Leading Peace and Harmony

Recently I had the honor of being invited to share some of my thoughts with a group as they were discussing leadership. It was a wonderful opportunity for me as the questions caused me to think deeply about past and current practices and how those align with my core beliefs. Below is a summary of the questions and some of my thoughts, I’d invite you to think about how you would answer these questions.

How do you keep harmony when someone is upset?

Initially, this question invited me to think about harmony between others, but then I was reminded that harmony begins within ones’ self. I reminded the group that harmony begins with listening first, then asking questions for clarification.

How do you calm someone down?

Similar to keeping harmony, I have found that calming people down starts first with me. I try to create a safe space for people to speak about their feelings. I allow people the time to say what they need to say, even if, in the moment, it is irrational or misguided.

How do you get along with your vice-principal?

This was the easy question, one I answered with one word: excellent. I am blessed to be working with an amazing VP whose curiosity and desire to grow everyday lets me to be the best leader I can be. Something I did clarify is that just because we get along, it does not mean we always agree.

How do you talk to people to keep peace?

I explain that, with me, the how comes after the why. Why do I talk to people to keep peace? It’s my belief that everyone wants to be heard, appreciated, and valued. When I talk to people to keep the peace, I believe this allows them to be a part of peace making process which leads them to own the process.

How do you keep peace and harmony in the school?

This question made me think of the importance of modelling expected behavior. If I work on my own peace and harmony, I will be more apt to model this for everyone else in the school. I am a firm believer that the behavior we see in others is just a slight opening in the doorway to understanding. I try to be patient with others and hope this impacts the way other people live day to day in our school.

How do you solve problems with teachers?

I like this question, simply because my initial thought was, how do I work with teachers to solve problems they might be wrestling with? After I answered, the question was re-framed, what they wanted to know was how do I help teachers who are struggling with their own problems? The challenge I face in these situations is turning off the monologue going on in my head. I have to force myself to listen to the teacher and then ask questions to help them build on what has been working, and to help them consider options for next steps.

How do you let other people choose?

I have found that letting other people choose is less about them and more about me. As a leader who constantly battles the impostor syndrome, it can be difficult to ‘let go’, as I fear people might think I’m not capable. What I have found is that the best way to let people choose is to keep asking them questions and providing them opportunities.

How do you get along when you have to share offices?

I loved this question, mostly because it was so unexpected. Our offices are a hub in our school, and I really enjoy the amazing conversations that place there. It is very common to see teachers, EAs, students, and parents chatting with each other about a myriad of topics. I love that my office is located where it is because it is a natural gathering space. I also appreciate how much everyone respects each other, there are times when I need to close my door, and that has never been an issue.

How do you talk with high school students who are rude?

This goes back to just seeing the tip of the iceberg in most situations. Some people feel I give students too much leeway, however I always invite them to speak with me in my office, away from an audience. I try (I’m not always successful) to avoid power struggles with students, especially when they are surrounded by their peers. Most importantly, I let them speak. And speak. And speak some more. By the time they have vented, and let it all out, then we can start the process moving forward. It takes a lot of patience, and I’m not always perfect in these situations, but more often than not, we end our discussions with plans for next steps.

Do you work hard?

I loved this question too! I do believe I work hard, and a lot of the work leaders do goes unseen. I had a great conversation with a teacher and we spoke about the importance of being visible. In my 24 hours each day, I only get to interact with students in their learning environment for 6 of those hours. I need to maximize that, which is why I try to be in the halls and in the classrooms. To some, it may look like I’m just walking around, shooting hoops, dancing with the grade 2’s, or watching kids weld, but to me, that’s an important part of the job. Do I work hard? Yes.

So those were the questions that were asked of me by the curious panel. The topic of how leaders can influence peace and harmony was interesting and it invited me to reflect on the intentional actions I take on a daily basis.

By the way, the panel was Mrs. Smith’s grade 1/2 class, and they formulated and asked the questions all on their own.

So what do YOU think? How would you have responded to their questions?

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All The Way To The Moon!

“Mr. M! Mr. M! Can you give us a push?”

