Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Professional Learning’

The Courage To Teach

sssqteacherorientation

  • The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question-what subjects shall we teach?
  • When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question-what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
  • Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question-for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
  • But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question-who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form-or deform-the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach

firstmeetingsssq

Beginning my position as a new Head of School, I opened our first full staff professional learning session with the above quote from educator Parker Palmer. Determined to shift from my voice to our voices as quickly as possible, I moved almost immediately to a learning activity modified from one Palmer describes later in his book.

Imagine a moment when everything was going right for you as a teacher; when your teaching was so good you felt you were born to teach, and you knew you were making a difference for students.

The happy social buzz of first day greetings, which had begun shortly before our learning session as we arrived for a welcome breakfast, continued. The ebullient, celebratory mood of greeting friends and colleagues after a summer apart gently moved deeper, broaching seldom asked questions about qualities of teachers that lie at the heart of learning; transcending curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

After a short time, I invited teachers and staff who wanted to do so to share with the whole group; acknowledging teachers’ humility and reluctance to speak in a manner that might feel like boasting. The stories inspired. Some were about individual students’ triumphs in overcoming challenge or adversity; some about entire classes making remarkable progress; and others about a key attribute of a teacher that positively impacted students year after year. We applauded each and every speaker, beginning our year with appreciation.

We then moved just a bit deeper as Parker Palmer encourages us to do. I asked teachers to focus, not on their own celebratory stories, but on those of their colleagues, identifying the gifts, the personal strengths and qualities within their colleagues, that  bring success.  Colleagues talked about care, the ability to listen, patience, perseverance in the face of challenge, and grounding in enduring values. They spoke, meaningfully and thoughtfully, not about skills or specific knowledge, but rather about qualities that enable teachers to connect and build relationships with students. Intuitively, teachers reached beyond themselves, emphasizing the need to understand our students, equating greatness in teaching to connection with students; as individuals, as a class, and as a school-wide community of learners.

As we concluded the session, I shared with teachers my commitment to being present in classrooms regularly, not to judge, but to engage, learn, appreciate, and support. In time, I plan to offer ongoing non-judgemental feedback to prompt teacher reflection. Yet in the beginning, as teachers at my new school and I get to know each other and develop trusting relationships, I choose to refrain from offering feedback and instead to focus almost exclusively on presence and heartfelt appreciation. As the Head of School of an independent school, in which the format for teacher evaluation is not mandated by a district or the state, I have that freedom. I can take some time, engage with teachers, and collaboratively design a feedback framework emphasizing growth.

In the past I interpreted, or more likely misinterpreted, educational research as indicating that paradoxically praise is  judgmental and disrespectful of teachers’ and students’ abilities to reflect on their own learning; successes and mistakes alike. Teachers opened my eyes; sharing the pain of giving heart and soul and only infrequently, if at all, receiving appreciation from supervisors. I have heard from teachers about how disconcerting it is to feel as if one is “on stage” as a supervisor, even a caring supervisor, observes. Trained to focus on learning from mistakes, teachers often, almost obsessively, analyze what went wrong in a lesson,while glossing over what went right. We frequently see ourselves through intensely critical lenses and imagine those observing us do as well. We too often neglect to celebrate our successes, inadvertently missing out on the potential to build from our strengths.

As Parker Palmer boldly asserts, it takes courage to teach. That courage deserves appreciation.

And so, I reach out to teachers in my own school, and to colleagues more broadly wondering about ways of structuring appreciative, reflective exploration of teaching practice.  If you were able to structure a system of feedback for professionals to promote growth, in lieu of formal evaluation, what process would you use? What components would you include? What would be helpful for you?

It’s Not About The Technology

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 10.21.12 AM

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning and the relationships,” is a statement that has become almost a refrain within   conferences and conversations about educational technology. And, that was the message at a session on educational technology to support school twinning programs I was privileged to present at recently as part of the International School Twinning Network Conference with my friends Amihai BannettAaron Ross and Tzvi Pittensky.

