Sunday, May 22, 2022

Improvement is Always Possible

We have been made to think certain things are absolute truths for most of our lives.  Take, for example, the saying that practice makes perfect.  While this sounds great in theory and can be a great motivation to pursue growth opportunities, an underlying fallacy is embedded in this message.  Take bowling, for example.  The ultimate goal of any bowler is to reach a perfect score of 300 by getting nothing but strikes.  By any standards, this is an impressive feat.  While perfection can be achieved with the right amount of practice, you would be hard pressed to find any professional bowler who scores a 300 consistently.  Hence the need to constantly practice improving performance.  

Even though there are other examples of perfection in sports, every athlete works to get better.  Hence, the message to all of us is that improving our practice is always possible, especially in the field of education.  I genuinely believe that each and every educator has an innate desire to grow, but there are often stumbling blocks along the way that delay or derail an initiative.  Time is probably the number one reason for improvement efforts becoming stifled.  While this is a legitimate challenge, we all know full well that it will materialize at some point.  Knowing this allows us to be proactive and make time to grow as opposed to finding time, which tends to be more reactive.  I shared the following back in 2014:

Let’s face the perceived fact that there will never be enough time to get everything done in any of our days.  Or is there?  Regardless of your respective role in education, time will always be your enemy.  This is where you need to focus less on finding time and more on making time to complete necessary tasks that are not only required but also ones that will allow you to grow, innovate, and develop more of a passion for your work.  Before getting to this point, you must look at how you currently utilize the time you have.  In my case, I was more of a manager as opposed to a leader.

I wrote extensively about chasing growth instead of perfection in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms.  While the assent to growth leading to improvement will endure many twists and turns, there are some things educators can zero in on, which I have listed below.  

  • Co-plan lessons, meetings, and professional learning
  • De-emphasize non-essential tasks that don’t impact student learning
  • Eliminate distractions such as social media and web browsing
  • Prioritize passions and interests related to your position or responsibilities 
  • Seek collegial support as these people know you and your culture best. 
  • Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) to learn anytime, anywhere, with anyone you want
  • Organize your learning environment such as email, physical space, and support materials to make the most of all available time
  • Seek out challenging experiences that will push your practice to new levels 

Improvement is a process, not a singular event.  Growth and improvement start with honestly assessing our current reality.  There is no perfect lesson, project, classroom, school, district, teacher, or administrator.  There is, however, the opportunity to get better every day.  Hence, improvement is always a possibility no matter how much experience you have in education. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Embracing an Evolved Thought Process

It is quite hard to keep up with all the exponential changes we are experiencing.  Take technology for example.  We get used to a device or app and before we know it there has been a huge update that alters the experience or it’s gone and replaced by something else.  I think we can all agree that disruptive change is not the standard in society, but the question becomes how is this impacting education?  Honesty is the first step to grow and improve.  As you take a critical lens to your practice and that of your colleagues or school, what do you see?  Learner success relies on our openness to challenge conventional thought processes in order to evolve. 

I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

I would wager that many of our assumptions in education stem from how we were taught throughout our own educational journey. Others were likely adopted based on how we were led or the ways in which teaching, learning, and leading was modeled for us. In either case, once beliefs are established, people have a difficult time changing them when challenged. In order to be our best selves—and best serve our students—what we embrace can and should evolve over time. 

While TTWHADI (that’s the way we have always done it) can still lead to positive or even better results, the fact remains that it can also have a stagnating effect.  Traditional does not always mean better, regardless of the fact that it might have worked for you or your stakeholders.  Take a look at the chart below to see where there is an opportunity to think differently and grow. I developed it after re-reading chapter 2 of Disruptive Thinking.



The purpose of the chart above is to be a catalyst for collaborative conversations or individual reflections to spur growth. Elizabeth Thorton provides some good food for thought:

In order to change our lives and ultimately change our world, we must start by examining our own mental models: our beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about the way the world is and the way things ought to be. We think and act through our mental models. What we fundamentally believe about ourselves, what we believe to be true, what we have decided is important to us, what we focus on, is often what our experience will be.

The mind can be either an asset or a detriment to growth.  My hope is that the chart presented in this post can be used to develop questions about where you are, but more importantly where you want and need to go for the betterment of kids.  To prepare them for a disruptive world we must embrace an evolved thought process. 


