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The Formative Feedback Project is a collaborative curation of best practices in educational strategies, ideas, resources. Specializing in student ownership, engagement, feedback loops and collaborative, effective feedback.



Join the discussion at The Formative Feedback Project, a collaborative curation of best practices in educational strategies, ideas, resources. Specializing in student ownership, engagement, feedback loops and collaborative, effective feedback.

The Teacher Desk Debate

Taylor Meredith

Here is where I stand:

I began teaching a 3rd/4th grade special education class at a public school in New York City. The classroom I inherited had been used by several teachers so when I moved in it had four teacher desks and zero student desks. After a long conversation with my principal it was clear that using a teacher desk for myself wasn't the most productive decision. To be honest, I was a bit relieved. I have gone through some organizational struggles in my life and was slightly worried that a desk would just become a crap collector. So, I decided to forgo my teacher desk in favor of a few large tables and a small wheeled cart filled with go-to supplies. The tables were multi-purpose: they could be used for grading and planning, reading and writing conferences, and small-group work. When I moved to a 5th grade collaborative team teaching class, both my co-teacher (Hi Nichols!) and I had small circle desks that served the same purpose.

Things were slightly different when I moved home to the Chicago area. My new principal didn't quite understand why I wanted to get rid of my teacher desk. I asked for permission to try it and re-evaluate after a year, so out went the desk. Never once did I wish I had a desk that year. Since my students were the ones who really owned the room it was important for them to be able to work at every space. I did have my own chair - it was a comfy wheeled chair that was missing an arm - truly one-of-a-kind. 

I have never had a teacher's desk so I am not sure what it is like to give one up - I imagine that is a big adjustment. But I do know that I prefer not to have a desk. I have a space for my things (I call it my parking spot) just as each student does, but that is it. It eliminates possibility of clutter and allows students to own the room. It has always been the right choice for me.

I would love to know - do you have a teacher's desk? What works for you?

Interesting connection to the business world via Forbes

Telling your story: Story # 1

Taylor Meredith

*To understand a little bit more about what working in the NYC public school system can be like read this article via Vox.

As mentioned in this post, Telling Your Story, each month I'd like to feature someone who has an interesting story and tells it well. This month, in celebration of making another trip around the sun, I am going to tell some of my story.

I left New York City in 2009. With that decision I left behind a city I loved, my closest friends and confidants, and a job that I was deeply connected to. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was heartbroken. I moved back to Chicago and for several reasons, took a long-term leave position in a school district in suburban Chicago. During my first year home, I explored my options and subbed in different schools while I made sure my certification was in compliance with Illinois State Law. Along the way, I contemplated going back to school, changing careers, or starting my own business.

Ultimately, I decided I wasn't done in the classroom and interviewed for a coveted position in the same district where I was a sub and where my mom (the most brilliant teacher) works.

One of the questions that I was asked in that interview gave me such pause and perspective; I believe that it changed the trajectory of my career.  I was asked about my biggest career setback. My answer to that question? Moving home. I took a few minutes to explain:

When I started working in suburban Chicago, I was overwhelmed with resources and therefore felt entirely inadequate. I learned about all of the resources that the district had to offer: SMARTboards! Computers! Copy machines that I could access myself! Functioning internet! Support staff! School supplies! Packaged curricular resources! Mentors! It caused me to question everything.

The resource-rich environment supposedly made teaching better/easier/more efficient, but as I was focused on  learning and using new resources - I lost sight of what was most important in success as a teacher.

In my time in NYC, I learned that our lack of resources wasn’t a problem. It isn’t about the resources; it’s about the relationships. The person who greets each student in the doorway each morning, the person who gets to know students as learners, problem-solvers, thinkers and human beings. It isn’t about the resources at all - none of those things matter. When I started teaching in the suburbs of Chicago, I had to stop doubting the value of my previous experience. My biggest career setback was myself. I was getting caught up in all of the “things” rather than what I knew to be most important;  the culture and community that we create together.

Coming to this realization (at an interview table with 10 strangers) has made a huge impact on the ways I spend my time and how I make decisions. I value quality, purpose and depth, choose simple over complex and focus on relationships first. 

Feedback Forum #1 - Who is responsible for feedback?

Taylor Meredith

Thank you for your great response to this post about the Feedback Forum. Below is our first entry:

My initial response:

Sometimes feedback seekers are met with a very basic or generic response. And sometimes supervisors aren’t equipped with the tools to provide effective feedback to all employees or colleagues. Let’s focus on this question:

“Is it the employee’s job to “explain” their job expectations so the supervisor can build an understand about what the job entails.”

It shouldn’t be, but if it becomes clear that the supervisor isn’t sure what to look for or what “good” work in that role looks like, the employee can identify some specific look fors to help prompt the supervisor prior to the feedback session. This could go a number of ways, depending on that employee’s relationship with the supervisor. The first thing I would do would be to communicate a few specific, clear goals with that supervisor. If necessary try to work in some of your job description. For (very generic) example, “Since a large part of my role is working with ______ I’d like to focus on improving the way I communicate ______.”

In my classroom I had a feedback folder that included instructional strategies that I was working on (Right is Right from Teach Like a Champion was one of them) and feedback forms.  I communicated this to supervisors and colleagues and welcomed questions and discussion. I did what I could to help equip observers with the tools they needed to provide the feedback that I needed to move forward in my practice. Prior to including these look fors, people were leaving positive feedback only. Asking for specific growth feedback gave people permission to make suggestions or share something they observed that I could change. The result of the feedback folder was focused, useful feedback.

Another recommendation I would make is to follow up with the supervisor after the feedback. Even if the feedback was generic (you could make more eye contact) that employee could say, “I’ve been focused on making more eye contact during my presentations; I’ve also been trying some new techniques to involve the participants in discussion, would you mind stopping by my next meeting to check it out?” Becoming good at giving effective feedback is a skill, and it requires practice. A little guidance and frequent opportunities may be what that supervisor needs to become more comfortable in their feedback practices.

Okay, Formative Feedback Project, what advice would you give? Comment below or submit your responses via the contact tab or on Twitter using #forfeedback.


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