Paul Tough wrote an interesting article in today’s New York Times Review entitled, To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents. He references a 1986 study carried out in Jamaica that looked at different kids who fell into three study groups, each receiving a different type of intervention. The intervention that had the greatest impact on kids’ lives was:
the one that received hourlong home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. (May 21, 2016)
I think we have always known that parents who play, read, and engage in a variety of ways with their children impact their development in significant ways. Tough writes:
The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.
Schools, especially those who serve students coming from underserved homes, should think about providing parent education, parent networking, and home visits as a way to help a family support their child’s growth.
I find Tough’s use of the term non-cognitive capacities instead of social-emotional skills an interesting construct. In schools, we look for fancy programs to build “social-emotional skills” when we might be better served by looking at how to build “habits and mindsets.” Different from skills like reading, which you never forget, non-cognitive capacities are contextual. Whereas I might show some grit and perseverance in my science class because the teacher expresses an interest in me, I might withdraw and give up in my history class because the teacher doesn’t notice me or see talent in me.
These non-cognitive capacities are built early in a child’s life. Parents play a central role in this work and sometimes need coaching, especially when they are consumed by other issues. Tough refers to the importance of coaching parents in how to do this critical work. He writes:
When parents get the support they need to create a warm, stable, nurturing environment at home, their children’s stress levels often go down, while their emotional stability and psychological resilience improve.
Later in the day, Paul Tough appeared on WABE’s Weekend All Things Considered. The program, Teaching The Intangibles: How to Ingrain Grit In Students, revealed his insights into how schools and teachers can help students develop the habits of mind necessary to be successful in school and life. While he focused on the supporting the development of non-cognitive capacities, he did not focus as much on the role of parents. I would suggest reading his article and listening to the podcast to get the full picture of his point-of-view.
I think this is the important work in all schools and classrooms across America.
There is excellent information in the literature that when schools provide time, space, and structure for their teachers to work on teams, doing meaningful work, the community of practice that results can improve instruction and student outcomes. The time we allocate can come in a variety of configurations, such as grade-level planning meetings, meetings by discipline, or vertical planning meetings. The space we provide for teachers to meet should be inviting, a professionally-oriented space that contains all the materials they need to take their ideas into action. Finally, the structure we provide should guide teachers towards improving their practice, giving them sufficient flexibility to assess their students’ needs and progress while adjusting the pathways to better serve the needs of all students.
In ASCD’s recent edition of Educational Leadership, Naomi Theirs interviewed Richard DuFour for an article entitled, Educators Deserve Better. I have always been impressed with Richard DuFour’s clarity of vision for effective team practice through a professional learning community structure. As he spells out in the interview, there are two conditions that teacher teams must meet in order for their collaborative practice to make a difference.
First, absolute clarity about what they are collaborating on-what is the nature of the work, what is the right work. Second, the support needed so they can succeed at what they are being asked to do. (page 13)
The administrative leader provides the guidance and support for the second condition, time and space. Administrators need to create the conditions, regular scheduled time for teacher teams to meet and a professional learning space that contains all the materials needed to launch ideas into action. Leaders cannot take either of these responsibilities lightly. Can you imagine Google, Apple, First Data, Facebook, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or any other excellent corporate or non-profit entity not supporting their teams with team to plan and a professional space in which to plan? We know these organization invest heavily in supporting teams of people working collaboratively towards shared goals. How do we measure up in our schools?
Richard DuFour points out that schools and districts that have seriously invested in professional learning communities (PLC) have demonstrated significant progress in student improvement indicators. However, teachers in PLCs don’t just meet to discuss random topics that surface in their work. They meet with a common purpose and use agreed upon protocols.
There has to be a common goal, a common accountability. (page 13)
Teams have to set objectives and decide on important questions that they intend to address through their collaboration. Here are some questions DuFour suggests teams use in setting up their work (page 13).
- What do we expect students to learn in the course and in unit by unit? We can think of this first question through the lens of what we want students to know, understand and be able to do (KUD).
- What evidence will they gather along the path of learning to be sure that students are mastery the targets we want them to hit? He references the importance of teacher teams creating common formative assessments. Creating these assessments helps teachers focus on the learning outcomes they expect from their students. This evidence is what teacher teams use to make adjustments in their strategies to be sure all students are learning, whether they are struggling or advanced learners.
The important work of teacher teams is to create a culture in which each teacher recognizes the strengths and challenges of every other member. In order to move the team’s practice to new levels of competency, there has to be open and honest communication on the team. Each person has to be willing to share his or her strengths to improve the team, as well as being willing to learn from other team member’s strengths. “Rising tide raises all ships.” In their HBR article, The Discipline of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith distinguish between groups and teams. On teams, individuals share leadership, are mutually accountable, share a common purpose, have collective work products, have open and honest conversations, engage in problem solving, evaluate their work products, and do “real work” together (page 113). While DuFour does not elaborate extensively on “how” people work or the culture they create, Katzenbach and Smith provide that context. So thinking about how their models could work seamlessly, side-by-side represents the answer to the question: How can we best create and support effective team cultures within our schools?
DuFour points out:
In schools that have sustained a commitment to the process (PLCs) over time, and have focused on the right work, it’s been terrific (the outcomes). (page 14)
What I like about the interview with DuFour is that he draws a clear dichotomy between teachers working on teams and teacher evaluation. He points out that administrators should do the absolute minimum when it comes to “evaluating” teachers. Administrators should invest all their energy into setting up and supporting an effective PLC structure. If they do that really well, then teachers can “self-evaluate” and hold themselves accountable to the team.
The way we are going to improve schools is not by supervising and evaluating individual teachers into better performance’ it’s by creating a culture in which teams of teachers are helping one another get better.
For me, this is a powerful idea! Help teachers shift from being groups of individuals working in silos to teams of teachers working on shared goals towards a common purpose. Teachers should be accountable to one another, learning from one another what it takes to master the complex craft of teaching. However, we cannot will this culture into existence. Administrators, in collaboration with teachers, need to learn the strategies for working effectively on teams, implement them with fidelity, and practice being in open, honest dialogue with one another. In DuFour’s world, it is very important that the conversations on teaching and learning be “evidence-based.” If they’re structured this way, he writes:
The other thing is to train team leaders in terms of having difficult conversations and strategies for presenting things in a way that isn’t hurtful. If conversations are actually based on evidence and you’ve got a leader who knows how to lead that discussion, you can move away from the gentlemen’s agreement that we won’t be critical of one another. (page 15)
But let’s not pretend that achieving this outcome is easy. It takes patience, expert guidance, and lots of practice. The pillar that holds up the whole structure is open, honest and respectful conversation between people. Knowledgeable and sensitive administrators have to groom teachers at all levels to be leaders so that the school has a coalition of teachers who can take on these responsibilities within PLCs.
DuFour points out that principals and other school administrators need a ‘critical friends community’ in which they’re working through their own leadership challenges so they have the knowledge, support and bandwidth to effectively lead teachers into a PLC structure. This is hard work that requires a high-level of commitment on the part of schools or school districts. We have to invest energy and resources to achieve these important outcomes.
Frank Wilczek, a Nobel physicist, was interviewed by Krista Tippett as part of her program, On Being. What does a physicist know about beauty? In the interview, Why is the World so Beautiful, Wilczek uncovers a very personal, professional, and insightful perspective on beauty as a threshold concept. This piece will help you understand beauty through the lens of a scientist, but also understand beauty as an ideal that is more central to the human experience.
If your school is interested in #STEAM education, you will find that Wilczek provides clarity around an integrated studies approach to “knowing.” I think he illustrates a pathway for how beauty could be used as a unifying theme to design an integrated approach learning.
I hope you enjoy listening to Wilczek express a different way of thinking about beauty. How can we help our students develop associative thinking skills that lead them to be “Wilczek-type” thinkers?
I read these two articles a few months ago: (1) David Rock, Josh Davis and Beth Jones, Kill Your Performance Rating; and (2) Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, Reinventing Performance Management. Both of them led me to rethink my views on models for teaching supervision and evaluation. Both articles make the case that external accountability systems do very little to improve a person’s performance at their job, especially when the system is designed to rate the person based on a set of subjective standards. Should we have external accountability systems, I think the answer is yes, but we need to be quite clear what purpose they fulfill? Should we have standards that all employees have to master? I think again the answer is yes so long as the standards are tightly aligned to the work a person has to accomplish. However, extrinsic accountability systems cannot trump or supplant the need to create conditions that promote intrinsic accountability.
Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, makes the case that a “carrots and stick” model is not an approach that works to improve performance, especially when the performance demands initiative, personal commitment, application of skills, judgment and an ongoing desire to do a good job. He makes the case that motivation to improve, an internal driver that ignites a fire inside us, must come from within the person.
