Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Teacher Voice and Agency, Part II




The slide is from Russ Quaglia's presentation that I wrote about last week, in which I discussed teacher voice as a prerequisite for student voice. For me, the visual poses a question: how do we balance innovation with the standard operating structures and procedures (SOPs) in our schools to provide equilibrium? In Russ's visual, there needs to be a fairly stable balance in order for teacher voice to be heard. In other words, tipping too much toward innovation or too much toward SOPs may have the impact of muting teacher voice.

Another perspective is offered in Suzie Boss's new book, All Together Now: How to Engage Your Stakeholders in Reimagining School:
Even in this current era of rapid change, educators have good reason to be cautious about adopting the next new thing. No one wants to gamble on our students' futures. Seasoned teachers who have seen previous initiatives come and go can't be blamed for keeping their heads down, waiting for this storm to pass.
If you're keeping your head down, we probably can't hear your voice. This is where Timperley, Kaser & Halbert (A Framework for Transforming Learning in Schools: Innovation and the Spiral of Inquiry, 2014) offer sage advice:

We said earlier that it is important to 'get started'. However, it is also important to avoid the temptation at this stage to rush into 'doing something'. The 'let's just get going' spirit needs to be resisted -- not forever but for long enough to increase the odds that our actions will have the impact we desire. We need to have the courage and patience to slow down and develop a deeper understanding of what is worth spending time on before moving to hasty action. Focusing well will lead to informed action.
The authors also highlight the concept that "engaging in inquiry is a process of developing collective professional agency either within a school or across a cluster of schools."

So, how might teacher voice and collective professional agency look in a balanced system? Here is an example from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership:

Image result for collective professional agency



The highlighted terms -- processes, knowledge, culture, relationships, resources, and context -- elevate teacher voice and agency. When teacher voice is elevated, student voice will be elevated. And when that happens, the conditions for meaningful change are ripe.
Image result for linchpin 


In conclusion, I'll leave you with this statement from Boss: "Teachers are the linchpins of school change."






Join the conversation...
How would you balance innovation and SOPs to ensure equilibrium?




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Teacher Voice and Agency


So, I'll never be mistaken for a professional photographer, but I share this picture of Russ Quaglia because I learned something very valuable from him last week: there is no student voice without teacher voice.
"We have been encouraging teachers for years to foster student voice—to guide students in using their voice to build relationships, become engaged in learning and life, and develop a sense of purpose and responsibility. We have come to understand that this cannot be fully realized without teachers themselves experiencing the very same thing: opportunities to develop and utilize their own voices in an environment that respects and supports the process. It is like asking someone who has never been under water to teach someone how to scuba dive!... It is being able to speak openly about your opinions, ideas, and suggestions in an environment that is driven by trust, collaboration, and responsibility. Teacher voice is about listening to others, learning from what is being said, and leading by taking action together." (Quaglia & Lande, 2017, pp. 12-13)
Wow. So, how much are we promoting teacher voice? As with many things, it likely varies on time and place. But it did get me thinking about if/how we support teacher voice in our district.

For those of you outside of our district, a little history: in early 2016 we decided to leverage the professional knowledge and skills of our teachers in a new way, based on overwhelming teacher feedback received after a day of learning with Kenneth C. Williams, represented here:

"Teachers are leaders. It is our responsibility to continue to seek best practice, and in that, evaluate the result of implementing the practices - is it working?"
"I would like to work with my department to identify the standards that all students will meet."
"Collaboration is key. We need to support and help each other and also can learn new things from one another."
"I am looking forward to sitting with my team to discuss standards, create assessments and analyze student learning and teacher practice."  
"It's important for teachers to discuss the essentials. I also liked that Williams emphasized that you have individual creativity in how you approach teaching those essential items." 

Through our contract negotiations, we established a handful of 1/2 day "teacher collaboration" times for this work, and many principals were able to re-work schedules to fashion common planning times for their teams. Two of our three high schools use bi-weekly one-hour delays for the work to supplement monthly team meetings. Once thing is certain, though -- there never seems to be enough time for all of the great work teachers want to do.

Our principals engaged in two full days of learning and planning once school was out, and in fall of 2016, they launched a multiyear professional learning and inquiry cycle journey in their schools, encapsulated here around the DuFour Four Questions:



We didn't label it "teacher voice," but is it teacher voice in practice? 

And I'm really asking that question -- if you are reading this blog and teach in our district, is this inquiry cycle promoting and supporting teacher voice? If yes, share your story. If not, why not? How else might we do it?

If you have experiences with other environments that promote teacher voice, I'd love to hear about them, too.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Common (Mis)Understandings About Innovation

In the article Becoming a Learning Organization, Chris Bigenho describes one team's journey to talk about innovation across schools and organizations. The difficulty they encountered, one which is likely familiar to many, was the lack of a common definition of "innovation."

After some learning, Bigenho's group landed on a definition from John Kao: "a set of capabilities that are possessed by individuals, teams, countries, or geographies that allow the continuous realization of a desired future."  Using that as a lens, the team continued its learning journey, and found many common attributes of meaningful school innovation:

  • deliberateness in approach, with the innovation visible as systemic change
  • knowing thyself first (embodying the mission and vision, and knowing the school's place and role in the market and society)
  • accepting and participating in the tension that innovation creates, through active communication and building of social capital
  • utilizing diverse, functional teams with a prescribed purpose
  • active and supportive school leadership
  • hiring for innovation to support growth toward the desired future
If you choose to read the article, three different schools are highlighted for their efforts toward systemic change. In case you don't have the time right now to read the full piece, I will highlight two quotes from Bigenho that I am still contemplating:

"If a school has the funding, it's fine to construct new STEM/STEAM buildings or find new ways to use technology in the classroom. But I want to make it clear that a tight focus on adding more technology into a school program isn't, in and of itself, innovation. It may represent a movement toward innovation within the organization but is not innovation as an organization. The latter should be the goal."
"I often ask schools: Is your school an institution of learning or a learning institution? Schools with a strong sense of identity and with systemic programs that move the school toward some desired state are schools that are getting smarter as organizations. These schools are learning organizations. And in the era of such quick and constant change, they are the schools most likely to thrive over time."

Join the conversation...
What do you think about using the Kao definition for school innovation? Should innovation be thought of as systemic change? Anything in the last two quotes resonate with you?
 

Monday, June 5, 2017

This Book Will Change Your Life

Aspire High

My friend (and student voice research colleague) lent this book to me. I've been meaning to read it, but it has sat on my desk for a few weeks. This morning, I started thumbing through it and read so many nuggets of truth. Here are just five:

  • "Students are neither your customers nor your clients; they are your partners...their points of view on your classrooms, school, and district provide vital information if you are to improve their education."
  • "[T]here is no 'color-blindness'...race is a factor in students' experiences of the world, as are other physical attributes such as gender or being differently abled. As a result, students can teach their teachers a great deal about how their backgrounds, thoughts, feelings, and worldviews are shaped by race, particularly if student and teacher come from different racial backgrounds."
  • "In nearly every learning situation, point of view matters. One student may count the paragraphs in eager anticipation of his turn to read aloud, whereas another may dread the very thought of speaking in front of others."
  • "[A]dults are the school's 'leading learners." They are learning role models, continually curious, constantly questioning, wondering, probing, failing, and pushing themselves and the young people in their classes to go further, deeper, and broader."
  • "[T]he focus is not on evaluation in this sense, but rather on teacher growth and formation based on what the teacher is consistently , constantly learning and applying. Teacher learning, in turn, is directed by the teacher and is informed by the school's goals. Teachers are not just learning for learning's sake, but for their students' sakes -- more to the point, for their students' aspirations' sakes. Obviously, students are integral to this growth process. Teachers are held accountable for their learning as it applies to student learning and outcomes."
This book has and continues to change my thinking (if not my life). Any of you out there want to join in a book study this summer? We could engage in a chapter-by-chapter discussion through technology. 

Join the conversation...
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on the bulleted items? Interested in the book study?



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Without The Why We Just Comply



Back in 2014, under an instructional coaching blog, I wrote about the importance of understanding the Why behind any program or initiative we are engaged in. A lot of it was based on Simon Sinek's TEDTalk. if you haven't seen it, or watched it lately, click the link.

As much as I believe we need the "why" to innovate, I still see a lot in education that is about compliance. Sometimes that comes from government entities when we fill out reports, and sometimes that comes from within, in the form of "please just tell me what to do."

This is why (pun intended) I was hesitant in the last post to talk about checklists. Compliance and innovation are antithetical. Here is my wondering: does a tendency toward compliance arise because we as leaders fall short on building a consensus around the "why"? It reminds me of the stereotypical answer of a parent to the child's question of "why" -- "because I said so." I'll admit that as an exhausted parent, I dreamed of compliance! But our teachers  deserve so much more from us. They are intelligent adults who have the capacity to not only understand the why, but to embrace it, make it their own, and enrich student learning from it. After all, we all went into education because we are passionate about kids learning.

In terms of students, they also deserve a "why" to avoid compliance (memorizing for the sake of test regurgitation only). I've seen teachers do it masterfully in the unpacking of a well-crafted learning target, or using students' passions to drive teaching and learning around the standards.

But with compliance having such a long life in education, and the traditional roles of principal, teacher, and student being so deeply embedded, it is really hard for many to move beyond compliance. That is why the "why" is so desperately important.