We spoke of Skype, Edmodo, Facebook, twitter, google docs, google plus, student created videos and wikis. We spoke of the challenges inherent in connecting over different time zones, in different languages, with different facility and access to technology tools, while utilizing different curricula. We spoke of synchronous and asynchronous means of connecting students and of varying approaches to creating collaboratively. We spoke of a range of differentiated approaches effective with lower, middle, and high school students. But most of all, we spoke of nurturing understanding and friendship across distances and in the face of language and cultural divides. We spoke of understanding.

In some ways, educational technology is like cooking. There are talented professional chefs and skilled avocational “foodies” who relish experimenting with flavor. I am unabashedly not among them. While cooking is not one of my favorite hobbies, I can follow a recipe, and can even deviate playfully to an extent, so long as I don’t stray too far from the instructions. Similarly, I am by no means a “techie”. Indeed, I was humbled to present at a conference with colleagues far more knowledgable about educational technology than I am; educators who I met via twitter and would not have known had it not been for the ease of developing community and relationships via technology.  While not an expert, I can follow instructions on how to use educational technology tools, even deviating playfully to figure out applications relevant to the goals of a particular project with which I am engaged. Just as I use a telephone to speak to family and friends, emphasizing the emotion, connection, and substance of the dialogue and not the telephone itself, I can use newer technologies as means to connect, collaborate, and create.

School twinning programs are not new. When I was in high school, I corresponded with a pen pal from Greece. Our handwritten letters to one another took days to arrive. Yet, we connected and even met each other when my pen pal had the opportunity to visit the United States. Today, technology enables us to strengthen global connections beyond what we could have envisioned in the days of handwritten, stamped letters sent via the postal service. We weren’t able to conduct an international holiday celebration with two classes via Skype, send instantaneous written communications via e-mail, speak to one another without travel via google plus hangouts, participate in shared learning experiences in an on-line classroom via Edmodo, nurture relationships in a fluid ongoing manner via Facebook or twitter, or create together via google docs or wikis. Our technology can positively impact our learning and our relationships. It is important; it’s just not the essence.

Ultimately, our session about educational technology was not about educational technology at all. The tools we shared are easy enough to use, either playfully figuring them out or by following user friendly instructions freely shared and posted in writing and in videos. Instead of those “how to’s”, we strove to remind those with whom we were learning of the “why”. Technology helps us connect in synchronous and asynchronous ways, nurture relationships over time, and create together. Which tool we use depends primarily on our purpose and our personal preferences among numerous good options. There is no one “right” way of using educational technology in connecting students globally. The technology itself is easy. It’s the learning and the relationships that need nurturing.

Why We Need Principals

There are questions that resonate, holding our imaginations and keeping us wondering. There are questions that activate our learning, causing us to reflect and helping us to grow.

Do We Need Principals? asked  Josh Stumpenhorst in a blog post last May.

Do We Need (Great) Principals? responded George Couros replying to a question with a question in a blog post published shortly thereafter.

Recently Josh Stumpenhorst may have answered his own question with another post, this time an affirmation rather than a question:  We Need Leaders #cpchat.

Once overcoming my initial defensiveness at the very thought that principals might not be needed, I began to ponder a number of related questions. Do we need principals? Do we need great principals? What makes a principal great? Do we need leaders? Do we need great leaders? What makes a leader great? As a principal and soon to be Head of School, I don’t ask these questions to be provocative, but instead to honestly assess how to design my role in order to make a meaningful impact.

In search of insight, I turned to the research of John Hattie, whose investigation of more than 900 meta-analyses represents the largest collection of evidence based research into what actually works in schools. Citing a meta-analysis conducted in 2008 by Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe of 22 studies including 2,833 principals, Hattie defines three distinct types of school leadership: transformational leadership, instructional leadership, and learning leadership.

Transformational Leadership, according to Hattie is “inspiring teachers to new levels of energy and commitment towards a common mission, which develops the school’s capacity to work together to overcome challenges and reach ambitious goals, and then to ensure that teachers have time to conduct their teaching.” To me, this sounds quite good: inspiration, new levels of energy and commitment, a common mission, collaboration to reach ambitious goals, and respect for teaching time. And yet, Hattie reports that the impact of transformational leadership on student achievement is a mere 0.11, less than anticipated with no intervention at all.

