Tag Archives: Feedback

Challenge the status quo ..

10 May

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Leading requires challenging the status quo. I cannot believe that some leaders are hired to keep everything static. Leadership requires a focus on solutions not problems and moving forward not falling behind. But that does not mean that fostering effective relationships is not also a part of leadership. You won’t move forward without building authentic relationships with your stakeholders, but you also won’t move forward if you try to please everyone. It is a fine line that leaders must walk and often that line moves mid-step. This is one of the many traits that leaders must possess to be truly effective and why there is not an abundance of exceptional leaders. It is extremely difficult for any leader to deal with the multitude of opinions or polarizing expertise and so it is critical that the leader is very clear on the mission. Keeping that in the forefront will assist the leader in carrying on the work in the face of adversity.

Designing schools for the future is about improvement and innovation. It is about challenging the status quo. It is about challenging assumptions and beliefs and confronting the brutal facts. It will be messy and, on a road, less traveled. Committing to evolving our practice is the inertia required for the simplest form of innovation. We seek to do something better, then we do something different and innovation begins. School improvement which is always preceded by individual teacher improvement. There is no magic bullet and there is no other way for innovation to begin and eventually scale up and scale out. It begins in the classroom with a pivot in thinking and in doing! Innovation can become the normal routine when educators believe it is about transforming ideas, shifting processes and reflecting on one’s practice.

Five Factors that help Culture

7 Apr

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Every school has a tangible climate and culture. In some schools, you can feel an energy that invites students, staff, whanau, and visitors to engage in learning. There is a sense of hospitality or manaaki. In these schools, there isn’t one leader, but many—and every leader understands his or her role in maintaining this culture. Sadly, because school culture is fragile, a positive school feel can change rapidly if people don’t understand the school’s vision.

I think there are five factors which create this feel:

Welcome everyone.

There is a sense of manaakitanga. From the front office to the classrooms, all interactions should make everyone who enters feel their presence is expected—and valued. This feeling is extended to the classroom.

Do no harm.

This is how we should interact. When harm is done—because, realistically, this will happen sometimes—schools with healthy cultures work to repair the harm rather than simply punish the offender. The school is one of a restorative nature. There is an idea of stewardship.

Use “choice words.” 

The reo we use is so important in our culture. Johnston (2004) reminds us that the language of teachers can either build students’ agency or compromise it. When a teacher tells a student, “I noticed you used some of the strategies we’ve been talking about. They seem to be working for you,” the student has the opportunity to reflect on her progress. She’ll be more likely to acquire a growth mindset, which contributes positively to her school’s overall climate.

Make it never too late to learn.

There’s a phrase in education: “Failure is not an option.” But in practice, that’s often not the case. Our tamariki see peers fail. Schools with a learning-focused culture develop policies that focus on mastery and competency rather than sorting kids into “succeeding” and “failing.”

Strive to be the “Best School in the Universe.”

This is unattainable but aspirational. Some might see this attitude as boastful; but it as an opportunity for all stakeholders to ask themselves: Did we live up to the best we could imagine? Is this the school we would send our own tamariki to?

OK I thought of another: Branding

As teachers we have been cynical about branding in education because we see it as a tool of big business and worried that it could feed competition between schools.

Branding a school isn’t about selling the school or the kids who go there. It’s about sharing the amazing things happening at that site. Organizations, like people, develop their identity based on the stories they tell about themselves to themselves, and culture is lifted when we collect and share positive stories.

Every school’s climate and culture can be shaped to contribute to learning—or that culture can be neglected. Branding allows people within a school to positively shape the way the community thinks about itself; this in turn makes it easier to maintain a healthy culture. Why not use branding to create an environment where everyone wants to spend time?

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Key Learning: Patience

14 Mar

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My key learning this week (indeed the year) is the need for patience- Leaders should be able to view their organization from the balcony and the dance floor, simultaneously. The ability to do that enables leaders to set direction and strategically prioritize. However, not everybody has the same vantage point and therefore it takes time and loads of patience to assist people to see what you see. It is important to realize that organizational time to make successful change can be quite different than your own time to implement. Change is difficult for everyone, whether it is done with or to people. Frustration will creep in pretty quickly if you don’t practice patience in leadership.

