Edudemic+: Lisa Dabbs On The Craft Of Teaching


In an Edudemic+ session, Terry Heick chats with Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul, +lisadabbs) of Teaching With Soul about the craft of teaching. The following is an excerpted transcription of that conversation. Elana Leoni of Edutopia also participated in the session, and her comments will appear in a proceeding transcription.

Lisa Dabbs, from Teaching With Soul –, @teachingwthsoul

Lisa: While many teachers start out wanting to be the best teacher they can be, it’s very easy to lose that passion for teaching as you get caught up in the details of getting through the day. The idea behind the brand “Teaching With Soul” is to make teachers stop and think, what part of my soul have I lost? Hopefully through the blog teachers can find something that inspires them, new teachers especially.

Terry: What is most important for new teachers to know about their craft, going into their first year?

Lisa: When I starting managing the New Teachers group at Edutopia, we began looking at what teachers really need when they start out. In my years in education, especially as a principal, I observed both teachers who were successful and those who crashed and burned. I asked myself, those who crashed and burned – what didn’t they receive that they should have? Bottom line – mentoring. So what does that look like? Is it just connecting you with another teacher and boom, you go off and that’s it? No, but that’s often what happens. What teachers really need is wrap around support.

I want to harness the power of social media to support teachers, especially teachers who may not have a mentor teacher that their principal set them up with. So we began to develop ways we could do this, the first way was in a global sense. We did a new teacher boot camp – similar to what I had in my school when I was principal. Particularly in a lower socio-economic area, where I served for many years, you can have 10 new teachers a year.

Because teachers would leave, and we’d have this revolving door. So I would sit with new teachers one on one and really talk about what was going on. Now you really have the ability to do this virtually, with wikis, blogs, VoiceThread, and web 2.0 tools and share this with teachers globally, so we developed the new teacher boot camp. In the New Teacher Academy, I wanted to look at the structure of what teachers need when they go into the classroom. So I came up with 5 pieces that I thought were the most important:

  1. Delivery of instruction
  2. Lesson delivery
  3. Working with parents
  4. Building relationships
  5. Lesson planning

Mentor teachers don’t always have the time to walk them through these pieces. So at the New Teacher Academy, they can at any time go onto the blog, read or watch videos, and see what they may be missing in these areas.

Terry: So you’re providing a platform for this information. Instead of a Facebook post that continuously gets replaced with new content, you provide a place where they can go in at any time and get the support they need. That’s great.

So, what’s the secret of time management for teachers?

Lisa: One of the things we talked about two weeks ago was lesson planning. The thing that I observed in my time as a principal is that as teachers became more comfortable with the idea of teaching, they became more lax in their time management, particularly in the area of lesson planning. When that happens, we’re doing a huge disservice to our students. One of the comments I made in my video that week that when I spoke to veteran teachers who didn’t write a lesson plan, the excuse they often gave was “I’m very into serendipitous instruction.” I didn’t buy that, and at some point in the conversation they realized they were going to have to start writing a lesson plan.
The lesson plan is the planner, the time management tool, not only the way to plan beginning to end day but also week, and month, and over the school year. And maybe beyond. So for me, guiding new teachers has to be the lesson plan. When you go home, how do you plan those hours, having to grade papers, etc. Some people we talked to on the blog prefer the paper lesson plan, others are using Google docs, or online lesson plan tools, which is great – but if you don’t have some kind of tool to support you, your time management won’t be there. You’ll be rushing at the last minute to finish up and figure it out. The lesson plan has to be part of the day to day life of a teacher.

Terry: There’s a wide disparity nationwide about what should be included in a lesson plan, so giving concrete examples can be helpful. It also reinforces the idea that lesson planning is flexible, and different teachers need different amounts of detail in their plans, and part of that is the self reflection piece that teachers should have about themselves.

Lisa: We do talk about that in the blog piece, so teachers know there isn’t only one way to do this. But it has to include time blocks, what will you do during that particular block? When you have your prep period, how will you utilize your prep time so it’s most efficient? We really gave teachers some options there, and provide links so teachers can see what’s there, and decide what to use and what to get rid of.

Terry: Planning is tremendously comforting, and can help reduce stress and anxiety that can be tough for teachers. This allows you to relax going into the week.

Lisa: Yes, students can smell fear and take advantage of that so you really have to be confident going into the classroom!

Terry: What is the role of reflection in new teacher learning, and how can technology support that?

Lisa: One of the things we talked about during the summer, and we had a huge wiki, we had a reflection piece – now that you’ve got experience with these tools, please reflect on what you’ve done and what you want to do better. As you finish using a tool, take the time to reflect on how you’re using it – and want to use it. We ask our students to reflect on what they’re doing, and it’s just as important for teachers no matter at what level they teach.

Many new teachers struggle with that, they are working hard and putting out fires, but if you don’t take the time to write even a couple of sentences you’ll lose that momentum. Be flexible – there are a ton of ways you can do this, the important thing is the reflection. If you want to keep that passion in the classroom, you must reflect on what you are doing well and what you’re not doing well. Remember that we’re in this for the students, and the parents, and we’re here to serve them. And reflection is not a luxury, but a necessity for growth.

You can also ask your students, what do you think? What did you like best, or not like? And this is important for growth as a teacher.

Terry: Thank you for your time today, Lisa.

Lisa: Thank you, Terry!