Waiting in the Wings

What are the combined roles of support and collaboration in education?

If you are a teacher, I hope you have had the experience of working with other teachers in an effective Professional Learning Community. PLC’s can reduce the workload for teachers while increasing student success. Teachers often feel like they must be responsible to plan every lesson, individually track every student’s progress, and single-handedly create every assessment. Teachers who work together can set aside teacher burdens and see (and meet) more student needs.

Some PLC’s are more effective than others. If you are working in a less effective PLC, what would make it better?

How do your administrators and district personnel support you? Granted, you may also have had administrators and district staff you feel are less effective, but truly their role is support. Have you taken the time to get to know what they do? Have you communicated with them your needs? Do you know how and where they can provide support?

I am working in a new role this year. I will still be teaching half-time, and I’m so happy that I still get to spend a portion of my time with students. I’ll also be working in the district half-time, helping to build and support the Utah Microcredentials program. If you don’t yet know about microcredentials, I hope you will take some time to learn about them.

Microcredentials are personalized, competency-based professional development for teachers. Work at your own pace, not checking off assignments, but submitting evidence of competency in your classroom. Utah State is working to build teacher endorsements through microcredentials. Several endorsement areas are already available with microcredentials, and the goal is that all endorsements will eventually be available with microcredentials.

This will be a huge benefit to teachers like me, who have changed subject matter and age groups over the years and have had to get new endorsements through university programs for every subject I am licensed to teach. As a full-time teacher, working toward endorsements in a university program can be overwhelming! I’m excited to be able to support teachers who want to work on endorsements as a natural by-product of what they are already doing, without having to enroll in yet another university, pay high tuition costs, and figure out how to attend classes and teach at the same time.

As you get to know me, you’ll learn that I find connections to my work everywhere I go, even on vacation.

Mr. Coray and I were happy to be able to attend the Utah Shakespeare Festival at the end of July. For those who haven’t had the chance to attend, the Shakespeare Festival includes high-quality productions of a variety of types of plays, but you can also attend free events and seminars.

We had tickets to see “Clue,” which was more fun than the movie, with stronger female characters, more board-game references, more physical humor, more endings, and even athletics and acrobatics. The actors were wonderful.

My favorite part of the festival, though, was the costume seminar with Sarah McCarroll, Wardrobe Supervisor and Costume Manager. I loved the insider details about the costumes, and Sarah had a delightful sense of humor. I took notes and even asked her afterward if I could quote her.

Much of what Sarah said felt connected to what I do, not only because I love costumes and fashion design, but because it relates to education.

Sarah talked about how acting is a job with a high cognitive load. There’s just so much to remember! Sarah can reduce the cognitive load for the actors by making sure they never have to give a thought to the next costume. She is simply waiting in the wings with the next costume ready to go. She said, “My job is to give the actors the tools to do what they need to do.”

Teaching is another job with a high cognitive load. Trying to remember everything that has to be done is intense! As teachers, we can provide similar support to each other by collaborating on lesson plans and brainstorming solutions to problems together. Administrators, support personnel, and district employees can also ensure that teachers have resources in place so that they don’t have to carry the entire burden of teaching alone.

People who sew tend to fall into two categories—those who create clothing, and those who quilt. Both require a specific skill set, and most people who sew focus on one or the other. Creating clothing requires the ability to get a good fit with quality construction. It’s highly technical and rarely cost-effective in a world of fast fashion. Some people call it a dying art. For that reason, it’s not easy to find quality fabrics for clothing.

Hobbyist quilters, on the other hand, are common. Local fabric stores cater to them with a large variety of colorful prints. When asked about sourcing fabric for costumes, Sarah said, “Here in Cedar City, we have JoAnn’s. JoAnn’s has some lovely quilters’ cottons.” Then, gesturing to a rack of costumes she added, “You don’t see any of those here.”  

Often teachers don’t have something given to them easily ready-made. Effective lesson planning requires technical skill. It’s hard work. And it turns out best when we source quality materials and use effective teaching techniques.  

Sarah showed us the lining and boning on the inside of one of the actress’s dresses. She explained that the costumes have to last the season, show after show every day, which means that the costumes must be just as beautiful on the inside as on the outside.

Lesson plans that look easy and beautiful on the outside require significant planning and quality strategies on the inside. Again, effective collaboration makes this task easier.

When asked about the authenticity of the costumes, Sarah told us that they strive for historical accuracy, except in the case of the closures. The festival uses giant parka zippers in the backs of the dresses for quick costume changes. She told us that at the beginning of the season, there are costume changes they think they’ll never get done in time. “After a few weeks,” she joked, “We can do an 18-second costume change with enough time left over for a ham sandwich.”

Teaching is like this too. I remember early on in my teaching career thinking that I would never be able to juggle everything I needed to do at once, including presenting material, managing behaviors, documenting problems, watching for and providing feedback, and fully engaging students. Little by little, things like classroom management come to be second nature, and teaching becomes more comfortable. If you are a new teacher, go easy on yourself as the pieces come together. You’re learning, and you’ll get there!

I was so excited about Sarah’s presentation that I made a collage to help me remember the ideas that came with her words. As a teacher, I hope I continue to collaborate with and provide support for teachers around me. As a district employee, I also want to provide support that makes teachers’ jobs easier.

If you’re a teacher, I hope I can help reduce your cognitive load by sharing ideas that will help you feel like you don’t have to worry about the next costume. It will simply be waiting in the wings, ready to go.


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