Let’s keep learning: It’s not about appraisal

22 Feb

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“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

I had a couple of medical procedures over summer. Doctors are certainly viewed as learned. They possess an incredible amount of knowledge and their practice is unique. Their medical degree certainly suggests that they are learned. But how satisfied would you be with your doctor if she did not engage in further learning beyond her degree? Would we not want our own doctor to learn about the latest research, most effective practices and prescribe the best new drugs? It would be unacceptable for doctors to be simply learned; they must also be learners.

The same must be true for educators. There was a time in education when being learned was all that was required. We held the knowledge and delivered it accordingly. But today’s classroom is far different and far more diverse than ever before. Now, educators must still be learned to a high degree but to be truly effective, educators must be learners through and through. Just as we would expect our doctors to engage in the latest practices, we must expect that of our educators too! Today’s educators must be lifelong learners throughout their careers.

A critical drivers of being a learner in our educational system is a necessary component for learning to be activated. Attitude! Educators, new or experienced must first have the attitude to be a learner. There needs to be a constant desire to improve one’s practice, to hone one’s skills. This is a difficult task because it requires honest self-reflection on the part of the teacher and high levels of feedback from supervisors and peers.

Classroom doors need to be flung open to expose our many strengths and the areas requiring improvement. While that may sound to be a common attribute for educators, like most people in society, they are not overly eager to try something new beyond their own comfort zone!

“To teach like a professional or teach like a pro, as they say in the language of sports, is a personal commitment to rigorous training, continuous learning, collegial feedback, respect for evidence, responsiveness to parents, striving for excellence, and going far beyond the requirements of any written contract. But teaching like a pro, day in , day out, cannot be sustained unless your colleagues teach like pros too. … “Professional capital is about collective responsibility, not individual autonomy; about scientific evidence as well as personal judgment; about being open to one’s clients rather than sitting on a pedestal above them; and ultimately about being tough on those colleagues who, after every effort and encouragement, fall short of their professional mission and let their peers as well as their students down (p. xv)”. (Hargreaves and Fullan)

Some Questions

15 Feb

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It mad me reflect the other day when I heard a principal comment to a school that if a certain behaviour continued, they would all be down the road. I’m not even sure what that means and if it is possible. One thing I it is not right, no gospel values there, nor does it meet the needs of the community.

So I started thinking and posed some questions to myself.

  1. How does engaging with teachers, students and community members in prototyping lead to an improved curriculum?
  • For too long we’ve had a closed shop in education. That may have been fine when we, the educators, held all the knowledge. But knowledge is easily attained today by simply a flick of a switch. Education has become far too complex to do it alone and today we need both internal and external views to make curriculum more alive, more relevant and more flexible.
  1. What are the new basics in education?
  • I think there is a fear out there that this new curriculum journey will not include foundational skills but let’s not use the terms “reading, writing and arithmetic.” The fact is that foundational skills will never cease to be critical- they are the building blocks. Literacy and numeracy will always be cornerstone to our education system but the basics must be expanded to include competencies. Basic skills are not enough anymore!
  • The 4 C’s- Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication are essential and what I would consider basic for education today. There was a time when all of these were learned naturally. playing hide and seek, make-believe and through engaging family sit down suppers. We left school, did our homework and then played with friends until dark. Today, that does not happen because our society is not the same. Parenting is different, we have a shrinking middle class and well put simply, our streets are certainly not as safe today as they once were. What was once taught at home now needs to be taught at school. Given that, we must adjust to ensure that these basics are part of the school system.
  1. Why do we need to transform curriculum?
  • Approximately 1 in 4 students are still not completing high school in 3 years. Now while we should not hang our hats on this three-year rate, we need to accept that we have students who are not completing high school… ever. That is a societal issue and simply doing more of the same will not address it, instead it is a recipe for insanity.
  • How many times do we hear our own kids respond to the question, “What did you learn at school today?” with “Nothing.” That is problematic and in part we have a curriculum driven by knowledge acquisition rather than based on local context and student/teacher interest. The very best curriculum finds the sweet spot between passion (what I love to do) and ability (what I’m good at doing). It motivates students as Daniel Pink would suggest because it provides purpose.
  1. Needs of the society
  • Our current curriculum is not nearly flexible enough to meet the changing labor market. We need to be able to change on almost a dime in order to support an innovative culture. Our current model of curriculum redesign is far too cumbersome and regimented!  There is a global market out there that our students are competing in and without a nimble curriculum, our students will continually lose out. We must be able to “pivot” when required!
  1. What are the essential outcomes?
  • Our curriculum has far too many outcomes and often without any relevance to any local context. Teachers have been caught teaching all the outcomes rather than focusing on the “need to knows”. Sometimes this has been the result of the assessment/accountability practices currently in place, while others it has simply become a habit. The need to cover curriculum or surface learning as John Hattie would say, is not beneficial for our students. Deep learning takes time and you can’t gain that time if you are worried about simple course coverage.

