Formative Assessment – Key to Learning
This week, #saskedchat will explore Formative Assessment – Key to Learning a topic suggested by Dawn Bick an elementary science teacher from Fishers, IN.
Formative Assessment has become an important part of classroom assessment, providing teachers with a variety of information to support student learning. One of the most important aspects of FA is that it needs to inform upcoming lessons and be used by the teacher to make adjustments to meet the needs of the students. Using FA without using the information it provides is akin to checking a weather app but wearing shorts no matter the forecast.
There are a variety of different FA instructional strategies that teachers can use at all stages of a lesson – Before, During, or After learning.
Susan M. Brookhart’s Formative Assessment Strategies for Every Classroom: An ASCD Action Tool, 2nd Edition is a good resource for all teachers. It not only describes FA but provides a variety of strategies for developing FA, strategies for developing FA, and describes how to use FA in the classroom.
The article 5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) describes Formative Assessment tools that teacher can use with technology including Kahoot, Socrative, and such tools as Plickers and QuickKey.
Natalie Regier, M. Ed. provides 60 Assessment Strategies that teachers can use –
This is a good resource for all teachers as it provides strategies that can be used at different age/grade levels.
What is Formative Assessment?
FA is the use of different assessment strategies to gather data about student learning to determine what students know and what they need to learn to meet a goal or outcome, using that information to plan and make adjustments to meet the learning needs of students.
According to Susan M. Brookhart (2010)
The best formative assessment involves both students and teachers in a
recursive process. It starts with the teacher, who models the process for .
the students. At first, the concept of what good work “looks like” belongs to
the teacher. The teacher describes, explains, or demonstrates the concepts
or skills to be taught, or assigns student investigations—reading assigned
material, locating and reading materials to answer a question, doing
activities or experiments—to put content into students’ hands.
Formative Assessment helps students to develop meta-cognitive skills – learning how to learn – which are important as the student becomes an independent learner. “Learning how to learn—that is, learning the metacognitive skills that will ultimately contribute to lifelong learning—begins with specific acts of self-assessment” (Brookhart, 2010). Helping students to develop skills as independent learners is important in a world that is undergoing intensive changes and requires people to be ‘always learning’ in order to be active and informed citizens in a connected global society.
Formative Assessment is not graded. It’s used to inform instruction, provide feedback about what student’s know and where learning gaps exist, and help students improve and grow. This reduces ‘grading anxiety’ that many students have as they focus on the grade they received and not on the feedback or how they can improve. FA helps to reduce anxiety about a ‘grade’ and provides students the opportunity to improve their work through an iterative process of feedback and self-assessment.
Formative and Summative Assessment
“Formative and summative assessment should both serve the same learning goals. This is how they are connected. The assessments students use as they develop, practice, and learn should be based on the same knowledge and skills they will ultimately demonstrate for a grade” (Brookhart, 2010). Formative Assessment provides students the opportunity to practice and improve without the pressure of attaching a grade to the work and prepares them for summative assessment.
Formative Assessment is part of the planning process and needs to be developed during the process of planning. By planning for FA, teachers shift their focus from planning activities for students to planning growth and feedback loops for students. The activity, whatever it might be, is part of the learning process which includes opportunities for students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways and receive feedback for improvement before any form of summative assessment takes place.
How Do You View Change?
Change is constant.
Change is inevitable.
Change can be positive or it can be negative.
Change can be hard to describe and its effects can be even harder to put into words.
A Summer of Change
This summer has brought about a number of changes for many people I know – some are moving to new jobs, some are moving to new schools, some are moving to new communities, some are entering new stages of their lives and a few are doing all of the above!
Having gone through the process of moving (9 times), a new job (8 times), a new school (10 times) and community (6 times) and the change brought on by having children (8 of them) or having children leave (3 of them), I’ve come to view change as the way life is lived. I’ve recently had to begin to care for my parents as they age, something with which I have little experience which means that, like many things, I’m learning as I go.