Supervising elementary students on the playground gives you a lot of opportunities to interact with kids and learn about them in different ways than you might otherwise in the classroom. When I am on supervision, I am always being called over to the swing set by the kids who want me to give them a push. Most of the time I appease them, asking if they want an ‘under-duck’ or just a small push, usually they want the ‘under-duck’. If you are not familiar with the ‘under-duck’, it involves holding the edge of the swing seat, pulling the child back, and then running forward as fast as you can, pushing the child high enough in the air that you can run underneath them. Being over six feet tall, my ‘under-ducks’ are pretty awesome.

Today I had a chance to visit Hepburn School, a place where I served as Vice-Principal from 2012 to 2016. While I was there I ran into some grade seven students who I taught math to when they were in grade 1. The students were reading together in the hall and in the classroom, and I took some time to reconnect with them, asking how things were going. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a young girl who was standing with her friend, both of them holding their books. This young girl was one of the kids who always asked me for ‘under-ducks’. When she was in grade one, this girl did not talk to boys. None. Not her male classmates, not other boys in the school, none. She did, however, talk to me just enough to ask for an ‘under-duck’ at recess.

As we chatted today, I joked with her about playing on the swings, asking if she still gets a chance to. Looking up at me through her thick glasses, she smiled and quietly replied, “sometimes”. Then she said something that bypassed my brain and went straight to my heart. She said, “but I still haven’t gone over the moon yet”. You see, that was one of my jokes with her. I used to say, “this is going to be a big one. This one will send you all the way to the moon!” I could not believe she remembered that! I stood there frozen, trying not to let the lump in my throat turn into tears in my eyes. Instead, I offered a chuckle and wished her well.

As I drove away from their school, I could not stop thinking about that conversation. I could not stop thinking about how she remembered something I had forgotten about so long ago. I could not stop thinking about the impact those recesses had on her. I had no clue!

This is the awesome gift we carry with us every day. Our students look up to us, and the words we say have weight. Our words have an impact. However, with this gift comes an enormous responsibility. Just as our words can lift someone up, so too can our words wound. I began to wonder about the times my words hurt a student. I hope not many, but I am not naive enough to think I have never hurt a student with my words. I know I cannot go back and undo the past, but I can continue to be aware of what I say every day to every child. I know I’ll make mistakes, and inadvertently say something that may have a negative impact on a child, but I will keep trying to make sure the positives outweigh the negatives.

All the way to the moon!

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The Evolution of Teaching and Learning is Sweet.

I remember a song, way back in 1984, by an R & B artist with a fun, yet, soulful voice. Her name, Chaka Khan, seemed so unique to a 15-year-old, sheltered, Saskatchewan boy. The song, called, I Feel for You, hooked me immediately, and I recall trying some of my favourite break-dancing moves to it with my buddies. We had a lot of time on our hands back in those days (it’s just a shame we didn’t have much rhythm). That song has always held a spot on my personal top 100 songs of all time, partly because of the infectious beat and fun lyrics, but mostly because of how it takes my mind back to a carefree time of my life.

Fast forward to 2019 and a 50-year old me, still without rhythm, driving along the highway in our families white minivan. On the radio comes a song that is new to me. It has a funky beat that has me tapping out a tune on the steering wheel and bobbing my head as I cruised along. “What the heck is this?” I said out loud, almost expecting the DJ to answer me. The song faded and the voice on the radio began telling the story of the singer’s return after an absence of over a decade. Chaka Khan was back! Her latest song, Like Sugar, hooked me in the same way that I Feel for You did 35 years earlier. The new song opens uniquely, just like the old one did, and within seconds you are hearing her magical voice. It’s a familiar sound but updated. The song could have lived in 1984 alongside her other hits, but it is just as comfortable today.  

I believe that great music is not bound to any particular era, nor is it explicitly tied to a single genre. Whether it’s Billy Stewart singing Summertime in 1965, Dwight Yoakam covering Suspicious Minds in 1992, or Taylor Swift’s new song, Lover, great music will continue to captivate us.

So too does excellent teaching! I was fortunate to get to hang out at Leask School today as part of our annual site visits that our administrative team does every year. While I was there, I saw and heard some fantastic things from the staff and students. It was a frigid December day on the prairies, but the school’s warmth made our visit special. As we popped into various rooms, it was evident that there was a common thread in the building. The kids were the ones doing the work, and ultimately, the learning. They were engaged in discussing the parts of stories, looking for themes, discussing scientific problems, and preparing meals for their peers. Every room looked different as flexible seating was the approach to their classroom design. In every lesson, there was a lot of side-by-side learning going on, both teacher-student and student-student collaboration. Much of this is evidence of the changing landscape of teaching and learning in our division. It speaks to the shift from a teacher-centred approach to education to a student-centred approach. It is exciting to see this evolution and the impact it is having on our learners, both young and old.

