I recently read an article about the influence of trajectory on our perceptions of events. The gist of the article deduced that if an event was not very satisfying but ended very positively (upward trajectory) that the event was perceived as an overall positive experience. To the contrary, if an event seemed successful but ended rather negatively (downward trajectory) that event was often perceived as an overall negative experience. In addition, that perception shapes future experiences.
I have witnessed this phenomenon in classrooms that have had a productive and engaging day only to end with a chaotic dismissal that leaves the teacher exhausted and disappointed. Teachers have confided, “It was going so well and then they lose it.” The teacher feels somewhat defeated and down about the day.
In other instances an activity starts out with high engagement and ends with students rowdy, off task or disengaged. The really positive experience of the activity is overshadowed by the ending frustration. Student learning is compromised and teacher patience or confidence is worn down.
These observations have led me to contemplate the effect that trajectory plays on instruction and practice in classroom. Coaching teachers to visualize how they want their day to end or how they will monitor student work to know when to wrap up a lesson has helped to create more positive trajectories in some instances. I created a menu of ‘end of day’ routines that teachers and I collected to share with colleagues and a student checklist to encourage them to become more self-regulated in their behavior at the end of the day. I’ve asked teachers to consider planning for students who finish early or who haven’t yet finished, since rarely will all students complete tasks simultaneously. This has helped them create ‘contingency’ plans or convey expectations to students that have helped lessons end more positively. Rather than being the victim of circumstance, they actively shape the trajectory of the event.
I’ve not only shared my thinking about trajectory to help them in their classroom routines and instruction, but I’ve tried to include it in the work I do with teachers as well. At recent grade level meetings I knew we would be engaged in a lot of intense work looking at standards and our current curriculum, so I wanted to make sure our meetings ended with a positive trajectory. The last 15 minutes I encouraged teachers to share a joy they have had in their classrooms this year. Providing an opportunity to celebrate some of the better moments and experiences with colleagues. Ending collaborative and rigorous work on a positive trajectory leaves a satisfying ‘taste in the mouth’ of those involved, reminding us of the reasons and rewards of teaching.
My coaching protocol had generally begun with some positive validation before offering teachers a ‘lift’ or support. I still find this to be very productive, but I now try to make sure coaching sessions or conversations end on a positive trajectory as well. I’ve never seen my role as “fixing” teachers but I’m even more determined to respond to all the wonderful work they do, to help them recognize it and replicate it continually. Teachers rarely need help analyzing ‘what went wrong’-we are notoriously hard on ourselves. But rarely do we take time to analyze ‘what went right’ so that we can use that knowledge to create more success. As a coach, I am in a unique opportunity to support them with this analysis and reflection. A coaching session should leave teachers feeling validated, energized and more confident.
So if you thought about the idea of trajectory in your schools or classrooms, how might that affect your practice, conversations or collaborations? It might be an interesting conversation to have.
What’s on My Book Radar?
Today is the book birthday of Cynthia Lord‘s latest work Half a Chance. Set in New Hampshire, and involving one of my favorite passions (photography), Cynthia again creates characters that draw you in with their struggles that kids can relate to. I can’t wait to see how Lucy adjusts to her new home, finds new friends and earns the respect of her very talented father.