This student project stemmed from an 8th grade language arts class at Liberty Middle School reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. We spent many months discussing how we can "shatter" stereotypes in our society. The video features "Iron Doors" by The Lighthouse and the Whaler. – Ambra Johnson, language arts teacher
by Devin Acklin, Joyce Jung, Justin Locke & Sara Thorsness
The “I Am” wall originally started as a language arts class project for individual students to shatter the stereotypes that they felt have been placed on them. Before starting on the project, we personally felt confused and unenthusiastic towards this prompt, because it seemed awkward projecting our personal struggles in front of teachers and peers.
"Why should I share my life with others?" It seemed invasive and uncomfortable because students aren’t normally prone to sharing their troubles in a public environment.
One day, Ms. Johnson had us all write down ways that we are judged – personal stereotypes – the things that we are NOT – on strips of black and white paper. We moved our desks to a circle, and Ms. Johnson laid out all of the stereotypes (the “I am not…” strips) in the center of the room. We had no idea who wrote what on each piece of paper, but we silently read those words and phrases scattered across the floor:
I AM NOT …. always quiet / boring / just a band nerd / rich / a know-it-all / Muslim / helpless / who you think I am / always happy / racist / sure of myself / an American native / often included / indestructible / easy / afraid to live my dreams / always trying my best / a loser / fake / listening to you scream at me / a Christian / perfect / and so on.
Ms. Johnson asked us to reflect on what was laying on the floor. We could pick any three strips of paper that we could relate to the most, and we had to write about why we connected to those words. We then had to write about how we can shatter these stereotypes or explain some of the ways we can show the world we aren’t these things.
This was a little bit awkward because we aren’t used to teachers asking us to think this deeply about something that is not really “school related,” but after we got comfortable, everyone started writing and didn’t stop until she made us.
Elena Aguilarleads a team of instructional and leadership coaches in the Oakland (CA) Unified School District and is the author of the new book from Jossey-Bass, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. She also writes The Art of Coaching Teachers blog for Education Week Teacher. In this interview with ABPC editor and consultant John Norton, Aguilar talks about her own experiences as a teacher and coach and share her views about how partnering with teachers (and principals) to improve practice can lead to positive whole-school change.
In your introduction to your new book The Art of Coaching (Jossey Bass, 2013), you recall the familiar advice to would-be authors to "write the book you want to read" – and go on to say that "this is the book I wanted to read as a new, struggling coach." How does your book support the new-coach audience? Are there other audiences?
Although it’s been some years since I was a new coach, I remember those days vividly. The domain of coaching seemed huge and nebulous. I sensed there was so much to know and learn, but had no idea how to start or what the specifics were that I should learn. What I attempt to do in my book is deconstruct this domain into manageable and replicable action steps.
The Art of Coaching starts with suggestions on how to get your coaching-self ready for this work—how to reflect on your beliefs, values, and vision. Then it moves into some of ways you can build trust with new "coachees"—how you can get to know them and their contexts. Coaching happens in conversations, so there are a lot of resources in the book to support powerful coaching conversations—how to listen and ask questions, how to ask different kinds of questions for different purposes, how to manage and guide conversations and respond to whatever surfaces.
My book also suggests ways that coaches can organize themselves, strategically plan their coaching, and reflect on their work. I remembered being a new coach and just wanting tools, sentence stems, prompts to use with clients—and I have included many of these in my book. But as a new coach, I also wanted to be inspired and be reminded of the bigger picture for why I was doing what I was doing. I’ve attempted to respond to that need by including inspirational quotes, suggestions for practices that help us reconnect to something bigger, and my own reflective stories about coaching. I hope that this book offers a solid starting point for a new coach working in schools.
I am also convinced that coaches of all levels of experience will find something useful in this book. Coaching is still a relatively new field. There’s so much more to learn and understand and say about coaching and by reading other people’s material and engaging in conversation with each other we’ll dig deeper into the potential in coaching. I hope that this book starts many conversations within the coaching world.
