Just in time observation for teachers’ just in time learning

by Mr. Sheehy

I’m adding a new category for my postings, one which I’ve stolen from John Williams, a radio host I thoroughly enjoyed when I lived outside Chicago. It’s called “When I am king” – because I periodically have those silly ideas and plans I’d institute if I were principal, mayor, or even king.

Today’s thought: If I were principal.

I’d have a person on staff full-time to be a tutor, much like we have in my school. Here, there is a special room called the Academic Resource Center (ARC), and it is staffed by intelligent, friendly tutors who help students with their homework. Since we’re such a big school, we have one tutor for each core subject area. What I’d do is take a tutor like this and have him or her be a tutor and an on-call substitute teacher.

But the substitute part would not be for emergencies when a sub was not available. This person would have an openly published schedule (on line) and a teacher in the building could claim a slot for the tutor to cover her class. The “covering” is not so a classroom teacher can run to the store or the dentist, it’s for observing other teachers and collaborating when it otherwise would not be possible.

For example, say I hear that Mrs. Smith is doing that great activity where she has students playing games and at the same time learning all their vocabulary terms. The easiest way to learn it myself is to go to her room and watch her do it, so I check the tutor/sub’s schedule, see that she’s open third block and schedule her to cover my class. I email my plans to the tutor/sub, and when the time comes, head to Mrs. Smith’s class and watch her, feeling confident that my class is in good hands, since it is being covered by a competent professional who is familiar with the students. When I’m finished, I fill out a report that takes less than five minutes to write but verifies that the time was used well.

My school attempted something like this last year and the year before, where small groups of teachers rotated for observations – the school hired subs, allowing each of us to watch one teacher and be watched by one teacher. The idea was decent, but the result didn’t always pan out, possibly because of differing ideas about the purpose for the observation. I think one way to improve it, though, would be to have this flexible person available anytime – a person who would be ready to fill in when that “just-in-time learning” moment arises.

Perhaps some of it depends on how good the sub is, but if you could have this guy, who wouldn’t want to participate? When I’m king, I’ll be able to hire him, after all.

Thanks for reading.