Sunday, April 18, 2021

Using Feedback to Create a Culture of Excellence

Growth is a huge component of the change process. In order for each of us to pave a path for success, there must be feedback along the way.  When it comes to navigating the process of change, this might be the most essential element to help individuals improve while also validating efforts made to get better.  Cultures of excellence are created and fostered when feedback is used to commend effort while providing considerations for growth regularly.  In a previous post, I highlighted five considerations to help maximize this powerful tool, which you can see below:

  • Positive facilitation
  • Practical and specific
  • Timely
  • Consistent
  • Use the right medium


In my role as a coach, I am constantly providing educators with feedback based on qualitative and quantitative evidence in alignment with the principles listed above.  On a typical day when I visit classrooms with principals in my partner districts across the country, both the building and district leaders receive a 1000-to-5000-word document laden with practical feedback. They get this before I physically leave for the day.  I have always done this because I know that timely information has been critical to my professional growth.  The best outcome of this process has been the feedback I have received from leaders who have stated how valuable this resource has been for them.

During my recent work with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), I had the honor of sharing what I have learned from the field while helping them look at and analyze evidence from their change efforts during our time together.  During each virtual coaching session, they were pushed to bring artifacts from their respective cohort.  Recently I shared what Jill Angelucci, an assistant principal from George Rogers Clark High School, created as a result of the project.  My role was to provide then direct feedback on all the evidence shared while also engaging the group to do the same. One of the key points I tried to make was how important it is to do the same with teachers.  It warmed my heart when Amy Rhodes, the principal of Bevins Elementary, shared what she had recently implemented in regard to feedback. The result was “Feedback Fridays.” 

You can see examples of the slips she created HERE and read the summary below:

While our district was on all virtual learning, I began asking my teachers to submit one thing each week they wanted me to give feedback on from Canvas. Teachers could ask for feedback on a module, lesson, or recorded video from Canvas. They could ask me to join a Zoom for the upcoming week or look at a piece of student work. The options are endless. I gave each teacher feedback on what he/she submitted. If the teacher submitted something to me before 2:30 on Friday, I allowed them to leave work 30 minutes early (while we are on all virtual learning and students were not in the building). 

I recently checked back in with Amy Rhodes after reviewing the feedback slips she had shared during the KDE coaching sessions to gain more insight into her views on why and how she moved forward with this strategy.  Below are her thoughts.

Feedback and coaching have been part of my professional growth goal for the last few years.  Being an instructional leader is my top priority, and I know how vital teacher efficacy is to student achievement. When our school closed in March of 2020, we were not prepared for virtual learning. We did the best we could with the resources we had. Going into the new school year in August of 2020, we needed a learning management system and ways to improve virtual learning. Being all virtual, I was unable to observe instruction in the classrooms, and I had to teach myself how to conduct virtual observations through Canvas and by participating in Zooms. 

I noticed that my teachers worked very hard at making their virtual classrooms presentable and designing their Canvas courses so they were easy to navigate. I did not see the sound instruction that I would see in the classrooms if we were not virtual. Some of the things I look for while doing classroom visits, using our district walkthrough document, are learning targets, higher-level questioning and discussion, active engagement, student feedback, technology, and formative assessment. I knew my teachers were already overwhelmed with all the changes, but I also know how vital it is for our students to receive sound instruction rather than be virtual or in person. 

We meet in PLCs every Wednesday and were able to use this time to discuss and have teachers share out their Canvas pages and virtual lessons. When I would see something from the week that I liked, I asked that teacher to share out at PLC. For example, while conducting a virtual observation in Canvas, I noticed a third-grade teacher found a fantastic way to engage students even through virtual learning. I asked her to share her screen I PLC and show her colleagues what she did. This was an excellent way for teachers to learn ideas from others. 

As I already said, my teachers were so overwhelmed, so I chunked the things I look for from our walkthrough document.t I started with learning targets, and I provided coaching and feedback until every teacher had learning targets on their virtual lessons each day. Next, we moved on to formative assessment and then on to questioning and discussion. We chunked the areas and worked on them in small groups. With the coaching and feedback I provided, along with the PLC discussions, it did not take too long until I was observing high-quality teaching and learning virtually!

If there isn’t a concerted effort to improve progress, it is often hard to come by in many cases. Most educators need and want feedback to grow. There is no one right way to do this, in my opinion.  However, once feedback is prioritized and consistently provided, the stage is set for a culture of excellence.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Organize, Streamline, and Empower Learning with Hāpara

The world has radically changed in unprecedented ways. Educators navigate uncharted waters that continually fluctuate as a result of COVID-19 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Even with all of these challenges, opportunities have arisen to take education in a different and better direction to create a new normal that better meets learners' needs. Teachers have risen to the occasion like never before. With increases in technology and adapting to both remote and hybrid learning, we have seen them become nimble while embracing innovative pathways to create a more equitable learning experience.

As someone who has actively worked in schools physically and virtually throughout the pandemic, I have seen some of the most extraordinary examples of sound pedagogy. I will even go out on a limb and state that what I have seen the past couple of months is significantly better at scale than what was observed prior to COVID-19's emergence. Now don't get me wrong.  There were definitely excellent practices taking place in classrooms across the globe. However, they were more isolated than widespread. All of that has changed in many schools.  

