“Tickets” to Meaningful Teacher-Principal Discussions on Instruction

Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp, Dave Matthews,….. Wow! Farm Aid is coming to Saratoga Springs! We got the tickets months ago, and today we’ll be going with a group of 12 family members and friends. The tickets will get us in the venue along with 24,998 other folks, all of whom will attend for the same reasons: to enjoy the music, celebrate local farmers, and chill for an afternoon. There is no hierarchy among the mass of people. Age, gender, occupation, musical preference, food choices, etc… matter not. Everyone who purchased their ticket to access the event will come to hear good music and support a good cause.

Having a ticket levels the playing field, allowing the ticket holder to cross boundaries. In the case of the concert, the boundary is the entrance gate. But what about schools? How do principals cross boundaries with teachers to gain access to deep, meaningful discussions on instructional issues? How does the building leader cast aside their supervisory role as lead evaluator to get at the level of instruction? Just what are the tickets that allow principals to cross the boundary separating them from their staff to have relevant discussions regarding classroom instruction and student learning?

“Tickets” are boundary objects which Wenger (1998) defines as “Artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections” (p. 105). Boundary object are tangible items individuals use to cross boundaries between groups. For building principals, boundary objects are relevant items which promote professional conversations with teachers about curriculum, instruction and student learning. Star and Griesemer (1989) define boundary objects as “objects of interest.” Objects of interest for teachers include student writing folders, student work samples, assessment results, best practices, and curriculum maps, and savvy principals know their value in engaging meaningful discussions with teachers.

Years ago I used to hold weekly meetings with grade level teams at Glens Falls Middle School, and I remember the most significant and worthwhile sessions were those involving student work samples, curriculum maps, assessment results, best practices, and book discussions. During those meetings everyone got fully engrossed in the material. Rather than bemoaning the required time with their curriculum coordinator, the team and I talked about student learning. Those were the meetings that ended too quickly, the “where did the time go?” meetings which built value and credibility for the team time and my role as curriculum coordinator.

As we progress deeper into the 2013-14 school year, now is the time to bring greater conversation into principal-teacher meetings. It is time to firm up the calendar so meetings are scheduled well in advance, and it is time to identify the boundary objects to be used in such meetings. Whether the “ticket” is a common core instructional shift best practice, inventory assessment results and action planning template, student work, curriculum map with tier 1, 2, and 3 vocabulary identified, or an example of a teaching best practice, it’s imperative that everyone has a ticket to the venue.

Peace.

Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387-387-420. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/61062484?accountid=13645

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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