Instructional Leadership, according to Hattie, occurs among school leaders who “attend to the quality and impact of all in the school on student learning, ensure that disruption to learning is minimized, have high expectations of teachers for their students, visit classrooms, and are concerned with interpreting evidence about the quality and nature of learning in the school.” To me, this also sounds quite good: a focus on student learning, high expectations, presence in classrooms, and attention to evidence about the quality of learning. And yet, Hattie found that the impact of instructional leadership was 0.42, barely above the 0.4 mark one could expect without any intervention.

Learning Leadership, according to Hattie, is leadership that emphasizes student and adult learning and occurs when leaders promote and participate in teacher learning through such approaches as providing coaching over an extended time, data teams, a focus on how students learn subject matter content, and enabling teachers to work collaboratively to plan and monitor lessons based on evidence about how students learn. (see Bausmith & Barry, 2011) In distinction to the minimal impact of transformational and instructional leadership, Hattie found the impact of learning leadership to be an impressive .84, placing learning leadership as among the most significant positive impacts on quality of student learning in schools. (Hattie, John (2012-03-15). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Kindle Locations 3889-3892). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Interestingly, Hattie’s insights are not only for principals, our building leaders, but also for teachers, our classroom leaders. Just as John Hattie found a dramatic .84 impact when principals serve as learning leaders, he found the very same dramatic .84 impact when teachers serve as activators of student learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. Alternatively, he found a mere .17 effect size on student learning, less than anticipated with no intervention, when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. (Michael Fullan, Presentation at the 2012 ISTE conference)

Perhaps the roles of principals and teachers, or at least the roles of great principals and great teachers, are not so different after all.

Trained as a transformational leader in the 1990’s, and serving in the mission-driven independent school world in which leaders are expected to inspire teachers toward a common mission, I have undergone a transformation myself in the past several years now striving to be a true learning leader. Hattie’s research, combined with my own experience, has led me to embrace two key ingredients necessary for greatness in principals, teachers, and students alike: coaching and collaboration.

Do we need principals? Of course we do. But, not the principals we may have imagined; not the disciplinarians and schedulers, not the visionaries, and not even the instructional leaders. We need principals who coach and are coached, who support teachers to look at student work together, and who humbly join mind and heart with teachers and students in the sacred task of learning.

Crowd-Sourcing For Learning

Survey results are in!

As the newly appointed facilitator of  YU2.0 , an on-line community of practice dedicated to educational technology integration in Jewish schools, I anticipated the results of a survey we sent to all members with excitement. I sat with the data when it arrived, a plethora of questions swirling in my mind. So much feedback; so much insight. And yet, something felt not quite right. But, what? Pondering further, it struck me. Sitting alone analyzing data for a community negated the wisdom of community. Why not collaboratively reflect, wonder about implications and dream about possibilities collaboratively?

And so, in search of creative collaboration and multiple perspectives, I share with you our data. Your insights, perspectives, wisdom, and reflection will support a Community of Practice better to meet the needs of members.

Who are the members of YU2.0?

We are teachers, technology coordinators, administrators, and more. 37% of us are Judaic studies teachers, 25.9% of us are general studies teachers, and 5.6% of us are department chairs. 31.5% of us are technology coordinators and there are a number of technology directors as well. 11.1% of us are principals and 7.4% of us are heads of school. Also included among our members are a school board president, the Director of Educational Leadership at a Board of Jewish Education, a curriculum writer, student programming directors and coordinators, a parent, a religious school director, and a learning strategist.

We work with pre-k through twelfth grade students, with the following distribution:

Pre-School 19.1%

K-2 35.3%

3-5 39.7%

6-8 55.9%

9-12 42.6%

Why do we participate in YU2.0?

We are motivated to participate in YU2.0 for a range of reasons, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Using educational technology and social media to more effectively support student learning High: 49.1 % Very High 41.8%

2. Keeping updated on trends and advances in educational technology High 41.5%  Very High 45.3%

3. Using educational technology and social media more effectively in our own professional learning High 38.2% Very High 38.2%

4. Extending and strengthening the network of educators with whom to learn High 49.1% Very High 21.8%

5.Interacting with others specifically interested in educational technology integration and social media in Jewish schools High 30.8% Very High 34.6%

6. Making a contribution helping and mentoring others High 47.2% Very High 13.2%

7. The opportunity to work collaboratively on projects with others High 21.8% Very High 20.4%

One member wrote in an interest in increasing and strengthening connections between Israel and those outside of Israel. Another wrote, “educational technology is one tool. I am a big techie but find that people who are very into the tech side of education forget that it is about the kids because they are so into the technology.”