If you are an avid reader of this blog, you have seen examples of what I am talking about in terms of the use of time, differentiation, purposeful integration of technology, and educator collaboration. My role has not only been to provide strategies and ongoing coaching but also to make recommendations on solutions that can make the lives of teachers, administrators, and students easier in the process.  Hāpara is one such solution if you are using Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite).  They offer a suite of tools for differentiation, promoting digital citizenship, establishing productive workflows, providing feedback, and allowing learners to work at their own pace. 



Below you can see all that Hāpara does:

  • Highlights: Encourages a gradual release of responsibility approach to monitoring digital learning to grow digital citizenship and develop critical competencies amongst learners. Highlights give teachers a window into what learners are working on in their Chrome browsers and provides the ability to provide formative feedback and positive reinforcement while also facilitating guided practice.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Simplifies teacher workflows in Google Workspace by organizing all student Drive files into one convenient dashboard. This makes it easier for teachers to access student work and provide timely, consistent, formative feedback. 
  • Workspace: Consider this the place to organize all of those Google apps and tools. Hāpara workspace is a home base for learning that teachers can use to facilitate instruction, automate differentiation, personalize tasks and provide a collaborative experience. Educators can benefit from thousands of publicly shared Workspaces aligned to the local curriculum and customize them to meet their learners' needs. 
  • Student Dashboard: A one-stop hub where learners can find their Google Classroom assignments, Drive files, announcements, and communications from their teachers. Student Dashboard can establish a path to developing more vital executive function skills, greater autonomy, and increased student agency.  
  • Private Library: Allows schools and districts to secure their Hāpara Workspaces in private library collections. Only those within the school or district can see these Workspaces, and they cannot be shared publicly. This has the benefit of protecting licensed content so that copyright is not violated by sharing outside of the organization.
  • Classroom Dashboard: Provides schools and districts visibility into Google Classroom engagement metrics to make better-informed learning decisions. The valuable data provides insight into how Google Classroom is being used, whether or not students are engaged in learning, and developing a coaching and professional learning plan to ensure student success. 
  • Digital Backpack: A flexible solution for equitable distribution of textbooks, resources, and other content. 

The resiliency of educators during the pandemic has not gone unnoticed.  We need to continue to celebrate all that they have and continue to accomplish while also moving forward with pedagogical change that will transform classrooms in ways that future-proof learning. One way to ensure lasting success is to streamline workflows for teachers and students alike. In this case, Hāpara fits the bill for Google users. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Learning Recovery Through Acceleration

There is an emerging sense of relief amongst educators as more and more schools are welcoming back students or that the most difficult year is finally coming to an end.  With this excitement comes renewed fears of where many of these kids are academically or will be by the beginning of the next school year.  As such, the most common messaging has focused on the impending learning loss epidemic that is about to plague virtually every school.  While we know there are and will be challenges with re-entry and assimilation, my concern is how the use of a deficit thinking approach to stereotype kids who, in many cases, have experienced immense trauma will affect them.  It’s not their fault that a pandemic occurred. 

A more sensitive and pragmatic strategy is to develop systemwide supports for learning recovery through acceleration.  Remediation techniques tend to address foundational skills and lower-level standards and concepts that emphasize perceived weaknesses—employing an asset-based approach instead of a deficit model shifts the focus to strengths and equity. So why learning recovery through acceleration as opposed to remediation?  Suzy Pepper Rollins provides this take:

The primary focus of remediation is mastering concepts of the past. On the other hand, acceleration strategically prepares students for success in the present—this week, on this content. Rather than concentrating on a litany of items that students have failed to master, acceleration readies students for new learning.

With this approach, as opposed to a deficit thinking focus on learning loss, districts and schools work to develop a comprehensive plan to determine where their learners currently are to help them get back on track and accelerate their learning.  With both a sense of urgency and an array of competing interests trying to advocate for why their way is the best, it is critical not to make the process more complicated than it is.  Don’t overanalyze it or be made to think that just a technology solution will do the trick.  To accelerate student learning, my colleague Kyra Donovan at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) suggests the following:

  • Develop teacher clarity by prioritizing standards using consistent and specific criteria.
  • Implement quick differentiation through vertical alignment of priority standards so teachers can dip down a grade level if needed but move quickly back to grade-level standards.
  • Emphasize rigorous and relevant learning through scaffolded questions and tasks that teach priority standards while allowing immersion in key concepts and skills. 
  • Create checks for understanding by creating and aligning formative. assessments to priority standards.
  • Establish continuous high expectations to instill a belief that all students can and will learn. 
  • Be bold by questioning current assessments and their purpose to determine if you need them all.

It is critical to move past remediations that will further exacerbate learning gaps while identifying and implementing strategies that represent a sound investment to help learners get back on track and accelerate their learning. Below are some more thoughts from Kyra. 

At ICLE, we have developed comprehensive learning recovery through acceleration solutions.  With the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, Congress has made money available to school districts to tackle the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The two rounds of funding are primarily focused on learning recovery but can be used for a variety of professional learning needs. The time is now to develop a longitudinal plan.  Feel free to email me at any time (esheninger@leadered.com) for more information.