
It would be so great. Then you said, another thing I love that I know you do in your district is you do a lot of listening to teachers even after things. So, what did you hear from teachers? How did they feel about using this book and setting goals? What feedback did they give you?

Erin Bailey:
I was overwhelmed with the amazing feedback and the buy-in and the goal-setting. Each one of them was very purposeful in the goals that they want to achieve for this next school year, and they left feeling like they knew what those goals were, whether it was to work on being more joyful or working on their mental, physical health so that they can be the best version of themselves. Some of them reflected how the last couple of years with all the balls that they're trying to juggle and that heavy lifting, they have let go of who they were.And so, if we're not our best version of ourselves in the classroom, we can't give to our students. And so, to hear those teachers be transparent and be vulnerable and share that, "You know what, I have to put myself first and that it's okay to put myself first," because we tend to not do that. So, it was really cool to hear those teachers talk about that, to hear some of the veteran teachers realize, "I do a lot of the talking in my classroom. I'm the one who's exhausted at the end of the day." And flipping that script, you did a great job of having that discussion about your kids, the students should be the ones doing the most work and the ones who are tired at the end of the day.And so, we had a group of teachers who reflected on, "How am I going to tweak my instruction or how am I going to offer opportunities for kids to be more collaborative and I oversee that work?" Which again gets the buy-in. Just seeing the enthusiasm and the excitement has been so refreshing and it's coming from our veteran teachers. And if they're exuding that excitement and that enthusiasm from the goals they're setting, the new teachers in their building are going to see that.
And so, we're setting the stage for the new culture, the new way of thinking, our ownership, our collaboration, and how taking care of ourselves impacts not only our students, but our colleagues, our building, and the district as a whole.

Berit Gordon:
It's so true. I have to say it gives me goosebumps to think of teachers being that energized. And I know it's like we all just have our fingers crossed. And I remember even saying it to them like, "I don't want you to get to that point in the year where you're sitting in your car in the parking lot, having to give yourself a pep talk to walk into the building." So, often we go in with this ambition and these... I remember always saying, "I'm going to call parents with good things about their kids, and I'm going to take one prep every week." And I think it would be like two weeks into the year I'd be like, "Oh, I don't have time for that." And I'm curious, how are you planning on keeping that momentum going where you're helping teachers want to keep reflecting, refining their craft, growing professionally, but also making sure that they don't get into that burnout mode where they feel overwhelmed or like, "I took on too much." How are you thinking about balancing that?

Erin Bailey:
Well, and that's a hard balance as we all know. And so, I think for us, we are very fortunate in our district. There have been many support systems set up, and I know that doesn't always happen everywhere, but I think our first step is giving this information and sharing it with administrators. They're in the building, they're in the trenches. I think too, it's important and through this work we've been empowering our teachers to be their own voices and to check in with administrators, to check in with coaches, to keep that positive feedback in that relationship both ways. It can't just be a one-way relationship; it has to be both ways.

Berit Gordon:
I'm wondering on a really practical level, how are you following up with teachers on these goals and the strategies they've tried? Is it one-on-one meetings with coaches? Are you doing, for instance, are teachers who share the same goal, let's say, of staying happy and healthy in a demanding job, do they have a way to come back throughout the year and collaborate? How do they get to keep the conversation going?

Erin Bailey:
And that's really an important piece is like you said, keeping that conversation going, which again, as an instructional coach, we're district and so we travel a lot. And so, it's hard to always do that. So, that's the piece of empowering those leaders within buildings to make sure that those conversations are still happening. New teachers are meeting with mentors monthly and in between. That's not the only time that they can meet with their mentor, but they have designated times just to meet with mentors, to have those conversations where they can be vulnerable, and they can share those thoughts and feelings. And through those conversations, that's how I think you start to identify, "Am I attaining this goal, or do I need to set a new goal? What am I ready for?" We provide times for collaboration. And again, I think so many times when we provide that professional development or collaboration time, it's so work-oriented. We're thinking of teaching strategies, and we do have to think of all of those things, but at the same time, what are we doing to make ourselves the best version for our kids?
Again, our district, I have to give it to our administrators, they've really seen a need for that. And so, we have been mindful about allowing more collaborative time, whether it's within meetings, whether it's during our days, but making sure that we can also not only meet the professional needs of teachers, but the mental, physical needs of teachers. And so, I don't know that we have it perfect, but we're trying and we're trying to facilitate those moments and those times to set those goals, to have those conversations.

Berit Gordon:
I'm in some districts where they don't have all of that support of coaches and a mentoring program. Sometimes PLCs get taken over by a lot of other logistics or damage control. And something that other coaches and leaders have told me though, is it's not perfect like you said, but even just having helped teachers co-establish a goal that they chose that matters to them, and knowing that they can put a sticky note on a couple of strategies that they're going to try and that they have some ways to reflect. They can look at the indicators, did that work? Didn't that? If not, what else can I try?
One thing I found is teachers love, even if there's just one other person in the building who's also working on the goal of say relationship building with students, it's great because now they have a way to say, "Oh, did you try that strategy?" "I tried that. This worked really well, and then I made it my own. I tweaked it. I did this other cool thing." Are there any strategies that you find teachers are really gravitating toward from any of the goals, whether it's staying happy and healthy or routines or relationships, that they're excited to try that strategy?