What do we hope to learn with YU2.0?

We are seeking to develop a range of skills, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Educational technology resources for student learning High 44.4% Very High 48.1%

2. Keeping up to date on emerging trends in educational technology High 45.5% Very High 41.8%

3. Educational technology resources for our own professional development and growth High 41.8% Very High 38.2%

4 Web 2.0 resources for our own professional development and growth High 40.7%  Very High 37.0%

5.Web 2.0 resources for student learning High 40.0% Very high 32.7%

6.Developing school wide learning plans for technology integration high 35.2% Very high 38.9%

7.Using the Smartboard interactively High 34% Very High 39.6%

8.Google apps in the classroom High 38.9% Very high 24.1%

9.The Judaic Studies classroom, integrating technology and social media High 29.6% Very high 31.5%

10. Technology coaching and technology peer coaching to support other educators implementing technology High 22.2% Very High 37.0%

11.Creating videos with students High 34.5% Very High 21.8%

12. Ipad use in the classroom High 31.5%  Very High 24.1%

13. Planning for school wide iPad implementation High 18.9% Very High%

14.Connecting students with other students using social media and educational technology High 25.9% Very High 11.1&

15.Blogging and portfolios with students High 20.8% Very High 15.1%

16.Podcasting with students High 16.7%  Very High 9.3%

One member wrote of interest in flipped learning both for classrooms and faculty meetings. Another wrote in interest in fundraising for moving to a technology based education and communication system. Several wrote in about interest in blended and on-line learning, including school-industry partnerships.

What are obstacles we face in terms of more effectively utilizing educational technology and social media?

1. Too many other demands on my time 57.4%

2. Competing school priorities requiring my focus in other areas 50%

3. Insufficient technology tools available 42.6%

4. Insufficient professional learning 38.9%

5. Competing professional priorities of mine requiring my focus in other areas 38.9%

6. Insufficient knowledge of available resources 29.6%

7. Being overwhelmed with the multitude of options available 27.8%

8. School policies blocking access to sites and resources I might use 20.4%

A number of members wrote in that financial constraints are a significant obstacle. One wrote in that lack of interest among teachers who have little time is an obstacle. One wrote in that educational technology duplicates preexisting materials without proven benefits.

What are the benefits of YU2.O to our members?

Benefits, in order of importance, include:

1. I am learning new things from my colleagues on YU2.0 that are helpful to me Agree 63%  Strongly Agree 6.5%

2. There is a feeling of community and shared identity as Jewish educators Agree 46.7% Strongly Agree 20%

3. The conversations on Yu2.0 are interesting and important to me Agree 59.6% Strongly Agree 4.3%

4. We are creating new knowledge together Agree 51.1%  Strongly Agree 8.9%

5. I am not comfortable sharing my questions on YU2.0 Disagree 48.9% Strongly Disagree 13.3% (on this question disagreement indicates comfort in the community)

6. I do not feel that members on YU2.0 have a common purpose Disagree 37.8% Strongly Disagree 24.4% (on this question disagreement indicates members do have a common purpose)

7. I am sharing what I learn from YU2.0 with colleagues at work  Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.5%

8. There is a growing sense of trust, ease, and valuing of relationships with peers on YU2.0 Agree 44.4% Strongly Agree 13.3%

9. I am confident if I ask a question I will receive helpful, respectful feedback Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.9%

10. I am able to contribute something of value to the group Agree 44.4% 4.4%

11. Participating in YU2.0 has not changed the way I use technology at work Disagree 38.3% Strongly Disagree 6.4%(on this question disagreement indicates that participation has changed the way members use technology at work)

How might we expand our Community of Practice?