What do you think?

My Assessment Inquiry: Term 3

10 Oct

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Feedback is “the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement.” (Hattie, 1999)

As teachers, we look for this same type of feedback from our school leaders during our evaluations. If a singular letter grade or symbol was delivered after an evaluation, frustration would ensue. In order to grow as teachers and learners, we need to know: What were my strengths? What were my weaknesses? What am I supposed to do to improve next time? We look for guidance and direction from our school leaders, as our students do from us. We also appreciate them taking a look at the process instead of just the product. We don’t want a single snapshot into our classroom to determine our value as a teacher. Like good coaches and school leaders, teachers see the value of ongoing assessment and meaningful, specific, personalized feedback that guides the learning and teaching process. It is time that we change the way we provide feedback to our students to make it more meaningful. So how can we provide this feedback – the kind that inspires, that students listen to, and the kind that promotes growth?

Feedback should relate to our learning targets
As teachers, we want to be transparent in our teaching. As we know, a target is much easier to hit when we know where it is. Students need to know what the end goal of their learning should be and how they are going to get there. Thus, when we provide feedback, it needs to be focussed around the learning targets.  We too often get distracted by the student’s mistakes and communicating what they did wrong. Communicating what’s wrong doesn’t explain how to be right.

Feedback should be student friendly
If our feedback is too complex or sophisticated, the feedback will lose its value. We need to make it manageable for our students and easy to understand, while not overwhelming them. The existence of feedback is simply not enough. Feedback must be accessible to students so that doing something with the feedback is more likely.

Feedback should be actionable
When students receive their feedback, they should know definitively what the next steps in learning are. Through actionable feedback, we can acknowledge correct understanding while guiding future thinking. Students should understand what they did right and what they need to do next. As well, we want to look forward instead of backwards. Instead of identifying what was done wrong, we should tell students the steps they need to take to improve their learning. Just as we use formative assessment to adjust our instruction, students should be able to use the feedback from formative assessment to adjust and guide their learning.

Feedback should be timely
If we want students to be reflective, students will need timely feedback. If we want to create reflective learners, assessment should be ongoing, and feedback should timely. A student receiving feedback a week after an assessment will not have time to reflect and grow. In fact, they have probably already moved onto learning a new topic.

Feedback should be ongoing
We want to make sure that we are continuing the teach – assess – feedback loop to develop that growth mindset in our students. Assessment should not stop the learning but should be imbedded into the learning process. If we are constantly communicating with our students, they are constantly growing.

Students are active participants in the feedback process
At its best, our feedback will allow students to take ownership over their own learning to be more reflective learners and effective goal setters. Increased feedback does not mean that the teacher is simply identifying the student’s mistakes and telling them what to do next. We are just narrowing the target and guiding the students’ learning.

It is time that we start using our feedback to help inspire our students to grow and not limit our feedback to a number or a letter. We have the power to create reflective students who know what they are learning and how to succeed. Let’s create learners who have a growth mindset and who OWN their learning. We owe that to our students.

References:

Hattie, J 1999, Influences on Student Learning. Inaugural Lecture: Professor of Education, University of Auckland (downloaded August 2015 from https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/education/hattie/docs/influences-on-student-learning.pdf)

 

Culture of school in Term 3

1 Oct

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How strong are your relationships in school? Relationships between staff and students are important in promoting strong outcomes. However, the relationships between staff are also vital in developing effective teaching and learning. For us, as teachers, it is important to remember that:

  • we operate as part of our student’s lives;
  • we can tackle whatever challenges are created on a day-by-day basis;
  • we reflect on how we have benefited our student’s lives;
  • we are able to respond to change and handle difficult situations.

It has been found that when faced with challenges, resilient people act purposefully and creatively, to find multiple strategies for any problem. As teachers, we are pretty good at this!

In order to become more resilient and ultimately achieve the best outcomes for our students, it is important to remember why we became teachers. The passion and commitment that teachers show daily, can be lost under the weight of the demands of teaching. Teaching is not an easy profession, but by nurturing resilience we can support and sustain our practice.