I noticed a lot of the ‘new’, but there was also a lot of the ‘traditional’ as well, and I believe that’s a good thing. When I was young, relationships with our teachers were important, and they still are. I saw a lot of evidence of strong relationships, from fist bumps to high fives, to pats on the back. Clear, attainable learning goals were important when I was in school, and they still are. I saw a lot of evidence of clear, attainable learning goals, from I Can… statements to teacher modelling, it was all there. As we were preparing to leave Leask School, a fellow principal and I were commenting on the strong relationships we had seen in the building. This colleague of mine is in the twilight of his career, and it made me smile when he said, “you know Bruce, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I still believe it all comes down to relationships.”

I agree with him. Teaching and learning continue to evolve for the better. There will be common threads connecting the great educators of the past to those of today and beyond. And as Chaka Khan says, that’s sweet!

What do YOU think? 

  • What are some of the most important qualities of great teaching that will endure?
  • Who were the most influential teachers in your life? What made them special?
  • What are some of the best changes that have occurred in education?
  • What needs to continue to evolve?

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Taking X-Rays of Our Math Minds

It’s unusual to get a call on my cell phone at school during the day, but when the display show’s my son’s school, I answer! This happened a few weeks ago, and when I heard Bobby’s voice, I knew right away that it was serious. I could tell he was trying not to cry, but he broke down and pleaded with me to come and pick him up. He said, “I fell on the ice, and I think I broke my shoulder”. In an instant, I was in the van and on my way to get him.

During my drive, I was speculating about what was wrong. Was it just a bruise? A broken collar bone? A separated shoulder? All I had to go on was a quick conversation. When I walked into the school, I spotted Bobby, and his left arm seemed to be hanging, which made me think that it was a broken collar bone. We immediately zoomed to the nearest medical clinic where the doctor took over. Some x-rays revealed what was going on for him. He had fractured the upper portion of his humerus.

As this was all unfolding, I was trying my best to get in contact with my wife. She is a registered nurse, and when it comes to anything health-related, I always count on her. While in the pharmacy purchasing a sling, my phone rang again, this time it was my wife, thank goodness! She had some questions and then said, “bring him to the hospital, I’ll get another opinion”. I was confused by this, but she knew something I did not, she knew this fracture might be at the growth plate. A consultation with a second doctor revealed this was not the case, and he was given instructions for how to care for his arm. With that, his terrible day was winding down, and all that was left was for me to order his favorite pizza for supper.

When the dust settled, and I calmed down, I had a chance to reflect on what had happened. Bobby self-diagnosed, he said, “I think I broke my shoulder”. He knew there was something wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was. I started to speculate, maybe a separation, perhaps a bruise, possibly a break. I wasn’t sure. The first doctor ruled out certain things by just feeling his arm and shoulder, however it was not until he took some x-rays that the real problem was revealed. After finding this out we could then make a plan, with the doctor, to help Bobby heal up.

Does this sound similar to what we do with our assessment? I worry that too often we stop at the speculation stage. Bobby thought he broke his shoulder, but when I saw him I thought it was something else. Had we stopped there we would not have gotten to the real problem.

This makes me think of our current state of understanding numeracy at our school. A student says, “I hate math”, much the same way Bobby said, “I broke my shoulder”. The student knows something is wrong and we need to hear that. We need to go deeper than simply saying, “just work harder” or “ask for help when you need it”. Those are both great strategies, but it would be like me putting an ice pack on Bobby’s arm and saying he’s cured.

At our school we have evidence that things are not going well; we have students saying they “hate math”, we have students misbehaving during math class (a clear sign they are either bored or confused), and we have results from our provincial math assessments. All indications are that we need to know more about what is going on for our learners. So we are digging deeper.