I also believe that administrators will find useful strategies in my book. Principals often use coaching approaches with their teachers, and there are specific areas highlighted for administrators that might be helpful. And I believe that teacher leaders will find resources and tools in the book for developing collaborative practices with colleagues. Teachers are often asked to give each other feedback or mentor each other. I think there are a lot of suggestions in The Art of Coaching for how we can more effectively work with each other in schools. Read More...
by Cathy Gassenheimer Executive Vice President Alabama Best Practices Center A+ Education Partnership
We often hear of the silent majority that remains on the sidelines when important issues are being considered — even those issues that could impact them daily.
Because of that, oftentimes a very vocal minority has inordinate influence on policy because they engage, often daily, advocating tirelessly for their specific issue.
On Wednesday, in Alabama, that vocal minority prevailed — hopefully only temporarily—in their efforts to repeal Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready standards for students in our public schools.
This was their fourth effort to have the standards repealed. Finally, on a voice vote, the Senate Education Committee gave them their way by sending the bill to repeal the standards to the Senate floor.
Repealing our standards means we'll expect less from our students
For years, we have heard business and community leaders -- and many parents -- bemoan Alabama’s public education system. They tell stories of interviewing job candidates who do not possess the necessary skills for today's jobs. And, Alabama colleges and universities report that more than one-third of entering freshmen need remediation.
This scenario isn’t just true in Alabama. It plays out to varying degrees in almost every state of the nation.
That’s why several years ago, governors from more than 45 states decided to move beyond low expectations and minimum requirements and really DO something about their public schools. They agreed to champion the development of higher standards in mathematics and English so that students would be better prepared to achieve in all their schoolwork.
These "Common Core State Standards" were developed by content experts in English and mathematics, and they were specifically designed to help students do more than simply memorize answers. These standards -- which are meant to be helpful guides not mandates from "on high" -- focus not only on getting the right answer, but on students understanding the process needed to reach that answer. Because they have to dig deeper and gain greater skills and knowledge, students (and their teachers) will better grasp the “what” and the “why” as well as the “how.” Read More...
by Jackie Flowers
Discovery Middle School
I want to write about how the CCRS math standards are making a positive difference for the students and teachers in my Madison City middle school and across the state.
As an Instructional Partner at Discovery Middle, I am a co-learner, a resource broker, an instructional consultant, and a cognitive coach for teachers.
I help lead the professional development at Discovery MS, and I support our teachers with the implementation of the College- and Career-Ready Standards. Thanks to my participation in the state Instructional Partners Pilot project, I am blessed with the opportunity to not only go in and out of classrooms at my school but to visit other schools in Alabama and observe the teaching and learning going on there.
From my perspective as a former high school math teacher, I have seen an amazing increase in rigor and high expectations for students with the implementation of the Math CCRS. In the past, we discussed rigor with teachers, but the misconception continued to prevail among them that if you assigned more math problems then you attained a more rigorous curriculum.
That's changed. With the implementation of the CCRS math standards, teachers are now seeing that the rigor is embedded within the curriculum itself. The comprehensive standards require us to focus on the depth of student understanding revolving around the mathematical concepts. Students are expected to explain, justify, model and defend their problem solving capabilities.
How CCRS improves the math classroom
Think of CCRS as a GPS system that guides our teachers and students to think deeper and go further with mathematical learning -- and then to apply the mathematics to everyday problem solving as well as innovation.
In the past, our state math standards focused more on surface knowledge. While the standards sometimes related that knowledge to the real world, they did not really push students to understand how to apply the mathematical knowledge in practical and innovative ways.
The previous state standards could be achieved by expecting students to rely mostly on rote memory and procedural solving of problems. They did not require students to really probe into the use of mathematics nor the mathematical relationships that underlay all math-related studies, including engineering and technology.
CCRS establishes Standards of Mathematical Practice
The College- and Career-Ready Standards include all the key content that students need to learn about mathematics. Importantly, they also establish Eight Standards for Mathematical Practice in Alabama classrooms. Students will:
Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Model with mathematics.
Use appropriate tools strategically.
Attend to precision.
Look for and make use of structure.
Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
Why do we need these standards of practice? These are the standards that help students dive beneath the surface to deeper learning. (See this short video explanation.) And they actually help drive improvements in teaching.
Algebra student's learning map - Discovery MS
The Eight Standards for Mathematical Practice place an emphasis on student demonstrations of learning. And that really requires the teacher to be able to probe the thought processes students go through as they look for the answers to mathematical problems. “Asking a student to understand something means asking a teacher to assess whether the student has understood it." (Common Core Standards Initiative [CCSSI]), 2010, p. 4)
The previous state standards were satisfied, really, if the student could provide (or guess) the right answer: x=3. Under the CCRS, students and teachers are equally concerned with knowing "how did you get x=3 as the answer?"
These standards don't dictate to us
I know that people might be reluctant to move to a set of “national” standards. But the Alabama College- and Career-Ready Standards for mathematics are OUR standards. They are built from a foundation offered by the Common Core Standards, yes. But in Alabama we have included state standards that go above and beyond the CCSS.
Really, we have the best of both. We have components in our standards tailored to Alabama's particular needs. And we are also allowing our students to meet challenging benchmarks that are shared across the United States, so that we make sure our scholars are ready to compete on a global scale. The CCRS is the basis for moving student learning forward in Alabama.
Another benefit in blending state and national elements in our Alabama CCRS: today's students have a lot of mobility. I teach in an area where we have a lot of military families who often find themselves moving from state to state. How great it will be for their children -- our students -- to have as little disruption to their learning and curriculum as possible. These students may attend several schools in several states before graduating. (And some will certainly return to Alabama to pursue college and careers.) It makes sense for them to go through school on a learning path marked by the same basic rigorous and viable math standards.
I stand by the implementation of the CCRS because I have already observed in my own school and district and in other schools across Alabama what these high expectations can do to improve mathematical learning for all students. Teachers have flexibility to be creative and innovative in our classrooms as we pursue these standards. They simply set forth the expectation that we will do our work professionally and well. Read More...
I started my morning by trying to find wood on my desk. The stacks of paper, periodicals, must-read books, etc. were approaching Mount Cheaha size! (2,314 feet)
Remembering the efficiency expert David Allen’s advice to only handle a piece of paper once —something I fail at miserably every day—I picked up the nearest sheet of paper to act upon it. Alas, it was far too engaging – ASCD’s March 2013 Education Update with the feature story titled: “Focus on Retention: How to Keep Your Best Teachers.”
The teaser for the article really grabbed my attention: “In the United States, teacher turnover for most districts is close to 20 percent, with higher rates in urban districts and for new teachers.” Next, the article cited the cost of this high annual turnover at $7.3 billion (based on the latest estimate by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future).
Well, I thought, that’s one huge justification for continuing the work of the Alabama Best Practices Center. Wondering how we could both step up and measure our impact on teacher retention, I read further and was reminded of a recent national report about teachers who are “irreplaceable.” I wondered how many people, including educators, have ever considered that we have teachers who simply can't be replaced? Read More...
When I was asked to read and review Overcoming Textbook Fatigue (ASCD, 2012) by ReLeah Cossett Lent, my first thought was “Oh my stars! What perfect timing!” I was in the midst of my own “textbook fatigue” in early winter, as a 6th grade reading teacher at Columbia Elementary School in Madison, Alabama.
My second thought was “Oh my stars! When will I ever have time to do this?!”
However, when I began to read the author's well-crafted and insightful content, it was immediately obvious that this book was “not another thing to do,” but a much needed resource and daily guide for thinking about and planning reading lessons.
After perusing the Introduction, I felt as though I had been to church. I was uplifted and encouraged by ReLeah Lent’s description of the limits of absolute "fidelity" to textbook-driven instruction. Hallelujah and amen. She goes on to explain:
“…using textbooks as well as [emphasis mine] a wide variety of supplemental resources to support effective instruction is what modern schooling is all about. Driving instruction from the textbook’s table of contents or trying to cover everything in the text is actually counterproductive…”
Professional capital is about collective responsibility, not individual autonomy; about scientific evidence as well as personal judgment; about being open to one's clients rather than standing on a pedestal above them; and ultimately about being touch on those colleagues who, after every effort and encouragement, fall short of their professional mission and let their peers as well as their students down.