As I read various articles that are geared at examining changes that might be experienced by teachers, either by new technology or new strategies or new assessment or different expectations or the recent online phenomenon or …. it goes on, I notice that there is a natural tendency to generalize things across a population, something that tends to happen quite often in education. People speak of “teachers” needing to “…..” because of their particular worldview and point of view. Not that’s it’s bad but that really is theirs and, sometimes, if it’s the dominant societal one, it goes without question.
However, in my experience, this tendency masks the individual responses that people experience as they go through change. Generalizing that this change or that change will have this effect or that effect misses the point – the change will be individual and will have a different affect depending on the person. What I view as a positive change, others will deem negative and, surprisingly, many won’t even register nor care about.
How do You envision Change?
However, if Change is happening regularly, maybe taking a different approach might help.
The diagram at the beginning of the post is from the Design Thinking approach to problem solving and innovation. Having read Tim Brown’s book Change by Design a number of years ago and reread parts since then and taking the Stanford Course on Design Thinking, I began applying the principles to how I view change and the changes taking place around me. Eventually, applying these principles, I determined that change was not only okay, but desirable – part of the reason that I headed off to the University of Regina to begin a PhD with Dr. Alec Couros.
As this image from the Change by Design site shows, looking at change from different perspectives not only can help one to determine the What and How of change but give you different options for addressing change.
Change By Design at IDEO | IDEO http://buff.ly/2a1Xkk7
In combination with the work of Todd Henry – Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder than Words – and Cal Newport – So Good they Can’t Ignore You, Deep Work – and others, I have shifted my thinking about my work, the impact of change and the process of development from one that “happens” to one I am able to be part of the solution process and make decisions that help me to continue to follow my unique path.
Instead of always looking to innovate, adopt a new mindset or flip something, I can be open to new ideas and new processes but not always looking for the “next big thing” because my focus isn’t being distracted by my peripheral vision – something I borrowed from Todd Henry. So, yes there are many things going on – change is all around us but, for many people, it’s a distraction from doing their great work, a distraction from the path they are creating and building. Learning from/with others is important, such as doing a book study with others to expand ideas and push oneself, reading different authors and listening to TEDtalks and other forms of learning but it’s just as important to be creative, to question what people are saying, and to build your own – isn’t that what everyone seems to be saying needs to happen?
Often many of us are pulled this way or that, always looking for the next “new thing, great book, interesting method and innovation” instead of focusing on the path we are building. Yes, something might be interesting and worth exploring – but make no mistake, many who are commenting on it and writing about it are interweaving it with their path – seeing how it can add to their message – which is what you need to do.
You are on your own journey – one unique to you.
Jana Scott Lindsay, in her last post Consumed explores the impact of being connected and how she is seeing a need for change …
I think that it is time to work at finding balance. Leave your devices out of sight, to encourage out of mind for a time & space each and every day.
Change – yes, it’s always happening.
Change – what about you?
Running and Pacing
I’ve been training for an upcoming 1/2 marathon for awhile. Now, in order to do this, I’ve had to make a few changes to my lifestyle. I have adopted an early morning routine. That change, in itself, has been the subject of a number of books and podcasts. However, all the changes don’t mean anything if I don’t actually put on my running shoes and run.
As I prepare for this upcoming meet, I’ve adopted a running routine. Part of the routine is help me with my pacing and the other part is to help me improve my running. I use to have the idea that “Well, I just need to run.” But, as Susan Paul explains
The marathon is a very unique blend of different running components; it requires speed, strength, and endurance. The different training paces you see recommended for runs reflect each of these components. You will need some speed, some strength, and a lot of endurance to successfully complete your race.
So I did some searching and found a routine for a 1/2 marathon that I am following. Now, I could have just gone it on my own but there are many people who have already done this and have advice and ideas that can help me as I train especially since I haven’t been doing much long distant running in a while. I casually run (is that even possible?) but not in the same way one does in a marathon-type event.