Dilemma of Feedback

14 Aug

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My key learning this week was the following:

  • Harsh feedback does not help people thrive and excel. Indeed, effective criticism needs to be delivered with respect and care. Frequent or exclusively negative comments can spark defensive reactions that cloud perceptions and dampen motivation.
  • Positive feedback is critical for learning. People are often quick to notice what’s wrong, but it’s equally important to pay attention to and provide input on what is working to support development.
  • Telling someone how to fix a problem is often the wrong approach. You’ll foster more learning by asking questions that stimulate reflection and coaching people into exploration and experimentation.

What was yours?

My Inquiry Continues

28 Jul

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As a classroom teacher I am always looking at how I can become a better teacher. I constantly question how I could improve instruction so that tamariki I am teaching can learn at high levels. It is important for me to improve my craft so that I could help my students maximize their potential. Recently I became I began thinking about my teaching in a different way.

How do I influence teachers change instructional practice? As a leader, how do I help teachers learn and adopt new skills and instructional practices?

In his book Transforming School Culture, Anthony Muhammad reveals teachers have been socialized in the field where they will practice since they were five years old. He calls this “apprenticeship of observation.” Empowered with this information, I began to reflect on what practices would be so deeply ingrained in teachers? What experiences had teachers had as young learners that were impacting the learning of their students 20, 30, or even 40 years later?

It was during this period of reflection that my two goals merged as one. I was working diligently with teachers to help them transition their frame of mind around assessment practices while trying to improve my instructional practices as their leader and guide. It was time to apply best assessment practices with teachers, so that they could personally learn to value and deeply understand the purpose and process. I had years of “un-doing” the early training they had for their entire schooling career, but it was the most powerful way to help teachers learn to value best assessment practices.

It was important to start with a task that was of critical importance to teachers: their evaluation tool. In my desire to communicate to teachers the critical importance of helping students understand the clear criteria for which they would be assessed on any given task. This topic was deeply personal and it was evident that teachers were quickly engaged by having ownership in establishing the criteria. When things are personal conversations are often difficult.

I need to consider a process for this. This needs to be formulated working with teachers. You can enhance or destroy students’ desire to succeed in school more quickly and permanently through your use of assessment than with any other tools you have at your disposal. Through the practice of using best assessment practices with teachers, mindsets began to change about what best assessment practice really means in the development of our tamariki. More to come on this.

 

Coaching and Feedback

6 May

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As a school leader I do a great deal of coaching I work with many high performing middle leaders who want to become even more effective. According to research on effective learning, to improve performance, people need three things:

  • A clear goal
  • A genuine desire to achieve that goal
  • Feedback that indicates what they are doing well and what they are not doing well

I have been reflecting recently on my feedback and coaching sessions have unfortunately,  not been helpful. Sometimes I have been distracted, often infrequent, vague, — and as a result, leaders tend to be less proactive about getting more of it. Low-quality feedback sessions or coaching session is not useful, positive feedback is undervalued, and negative feedback delivered unskillfully can set my team back.

Without clear goals and data measuring how close or far they are from reaching them, my middle leaders will continue to find it difficult to grow and improve. When delivered thoughtfully, however, feedback can provide leaders with the actionable data they need to become more effective.

If you want to get the feedback that is necessary to improve your leadership, there are a few steps you can take.

Build a safe environment. Sharing feedback is often risky. To increase the likelihood of your colleagues taking that risk with you, show them that their honesty is not bad. Being curious starts with having the right mindset, or believing that you have something useful to learn. It is demonstrated by asking your teammates open-ended questions that you really don’t know the answers to: “What could go wrong if we try this?” Acknowledging your weaknesses or mistakes along the way are great ways to be open and vulnerable.

Ask for feedback skillfully. Asking “What did you hear when I shared my strategy?”, “How often do I interrupt people in meetings?”, personal impact (“How did it feel to you when I sent that email?”

Request both positive and negative data.  Praise tells us someone is happy with us and thinks we are performing well. Praise sounds like: “Nice job!”; “You were great in that meeting.”; “Great presentation!” While it feels good constructive criticism is ok also because you have created that relational trust.  

When receiving feedback, give your full attention and listen carefully. Eliminate distractions, including your phone and laptop, and focus fully on the person giving the feedback.

Don’t debate or defend. If you find yourself disagreeing with some feedback, practice self-awareness and notice this reaction. It is ok to be wrong also.

This all I have for now. Do you run coaching sessions? How are you going with them?

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