Fullan and Hargreaves have long been colleagues and have authored many books and papers together. Last week, some of us in Alabama were fortunate enough to spend a morning listening and learning from Michael Fullan when he spoke in Huntsville. While he focused primarily on his views about professional capital, his remarks also touched on technology as a disruptive innovation, and on the role of leadership.
by Alyson Carpenter
ABPC Instructional Partner in Residence
This year, ABPC's Powerful Conversations Network meetings have partnered teachers from districts across the state in the collaborative process of creating units of study aligned to Alabama’s College & Career Ready Standards (CCRS).
Teams were formed based upon choice of grade level / content focus, and they range from Kindergarten English/Language Arts teams to 6th grade Math teams. These teacher teams have collaborated as unit designers throughout the year to unwrap selected standards, create lessons and assessments aligned with their standards, and most recently to create engaging learning experiences for students aligned to their selected standards. Our guiding text for the year has been Rigorous Curriculum Design by Larry Ainsworth.
Our most recent meeting was a hit with elementary teachers. This month’s focus – "Creating Engaging Learning Scenarios" – sparked excitement across all of our design teams. Teams reviewed their previous work with a standard or standards and spent time looking closely at Chapter 13 of Rigorous Curriculum Design on planning engaging learning experiences.
Teams were given a design tool called the SCRAP as a guide for creating engaging classroom scenarios. It was immediately obvious the SCRAP lesson design tool would not be “scrapped” by the teachers who tried it! Our original plan was to end the session with two teams sharing with one another, but after urging from many of our team leaders, we changed our plan to one that allowed all of the design teams to hear about all of the work products.
Bad weather and the meeting schedule for our Instructional Partners Pilot project seem to be colliding more often this school year. We've had ample opportunities to make the best of less than favorable conditions. But you know how it is with lemons? You make hot lemon tea!
This was the case week before last for our Instructional Partners Winter Retreat in Tuscaloosa. More that 80 people planned to meet at Walker Elementary School for two days of learning and fellowship. And then came the weather forecast.
Calls and emails started arriving on the afternoon before the retreat with news about schools’ planned closings the following day. With only a very few exceptions, however, everyone confirmed their commitment to making it to Tuscaloosa either that evening or the next day to participate.
Then, at about 10:00 p.m. that night, Cathy received an email from Walker Elementary Principal Pat Johnson informing us of Tuscaloosa County’s decision to delay the start of school the next day by three hours to allow the storm to pass and ensure the safety of their students.
“What are we going to do?” we wondered together in a late-night meet up in the Holiday Inn Express, where most of us were staying. When Cathy asked the front desk staff whether their meeting rooms were reserved for the next day, the reply was “We no longer have meeting rooms. They’ve been converted into suites.”
So we went into the hotel's breakfast room and looked around. There were about 12 tables with four chairs each, a sofa, two lounge chairs, and of course the buffet area. Most of our participants were already in Tuscaloosa. It would have to do. We went back to the front desk with our plan and didn't meet much resistance, in part because we wouldn't start until 8 a.m., and it turned out that most of their customers were there for our IP meeting anyway!
A real professional community
What happened the next day was nothing short of miraculous. No, let's rephrase. What happened the next day is what we have come to expect from participants in the IP Pilot. Read More...
Childersburg High School is part of the Talladega County Public Schools system and is located just north of the city of Sylacauga. The school's 45-member faculty serves 465 students in grades 9-12. Of the 58% African American and 42% Caucasian students, 71% qualify for free or reduced lunch status.
Principal Jay Hooks describes the school's mission, in part, as to provide students "with a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for the 21st Century world." Teacher leader Jennifer Barnett shares responsibility for achieving that goal in her role as CHS's technology integration specialist.
In a recent article for Education Week, 7 Ways to Increase Student Ownership, Jennifer highlighted some of the transformational practices taking place at Childersburg High. ABPC consultant John Norton asked her to tell us more about the changes going on at CHS and (wearing her hat as a tech integration advisor to district leaders) in other Talladega County schools.