The Act of Running
Running is a solitary act but it can be done as part of a group and there are all sorts of online groups and sites that allow you to connect and track your running. I happen to run by myself in the morning mostly because, well, I’m the only one up in my house at that time, no one else wants to get up and run with me at that time and I don’t know anyone around who is running. I could find someone but I like running on my own. It gives me time to think and wrestle with different ideas and concepts.
But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. In fact, finding our own pace and place is part of the fun and enjoyment of living. The act of running, however, isn’t the only thing I do. It is only a part and to define me through that misses so many other things.
“Exactly how is this going to connect to technology?”
I’ve been reading a number of posts that discuss technology and it’s use in schools. Everything from looking at how to get teachers to embrace technology to reflections on the use of technology in schools and some of the issues with what is currently happening. I see many of these as being how I use to view running – Just run. You know what to do, running is something that we have done since just after we learned to walk. But, as Susan Paul points out
Yes, you can “just go out and run” but you would be wise to incorporate runs that address these aspects of running to adequately prepare yourself for the demands of the marathon. Marathon training requires logging quite a few miles each week too, so by varying your training paces and mileage, you’ll not only improve the quality of your training, but you will also reduce the risk of injury or mental burnout.
What if we looked at learning, with or without technology, in this way? Varying the pacing and mileage of learning. Doing different courses and incorporating various aspects into the training?
At 50, I can no longer train like I did but it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to run. In the same way, meeting the needs of the learner means beginning where they are and listening before we start advocating particular ways of doing things. We need to start with their passions and ideas but there is a place for learning from others and their wisdom and knowledge. Age nor experience, in this case, is not “the” determining factor of what can be accomplished. Too often, as Stephen Covey said,
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
How often have we begun a discussion with a fixed position or way of doing something or point of view already firmly established and ready for the discussion?
To Whom Do We Listen
To be honest, listening to someone who has run many marathons and is a veteran might not be the best solution for me. I need to consider a few different things that a veteran marathoner might not be able to tell me as someone starting out. Sometimes, as someone who has been using technology for years, I have had to remind myself of this point. I have a perspective that might not be as open as I’d like to think. In this way, looking outside of education can give us some great insights.
I would let that kid know that it’s not too late. Doors might be closed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re locked.”
That conversation has stuck with me since then. What if he’s right? What if we told kids that they don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time? What if they knew that doors might be shut but they aren’t locked for good?
What if we approach all our relationships and conversation from this perspective? Do we close doors because of our own mindset and what people have told us?
How do you approached learning? Why do you think this way?
Your attitude shapes your mindset. What’s yours?
I’d love to hear your ideas and comments and what you are thinking about.
In a recent Switch and Shift article How Technology is Challenging the Human Side of Business, Pam Ross discusses her role in helping leaders bridge the technology/human relationship gap.
The thing is, technology impacts our workplaces and our culture like never before. To the same degree, it also provides ways to better connect, communicate and engage with your employees. I am excited to join Switch & Shift to write about how leaders can understand and use technology to create awesome culture and more human workplaces.
One of my main focuses has been the intersection of relationships and technology at the school level and in education in general so I was intrigued. Pam covers three topics in the post, We are always connected to work, We have the ability to work from anywhere, and We share our experiences fritionlessly. The same goes for students and teachers, which should come as no surprise. I recently read of two highschools that are experimenting with no substitute teachers when teachers are absent. In these schools, teachers have the option of not having a substitute teacher come in and, instead, having students work on their assignments in a common area.
Both districts said skipping substitutes is a natural extension of increased technology use. They’ve already been using online lessons in the classroom, and, in Farmington’s case, asking students to work on them from home on snow days. Why not try it when the teacher’s absent?
Both schools say a teacher is available to help students who need assistance.
