What can educators control or influence in classrooms?


I’m beginning my new role as a learning coach in the Toronto District School Board, and my goals for the year include being a more reflective practitioner and to model transparency. I’ll be blogging to share my journey through this new role (one in which I am both extremely excited and terrified) so that others may get a glimpse into the life, struggles and (hopefully) triumphs of a TDSB learning coach and offer any thoughts on what I write about. More importantly for me, I’ll be using it as a tool to help gather my thoughts and consolidate my learning for my own sake. Basically, I need to write to think about stuff, and you’re welcome to come for the ride…

What factors impact student success, and which of those factors do educators have influence or control over? That was one of the activities that learning coaches in the TDSB engaged in during two days of professional learning. Individually, we listed as many factors that we can think of on post-its. Afterwards, we placed each of them in one of three rectangles on chart paper: no control, influence, or control. Small-group discussion followed regarding their placements.

Most of the factors that my group identified were placed in the “influence” rectangle, with a few in the “control” and “no control” areas. Initially, I thought that “teacher expertise” was a factor that I as a learning coach will be able to control, seeing as I will be working directly with teachers to improve their practice. However, one of my colleagues, Jim, shared that he feels that as a coach, he can only influence what teachers do and he would never want to control how a teacher performs. Jim shared that as a teacher, he would never want anyone to control what he did in the classroom. I agreed. As coaches, my goal should be to guide teachers and promote good practices, and never pressure anyone, implicitly nor explicitly, into doing things a certain way.

Finally, there are some factors that affect student achievement that are not controlled by educators, such as a student’s socioeconomic status (SES). However, such factors and their negative effects on achievement can be mitigated by schools. For example, students in low-SES environments may not achieve due to a lack of food or transportation to school. In response, schools can provide nutritional support (such as free lunches or snacks) or busing services to mitigate those factors. Barriers to student achievement may seem uncontrollable, but with a bit of thought and ingenuity, they can be removed. That’s just one way equity work is crucial in improving student achievement.

Altogether, this activity was a great reminder for me that educators can influence pretty much anything that factors into student achievement, and that I play a role in that as a learning coach. As such, my professional learning will continue to centre around the skills and mindsets I need to help influence teachers to improve their practices for the benefit of students.

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