In a nutshell, what's changing at Childersburg High School and why?
Childersburg High School is like many schools. The results of so many years of the high stakes testing focus had left the school flat. And it wasn’t just the test scores that were flat. The entire school -- students, faculty, and staff -- struggled to define the real purpose in its instructional program. We needed to redefine who we are and why we exist. Reaching beyond "adequate progress," we wanted to provide something really grand for our students.
How far along are you in redefining and reinventing your school?
Simply stated, we strive to prepare students for their futures. We take the concept of college and career readiness very seriously. How far along are we? Some folks might look to a calendar to answer that. We look toward our students. First, we want to see an attitude shift. Dropouts have decreased 86% and school suspensions have decreased by 41%.
We’ve also seen students embrace the possibility of a more challenging direction for their lives. In a recent survey of our student body, over 90% of our students report plans to pursue higher education. Students come to class on time, and they're focused and ready to learn. The attitude shift has taken place and we definitely believe it was a critical first step.
12th Grade College Project - Childersburg High
Next, we want to see students take steps toward the possibility of a more challenging academic path. We have over 150 students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses and even more students in our Honors courses. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking the ACT college entrance exam. Students regularly discuss future plans and eagerly attend our Professional Speaker Series each week. While we celebrate these successes, we are looking for results -- results that we expect to strengthen our resolve and remind us that persistence is crucial.
Are we where we hoped to be? Yes. Are we surprised by this progress? Yes and no. Yes, because the shift has taken place so quickly and has been incredibly intense. And no, because we truly did believe it could happen. Read More...
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night....Despite last week's iffy weather, our professional development retreat for educators in the Alabama Instructional Partners pilot program went forth! This wonderful Flickr sideshow, put together by teacher and ABPC consultant Beth Sanders, tells the story!
High school English teacher and tech coordinator Nicholas Provenzano writes frequently for Edutopia and his own blog "The Nerdy Teacher." Nick also contributes to the SmartBlog on Education, where his January 21st post, "I've got 99 problems, but a test ain't one," began this way:
As the semester draws to a close, I look back at my grade book and I see all of the assignments, essays and projects I have given and a smile appears on my face. I have not given a test the entire first semester. Not a single quiz or unit exam shows up in a column. My students smile just as wide when they look at their grades as well. It’s been an amazing year so far, why ruin it with an ugly bubble test?
A few years ago, I wanted to see what it would be like if I spent one marking period not giving my traditional multiple choice exams at the end of units and see what would happen if I gave my students options to demonstrate their knowledge. At the end of those ten weeks I saw higher engagement and a much stronger demonstration of skill and knowledge than any multiple choice exam had ever shown me.
Nick Provenzano goes on to share details about his classroom shift, and the careful reader may detect that his teaching methods, including project-based learning, imply some ongoing assessment of student learning. But is that explanation enough?
When Nick's post came up for discussion in the online Alabama Instructional Partners Learning Network (the "IP Ning"), Tarrant High School social studies teacher Beth Sanders shared these thoughts:
A critical element of creating a classroom like Nick's is the correct and critical use of formative assessment. I fear that some may read this post and feel as though Nick is not assessing his students (although I'm sure he is). My classroom is also a "no (traditional) test" learning environment and it wouldn't work without formative assessment and individual/small group feedback. Read More...
Jacquelyn (Jackie) Flowers is the Instructional Partner at Discovery Middle School in the Madison City School. She was a member of the first cohort of the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot program.
by Jackie Flowers
In 2011-2012, my first year in the Instructional Partners Pilot, I was introduced to Jim Knight’s vision for a schoolwide One-Page Instructional Improvement Target, described in his book Unmistakable Impact. I knew that if I was going to facilitate the Discovery faculty in creating a one-page target that would make a difference for our middle school, we first had to sharpen our focus on best teaching practice and develop a sense of collective responsibility within our still-emerging professional learning community.