The Human Side of Learning
In the examples above, what is important to note is that the human factor is still an important part of the equation. As someone who has been a proponent of relationships in schools, I believe that these are so important and cannot be replaced with technology. Instead of viewing technology in a binary This or That conflict with relationships, it needs to become part of an integrated system of learning where students can access information from anywhere but where other people – teachers/peers/experts – have a relationship that supports the student in their learning.
As Pam Ross states in her article:
The good news is that technology not only creates engagement challenges, it also creates huge opportunities to alleviate these challenges and to create more engaged and human workplaces.
There is a new form of literacy in the world of work. It’s what I call “Digital Fluency”, and is critical in today’s fast-paced, social and digital world. Digital Fluency is the ability to use technology to communicate, collaborate and connect with customers and coworkers, and the proclivity to learn and adopt new technologies to get work done.
A Focus on Digital Fluency
As Pam points out, there is a need to assist people in developing digital fluency. A recent article Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web in The Atlantic by Alia Wong explored a similar issue. Students might be growing up with digital devices but they need guidance.
Indeed, although many of today’s teens are immersed in social media, that doesn’t mean “that they inherently have the knowledge or skills to make the most of their online experiences,” writes Danah Boyd in her 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Secret Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd, who works as a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, argues that “the rhetoric of ‘digital natives'” is dangerous because it distorts the realities of kids’ virtual lives, the result being that they don’t learn what they need to know about online living. In other words, it falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.
Part of issue is that many teachers continue to struggle with technology and the incorporation of technology. Although some schools and districts/division are incorporating a blended learning approach, the subject of digital fluency and the human side of technology is not usually discussed.
Portfolios and Body of Work
As an educator, I’ve been using portfolios for about 18 years. These began as simple folders where students would gather their best work to be used during Student Led Conferences. Since then I’ve been using a variation of portfolios with students as a way to help document their learning and growth. One of the most exciting turns was when I was able to shift to a digital format – first with wikis and then with various other platforms – that allowed students to included a variety of different formats – pictures, videos, drafts of writing, podcasts – allowing students to not just show a final product but to show their learning through stages.
Over time, I have begun to view portfolios as the next stage in the shift in learning. Students, working on a variety of topics, can build a portfolio of the work, from in school or out of school – A Body of Work – that grows as they progress in their learning. Teachers guide, support and challenge students to explore, helping student formulate significantly deeper and more complex questions to explore. It would also help students develop digital fluency – communicating, collaborate, connect, create, critique and collate – all as interactions with other people. As the article by Pam Ross shows, these are important skills.
Technology and relationships are not incompatible but until we shift how we view them working together to build stronger relationships, there will continue to be a deficit attributed so someone depending on which side of the argument you happen to stand.
Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season! A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.
Filtering the Influx
In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says
I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.
I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read. I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.
As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.
In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping, they have less time to do these things than they did before.
Time for What’s Important
Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically
Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally, a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things. I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!
Now – Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children, I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship . I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.
I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.
Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way. We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.
The guilt is gone.
Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?
Listening in the Midst
As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus, to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.
George is correct, isolation is a choice.
I have met very few teachers who are all alone.
They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.
I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.
I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.
If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?
The First Follower
This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.
Challenge Others to Change
As a leader, creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things, make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.
Re-Frame the Challenge
The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”
But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?
What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?
Why would school be important?
Why would students want to come to school?
Why would teachers want to teach?
Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:
Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
And we happen to make great computers.
Wanna buy one?
So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like
“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?
That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and re-image learning and the school in a different way.
That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?
Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.
It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be. Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.
I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to being a Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input, tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.
Re-Framing as Leader
Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership
You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.
Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.
The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.
Thing to Think About
- How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
- Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
- Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
- What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?
It might be flattering to have someone imitate you. You might feel it’s necessary to imitate a mentor. But creativity and innovation rarely happen through imitation. It might start with what someone else is doing but creativity and innovation use that as leaping off points. Apple, Inc. didn’t create the technology for the mp3 player but they used the technology as a leaping off point to create and innovate. We know what Apple, Inc. did. And the other player?
What Inspires You?
Last week I had the great fortune to attend the SMYA Conference in Saskatoon as a speaker and participant. It was an awesome experience. One of the highlights was meeting Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate and moderator of #tlap twitter chat. Dave was generous with his time and a group of us were able to enjoy supper with him on the first night. Throughout our conversation and during his keynote and presentation, Dave spoke of his inspiration for his ideas and the work he does. Dave’s energy and passion are infectious. At one point, Dave spoke of where he gets his inspiration and the creative ideas for the different things he does in the classroom. This had me wondering about the attendees, myself included, and the inspiration they have for the work they do in the classroom each day.
Dave repeated often that inspiration can come in many different ways. The key is to be aware of these ideas and record them. Recently I read Claudia Azula Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century. In this book, Claudia explains that to become better at creative ideas, you have to practice generating ideas.
Writing daily ideas is effective because when we practice making our brain sweat, consistently, we become idea machines. When we are idea machines problems get solutions and questions get answers.
It sounds easy but, many people think being creative and innovating is what “creatives” do, not what the rest of us do because we aren’t really creative. As Dave pointed out, that just isn’t true!
Innovate don’t just Imitate
As a teacher I was always looking for ideas to try in the classroom whether it was a lesson or a way of presenting materials, I was searching. My reason was that I didn’t think I had any good ideas myself. I thought that I needed to use others ideas that were “good” because I wasn’t very creative and I wasn’t able to be creative myself.
Over time, I’ve shifted how I think of my own ideas and what I can do. When I would find a good idea, I often didn’t mess much with it. I wasn’t comfortable with my own creativity or allowing myself to be innovative. Mostly, this was a product of the failures I had experienced which I owned and carried with me as reminders of why I wasn’t creative or innovative. Instead of seeing each of these experiences as learning opportunities or ways of improving, I owned them as proof that I just wasn’t creative or innovative. In some ways, this was a product of my own self-induced limitations that were created from images and reminders of what “good teaching” was suppose to be and look like. I continued to imitate and reproduce what I thought it meant to be a “good teacher”.
However, there was this nagging part of me that kept surfacing every once in a while that would remind me that there was more to teaching and learning than what I was doing. Eventually this nagging grew in intensity and in a bold move I decided I needed to try out a few of my own ideas and, instead of planning like they would fail, to plan for success. This was a turning point for my teaching and the beginning of a journey of realization about creativity and innovation. I didn’t have to do what others did, I had good ideas and, with a little effort and some planning, a few of them would be great.
In his new book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros discusses how innovation is essential in school. There are many opportunities for change but, often, there is a lack of innovation taking place. Instead, just as I did as a teacher, educators and schools continue to see innovation as something that others can do.
Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.
In my discussion with teachers, they often express how they wish they could be more creative or innovative but there is too many other things happening – new curricula, differentiation, planning, assessment – which drain their energy and limit what they can do. Often they feel powerless even within their own classroom as they are told to do this, use this program, integrate this technology, adopt this assessment format, etc. They often see creativity and innovation as what ‘other’ people do which in turn then becomes another ‘thing’ they end up having to find time to implement/do. On the surface, this can be seen as just a way to avoid having to change. However, many teachers I talk with want to change. They are apprehensive but aren’t against making change. The feeling of powerlessness inhibits what they believe they can do themselves. Their experiences, like mine, limit what they feel they can do. It’s safe to imitate, it’s a risk to be creative and innovative. Many schools do not seem open to risk-taking and innovation despite the rhetoric of 21st Century Learning.
We are All Creative/Innovative in Some Way
In the article 7 Habits of Innovative Thinkers , Harvey Deutshendorf outlines how innovative thinking is within the reach of anyone who is willing to work at it.