I’m so excited about the work we are going to do as a team. Our administrators, special education resource teachers (SERTs), learning facilitators (LFs), and classroom teachers are putting our heads together to come up with a plan to take some mathematical x-rays of our students to see just what is going on so we can come up with a plan, whether it’s an ice pack, a sling, a cast, or surgery. We know it will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, and we know it will be tough work. We also know that we have a great team and believe that by collaborating with our amazing students and parents we can help our students heal up so they begin to talk about math the same way they are now talking about reading and writing, which they love.

It’s amazing what you can learn from a slip on the ice.

What do YOU think? What resources can you recommend? What have you seen that has worked well? What is some advice you’d have for our team and our students?

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It’s About Our Mindset

Nothing will change if we do not change.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the environment in which we work and learn together, and two recent experiences have really resonated with me this week.

First, an opportunity to learn with several of my colleagues as we gathered together to discuss The Thinking Classroom with Peter Liljedahl @pgliljedahl. Peter invited us to think and talk about the research he presented, research that indicates that students are not thinking very much in school. They may be doing plenty, but doing and thinking are not synonymous, and as he said, you cannot learn without thinking. This struck a chord with me and had me wondering about what our students are learning versus what our students are doing.

Part of the discussion centered around the learning environment, and Peter talked about things like vertical surfaces (i.e. erasable surfaces on the walls) and de-fronting the classroom and strategies like visibly random groups. Everything he talked about made sense, and everything we did at our PD had an impact. Through all of this, however, was one thought that kept coming back to me. One thought that, in my opinion, was the lynch pin to all of this. One thought that I will share after my second story.

The second thing that nudged my thinking on this topic this week occurred during a visit from our school superintendent, Brad Nichol @b_rad527 . Prior to his visit he invited me to think about somethings I’d like him to look for as we did our morning walk-about. Brad does something that I really appreciate, he sets the stage for his visits, they are not random pop-ins, they are meaningful. What I like about this is the opportunity to share with him some of the great things going on in our building, but more importantly, some of the things I’m wrestling with. This allows us to have a conversation that is intended to move learning forward.

On this particular visit, Brad indicated he was curious how many classrooms in our school were de-fronted. He asked about times when I’ve walked into classrooms and thought, “hey, where is the teacher?” only to notice he/she is sitting beside a student, blending into the learning. We did our morning walk-about through our school, popping into every classroom, speaking with kids and speaking with teachers…after we found them! As we were doing this, that thought I talked about earlier kept flashing over and over in my head.

We can have all the strategies, research, and resources in the world, but our impact will not be maximized without the willingness of our adults to have a flexible, growth mindset.

By this, I mean, the adults that are working with our students need to believe, if they do not learn how I teach, I need to change how I teach. In the past, the onus was on the students to change how they learn to match the teaching style of the sage on the stage. I was a victim of this as a student. I suffered through classes where notes were dictated, followed by questions that were not intended to invite me to think, but to remember what was dictated earlier.

We can de-front our rooms, add couches, carpets, pillows, plants, vertical surfaces, and flexible seating arrangements. We can Tweet, use See-Saw, Class Dojo, FreshGrade, and Instagram…BUT…if we, the adults, do not change, nothing will change. It is a mindset, it is about letting go of the control, it is about putting the student at the center.

And it is very difficult!

So, what do YOU think?

  • Because this is such complex, demanding work, what do you do or what have you seen that works?
  • what does a de-fronted classroom mean to you?
  • can a classroom with straight rows be a student centered classroom?
  • why do so many teachers, with incredible intentions, try, but revert back to old practices?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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Creating Waves for our Learners

There are many things I like about spending time at Waskesiu, but something I particularly enjoy is when the lake is alive with huge waves. As a young boy I used to love swimming in the waves, diving in head first or swimming underwater experiencing their momentum propelling me towards the shore. One of the unique features at Waskesiu is a large concrete breakwater that is designed to protect the shore line. This huge wall juts out into the lake, and when the conditions are just right, massive waves smash into the wall sending water high into the air. We used to stand on the breakwater waiting for this to happen and then cheer with glee as we were drenched by the flying water. Something else that was so neat about this was the way the waves interacted with each other as they bounced off the wall. Every so often two waves would be perfectly timed and the crest would be higher than all the others.

In physics, this phenomenon is termed wave interference. Simply put, wave interference occurs when two waves traveling in the opposite direction meet. When you visualize a wave, you may think about the giant rollers that brave men and women surf upon, at least that’s what I think about. I visualize the crest of the wave, the large, ominous wall of water that builds until it falls over on itself creating a white cap. Rarely do I think of the trough, the lowest point, but as a physics teacher (or student for that matter) will tell you, you cannot have a wave without a crest and a trough, they go together (and yes, we could get technical and talk about compressions and rarefactions, but alas, I need to get to the point here).

In our schools we get to have an impact on our learners. Every day we can create ripples through our actions. Just this week I had a conversation with a student about the importance of being on time and the unintended message a student sends when they arrive well after class has commenced. This student was not excited about this conversation, in fact, I could tell he was a little perturbed by it all. Impact. My actions had a ripple effect, and I wonder now if he moved through the next few moments of his day in a trough. He was sent off to work with his teacher and classmates, and those interactions would also send ripples his way. Were there more negative interactions coming his way? Was the trough he was in made deeper?

We do not always know where our learners are on the wave. Are they riding high on the crest or are they in the depths of the trough? This is what has me thinking.

Because we do not always know where someone is on their wave, we need to do our best to send positive wave energy their way.

Look at these two diagrams:

If there is a student who is riding high on their wave, regardless of what got them there, and I am able to add to that, we end up with wave interference and the crest increases. We have amplified that feeling for them. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

If there is a student who is in the depths of a trough, even if it is not readily apparent, and we are able to send a positive wave their way we see that these waves cancel each other out. We have the potential to take that student out of that funk. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

I am pretty sure it is obvious by now that I am not a physics teacher, nor was I a strong physics student, but I do think the message is pretty clear.

We get to create ripples every day through our actions, and at times, through our non-actions. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to create interference between these waves and lift our learners up. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to cancel out troughs, and bring our learners back to where they need to be. This way they can be prepared to catch the next crest.

What do YOU think?

  • What are some intentional ways you are creating crests for your students to catch?
  • Do you know the signs of a student caught in a trough?
  • Who creates waves for you, and how are you intentional about surrounding yourself with these types of people?

Thanks for reading, let’s keep the conversation going.

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So That’s WHY I Love Autumn.

Every year, as the leaves change and begin to form their colorful carpet on the ground, I am always reminded of a stay in the hospital years ago. It was in the fall of 1987. I had just graduated from high school a few months earlier and was in the midst of my new career as a petroleum transportation specialist (aka: I was delivering gas and diesel to farms in and around the Watrous area). I was diagnosed with mononucleosis, and I ended up being admitted to our local hospital. What I recall is looking out the window from my bed seeing the beautiful trees, wishing I could go out for a walk.

For several reasons, autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp air, my favorite sport, hockey, is starting up, my birthday is in the fall, and school returns to session. I loved returning to school every year, not so much for the learning, but for the chance to be with all my friends every day. At least I used to think that was why I loved going back.

Simon Sinek, in his TEDTalk (here) invites us to think about our why. I’ve written about this in the past, and am a firm believer in the importance of understanding our why. When I apply this thinking to how I feel about this time of year, I am able to identify what is at the heart of these feelings. I can identify my why.

I want to live in a world where everyone strives to make the people they meet feel better about themselves because of their interactions.

Another way to put it, I want people to feel better about themselves walking away from an interaction with me than they did walking into the interaction. This can be as simple as a conversation with the barista at Starbucks or as complex as a crucial conversation with a student, parent, or teacher. Regardless of the duration of the interaction, there is always a beginning and an end, and if the person or people I’ve been communicating with feel better about themselves at the end, I have honored my why. Before you start saying, “but how is this possible”, you have to understand, I am not always successful at this. There are many times people walk away from me frustrated or angry. I can, and probably will, write a whole blog post about what I feel is my greatest failing, why I am the hardest on those closest to me?

So, how does this relate to falling leaves? It took me a while to work through this, but I believe it has to do with routine. Like every child, I loved my summer break, and as an educator, I still look forward to July and August. But it’s routine that I crave, and every year, the falling leaves remind me of this, like clockwork. In a CNN.com article, it is noted that a “new study found that [a normal daily rhythm] is linked to improvements in mood and cognitive functioning as well as a decreased likelihood of developing major depression and bipolar disorder”. It is this predictable routine of the school year that helps me live my why.

I want to live in a world where everyone strives to make the people they meet feel better about themselves because of their interactions. What better place to do this, than at school? I get to work with learners, both young and old every day, and every interaction is an opportunity to feed my why. With over 380 students, over 25 staff, and countless family and community members, I have, at my disposal, a massive number of opportunities to feed my why.

That’s why I loved returning every year from summer break. That’s why I love going to work every day. That’s why autumn is my favorite time of year. It’s a signal that I’m returning to that routine that means so much to me. The routine that helps feed my why.

What do YOU think?

  • what is your why?
  • how are some of your favorite places, activities, seasons related to your why?
  • in what ways to do you actively seek out situations that feed your why?
  • when you are feeling down, depressed, or just out of sorts, do these feelings represent a misalignment with your why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Unbalanced Days: How Do They Impact Your School?

One of the most exciting things about the role of the Principal is that it is rare that any two days will be the same. Yes, there is the one constant, decision making, but what is consistent is the new, exciting situations that pop up every day. These moments challenge us, they force us to think, sometimes outside of the box, and they always allow us to revisit our philosophy of learning leadership.

Today was another whirlwind day at school — a day filled with managerial work, and not nearly enough time in classrooms. A day of conversations with government agencies, fellow administrators, parents, and yes, a few students who came by the office to visit. It was a day dominated by e-mails, phone calls, and paperwork. But in the life of a Principal, sometimes those days happen.

Typically, I draw my energy from the students in our building. Nothing is more fun than dancing with Kindergarten students then chatting with the senior math students. I get a kick out of listening to kids read and then watching others play volleyball. It is getting to be a part of the variety of learning that I enjoy the most. Today, that only accounted for approximately one hour of my day, which is significantly less than usual. 

But, I’m not depressed or distressed by this. The work that we did today had to be done. It was timely work that needed our attention, and it was work that the leadership team completed. And just because it was not in the classrooms or hallways, it still reflected our philosophy: we make our decisions based on what is best for our learners. What stood out, however, was how unbalanced it was, and that is not typical.

So, what do YOU think?

  • as a learning leader, how is your time typically spent?
  • when your day feels unbalanced, as mine did today, how do you reflect on that?
  • as a learning leader, if you are required to spend the bulk of your day on the phone, in meetings, etc. how does this make your staff feel?
  • with so much going on in our buildings every day, how do you, as an effective learning leader, distribute the leadership in your building?

Please feel free to leave a comment or post a reply.

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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.

Click for larger view.

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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Evaluating Your Effect

Early in my career, I often thought about student behavior, not from the students’ perspective, but from my own. There were (and still are) many instances where students were off task in my class, and often the signals were as bright as a flashing, neon sign. It was like they were calling out to me, in their own way, telling me that things were not right for them in that moment.

It might be easiest to reflect on the noisy, rambunctious students who would often blurt out answers, distract peers, or just be loud for, what seemed, no good reason. I would utilize several strategies; proximity, lowering my voice, asking a question, taking a knee beside the student and asking them to stop. Most of the time the strategies would work, sometimes they would not.

There were also those students who were sending signals in a different way. Students who sat quietly, disengaged. These students, it seemed, were not interested in what we were discussing. It appeared as though they had learned how to ‘play the game of school’. It was like they thought, “if I don’t cause trouble, I won’t get trouble.” I really wonder how many of these students I failed to reach over the years.

I feel bad about that.

In his eight mind frames for teachers, John Hattie states, “my fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.

I was too focused on evaluating the effect of my teaching on students’ behavior. Instead of looking at their behavior as an indicator of engagement, relevance, or rigor, I looked at their behavior as a reflection of who they were as students. I was also only observing and judging, not sitting beside and asking.

What do YOU think? Whether you are an EA informing and supporting learning, a teacher working with a classroom of students, or a school or system leader working with a staff, you can evaluate your effect.

  • how can we strengthen how we use observations to evaluate our effect? How do we go deeper?
  • what are some ways to collect data that will help us evaluate our effect on learning?
  • when you hear the word ‘data’ you might think of test scores, however they do not always tell the whole story. What are other forms of data that can be collected in efficient, meaningful ways?
  • what are some ways you invite feedback from your learners?
  • how do you help your learners develop their ability to give you meaningful feedback that you can analyze?
  • in your opinion, how are behavior and achievement linked? Is this different when considering adult learning?

Let’s keep the conversation going. Add your comments below.

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