During the year we continued our emphasis on student friendly learning targets and formative assessment and began the stretch to becoming strategic teachers as well. All three of these are undeniably linked, and I used the gradual release of responsibility model to introduce these new practices and/or revisit them with our faculty. (If I had to do it over, I would truly begin with learning targets, then strategic teaching and finally formative assessment. But we had already started a focus with formative assessment and learning targets in our district during the 2010-2011 school year.)
Last year we also began peer partnering, along with participating in internal and external Instructional Rounds. All five of these professional learning experiences became interwoven with a very strong thread. Over the year, as we modeled the partnership approach to professional growth, more and more faculty members began to see they truly had voice and choice in what we are focusing on and that we had collectively created a safe and nurturing learning environment for ourselves.
Best of all, we had developed a sense of collective responsibility. I felt that we would be ready this school year to develop a schoolwide Instructional Target. Even so, my palms were sweaty!
Beginning our Instructional Target journey
Our principal, Dr. Robbie Smith, decided to take all the teachers and staff on a one-day retreat at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. We all went to Joe Wheeler State Park, and everyone arrived on a bus together. (I came early to set up the room and prepare for the learning that would occur that day.) I facilitated faculty, staff and administrators together in a morning of team building. The feeling in the room was that of warmth as we found out things about each other that we didn’t know before and truly began to appreciate and understand one another. It was a powerful beginning!
During the afternoon we separated, with the principal facilitating the office staff and the assistant principal facilitating the rest of the staff. I worked with the faculty, facilitating a celebration of our student data and then the first stage in the creation of the one page target.
To launch our creative process, I used a world café strategy (people move) with two tables for each of the Instructional Target's big four categories (Community Building, Content Planning, Instruction, Assessment for Learning). The teachers were separated by grade level (7 & 8). After the world café round, teachers combined what they had and removed any repeated statements for each of the big four categories (eight posters became four).
At the end of the day I had four posters (one of each of the big four categories) which I put in a word document. It became the first draft of our instructional improvement target -- completely teacher generated with everyone having a voice. Best day ever! Dr. Smith told about the retreat and shared the first draft of the target at a PTA meeting in early September.
The next time we revisited the target all the teachers and I were together again (sometimes I do embedded PD). This time the target was broken back down into the big four for any corrections, additions, subtractions, and/or combinations using a carousel strategy (the paper moves). Once again we separated by grade level then came together and combined any changes. I was again left with four pieces of paper containing all corrections made. After a quick edit, we had draft number two!
Next step: student involvement
In late fall, we revisited the target again as a faculty to consider any further changes and produced a third revised draft. An Instructional Target contains what teachers (T), students (S), and teacher/students (T/S) will do to improve each of the big four categories. In late November our teachers agreed that it was time to share the student and teacher/students statements with our school's Student Leadership Team (SLT).The SLT members really considered each statement carefully and were candid in their responses. My principal and I were so impressed with their thinking and reasoning.
I really knew we had changed things at Discovery when our children were willing to tell us what they were thinking and why. It was a true reflection of what had started happening with the faculty earlier. The new outlook of the faculty was being transferred into their classrooms and reaching the awareness of their students. It was such a meaningful morning with this group of student leaders. I shared their collective thoughts and changes with the faculty and we now had our fourth draft.
The Student Leadership Team had a copy of the target and the changes they had suggested. They were talking to other students and parents about it and there was a small buzz starting around the school concerning the target. The teachers agreed that we would now take it to the entire student body in late December.
The broadcasting team at our school made a video. We planned a morning for the teachers to show the short video to their classes explaining the student and teacher/student statements. The teachers had a companion PowerPoint and/or they could replay and pause the video to have a discussion with students concerning any element of the target. The teachers asked their classes if they could agree to the statements or was there something they wanted to correct, add, subtract, and/or change.
I am in the process of going through the student reflections and soon draft number 5 will be ready to present to the faculty. I think we may be very close to having it like we want it for now. We are considering how parents might be involved in the future and what they may be willing to do to help improve the big four areas.