If we want to design a system for accountability that improves performance, say improved instruction in the classroom so that all students learn, then we need to design conditions for teachers that foster the development of intrinsic accountability. We should create conditions in schools that help teachers see the importance of role modeling self-improvement for their students. If I expect my students to grow and learn, then I too need to grow and learn in my teaching practice. If teachers are accountable to themselves, believing we expect them to demonstrate in a variety of ways that all students are mastering the goals and objectives laid out for them, then it is more likely they will design strategies and outcomes that illustrate their success. We should set up the conditions for teachers that we (the system) values data that demonstrates students are engaged in learning, applying what they’re learning, and understanding themselves as learners. Our goal should be to create conditions for teachers to become accountable to self first and the school second.
We have all the data in the world that informs us that system-imposed teacher evaluation processes do very little to improve teaching practice. Stephen Sawchuk wrote a piece for Education Week entitled, Teacher Evaluation: An Issue Overview. Here is a quote from the beginning of the article.
All that momentum aside, the results of recent changes to teacher-evaluation systems are, as yet, difficult to quantify. Most of the new data show that a great majority of teachers score just as highly on the new evaluations as they did on the previous ones, and it is unclear whether the reforms have systematically—or broadly—led to teachers to receiving better feedback that is translating to better teaching.
A teacher is more likely to construct a path towards improvement if they’re intrinsically motivated and see themselves as a learner. They have to be curious about the questions: (1) are all my students learning what I believe are the “enduring understandings;” (2) can all of my students apply what they are learning in novel situations; and (3) are all of my students sufficiently engaged and enthusiastic about what I expect them to learn that see themselves as successful students? Finally, are the conditions in schools designed to ask teachers to assemble evidence to illustrate positive answers to these questions?
If the answer to the last question is no, then school leaders need to work much harder to understand what’s required to create a culture where intrinsic motivation is the norm. It won’t be a “carrot and stick” culture according to Daniel Pink. It won’t be a culture that values extrinsic accountability above all else. It won’t be a culture that fails to understand how to give effective, growth-oriented feedback to teachers. It won’t be a culture that fails to align its feedback system to its professional growth system. Finally, it won’t be a system that values the individual above the team. All the research points to the value of setting up a culture in which collaboration is expected. We need school cultures that align individual responsibility to collective expectations and norms. Teachers working in professional learning communities or critical friend groups create a culture in which teachers learn from other teachers.
In their article in Harvard Business Review, Buckingham and Goodall write:
In a public survey Deloitte conducted recently, more than half the executives questioned (58%) believe that their current performance management approach drives neither employee engagement nor high performance. They, and we, are in need of something nimbler, realtime, and more individualized—something squarely focused on fueling performance in the future rather than assessing it in the past.
What would an effective intrinsically focused and extrinsically aligned teacher evaluation system look life? It would have to be nimble, work with teachers in realtime and be differentiated for the individual. I would add that in addition to these elements it would have to encourage and value a teacher’s growth over time.
In their article, Rock, Davis and Jones write:
According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a management research group, surveys have found that 95 percent of managers are dissatisfied with their PM systems, and 90 percent of HR heads believe they do not yield accurate information.
Again, they draw the same conclusions that extrinsic, organization imposed, and ratings-oriented evaluation systems do not work. They suggest that we abandon the rating-oriented performance system and rethink the model. They offer the ideal of a guided conversation model, a model that asks the supervisor to really get to know the person to whom they are giving feedback.
In either a structured or a guided conversation, one key element is to prime people—both the employee and the boss—to induce a growth mind-set. This improves how people listen to feedback, encourages them to set stretch goals, makes it easier for them to put in extra effort toward a worthy project, and helps them learn from positive role models.
In his commentary about teacher evaluation in the Every Student Succeeds Act in Education Week, Ross Wiener, Vice President at Aspen Institute, writes about three strategies that he believes good evaluation systems need to take into account.
- Ensure that evaluators are trained and certified to focus on professional growth, not just ratings
- Allow districts some flexibility in account for student learning
- Test and ensure the integrity of the evaluation system
Interesting that in the first strategy he suggests we focus on professional growth not ratings, but in the second strategy he “applauds” states using ratings. Granted he suggests the ratings consider multiple data sources, not just students scores or principal observations. Nevertheless, he fails to point out the dismissal history of external accountability systems as a way to improve teacher quality and student achievement. They have not worked and will not work until schools and school districts understand the importance of building a culture in which teachers are nurtured to rely on their intrinsic motivation to improve. In order to achieve this goal, teachers need to see themselves as learners.
