In my early twenties I was making dinner for my in-laws when their friends (I’ll call them Ed and Myrtle) dropped by at supper time. I’d purchased two bags of English Muffins on my way home from work which I toasted, painted with leftover spaghetti sauce, plunked some pepperoni rounds and sprinkles of mozzarella cheese on top and–voila!–dinner was served.
We sat down and passed the English muffin pizzas around.
“Oh my!” said Myrtle. “These are scrumptious.”
“They sure are,” agreed Ed. “Nice job, Heather.”
I mumbled embarrassed, “I usually cook full meals, but it was a busy day and–”
“Oh, but the way you made these, it’s just great. You’ll have to give me the recipe.”
“Well, there’s really no recipe, you just–”
“Ed, aren’t you glad we stopped by so we could have these delicious pizzas?”
“I sure am,” he said.
“These are just wonderful. You are a great cook. I don’t think I could make these like you.”
While I knew Myrtle was being kind and I appreciated her compliments, I also know that those English Muffin Pizzas were not all that. Myrtle’s lesson stays with me when I’m in classrooms.
When I comment on classroom environment, instruction or student work I think about sincerity, specificity and repeatability.
“Sincerity is about immediacy, spontaneity, spur-of-the moment responses that well up from your genuine self.” (Wiki How “Be Sincere”)
I never plan ahead what I’ll say to a teacher and I don’t always have the best words, but my comments come from a genuine place. That might sound like, “I appreciated the way you said, ‘I’m not going to call on anyone until everyone has had at least ten seconds of think time,’ that really gave everyone a chance to consider the question, not just the quick thinkers.”
I also want to be specific. At times I’m tempted to say, “That was a wonderful lesson,” but I push myself to think about the specifics of effective instruction that I witnessed. “After you finished the minilesson, I noticed you invited anyone who didn’t understand the task to stay at the carpet with you. It showed that you understand that not everyone gets directions the first time and was a positive way to revisit the task.”
With a focus on being sincere and specific, I want to make sure I’m noticing important aspects of instruction–the things worth repeating. Although the autumn bulletin board is darn cute, I’m going to comment on the student writing that shows how the students are beginning to use evidence to support their ideas. It’s easy to respond to the visual and obvious in the classroom, but what students know and are able to do is a more important focus for a coach.
What have English muffin pizzas taught you? Or perhaps what other tips do you have related to sincerity, specificity and repeatability?