The learning just keeps going
I truly do not believe that a school is ever completely done with the creation of a one-page learning target. I think of it as a fluid document and as Jim Knight has said, the process of creating the target and coming to agreement about what and how we want to learn together is more important than any "final product." When teachers and/or students have ideas for changes, their voices and choices will always matter and will be heard by all! Read More...
We're pleased to present this original conversation between Jennifer Abrams and Robert Garmston concerning the difficult but important conversations educators need to have with themselves about speaking up when critical issues are on the table.
Jennifer Abrams is a former English teacher and new-teacher coach, and a professional developer with two books to her credit. The first, Having Hard Conversations (Corwin, 2009), provides a step-by-step approach to mastering the art of challenging conversations in a wide range of professional situations. Jennifer's next book, with the intriguing title Being Generationally Savvy: Working Effectively with Educators of All Generations, will be published by Corwin in 2013.
Bob Garmston – a legend in professional development circles – co-authored The Adaptive School, which won the NSDC Book of the Year award when it first came out. Bob is also the co-author of Cognitive Coaching, based on the influential PD model he developed with Art Costa. His most recent book is Unlocking Group Potential to Improve Schools (Corwin, 2012). His next publication from Corwin, Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs, will appear in 2013.
ABPC's Cathy Gassenheimer had the opportunity to participate in a day-long session with Jen and Bob at the recent Learning Forward annual conference. We're delighted they've accepted her invitation to extend the learning here at our blog.
Bob: So what questions might one ask him or herself as they work toward becoming more effective at speaking up around what matters? In essence, what hard conversation must we have with ourselves before we have one with others?
Jen: Great question, Bob. But why is this important to you?
Bob: I’ve learned from you about the value of asking hard questions and even examples of questions that stir up what you call necessary trouble. I can think of occasions in which I’ve asked difficult questions in order to raise awareness on either ineffective or pedagogically offensive practices. But I’m not sure I am conscious of what goes on in me before I act.
Jen: Well first, let’s talk about the why. As leaders, we are responsible for setting the tone, for raising the stakes, for holding both the mirror and the net. We have to speak up around what matters for schools and students. If we take time to think more intentionally about our hard conversations now we can be in a space of pro-action and not reaction.
Jen: Given that, the first question I ask myself is am I looking at something that is educationally or professionally unsound, physically unsafe or emotionally damaging?
Bob: That’s a good description of what prompts me to speak up. Under those circumstances I also ask, can I raise the issue in a manner that unambiguously addresses the challenge while at the same time working to maintain the dignity of those I am talking to? I guess that is the net you speak of. I also ask myself what is the best thing that could happen by my addressing this.
Jen: Yes. I add to that what is the worst thing that could happen by my not speaking up. This is the driver for me to act.
Bob: Another thing I have learned to ask is there something I can learn about myself in this interchange. If I am open, I sometimes discover that I have personal behaviors I can correct.
Jen: So in summary we are saying: Speak up when values or principles are violated; work to maintain the dignity of the other person(s); ask yourself what is the best thing that could happen by acting and what is the worst thing that could happen by not acting. Anything else?
Bob: A final question that occurs to me is about personal identity. Who am I? Who do I want to be? About what do I care and how much do I dare? If I were a hero in a novel, how would I act in this situation?
Jen: The questions keep coming and they are worthwhile to ponder, but I don’t ever want the questions I ask myself to become paralyzing.
I always go back to social justice advocate and civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis for my final inspirational ‘nudge’ toward speaking up.
When asked the question, “What advice do you have for us as we go into our adulthood," Congressman Lewis told this group of high school students that his wish for their lives was that they "get into trouble, necessary trouble.” I take his wish to heart and ask myself what trouble is necessary for me to get into, and when I know, I leap. Read More...
In my last post, I highlighted education thought leader Richard Elmore's provocative keynote presentation at the Learning Forward conference in Boston. Elmore warned educators that if we do not create a professional culture in schools that prizes teaching quality and the ongoing assessment of teaching effectiveness, "schooling" as we know it today will be replaced by other learning systems that are more responsive to the needs of 21st century students.
I had the privilege of introducing Dr. Elmore, and it fell to me to moderate the question and answer session after his talk.
