This post was written by Janet Larsen Roberts, a senior education consultant for the Knowledge Group and a cooperative learning teacher trainer and coach for Kagan Arabian Region. It was originally published on LinkedIn and the Knowledge Group blog at http://bit.ly/2qWV7ck.
A principal at an educational seminar made this comment, “Our teachers are lazy. They don’t want more training.” I think he’s dead wrong. Teachers may feel like they are stuck in a rut, but I believe that what appears to be a barren desert may actually be a super bloom waiting to happen.
A super bloom is a rare, natural phenomenon that is happening right now in California. This spring Death Valley (pictured above) is a floral masterpiece and the northern hillsides are carpeted with vibrant purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers.
1. Don't Despair the Drought
What conditions created this super bloom miracle? It only occurs when three natural conditions converge, and you won’t expect the first one -- drought.
That’s right – drought – the barren absence of water and life. In California, Park Ranger Steve Bier says, "Some of these seeds have been underground for maybe decades, if not a century or more, we just don't know. Some of these places have not seen water in 10, 15, or 20 years, and now they're a blanket of flowers." Dry seeds wait in a dormant state, some barely visible and others hidden in nooks and crevices. Like silent victims, they are sprouting as survivors. And those dry seeds are similar to unopened hopes that, I believe, are hidden in teachers.
Just as dormancy is a pre-requisite for a super bloom, so are the unseen seeds of optimism necessary for teachers to improve their teaching. What appears to be a drought of ideas, energy, or innovation may just be unexpressed ideas. Pessimists are good at squelching seeds of optimism in others. The naysayers take the stage while others remain silently without expressing their positive, highly guarded ideas. These hidden seeds can wait in dormancy for years – maybe even decades – before they are activated. What can educators learn from California’s five-year drought? We should be patient and not jump to conclusions. Super blooms don’t occur without proper waiting time.
2. Keep It Cool
In California’s super bloom, the second critical element is gentle, steady rains. This gives the usually dry ground the chance to soak in the moisture and reach the deeper, hidden seeds. In education, this may be compared to teacher training or sustained professional development (PD). Cold winters lock moisture into the ground so that seeds eventually sprout when the conditions are right. The rain removes the hard, protective shell and prepares the seeds for sprouting in the same way that PD prepares teachers for blooming.
Teachers might not be as negative as school leaders perceive them to be. They may just need training that matches their thirst. For example, a teacher who attended one of my Kagan cooperative learning workshops said, “I’ve been looking for training like this for years. I just didn’t know where to search to find one methodology that addressed student achievement, discipline, classroom management, social and communication skills development – all in one place!” The seeds had been planted years earlier, and Kagan training was the water that removed the hard shell. The result was a transformed teacher who was ready to “bloom where she was planted” – in her classroom with her students.
If PD matches the teachers’ needs and is continuously available over time, it will nurture the dormant seeds of optimism. Teacher training can take the form of stand-alone workshops (like the Kagan course referenced above) or through an online training platform, such as BloomBoard. (No pun intended – but teachers bloom when their PD is personalized and available 24-7!)
3. Heat It Up With Coaching
The third component for a super bloom to kick in is (oddly enough) the exact opposite of the second component. Extreme heat must be constant for several days, which sets the conditions for the seeds to pop. California’s winter was followed by two weeks of 90-degree F temperatures (32-degrees C).
Now for the third component of teacher activation – mentoring and coaching – the heat that triggers teachers! In 1988 two researchers named Joyce and Showers found that PD training which featured feedback and curriculum ideas had about 25% implementation, but when mentoring and coaching was added to the methodology, implementation soared to 85%. The coaching can be done by in-school colleagues who nurture growth with modeling, praise, and encouragement. Another option is online PD chat-rooms which encourage collaboration with teachers across town or across the world. Or schools can hire consultants who conduct one-on-one visits to guide, correct, and support teachers in their journey of change. All are pathways that heat-up learning for teachers.
4. It's Visible
California’s super bloom is so massive that the patches of intense colors can even be viewed from space! And in the same manner that this super bloom was predicted by the botany experts (because the conditions were right), so too can dramatic school change be just as expected when these three important components converge at the same place and time. Super blooming schools can pop up anywhere. Parents notice positive changes in their children. When they are satisfied with the direction of their children’s learning, they ask school leaders and teachers what factors led to such dramatic change. The oohs and ahs begin.
It’s a rare and beautiful phenomenon when teachers, school leaders, and/or an entire school are transformed from the inside out. Miracles are possible.
Drought precedes miracles.
Additional references to California’s Super Bloom: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-california-wildflowers-20170331-story.html
Video links to California’s Super Bloom:
Video & Photo links to California’s Super Bloom: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2017/apr/26/wildflower-super-bloom-californiavisible-from-space-video-report Video by Heather Lomax. Images by Planet Labs.
Photo by Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse via Getty