So the time has come to invest in setting up a culture (school culture) that encourages teachers to develop the intrinsic motivation to improve their practice to meet the needs of all of their students. What does that culture look and feel like? We have to design for this culture.
Finally, we must redesign our extrinsic accountability systems to: (1) work in the background to support the intrinsically-motivated teacher; (2) be aligned to a set of standards for good teaching, standards that teachers help design and understand; and (3) require that all those in leadership are well trained to give teachers really effective feedback.
We can do this.
Center for Teaching Posts on Supervision and Evaluation
In school leadership, as in the leadership of any organization, it is imperative that a leader build a strong team of emerging leaders. One way to measure whether you have been a successful leader is whether you leave behind “good leaders” when you depart. Good leaders will select, nurture, mentor and position others to lead. In some way the best leaders lead from behind as they groom others on the team to lead from the front. There is greater impact on the organization if a leader builds the capacity and delegates responsibility to a wider team because the team forms a critical mass of people who can support the vision and mission of the organization. In addition, it widens the network of people who are communicating the organizations’ vision and mission, helping to build a strong community of people who understand and support the work. Through building a strong leadership team, the organization’s “head leader” is ensuring that he or she will become more dispensable because the team can carry on and help the organization continue learning, growing, and going deeper in its work.
It has been awhile since my last post. While I have not been writing much, I have been learning about interesting and relevant things that inform my understanding about school. Recently, I went with an administrative colleague to hear Michael Murphy and Carol Ann Tomlinson at an ASCD pre-conference workshop speak about leading a school into differentiated instruction. While they shared strategies for achieving this outcome, they were clear that successful implementation requires bold and courageous moves on the part of school leaders. Is the bold and courageous part of leadership something that can be taught or does it come from innately who we are as people? I don’t profess to know the answer to the question, but I came closer to some insight as a result of listening to an On Being interview between Krista Tippett, the host, and David Whyte, philosopher and poet, entitled the Conversational Nature of Reality.
I want to share some of David Whyte’s insights from the interview and relate them as best as possible to education and leadership in schools. Unpacking his thoughts as they apply to leadership is an ongoing process.
Whyte opens the interview with a reflection:
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
What does it mean to be in the confinement of your aloneness? I think he wants us to move beyond “loneliness” and think about aloneness as “being alone with your thoughts.”
Whyte reflects on his time as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands when he spent hours watching animals, birds, and landscapes.
Science, rightly, is always trying to remove the “I.” But I was really interested in the way that the “I” deepened the more you paid attention.
He speaks about paying attention to things that were “other than myself.” From his perspective, deepening one’s attention to things other than self allows the person to have a stronger appreciation for the present, a deeper mindfulness about the moment in which we find ourselves. He speaks about the chasm we all face, bridging the gap between “what you think is you and what you think is not you.” I think he wants us to consider a life, both personal and professional, that carves out time to focus attention, work on our inner life, and align our real and ideal self.
This chasm is not unlike the gap that Richard Boyatzis (click here) discusses in his model for resonant leadership. See the diagram below for the five stages of discovery for effective leadership. A leader who explores his or her aloneness creates the space to explore the gap between the ideal self versus the real self. In doing so, the person gets closer and closer to expressing his or her leadership in authentic ways. Living in the present moment, learning from our experiences, reflecting on our failures, and developing relationships that support us as we try to become more aligned to our ideal self is one path leading to “discovery.”
Tippett quotes a piece from one of Whyte’s books, Consolations, that speaks to the importance of being reflective.
one of the elemental dynamics of self-compassion is to understand our deep reluctance to be left to ourselves.
This part of the interview has me wondering why schools fail to carve out meaningful and substantive time for students and faculty to reflect on what they learn and how they teach? As leaders, we spend most of our time negotiating how we will fill every void that exists in the schedule or we complain about how busy we are and that we have no time to reflect. Heaven forbid if we let students or faculty have alone time to think about their learning or teaching, or to think about themselves in relationship to the learning culture in which they find themselves. I understand some people might not avail themselves of the time, but if we don’t make time, trying to build a culture of reflection we won’t learn how to use it to achieve greater clarity of purpose. What are we afraid of? I think Whyte answers that when he says:
And so one of the things we’re most afraid of in silence is this death of the periphery, the outside concerns, the place where you’ve been building your personality, and where you think you’ve been building who you are starts to atomize and fall apart.