Many people believe that creativity and innovative thinking are traits that we are born with—we either have them or not. However, we have found that people who are highly innovative are a work in progress, forever questioning and examining themselves and the world around them.
These people are curious and inquisitive – sounds like most young students. As George Couros points out
To succeed, they [students] will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.
Teachers need to do the same – to be willing to try something with the understanding that it might be successful but it also might not. However, instead of seeing it as further proof of a lack of creativity and innovation, these situations need to become points of curiosity. Instead of just imitating what someone else is doing, teachers need to exercise their creativity muscle and innovate to fit their personality and the students with whom they interact. Build in feedback loops that allow for adjustment and changes to be made. Look at what was successful and what wasn’t. Know that one success will not mean it will always be successful as there will need to be changes and adaptations to fit the next context and situation. Developing relationships with students is so important to innovation. It’s not what you are doing but how you are doing it and the relationship with students which allows for innovation to grow and develop. Creativity and innovation in a vacuum or without relationship lacks connectivity. It becomes a performance not an experience.
Why Imitate When You Can Innovate?
Yes, one can imitate what someone else is doing and be successful. There are countless examples of people who are successful imitating. Just think of all the entertainers who make a living imitating the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. But they aren’t Elvis or the Beatles. Although they might be great imitators, they lack the ability to innovate and break new ground as Elvis and Beatles did. As Dave Burgess suggested, teachers need to be open to taking an idea and then innovating and becoming creative with it. There is no guarantee that it will be successful, the first time. Sometimes it takes reworking an idea numerous times before things fit into place.
Who was the innovator that created the mp3 technology? Creative Technology Ltd a Singapore-based technology company. Part of creativity and innovation is coming up with something new. But being creative and innovative also means taking something that already is there and using it in new and creative ways that make a difference in people’s lives – it creates an experience that resonates.
Something to Think About
What is keeping you from taking creative licence with what you do in the classroom?
Do you have to implement all you do exactly like the manual says?
Why do you consider yourself lacking creativity? Are you strengthening your creativity muscles or just accepting the status quo?
What are three things you can do with your current units that would be creative and innovative? Why not try one?
It was the Last Summer Chat
Our last chat for the summer was AWESOME! Our topic was Small Change – Making Small Change for Big Results. We are all familiar with the idea that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing. Education in recent years has been framed, unfairly I believe, as not making changes to meet the needs of learners. In fact, in a few short years, education has been making incredible changes in many areas, from instruction to assessment and the use of different technologies is growing. One needs to remember that the iPhone was introduced in June of 2007 while the iPad, the first tablet to really take on the market, was released in 2010. In that time, schools have moved from banning these tools to embracing them, teachers have begun to shift away from content teaching to various inquiry approaches which allow students to explore and examine different topics while the teacher supports their learning and, hopefully, having them delve deeper into the social and culture impacts of what they are studying.
Apple phone timeline
Yes we are 15 years into the 21 Century and things are changing at breakneck speed but that doesn’t mean require that educators try to keep up with every new change. In fact, it’s as prudent to take some time to examine the impact before bathwater and baby hit the ground.
In recent years, the shift from handwritten notes to digital note taking has received a fair amount of attention with attention focused on the retention of information between notes taken on a device and handwritten notes. Recently I read a great article on note taking – A Quick and Dirty Guide to Perfect Note-taking by Joel Lee. In it, Lee begins by outlining that in fact, he prefers pen and paper.
All things being equal, I’d choose handwritten notes over digital notes any day of the week — but all things aren’t equal. While I love the feel of pen, pad, and paper, the truth is that digital notes are way more convenient in this modern age.
In schools, we have the option to maybe do what’s not convenient but to look at options that lead to better learning for students. In some studies, it was shown that taking notes via handwriting allowed students to more deeply process information than when they used a laptop. Remember the viral twitter picture that shows students taking photos of the notes from the board – heck I allowed students to take notes in the same way – it was more convenient.
