Beyond Assumptions: Lifting the Hood

“Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” – Andrea Scheicher, OECD

This summer I attempted to sell my car. I’ve had my fun, little convertible for about ten years, but every summer I find I use it less and less, to the point where it is time to part with it. I polished it up, took several pictures from various angles, and posted it online. Then, the waiting game. Not too long after it listed, I started fielding inquiries from different individuals from across Canada. The correspondence followed a typical pattern; is it still available? Can you tell me a little more about the car? Could I get some more pictures? Are you flexible on the asking price? Can I come take it for a drive?

I never did sell the car. I have the feeling I may have over-valued it, but maybe that’s because deep down, in my middle-aged heart, I do not want to let go of it…yet. So in the garage it sits for another winter.

I think about the ad for my car, and think about how those potential buyers only saw a glimpse of the vehicle. The did not check the fluids, crawl underneath, listen to the engine, or take it for a test drive. All that they knew was what they saw, the rest would all be assumed.

How often do we do this with our learners? Last week I mentioned John Hattie’s 8 mind frames for teachers, and spoke specifically about mind frame number one. Hattie states, my fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement. This is not easy to do!

Prior to thinking deeply about this, I would look at my students in much the same way a potential buyer might look at my car. I would plan, deliver, assess, and refine my lessons, however, what was missing was a thorough investigation of what was going on ‘under the hood’ for each learner. Much of my reflection would involve assumptions.

What are we doing? At #WaldheimSchool, we have been on a journey with the vision being every adult developing a deep and thorough understanding of every learner they work with. From there, our mission was clear; how do we respond to what we know? Which lead to this year, and our goal of inviting the staff to partake in an inquiry process that will help us go deeper in our understanding of and response to our learners.

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To help in this process, we have adopted a spiral of inquiry approach to better understand what is going on for our learners. Based on the work (here) of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, we are focusing on the questions, what is going on for our learners? How do we know? Why does is it matter? As we seek to move beyond assumptions, our process has started with a commitment to scanning our learners. At our last staff learning meeting we invited the teachers to ‘lift the hoods’ of some students by asking them four questions:

  1. Can you name two people in this setting who believe you will be a success in life?
  2. What are you learning and why is it important?
  3. How is it going with your learning?
  4. What are your next steps?

It will be exciting to hear from the teachers at our next learning meeting to not only see what they learned about their students, but what they learned about the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.

What do YOU think? Regardless of position, we are all involved in the learning process and we are constantly working with learners. You may be an EA working with certain students, a teacher leading a class, an in-school administrator facilitating adult learning, or a system leader leading learning at a higher level, we are all part of the journey. I’d invite you to engage with these questions as they relate to your role and setting:

  • how are you going beyond assumptions with your learners?
  • how often do you think about the how, why, and when of your reflections on learning?
  • who are your allies that are walking with you on your learning journey?
  • who is counting on YOU for their learning journey?

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what YOU think.

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen

2 Comments

  1. Some good questions to ponder when delving into the why and how.

    I know that when I look at a car that I’m interested in purchasing, I want to know about many things including the maintenance regime, how it was driven, whether it started regularly when it was stored, etc. It’s not that I’m a real car buff or anything, but experience has taught me that there are questions that will give me clues into how the car was treated and cared for. It helps me to understand how the owner viewed the car, how it was used for, the type of driving that was done, etc. But, even with all these questions and a check by a mechanic, you can’t see what’s inside or what might go wrong. Even with all that data, I can’t know if the transmission will go or the rear-end will have an issue, the ball-joints or an axle will suddenly fail, or an oil pan will leak. The data, although accurate and informational, tells me about what the car did in the past but not about what will happen once I buy it. Sometimes, even with all this data, one buys a vehicle that ends up needing all sorts of repairs despite our best inquiries. I’ve experienced this myself. It just didn’t perform as expected.

    With humans, it’s much more complex. Especially when sometimes we can’t even explain ourselves what is going on. Having an adult that is willing to walk along side is an amazing gift to students even when they can’t explain what is happening with their learning or why it’s important. Inviting staff to begin those conversations is such a great way to open a dialogue about learning with students that can support them as they explore their own learning.

    It will be interesting to see what types of conversations teachers have with students and how they lead to further inquiries and discoveries.

    1. Hi Kelly,
      You raise such great questions, and offer a terrific perspective. What I really like is how you discuss the complexities of people, and the challenges that presents. I hope the adults that choose to walk beside their students begin to see how wonderful the experience is for them AND their students.
      Thanks for your comments!

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