Erin Bailey:
Yes. I would say many are gravitating towards the rituals routine, classroom management, but even more the relationship building. So, I love how you break apart the classroom management piece into the rituals and routines, but also the relationship piece because if you don't have that relationship piece, I mean you're going to really struggle. I remember, many know Rita Pierson and she always shared that if a student likes you, there's nothing they won't do for you. And if a student doesn't like you, there's nothing they won't do to you. And so, it's like if you expect movement in your classroom that relationship piece has to be there. And so, I think that's another piece and component that teachers have really reflected on is-

Berit Gordon:
Although I did, sorry to interrupt you, Erin, but I did hear one teacher say, and she was so funny, she's like, "Can we call it rapport instead of relationships?" Because she's like, "Let's be honest. I don't actually really like every..." Okay. I mean, can I say that right? But she's like, "But I do work." And she's phenomenal and her students would do anything for her, but goes, "I go more for rapport." I thought that's honest, right? I totally get that. But just that they know we care and that we've also devoted some time and energy to making sure they feel comfortable around one another too. Not just our relationship with them, but amongst their peers because that's so fraught for so many students.

Erin Bailey:
It is. And that's what was so amazing in the reflections that I received back from teachers is some of our veteran teachers reflecting on those relationship pieces. A lot of times it's always business as usual, and I have these tasks and I have these timelines I have to get through, and that's what they're focused on. And so, they don't always stop for those relationship-building components. It was a 30-plus-year veteran teacher who was sharing ideas of different ways she wanted to connect with her students this year where it hadn't always happened. It was all about getting through every hour and just getting the task done at hand because she needed to stay on time with her timeline.

Berit Gordon:
Right. We get panicked with that pacing guide, and yet every teacher I know says, "Really, what's the thing we love the most?" It is, it's the students. And when you talk to students like, "What do you remember about second grade?" It's rarely that math problem. It's usually your teacher, right?

Erin Bailey:
Exactly.

Berit Gordon:
And how you connected with them, so oh, I love that. So, does she have any strategies she's going to, do you remember that 

Erin Bailey:
She was sharing different things about just current events that she's going to bring in. She loved how you shared about soft starts and just different ways to connect quickly with the kids and just you're coming into my room and it's not an immediate, "Sit down, get to work. Here's your task." Which a lot of kids can be resistant to, and if we really want them to engage with us as the teacher and the content being taught, we have to have that relationship piece. And so, she was developing several ideas on soft starts, and I was blown away by just her reflection in that piece.

Berit Gordon:
And it's going to going to be contagious. The fact that teachers are energized right now and they're excited and they're excited to think about working on things and trying things. That energy it's just going to radiate to students. I see this all the time that when teachers come in and they say, "Oh, I'm happy to see you." Kids know when they really mean it. And I predict that success, not that there won't be bumps in the road and blips, but I think that success is going to feed on itself.

Erin Bailey:
I think so too. And to your point, there are bumps in the road. No year's going to be perfect. And for every peak there's a valley, we know this. I mean, that's life. That's education. Let's be honest there's memes and jokes going all over social media right now because it's that back-to-school time. And teachers are always joking about, "Oh, I have to get ready to go back to that professional development." And they make jokes about it. So, to know that they came to professional development in the summer, and it made such a powerful impact on them.

Berit Gordon:
Well, it's a testament to the culture that you're creating, and I think it is so wonderful though that they had a chance to come together, not when they're in the weeds of doing everything that's part of their yearly grind, but they really did have a chance to come together and feel energized and to feel like, "Okay, I've got some practical things to do to counteract those things that feel hard."

Erin Bailey:
I agree. One teacher even shared, it's not that this was all new information, a lot of it I knew, but it's allowing me to take the time to reflect upon it and to make that time okay to do so.

Berit Gordon:
Sometimes teachers need to give themselves permission to give themselves a manageable goal. It's almost like by saying, "You know what, it's a legitimate goal to work on staying happy in this really hard job." Like you were saying that one of the veteran teachers are almost like, "Oh, wait, you mean I can choose that as a goal? That's a legitimate goal?" And you're giving them the permission by saying yes as your instructional leaders.

Erin Bailey:
Yeah, it's been amazing. And I'll tell you too, even as a coach, we can get just as tired, in the last couple of years, I haven't always felt refreshed and ready to go back. I'm feeling rejuvenated myself as a coach. Their energy is rejuvenating me. I'm feeling rejuvenated, I'm feeling excited, and I can't wait to get out there and start supporting our teachers with some of their goals and watching them achieve their goals. That's really powerful as well.

Berit Gordon:
It is. I want to catch that air and bottle it and just take a sip of that. Erin, thanks so much. You are a feel-good person to talk to, I think your teachers are so lucky. Your colleagues are lucky, and therefore then, the students are lucky. But it was such a pleasure to chat. I look forward to talking more.

Erin Bailey:
Well, thank you. We can't thank you enough for all that you have brought to our district. So, thank you for all the work you're doing for teachers.

Edie:
Our thanks to Berit and Erin for their time. You can order Berit's book, The Joyful Teacher, at heinemann.com. Use discount code JOYFUL for 30% off. Learn more and read a transcript at blog.heinemann.com.

Brett:
Copyright Heinemann Publishing.


beritgordon-1

Berit Gordon brings many years of teaching experience in New York City schools as well as in the Dominican Republic to her literacy coaching work. She is a graduate and former instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Berit is the author of No More Fake Reading, and The Joyful Teacher. Whether running workshops, leading literacy coaching sessions, or working in classrooms, Gordon strives to help students fall in love with reading and writing, and to lay the groundwork so they are experts at both for life. She lives with her family in Maplewood, New Jersey. 

You can connect with her on her website at BeritGordon.com or on Twitter @BeritGordon.

Erin Bailey 1

 

Erin Bailey, Ed.S., is a district-level Instructional Coach, specializing in social studies and growth measure assessments in the Blue Spring School District, Blue Springs, Missouri. She leads new teacher induction, onboarding, and mentoring. She is an adjunct professor at both the University of Missouri-Kansas City and University of Central Missouri.

 

Topics: Podcast, Heinemann Podcast, Berit Gordon, The Joyful Teacher

Date Published: 09/14/23

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