Could this be why students, and maybe adults, have a hard time being alone? Could this be why students, and maybe adults, fill their alone time with music, tv, and screen-time? The saying goes, we assign time to things we value. By not scheduling time for reflection, are we telling our students that we don’t value “alone” time or we don’t value time to sit with oneself, reflecting on the day’s experiences? Without this time, a day is reduced to doing tasks, meeting expectations, and wondering whether everything is finished.
Tippett asks Whyte to read the poem Everything is Waiting for You. What a beautiful piece! “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” Then comes one of the most powerful lines in the poem:
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.
I believe he refers to the conversation we can have with the world around us if we put aside the fear of aloneness, of being lonely, and embrace the conversations we can have with the world if we pay attention to things around us, leading a more mindful existence.
Whyte conjectures that we don’t want to have the conversation because we are fearful of “loss and disappearance.” We are afraid to feel vulnerable in our aloneness. What are we teaching our students if we don’t help them experience their aloneness in ways that builds their resilience, their understanding of self, and their capacity to establish deeper connections to things in the world? We can facilitate a culture of reflection by intentionally creating mindfulness experiences for students. Of course, adults in a school would have to value and model the work to make it happen. So why don’t we? Might we be afraid of being vulnerable?
If we desire a more transparent and open community where it’s OK to be vulnerable, exposing ourselves to powerful moments of learning, then our schools have to be led by adults who again model the work. Whyte speaks to this when he says:
First of all, one of the powerful dynamics of leadership is being visible. One of the vulnerabilities of being visible is that when you’re visible, you can be seen. And when you can be seen, you can be touched. And when you can be touched, you can be hurt.
He gives us the insight we need to understand why we fear being visible, we don’t want to be hurt. Learning how to be vulnerable and handling the hurt that might come our way is the key to becoming a strong leader. It is the gateway to bridging the gap between the ideal and real self as illustrated in Boyatzis’ diagram. In the interview, Whyte reads from his book Consolations about vulnerability.
Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present, and abiding under-current of our natural state.
How do you handle and express your vulnerabilities? Whyte encourages us to inhabit our vulnerabilities and as a result we become “more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance.” As Whyte incorporates his own experiences with the natural world, he points out that human beings are the only species that can actually refuse to be ourselves. He expresses these ideas this way:
And one of the healing things about the natural world to human beings is that it’s just itself. But we, as humans, are really quite extraordinary in that we can actually refuse to be ourselves. We can get afraid I of the way we are. And we can temporarily put a mask over our face and pretend to be somebody else or something else.
Of course the possibility is that we can actually accept this version of ourselves, the masked individual marauding about the world creating “havoc.” For Whyte the antidote to this existence is:
And I think one of the great necessities of self knowledge is understanding and even tasting the single-malt essence of your own reluctance to be here.
He brings it back to the title of the interview, “all the ways you don’t want to have the conversation…all the ways you don’t want to be visible in a leadership position.” In terms of leadership, Whyte makes that case that effective integration of self with the world will not happen unless we are willing to have a conversation with ourselves about how to align our ideal and real selves. In his poem, Working Together, he writes:
So may we in this life
to those elements
we have yet to see
and find the true
shape or our own self,
The work ahead for me is to try and carve out more time to be in the “sweet confinement of my aloneness.” In this time, I want to work on building tighter alignment between the reality of who I am as a leader and my desire to become a more effective leader. I invite you to think about these ideas, listen to the Tippett-Whyte interview, and join me on this journey. Please use the comment section to explore these ideas with me.
I have been reading a great deal about instructional strategies, differentiated instruction, and research on how the brain learns. Mind, Brain and Education is an excellent source for current research on how we learn and strategies teachers could implement to improve their instruction. As a result of some reading and thinking in preparation for workshops with teachers, I was wondering what it would look like if we designed our classrooms with these principles in mind.
- Teachers exhibit “genuine” interest in what is being taught, thinking of themselves as “designers” or architects of curricula, not merely distributors of someone else’s curricula.
- Teachers exhibit a commitment to their own learning as a guiding principle
- Students are encouraged to analyze their own thinking processes and classroom practices.
- Students are asked to explain why they are doing what they are doing.
- Students are asked to change their positions as a result of what they are learning.
- Students and teachers are willing to admit a mistake and then given the opportunity to grow from that mistake
- Students are allowed to participate in setting rules and making decisions related to learning and assessment
- Students are encouraged to follow their own train of thought, their own thinking and not merely repeat what the teacher wants
- Students are allowed to make choices for how to learn and what to learn within the boundaries of the standards….more voice and choice
- Students are expected to engage in the full range of thinking modeled in Bloom’s Taxonomy