Elmore began the Q&A with the African proverb: “When the elephants fight, only the grass suffers.”
In many of his comments to the audience, Elmore focused on the current monopolistic education status quo and again questioned whether the existing system has the capacity to transform itself.
Some interesting ideas emerged during the Q&A, including Elmore's suggestions that practitioners, more and more, will look outside the current system for ways to create new learning environments without high overhead. Initiatives like the Khan Academy, he predicted, will also help break the current monopoly.
Partners vs. packages
Then Elmore made two points that I’ve been really pondering, related to our ABPC work:
Point One: He said that when people pay for the work of others, it means they aren’t willing to do the hard work themselves. I think about pre-packaged programs and vendor services. In some cases, certainly, districts are able to take, adapt, and use vendor programs with effectiveness. But there are many of these programs that promise more than can be delivered, even if the program is implemented with fidelity. So-called “teacher-proof” curricula and programs come to mind.
That said, we also work with districts and the state, and we charge for some of our services. So how is that different? We hope schools and districts perceive that we are forging a partnership with them. We are not erecting a pre-fab house, installing the essentials, and leaving an instruction manual on the kitchen counter.
I hope we all believe we're in a partnership aimed at creating a culture of professional learning and continuous improvement, driven by a community of educators who are eager to find the best way to reach every student. To steal a slogan, our view is: YOU can do it … we can help. Consultants, coaches, teachers, school leaders -- we're in this together. As Jim Knight says in his new book High Impact Instruction: "The partnership approach is EVERYTHING."
But partnership does not mean "we do it for you." For me, a helpful analogy is losing weight. No one can do that for me. A personal trainer, or a committed friend, or a recommended regime of exercise and diet can make a difference. But, ultimately, it is up to ME to change. I have to do the sweaty, transformative work. And it's the same for educators in our schools. They have to do the really hard work.
Point Two: The purpose of a successful clinical practice is to help schools and districts improve and not to create co-dependency. From the beginning of our work with schools, the Best Practices Center consultants and staff have had to balance that very sticky issue: How much help is enough? How much help is too much? At what point does assistance stop being helpful and start getting in the way of the change work that educators have to do for themselves? I hope we'll always ask ourselves those questions and invite our partners to ask them, too.
Back to the Q&A
The next question focused on implementation of the Common Core Standards. Elmore, once again, surprised some participants when he said something like, “The Common Core Standards are beautiful. I like them.” He then mentioned how much he enjoyed reading them and thinking about them.
But then he compared the rollout of CCSS to an automobile coming off the assembly line with the body of a Ferrari and the drive train of a Ford Falcon. In his analogy, the drive train represents the amount of time and resources invested in preparing teachers who can achieve the vision of the CCSS's creators. "We do not have the human capital to do this," Elmore said. "We are asking too many teachers to teach things they never learned and they don’t understand.”
Closing the Q&A session, Elmore noted that one of the striking differences between the U.S. and those nations with the highest performing students was our “under-resourced education professions.” He also said that nations with highly successful schools think in terms of generations and understand that the next generation of teachers and students will not “look like them.” As a result, they don't use "look like me" as a standard for teaching and learning.
Chatting with Dr. Elmore
It was 10:58 and another distinguished lecture was set to begin at 11 a.m., so I reluctantly brought the session to an end, thanking Richard Elmore for his thoughtful address, which left many of us with so much to consider.
With so many questions about the future of education hanging in the air, I wasn't surprised to see many of the participants “swarm” around Dr. Elmore, hoping to continue the conversation. And I soon found myself in the unenviable position of interrupting him and asking if he'd be willing to continue the conversation outside of the room.
Knowing that he was on sabbatical and had been very generous to agree to speak at Learning Forward, I was mindful of his time. But then something magical happened. In a small group of about eight people, with me eavesdropping, a twenty-minute dialogue ensued that was fascinating. I wasn't in a position to take notes and I can't remember all the riveting things that were said. But I can point you to several places on the Web where you'll find comments by and about Elmore that reflect some of what we heard: