Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Teacher Voice and Agency, Part III

"Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling."
and this... 
and this...
Students of high-ability teachers outperformed those of low-ability teachers, but gains were highest among students whose teachers were both high ability (high human capital) and had stronger ties with their colleagues (strong social capital). Importantly, this work also found that even lower-ability teachers could perform as well as teachers of average ability if they had strong social capital.

and finally, this... 
"How do these highly effective teachers do it?  How do they manage these daunting tasks in a context where high-stakes testing and accountability have many educators frustrated and panicked?  They do it by staying focused on the things that they can control.  They know that fragmented learning and missing skills must be addressed before moving students on to the next skill....They understand that every positive instructional experience moves every student one step closer to graduation." Cathy Buryn

These findings support both collaboration and strong instruction as the keys to student achievement.

As teacher teams work together in an inquiry cycle or other improvement venue, at some point each teacher is back in their own room, teaching the students in front of them. It is time to implement the hunch or the plan, and this is the time that teachers are on their own. Using the art of teaching to deliver effective instruction that results in bell-to-bell learning, this is where each teacher employs his or her professional expertise to move every student forward, every day, no matter the size of the increment. And then, these teachers meet back together in their collaborative team, to review evidence of learning, and continue the cycle of inquiry.

This individual classroom agency, built on collaborative foundation, is crucial. As each team comes to macro decisions, it is up to each teacher to make micro decisions, based on the uniqueness of their own students. What might that look like? On a macro level, let's say the math team decides that everyone will use the Notice and Wonder protocol to determine its impact on the problem-solving abilities of students. On the micro level, each individual teacher will decide how to group students, and will also respond to students during the learning in different ways, depending on each situation. No one is teaching exactly the same way as anyone else, but certain aspects of instruction have become common based on consensus. When the team reconvenes, a discussion of those artful moves ensues as the team reviews evidence of student learning. 

Collaborative inquiry boosts teacher voice, teacher agency, and teacher effectiveness. As teachers innovate and try out new ideas in their classrooms, their team has their back.

Join the conversation...
What are your experiences experimenting with team decisions in your individual classroom? How does the inquiry cycle blend the art and science of teaching and learning?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Formative Assessment For Innovation

Any time teachers seek to innovate an aspect of education, professionalism compels them to be sure that it actually enhances learning in the intended way. Collaborative teams spend an inordinate amount of time planning, and once implementation occurs, an intentional, well-designed formative assessment process that actively includes students is the next step.

Think about it in terms of buying a new car. The items we believe are crucial for a good driving experience are akin to essential learning standards: automatic transmission, power windows, all-wheel drive, leather seats, etc. There are many cars that might make the first cut. However, until you actually go take the car for a test drive, in different conditions and at different speeds, you don't know how it's actually going to feel or perform. You might drive two different sedans from two different manufacturers, with nearly identical accessory packages. Chances are, one is going to just going to be a better fit, and you only know it from the test drives. You may also realize that something you believed was crucial in the car is now just not as important.

That's the way the formative assessment process works: it gives teachers real time information about and from students and their learning that can be used right now. With evidence of student learning in hand from an on-going formative assessment process, teacher teams are able to collectively check in with each other and figure out if the team is making the intended difference. "Looking back brings intellectual discipline to our inquiry work." Is it enough? If not, what has the team learned? In either case, what is the next step? 

And how might a team bring their learners into the process, to obtain evidence and plan the next step? Consider this thought:
"In many schools, learning how to give learners agency through formative assessment can be transformational for those who previously thought their main job was to deliver content."
Teacher voice and student voice, combined, is a powerful force! 

Checking in with students is not only vital to the inquiry cycle, but it also models curiosity for them. And curiosity is key for innovation.

Join the conversation...
How does your team use the formative assessment process? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Essential Learning Standards -- The Gateway to Innovation

How do we move away from Carnegie Units or other methods of equating the quantity of time spent with learning content? Even the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching now asserts that
"at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning." 
State content standards are based on the Carnegie Unit, in that teachers are expected to teach (and students are expected to learn) "X" amount of content within "X" amount of time. Variables such as learning levels, class size, and resources are irrelevant. All standards are created equal.

Enter essential learning standards. These are the skills and knowledge that are essential for a student's progression to the next level of learning. They are derived from the state content standards and identified by teacher teams through a sustained collaborative effort. Instead of each standard receiving the same amount of time, teacher teams, using their professional expertise, determine which standards are essential. This then allows teachers to zoom in and ensure that every single student learns and is able to demonstrate proficiency in the essential standards, thus readying them for the next level of learning. It doesn't mean the other standards are ignored, but rather, actually sets students up for long-term success.

Identifying essential learning standards is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a team dedicated to success for each and every student, and a willingness to engage in uncomfortable or protracted discussion about differing views on the standards. What one teacher views as essential, another may not. It requires a deep, sustained dive into the standards, and probing meaning. It absolutely needs a principal dedicated to support, professional learning, and allocation of resources. Sometimes, it means a teacher has to compromise and relent on spending a week teaching his or her favorite topic, because the consensus is that it is not essential for the next level of learning. That is hard, because we are so invested in our content. It also means that when we leave the collaborative sessions, I carry out the work of the team with my students, and bring evidence of learning back to our next session. Even though it is hard, it is the right work. And in the end, when we see student success, it is satisfying work.

Once teacher teams have identified essential learning standards, and taken them for a test drive through the cycle of inquiry one or more times, the learning begins to become portable. We can begin to imagine a world where combining portions of the biology and history essential learning standards to create a real-world experience in disease migration is possible, and students still are meeting state graduation requirements. We can free up time during the tight master schedule to allow all students to discover and pursue their passions. Heck, we might even be able to lose the hourly bells that theoretically signal the beginning and end of learning! The possibilities are immense.

Join the conversation...
What are your experiences with the identification of essential learning standards? What possibilities for innovation do you see with them?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How Professional Learning Communities Can Innovate Through Inquiry

Professional Learning Communities -- or PLCs -- are structures through which teacher teams collaboratively learn and work to improve practice and increase student achievement. While we use the term "PLC" in our district, it's not the name but the teamwork that defines us.

When school starts in a few weeks, FHPS teachers will be re-engaging in our inquiry cycle:

Across our district, all teacher teams formally began using this inquiry cycle during 2016-17, although many had already used some variation in prior years.

So, how does this work lead to innovation? Here are a few excerpts from the research of Timperley, Kaser & Halbert (A Framework for Transforming Learning in Schools: Innovation and the Spiral of Inquiry, 2014):

"Although reformers like to argue the relative merits of improvement, innovation and accountability, these distinctions are not relevant to practitioners struggling to make learning more engaging at this moment in their particular context."
*          *          * 
"What works in one setting does not always work in another. There are nearly always competing demands -- creativity or strong basic skills -- sometimes set up as dichotomies when they are best integrated because both are important. This is why we are inviting educators to engage in a process of systematic and disciplined inquiry that results in real changes to practice that helps address these challenges. As educators we all want to engage with ideas and work that makes a big difference."
*          *          * 
"[A]s teachers become more confident with the inquiry process, and with co-creating their own learning, they become increasingly curious about other strategies and approaches to meet the needs of their learners more effectively. From new learning comes new action -- and innovative practices begin to multiply."

As we begin year two as a collective whole, the experience and confidence of each of our PLCs within the inquiry cycle continues to grow. And, as our teachers progress with exploring the impact of changes in practice on student learning, their collective expertise and successive iterations will lead to more and more innovative practices that are real and contextualized for learners. As the authors note, once educators "experience the power of inquiry to change their learning environments and make education a more rewarding experience, it is impossible to stop. Inquiry is not a 'project', an 'initiative' or an 'innovation' but a professional way of being."

Join the conversation...
How has the inquiry cycle led to innovative practices in your teacher team?

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.


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?