Sunday, May 8, 2022

4 Question Types for Deeper Learning

There are many strategies out there that an educator can use to empower learners. Possibly one of the most powerful is questioning techniques. They comprise the core of any meaningful learning experience and are at the heart of virtually every type of pedagogical approach. While the value of great questions is understood, it is also vital to examine the types that are being used regularly in the classroom. Take the following observation pulled from research by Tofade, Elsner, and Haines (2013):

Well-crafted questions lead to new insights, generate discussion, and promote the comprehensive exploration of subject matter. Poorly constructed questions can stifle learning by creating confusion, intimidating students, and limiting creative thinking. Teachers most often ask lower-order, convergent questions that rely on students’ factual recall of prior knowledge rather than asking higher-order, divergent questions that promote deep thinking, requiring students to analyze and evaluate concepts.

The above synopsis provides some food for thought. Begin by looking at the question stem to determine if it will elicit a one-word response. There is an opportunity to scaffold if it begins with who, what, where, or when. From here, there are numerous opportunities to not only bump up the level of thinking but also foster discourse and build in relevant applications. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I shared four types of questions that can do just that while setting the stage for deeper learning. Below is a summary:

Open-Ended

There is no better way to move students beyond stating what they know than getting them to explain their think¬ing. These types of questions naturally allow for the sharing of more information such as feelings, supporting details, attitudes, and a deeper understanding of the concepts being presented. They require learners to rationalize and reason beyond figuring out the answer by formulating a stance or opinion. Typically, there is no definitive right or wrong response. 

Evidence-Based

These types of questions empower students to justify their responses through rebuttal. The teacher provides both valid and invalid statements seeking responses that are sup¬ported with some sort of evidence. The use of evidence allows students to pull from prior learning while also enabling them to venture deeper into the content.


Critical Explanation 

Even if a student responds with a correct answer, this questioning technique fosters more critical thought through reasoning. All a teacher needs to do is simply ask “why?” or “how?” to have students probe their thinking a bit deeper. 

Dissenting Voice 

Questions should lead to more questions. This technique pushes the thinking of students by compelling them to consider an opposing view.

Deep learning can be a reality, but we have to take a critical lens to the strategies that are being used. Sometimes the most practical way is to look at what is used daily. In addition to developing better questions, consider using the Rigor Relevance Framework to empower learners to then apply what they have learned in authentic ways.  

Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best practice strategies for effective use of questions as a teaching tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 77(7), 155. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Efficacy-Based Practices

The pursuit of improvement is a never-ending journey. With all the disruption we have and will continue to see, changes to how we educate kids must be considered. We often see a great deal of investment in an array of ideas, strategies, and solutions with the goal of improving learning for all kids. I am all for anything that can benefit all students. However, caution must be exercised when there is a desire to pursue the next “silver bullet” or embrace ideas that sound wonderful on the surface but have little to show in terms of evidence of improvement at scale.

Results, both qualitative and quantitative, matter, and this is something that everyone should embrace. Hence the need to zero in on what truly matters through efficacy-based practices. 

The “why” behind this focus is as follows:

  • Accountability
  • Connect what we know works by leveraging research to improve practice
  • Personalize learning for students and staff
  • Optimize time, resources, and decisions
  • Create a transparent culture to develop relationships
  • Move away from “telling” to “showing” what actually works to drive needed change


Research 

Instead of assumptions and opinions, proven strategies should be emphasized to substantiate changes or improvements to practice. Having a foundation and a compelling reason to change is where research plays a pivotal role. It provides a baseline as to what has been found to really work when it comes to student learning and improving culture. We can look to the past in order to inform current practice. If efficacy is the goal, it is critical to embrace a scholarly mindset to inform and influence our work, not drive it.

Professional learning

It is hard to meet goals and expectations to improve learning if consistent support is absent. Professional learning develops and strengthens the expertise of teachers and administrators so they are better equipped to meet the needs of all learners. If people don't believe in themselves, then achieving goals will be near impossible. Thriving cultures focus on empowerment, support, feedback, and autonomy to take risks to build self-efficacy. Without efficacy-based professional learning that connects to research and practical strategies, evidence of improved outcomes will be hard to come by.

Evidence 

Qualitative and quantitative measures help to validate the time and effort put forth to initiate and sustain change. The only way to determine if goals have been met is through evidence. Discounting this shows a lack of understanding of what real change looks and feels like in education. Evidence can come in many forms, but in the end, it should clearly paint a picture that the ideas and strategies implemented have resulted in a better, more improved outcome. A combination of data and artifacts will tell you and anyone else whether or not goals were met.

Amazing things are happening in education, and the pandemic only amplified this through the embracement of innovative ideas. We must constantly push ourselves to be better and strive for continuous improvement. The more we take a critical lens to the efficacy of our work, the more collective goals we have for education, learning, and leadership can be achieved.