We expressed interest, in order of priority, in:

1. Face to face conferences or Edcamps High 40.7% Very High 27.8%

2. Presentations from guest experts High 56%  Very High16%

3. Streamed conferences or decamps High 48.1% 16.7%

4. Webinars High 44.2% Very High 19.2%

5. Opportunities to coordinate visiting each other’s schools High 39.2%  Very High 27.5%

6. Peer presentations and collaborative problem solving High 41.5%  Very High 18.9%

7. Connections for collaborative projects among YU2.0 members High 38.5%Very High 19.2%

8. Connections for peer mentoring among YU2.0 members High 34%  Very High 15.1%

9. Google + Hangouts High 23.1% Very High 19.2%

10. Real time conversations using social media High 30% Very High 14%

11. Twitter hashtag High 23.1% Very High 9.6%

How might we use our periodic e-mail updates?

40.8% of members find the periodic e-mail updates valuable and  4.1% find them very valuable. 38.8% find them somewhat valuable and 16.3% find them not so valuable. Items members would like included in periodic e-mail updates in the future include: top post, best links to new information, technology that improves a specific aspect of education rather than how to integrate technology into education (focus on education with technology as a tool, rather than technology as the goal with education being the platform), information on teaching Judaic Studies with technology, event updates, innovations, ideas, resources, how other professionals and teachers are using various tools in the classroom, connections to current events, what schools are doing, and new groups that have formed within YU2.0.

What are leadership roles of interest to members?

Members wrote in that the would be interested in:

  • Being a regular guest blogger
  • Sharing knowledge about teaching Hebrew with technology
  • Connecting on twitter and Facebook
  • Teaching a webinar
  • Facilitating a subgroup
  • Organizing an online conference
  • Organizing face to face or online meetings to strengthen relationships
  • Teaching about iPad integration in schools
  • Speaking about creating student movies
  • Supporting schools to implement hybrid learning approaches in which technology is a tool to improve the quality of learning
  • Just about anything if it will further my knowledge and abilities in educational technology

What questions does this data raise for you? What recommendations, based on the data, do you have for our Community of Practice? How might we reflect, analyze, dream, and plan?

 

 

Gooooooal!

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

Who’s Afraid of Principals?

Principal's Office

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user ecastro

“Do you know, there are kids who are afraid of principals?” I asked with a smile, turning to the first grade teacher who sat with me and a nervous six year old. We had just finished reassuring this child that we had spoken to him about his behavior on the bus the day before, not because we were angry, but because we were  concerned about his safety. We knew from his mother that he was indeed afraid of principals, so afraid that he convinced his younger sister that she should be terrified of her gentle and caring nursery school director.

The child began to giggle and I turned to him, smiling. “You’re laughing. You must have heard of kids who are afraid of principals.” 

“I’m one of those kids. I’m afraid of principals.” he said emphatically, his eyes widening and his giggles  transforming into a deep belly laugh. The teacher and I burst into genuine laughter right along with him. The teacher then stated what had already become obvious to him; he need not be afraid. He left my office chatting happily with his teacher, having gained newfound trust in me and, I’d venture to say, principals generally.

I imagine he is not alone. I imagine there are not only students, but also teachers in many if not most schools who, if answering honestly might declare, “I’m one of those teachers. I’m afraid of principals.”

As I prepare for upcoming individual conferences with each teacher to discuss professional learning goals, supports, action plans to meet goals, and ways of monitoring, assessing, and celebrating progress, I wonder. As I visit classrooms, offering feedback, compliments, and engaging with learning and teaching, I wonder. As I seek ways of meaningfully showing appreciation, admiration, and respect for teachers, I wonder. How might we hold high expectations, without blame and criticism, but rather with support and mutual accountability for student learning and well-being? How might we transform judgmental evaluation processes, with the potential to be fear-provoking, irrelevant, or both, into a commitment to meaningful professional learning, sharing, and growth?

It’s not only students and teachers who are afraid. Sometimes, principals are afraid as well. Our fear struck me upon reading a recent tweet, with a link to a blog post: I’m Afraid!

Ron McAllister is a colleague to whom I frequently turn for insight and his words resonate powerfully with me as he poetically states:

I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I read Ron’s words with respect for his honesty and with admiration for his aspiration. And, I wonder. What if we reframed our  fears as aspirations?

I aspire to support teachers to find inspiration within themselves. 