Is Convenient Good For Learning
But as we examine the use of technology and what takes place in schools, these discussions allow us to reflect on our practice and what we are doing. What is the reason for taking notes from a lecture or off the board? Does this lead to the type of learning allowing students to delve deeply into subjects, to explore different ways of thinking about a topic, to examine their and their classmates opinions, thoughts and worldview? Is taking a photo off the board for convenience going to lead to delving into topics, concepts and ideas at a deeper level? How can we design classrooms to better allow for students to collaborate as they delve deeply into concepts, ideas, and problems? Are we focusing our energies in the right place or are many of the discussions/debates really surface level (think ditch the desk)?
It’s About Making Small Changes and Growing Over Time
As a father of 8 children, I learned a great deal over time. When our first daughter was born I knew nothing about parenting. Now, 24 years later and 7 other little people to experiment on, I’ve learned a few things. One of them is that small changes can lead to big results. One of the important things is you can’t just add to what you’re doing unless you like that feeling of frazzled anxiety stress. It means taking time to examine what you do and altering your routine/habit.
As we head back to school, just saying “Everyone is going to bed early” will not lead to anyone going to bed early and, with a pre-teen and teenager, may lead to later nights if past experience is any indicator. If the desired outcome is getting anyone to bed earlier, including myself, then making changes to the daily routine that will then become the daily routine are important. In summer, routine tends to be dictated by summer activities so late nights roasting marshmallows for s’mores is important as is watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky, long evening walks and popcorn with a family movie three nights in a row or early mornings to go fishing, take a road trip to visit family or maybe get an occasional golf game in.
This past week we slowly began to change our routine, starting with getting up earlier. Not school early, don’t get crazy, but earlier. In the evening, reading has replaced other activities and the nightly ritual of having a bath has been re-instituted for our youngest despite his protests. Will we be ready for the school start? Nope. Ready, I’ve learned, is a mythical place often spoken about with deep longing but, in reality, isn’t real. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be” is as close as we get. But that doesn’t stop us from moving forward, making changes and continuing on. It’s not about always being busy – that doesn’t really lead to lasting changes but, instead, small focused changes over time that eventually lead us to somewhere near our goal. We’ll be “ready as we can be” for school to start.
The Importance of Small Changes
In this weeks chat, participants discussed different changes they hoped to make this school year. As the chat began, participants described change in three words. Participants know that change is necessary but it doesn’t make it any less daunting or difficult. Indeed, it’s needed but are we ever ready?
Do you love to learn?
Try new things?
Explore new ideas?
Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?
Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?
That’s What We Do
These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,
- 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
- 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
- Reading frequency declines after age eight
Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.
A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”
Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.
Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.
In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.
It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.
Teachers are Bombarded
This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.
What does a teacher do?
Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!
Go to this conference!
Get this certification!
Get more certification!
Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!
Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.
At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.
Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.
“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”
I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment. If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style. Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.
Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?
Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?
“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”
In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!
Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.
Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.
Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.
Start with Relationships
Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The Guardian, Paul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.
we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.
As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try, some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.
Highly Organized and Controlled
As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests. Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.
Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains
Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.
The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.
Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.
First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.
Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.
Do You Love Learning?
As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.
What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.
…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?
….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?
…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?
…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?
How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –
Just Do It!
Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!
Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.
New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.
I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing — there needs to be a change and we need to move on — NOW!
Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary
I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.
I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.
To what, I not really sure but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times — not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.
Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.
A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet
As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.
1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time
Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals.
As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.
2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.
As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in many different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean the children wouldn’t need time.
I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others’ shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk.
It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best.
Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.
As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! We stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.
We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.
Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve changed. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”.
Exactly what would children learn from that?
Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!
3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.
“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.
And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for everyone in education and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.
Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.
Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.
As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.
4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs
Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.
Educational leaders talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.
5. Not all Teachers are the same!
Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.
Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.
Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.