If I could only pick one "why" around education innovation, it would probably be that we need to prepare and empower our kids to be change agents in multiple fields (see earlier post on the T Profile). The "what" and "how" must also be generated, but this is my "why" because the world is not organized into neat categories.  

Join the conversation...
What is your "why"?










Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Most Innovative Schools - A Checklist?

A few days ago, I came across an article entitled Wild and Thoughtful Innovation. Intrigued, I tore through it, and then immediately shared it with our superintendent and assistant superintendent for instruction. Why? First of all, it fully supports our ongoing work around implementation of an instructional framework with fidelity, and second, it fully supports the iterative inquiry cycle we are engaged in with essential learning standards.

The authors researched and visited more than 100 "innovative" schools across the globe, and while differences abounded, there were emergent themes that arose from all of them. While I am hesitant in describing them as a checklist for innovation as it may infer compliance, what we can learn from those emergent themes outweighs the risk. 

First, the visits identified these common themes for both innovation and learning excellence in terms of teacher moves:
• took collective responsibility for learning;
• actively collaborated;
• used laser-like learning targets;
• established common expectations for learning;
• provided timely feedback;
• acted on the information from formative assessments to differentiate learning through intervention and acceleration strategies; and
• used varied instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students.
As I look down that list, it is the exact intentional work we are engaged with as administrators and teachers in our district. We may not be there yet, but it is the vision we are working toward. 

Second, anyone who had read this blog in the past or had discussions with me knows of my advocacy for student voice. The visits in the article identified student voice as a common theme for innovation and excellence in the 100+ school visits:
[T]eachers developed partnerships with students in the learning process. Students had a voice in what they learned and could produce an expected plan for their learning that included how they would demonstrate their proficiency. Teachers honored their students’ unique attributes, developed positive relationships focused on each child’s strengths and passions, and provided personalized learning structures.
Student voice lives within our instructional framework, the state school improvement framework, and our inquiry cycle.

Now I'm wondering how the schools and teachers in our district would view themselves if we used the bullet points and statements from the articles as a formative assessment on our journey to become more innovative and excellent. Any takers?

I've only scratched the surface here with what's in the article. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, especially if you're interested in how the concept of disruptive innovation meshes with continuous school improvement. I'll leave you with one teaser from the article: "We decided to throw off some shackles. Wisely, we also chose to keep some core tenets that serve the present and the future. This includes professional learning communities as our foundational collaborative structure and an institutional commitment: a way to keep us honest about student learning and educator growth."

Join the conversation...
Whether you're in our district or not, does this resonate? What measures would you recommend to know if your classroom, school, or district is on the right track to achieve its goals?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cooper's Treasure



No, not the show on the Discovery Channel. I'm talking about the recent treasure I discovered sorting through stacks of articles and notes from my dissertation. 

About two years ago, I took a class with Dr. Kristy Cooper, titled "Organizing for Learning." Each week, steeped in the learning sciences, she would have us partake in meta-cognitive reflection, using these four questions:
  1. What have you learned this week?
  2. How have you learned this week?
  3. What is your current state of knowledge on this week's concepts?
  4. How does your learning this week apply to your current and future work?
Not only are these great questions as we support both student and adult learners in more structured settings, I'm also considering how they might help me in my own growth. What if I took time at the end of each week to answer those questions?

Trying it out for last week, I reflected as follows:

  1. Much of it was focused around personalized learning and competency-based education. What if we graduated to a system where students were learning and accelerating based on mastery, not seat time? What conditions would need to be in place for success? Where are we in our own unique journey vis-a-vis culture, transparency, and vision? We would really need to think differently, as it is a huge paradigm shift and pushes on both educator and student identities. It's not a "program," it's a second order change.
  2. Attending conference work sessions with leaders from Kenowa Hills and Virgel Hammonds, taking handwritten notes, and then having time to dialogue with learning partners about the ideas.
  3. I still have a lot to learn, and I need to seek out additional sources. Perhaps a visit to Kenowa Hills might help. I do feel like I have a good starting base of knowledge.
  4. As we look for ways to re-imagine the secondary experience, this idea has potential. It would have to be a multi-year inquiry process to assess all stakeholder group perceptions and readiness, engage in learning, and develop an implementation plan. My one burning question right now is: what do students think about it, especially if post-secondary institutions are not yet on board?
I allotted myself 15 minutes to reflect, and that seemed like enough. I went back afterward and inserted the hyperlinks. 

More importantly, it has deepened my own thinking around the concepts. Without it, I might have just put my notes into a file folder and called it good. Now, I am more invested in discovering additional "treasure" around competency-based education.

Reflection is key to learning. If I were back in a classroom, I would use these four questions to help deepen my learners' knowledge about themselves as learners and around concepts. That would be an innovative move on my part. As for now, I am committing to doing it for myself each week.