I aspire to show appreciation and gratitude to teachers by recognizing contribution and complimenting effort and accomplishment.

I aspire to put a wide variety of supports into place and to trust teachers to choose the supports of greatest value to them. 

I aspire to provide feedback in the form of nonjudgmental observations and questions, specifically linked to teachers’ professional learning goals and evidence of student learning.

I aspire to take in feedback with humility, to remain open to ideas and possibilities, and to continue learning and aspiring. 

How might we transform our fear into creative, energetic aspiration? I welcome your insights.

7 Steps To Effective Feedback

CC licensed image shared by flikr user HikingArtist.com

Last week, our educoach chat (a twitter chat dedicated to instructional coaching and professional learning) focused on the topic of giving feedback. We shared our own experiences giving and receiving feedback and reacted to articles from the most recent issue of Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning (September, 2012, Vol. 70, No.1). Feedback is a topic we delved into in depth this summer as part of our book discussion chat on John Hattie’s Visible Learning For Teachers. Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn. (John Hattie, Know They Impact, Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning September 2012, Vol. 70, No. 1)

Feedback matters.

I’ve recently come to embrace the idea that great principals and great teachers have at least three important habits in common.

  • They offer feedback effectively.
  • They have strong feedback loops for themselves, learning and growing professionally by incorporating feedback they receive.
  • They show appreciation.

In 7 keys to effective feedback, an article in the most recent issue of Educational Leadership (Feedback for Learning: September, 2012; Vol. 70, No.1), Grant Wiggins writes: “the term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking. Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” Wiggins then shares that helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.

Giving feedback is not easy for principals for a variety of reasons. There is the challenge of time. With 56 teachers in my school, and only one of me, offering feedback that is timely, ongoing, and consistent has been difficult. There is the challenge of experience. Most of us have given and been given advice, praise, or evaluative critique rather than  feedback. And, perhaps most significantly, there is the challenge of role expectation. Principals, at least as I was trained years ago, have been viewed primarily as evaluators, giving “expert” advice and assessment, rather than sharing nonjudgmental observations with teachers for the purpose of professional learning and growth.

Despite the inherent challenges, I have come to recognize that giving feedback effectively to teachers can be among the most significant contributions a principal can make to improving the quality of learning in our schools. So, how can principals overcome the challenges and offer effective feedback? For your feedback, I share the seven steps to effective feedback I am using.

Step One: Schedule significant time be in classrooms.

What is in our calendar gets done. It is difficult to offer effective feedback without having experience of learning and teaching, day in and day out, in our own schools. My own practice is to schedule two hours daily to be present in classrooms for learning and teaching; either observing or preferably engaging with learning in whatever ways teachers request.

In addition to daily time in classrooms, I schedule six No Office days during the year, one with each grade K-5, on which I spend the entire day, from arrival to dismissal, with a grade. Teachers can assign me to do whatever they would like on these No Office Days. These days are valuable to me in assisting me to get a feel for the rhythm of the day in each grade.

This year, as a birthday gift to each of our teachers, I will be teaching one period of their class on their birthdays. I also hope to cover for an hour on the birthdays of our other building administrators, office staff, and perhaps even our maintenance crew. Teachers and staff members can schedule the birthday class so that they can come late, leave early, extend lunch, or remain and watch me. (There is already a line of teachers hoping to observe me teach physical education, which should be a class filled with good spirit, humility, and laughter.) Teachers and staff members can also take a rain-check for another day at their convenience if their birthday is not on a school day or even if another day will simply work better for them. In addition to offering teachers and staff members the gift of time, which I wish I could do even more often, teaching each class will offer me perspective on the joys and challenges of learning and teaching in our school.

Step Two: Schedule time for formal conversations with teachers to discuss professional learning goals, supports to reach goals, and to assess progress being made.

This year I will be scheduling three formal meetings during the year with each of our faculty members. At the first meeting, taking place between September and November, we will set together a professional goal, an action plan to meet the goal, supports to reach the goal, and criteria for measuring progress and success.  At the second meeting, scheduled between December and February, we will discuss progress toward the goal, confer on how supports are working, speak about whether feedback offered has been helpful, and make modifications as necessary. At the third meeting, taking place between March and the end of the academic year, we will reflect on professional growth during the year.

