Sunday, October 13, 2019

Where is Your Learning Culture?

There are many factors that inhibit change. In some cases, comfort is the enemy of growth. We teach the way we were taught or lead the way we were led. Now I am not saying that this is bad per se, but the bottom line is whether or not the practice is effective. The same could be said for the status quo. Doing what we have always done might seem like a sound path forward if the results you are judged on are good or increasing. Herein lies one of the most prominent challenges schools and educators face, and that is perceived success based on traditional metrics and methodologies. 

Achievement is great, but it is one piece of the puzzle. How the structure and function of a learning culture lead to improvements in achievement and outcomes is where change efforts should be focused. This leads to the point of my post. Where is your learning culture? Think about this question in the context of the world where your learners will need to thrive and survive. Will they have not just the skills, but the competencies to succeed in a world that is in constant flux? 

New jobs and fields require learners to be both dynamic thinkers and doers where they have the competence to think in complex ways and to readily apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, learners can use extensive experience and expertise to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge. As I have written in the past, we are well into the 4th Industrial Revolution characterized by automation, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and disruptive innovation. Seismic shifts in the society and the world of work compel us to take a critical lens to our practice, as improvement is a never-ending endeavor.

So how do we begin to transform culture? The journey starts with being honest about where you are in order to chart a path forward to get to the place you want to be. Reflection is a powerful tool for growth. Take a look at the image below and reflect on it for a minute or two.

Image credit: Awaken Group Revolutions

Where does the culture of your school fit into these categories, and why? Think about what needs to happen to make needed shifts to practice that aligns with the 4th Industrial Revolution. Success, in terms of achievement only, can, at times, be a mirage. A learning culture should best prepare kids to meet the demands inherent in the new world of work. The first leg of the process is being honest about where you are.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Questions to Guide a Reflective Conversation on Learning

Most educators desire meaningful feedback that can be used as a catalyst for growth. When it comes to improving learning, criticism will rarely, if ever at all, lead to changes to professional practice. Here is the main difference between the two:
Feedback - information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Criticism - the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
As you reflect on the two definitions above, what pathway would you prefer? Successful feedback lies in a variety of factors such as delivery in a timely manner, detailing practical or specific strategies for improvement, ensuring the delivery is positive, consistently providing it, and at times choosing the right medium to convey the message. However, one of the most important considerations is to ensure that a two-way conversation takes place where there is a dialogue, not a monologue. Virtually no educator wants to have suggestions dictated to him or her.

A recent coaching visit with Corinth Elementary School placed me in a position to model all of the above. Over the course of the year, I have been working with the district on building pedagogical capacity both with and without technology. After visiting numerous classrooms, I met with a grade-level team and the administrators to facilitate a dialogue as part of a more meaningful feedback conversation. Instead of just telling them what I saw and thought, I instead had them pair up and discuss their lessons using the following question prompts:

  • How do you think the lesson or activity went?
  • What would you have done differently?

The point here was for them to begin to reflect on both the positive outcomes as well as the challenges that might have been experienced. Lasting improvement comes from our own realizations as to what can be done to grow and improve rather than just being told. After some volunteers shared how they thought the lesson went, I then challenged them with the following questions to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of the effectiveness of the lesson from their lens:

  • How do you know your kids learned?
  • Where was the level of thinking?
  • How did kids apply their thinking in relevant and meaningful ways?
  • How did you push all kids regardless of where they were?
  • What role did technology have in the process?
  • What accountability structures were put in place?
  • What do you think your kids thought of the lesson?


These questions really got both the teachers and administrators in the room to think more critically about whether or not the lesson or activity achieved the desired outcome in relation to the aligned goal. What was powerful from my seat was that most of the feedback I had written down didn't have to be delivered verbally by me as the educators offered it up themselves upon critical analysis of their lessons. This is not to say that I didn't add more detail or provide specific strategies to improve. I most certainly did, but the culture that was created through the use of all the above questions was more empowering and designed to impart a great sense of ownership amongst everyone present.

Whether peer to peer or from a supervisory position, engage in a collaborative dialogue during any feedback conversation. Then provide time to process, further reflect, and develop action steps for improvement. I hope you find the questions in this post as useful as I have.