Success will not be determined based on whether teachers meet their goal. There could be a goal easily met without much growth or a stretch goal, not met yet with enormous professional growth. Each teacher will fill out rubrics we created together as a faculty for our school’s Standards for Professional Practice. I will fill out the rubrics for each teacher to the best of my ability based on observations and conversations we have throughout the year. These rubrics are not only an assessment for teachers, but are also an assessment for me and my knowledge of learning and teaching in each classroom. I will leave blank what I cannot complete based on direct knowledge of learning and teaching in each class, thereby recognizing those areas about which I need to learn more. Each teacher and I will compare the rubrics and discuss.

Step Three: Make feedback nonjudgmental and goal-focused

My notes on classroom visits will offer nonjudgmental feedback; phrased with the prompts we as a faculty have learned to use together on our learning walks in each other’s classrooms: I notice. I wonder. What if? How might? I will strive to connect feedback to each teacher’s professional learning goal. And, I will seek teachers’ input on what type of feedback and information will be most valuable to them as well as on whether the feedback I am offering is helpful.

Step Four Make use of technology as a support, but focus on the relationships and face to face interactions

I have created a notebook in my very favorite app, Evernote, titled “teachers” and I have created a note for each of our teachers. I will add to the note after each of our formal meetings and after each classroom visit. Each time I add to a teacher’s note, I will send the the teacher a copy with the most recent additions at the top of the note. These notes will become a record of our ongoing reflective conversation and will take the place of a formal evaluative end of year write-up.

Although utilizing Evernote to organize myself, I will focus on face to face interactions. I won’t bring my computer or Ipad into classrooms as teachers rightfully complained last year that I wrote on my Ipad in class rather than engaging in learning. I will carry my cell phone, primarily for emergencies during which my administrative assistant texts me. Having the phone with me does enable me to jot down a note if really worried I will forget. Generally, however, I remember what I want to write and record notes after students have left for the day. Some teachers write back to me, reflecting on feedback. Just as I have had meaningful conversations with colleagues in my professional learning network utilizing social media, I have had meaningful conversations with teachers in my school using e-mail. Other times teachers stop me in the halls or request time to speak to follow up on feedback offered and I love those ongoing face to face interactions. All teachers will have a minimum of three face to face conversations in which I focus my attention exclusively on their professional learning.

Step Five: Compliment

While in classrooms, if I am not interrupting, I will share  a compliment with each teacher on the spot. I recognize having a visitor in one’s class and hearing nothing can be disconcerting. Regardless of whether I can speak directly without interrupting, either in class or face to face afterward, I will share a compliment on something wonderful happening in the classroom along with the  brief, written feedback I send. While I accept Grant Wiggins’ explanation that feedback and compliments are not the same thing, and I do strive to make a clear distinction, it is important to me to ensure that I compliment and show appreciation for our teachers regularly.

Step Six: Be transparent about evaluation

I plan to function far more with a “coach’s hat” than an “evaluator’s hat”; yet if at any time I need to relay a concern as an evaluator, I will be direct in letting teachers know I have on my evaluator’s hat and am giving advice or clarifying expectations rather than sharing nonjudgemental feedback.

Step Seven: Seek feedback

It is vital for me not only to offer feedback, but also to receive feedback, opening myself to perspectives of teachers, staff members, parents, and students. I have thus sought to create a multitude of venues in which I request and strive to embrace feedback. As I share feedback with teachers, I simultaneously ask teachers for feedback. I was gratified when one of our new teachers shared that the two phrases she hears over and over are: How can we help you? And, give us feedback so we can do better. Our PTO provides valuable feedback from parents and I schedule parent-principal conferences on parent-teacher conference days and throughout the year, encouraging parents to speak with me directly. I continue to consider ways in which to receive feedback from teachers, other administrators, staff members, parents, and students. And, I will openly acknowledge, I appreciate the compliments I sometimes receive as well.

In line with seeking feedback, I ask for your thoughts. What do you notice and wonder about these seven steps and about effective feedback more generally? What other considerations might be helpful? How might you adapt or improve upon these steps?

I look forward to your feedback!

%d bloggers like this: