Sunday, October 30, 2022

Strategies to Empower Reluctant Staff

As a leader, have you ever been so excited about a new initiative or innovative idea only to learn that some of your staff weren’t as equally thrilled? Early in my career, this was more the norm than the exception. I vividly remember getting excited about improving parent communication with, at the time, a state-of-the-art app. Since I saw the inherent value that it would have in the hands of my teachers to get information out readily while building relationships in the process, I couldn’t wait to usher in this change.

I began with a detailed email with attachments and planned a more formal presentation at an upcoming faculty meeting. The time finally came, and I facilitated a demonstration of the tool and then had my staff discuss the merits and possible issues with incorporating the tool across the entire school. To my dismay, at the time, my staff was primarily lukewarm to the idea or totally against everyone using a digital tool for communications.   I felt both blindsided and confused. After meeting with some of my most trusted teachers, I decided not to move forward with the app. However, this was an invaluable learning experience for me, which helped when I tried to lead other change initiatives.

There were times, like the example above, when I did not find success with change. It’s not that they were bad ideas or a waste of time and resources. Instead, it was human nature in terms of a resistance to change that was the cause of reluctance in some of my staff. Fear of the unknown and being comfortable where one is at can stymie even the noblest efforts. As a leader, it was my responsibility to help my staff overcome both of these potential impediments and you can as well.

Know your stuff

It is critical to deeply understand what you are trying to achieve, why this journey is essential to embark on, and how it will lead to better outcomes. Begin embracing a scholarly mindset so you can connect research and evidence when it is time to lay out a path forward. Be sure to be transparent along the way, so your staff knows the advantages of the change and potential disadvantages. Most importantly, look for opportunities to model new ideas.

I shared the following in Digital Leadership.

Leadership is about action. Don’t expect others to do what you have not done or are not willing to do yourself. 

Listen and learn to understand needs

Knowing your stuff also means you are willing to listen to staff concerns to gain greater insight that can be leveraged to overcome reluctance. Consider this a vital learning experience that can be used to influence both the decision process and future implementation. Incorporating feedback and addressing concerns openly can shift the tide. The opposite also holds true. When big decisions are made unilaterally, stiff resistance typically follows.

Instill value

There is no more significant catalyst for accepting change than when people clearly know the why behind the endeavor. It works to help people embrace what is being asked of them and, in the process, increases the likelihood of success. Value can also be secured by supplying clear evidence that the change is warranted and providing ongoing professional learning support.

Human nature can be a fickle thing. Reluctance to change might never be fully overcome. As leaders, it is prudent to be proactive when pursuing anything that bucks the status quo to empower staff to want to be part of the solution.

What strategies have you found to work when it comes to reluctant staff?

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Better Feedback for Deeper Learning

In order to learn and grow, some type of feedback is needed along the way. While an experience can be a foundation for learning, it is the feedback that often serves as a catalyst for reflection. At this point, learners gain valuable insight into the strategies being used so that adjustments can be made to make better progress. There is also a robust research base to validate its importance. Goodwin & Miller (2012) provided this summary:

In Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock's 2001 meta-analysis, McREL researchers found an effect size for feedback of 0.76, which translates roughly into a 28-percentile point difference in average achievement (Beesley & Apthorp, 2010; Dean, Pitler, Hubbell, & Stone, 2012). John Hattie (2009) found a similar effect size of 0.73 for feedback in his synthesis of 800 meta-analyses of education research studies. It was found that feedback ranked among the highest of hundreds of education practices he studied.

All feedback isn’t created equal. For it to have an impact, it must be timely, practical, specific, facilitated in a positive manner, and consistent. Hattie and Timperley (2017) shared the following.

Hattie and Timperley (2007) say that effective feedback must answer three major questions: Where am I going? (What are the goals?) How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?) Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)

Besides the elements listed above, the medium used matters, especially in the classroom, since time is at a premium for teachers. While the desire is there to engage learners in a feedback dialogue, the reality is that it can be a challenge with large class sizes in addition to other demands. Hence, the reason I shared the feedback log concept in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms.  

Think about all the conversations that educators have with learners on a daily basis. The valuable information, in many cases, aligns with what the research has said constitutes good feedback. The problem, though, is the reasonable possibility that learners forget what they have been told regarding progress or improvement and don’t have the ability to later reflect on the feedback given. Having students create a feedback log solves this issue by helping them remember, retain, reflect upon, and chart their progress of improvement. Best of all, it requires no extra time on the part of the teacher.

While I presented the concept in my book, it wasn’t until recently that I saw an exemplary feedback log during a coaching cycle with Quest Academy Junior High School in Utah. I am still in awe of the vision and culture that principal Nicki Slaugh has worked with her staff to create. So many sound strategies were seen consistently, such as exit tickets, learning targets, self-pacing, and learner autonomy for personalization. When visiting Courtney Hutchins’ ELA class, I saw students following their own path in a self-paced format. As they worked, she used data to call up individuals and engage in a feedback dialogue. During the conversation, students were asked to write down the feedback in a log. You can see an example of this below. 

Try This

  • Develop your own feedback log template or adapt the example pictured above. The most important aspect is to unpack the standard(s) into learning targets and ensure that the feedback that is verbalized helps students advance to these goals.
  • Have students keep this log in a binder or online document and have them reflect on what they have done to incorporate the feedback.
  • Let families know you are using this strategy so they can review and support their kids at home. 

Implementing feedback logs saves precious time, can be seamlessly aligned with research-based strategies, will help students monitor their understanding of concepts, and can be used to provide more targeted support to those who really need it to succeed. Best of all, they can serve as an empowerment tool to help kids exert more ownership over their learning. 

Goodwin, B. & Miller, K. (2012). Research says good feedback is targeted, specific, timely. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 82–83

Hattie & Timperley (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research (Vol 77, No1).

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Your Ticket to More Effective Lessons

During my training to become a teacher, I was immersed in the work of Madeline Hunter when it came to lesson plan design. Her Instructional Theory into Practice (ITIP) model helped me identify the strategies I would use on a daily basis to help my students learn. These included the anticipatory set (hook), reviewing prior learning, checking for understanding, forms of practice, and closure. Every lesson had these elements and I often received positive feedback from administrators on these when they observed me. Closure is something I was incredibly proud of and I always ended lessons with some form of paper exit ticket.   I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking:

While the opening moments with students are crucial, so are the final minutes. Think about this for a second. What’s the point of an objective or learning target, whether stated, on the board, or students having the opportunity to discover for themselves, if there is no opportunity at the end of the lesson to determine if it was achieved? Learning increases when lessons are concluded in a manner that helps students organize and remember the point of the lesson. 

At the time, this model was both a practical and effective means for planning direct instruction and was readily embraced as this was the primary strategy used in classrooms. It streamlined practices in an efficient way that could be replicated day in and day out. Herein lies the main disadvantage of ITIP. It was a one-size-fits-all approach centered on the teacher making all the decisions from an instructional standpoint at the expense of developing competent learners who can think.  

Like many things in education, elements of ITIP still have value depending on how they are used. Closure is still critical, in my opinion, as a means to determine lesson effectiveness and serve as a catalyst for reflective growth. Exit tickets, when constructed well, represent a sound strategy to be implemented at the conclusion of a lesson. In simple terms, these are ungraded formative assessments that assess what students learned during the course of the lesson. The data from then can be used to identify the following:

  • Level of mastery
  • Areas of difficulty
  • Opportunities to reteach
  • Gaps in learner understanding 

The information gleaned from them provides the teacher with additional insight as to how the lesson went and what can be done to improve it in the future. A recent visit to Quest Academy Junior High School, where I began longitudinal work on personalized competency-based learning (PCBL), got me thinking more deeply about this strategy. The principal, Nicki Slaugh, is a trailblazer in this area and I am fortunate enough to be providing coaching support to her staff to take them to the next level. While visiting classrooms with Nicki, we saw a slew of outstanding practices in action. However, I was incredibly impressed with the exit ticket created by science teacher Melanie Hueftle, which you can see below.

Not only does this meet the criteria for a well-designed exit ticket, but it also goes much more profound and serves as a more powerful reflective tool for both the teacher and the student. As reported by John Hattie, self-reported grades/student expectations are one of the most effective strategies out there (effect size = 1.44). The exit ticket puts the “personal” in personalized as each learner determines where they are in relation to the learning target. I also love the fact that they can advocate for support from not one but two different teachers. Knowing Nicki and her incredible staff, what you see above is most likely the norm in many Quest Academy classrooms.

Try This

  • First, if you’re already using exit tickets or some other means of lesson closure, that’s great, but take a minute to reflect on whether they’re providing the type of substantive info I’ve outlined here, or if they’re simply making your lessons slightly longer. Consider if your use of closure elements might be tweaked to provide greater value to you and to your students. As you approach future lessons, zero in on what these tasks are telling you about student learning—on an individual basis and as a whole group. Are you seeing any patterns? How might you adjust your instruction to provide more focus where each student needs it?
  • If exit tickets are new to you, that’s great, too—what an opportunity! First, consider what feedback would be most helpful to you and your students. The example I provided here is just one, but Google “exit tickets” and you’ll see a number of examples. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find one that fits your needs and modify it to make it yours. What lesson this week is a natural fit for an exit ticket? Choose one, develop your ticket, and just try it with your class. Then reflect on the information it provides—how does this align with your expectations around what you want your students to understand? What steps will you take to adjust your instruction? Remember, data is great, but it’s what we do with it that matters.
My hope is that these simple tips help you improve what you are already doing or provide the means to develop powerful exit tickets that not only serve as closure, but set the stage for your next lesson. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Core Elements of Personalization

Many concepts are looked upon negatively as they are associated with buzzwords, fads, or a lack of substance. You won’t get much of an argument from me as to the validity of this view because it is true in many cases. Educators want proven strategies that can be implemented readily that will address diverse learner needs while leading to an improvement in outcomes. Personalization is far from a fad or buzzword as it represents an equitable approach to learning. I shared the following definition in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

Personalization constitutes pedagogical approaches that ensure all learners get what they need when and where they need it to succeed.

Personalization represents a shift in focus from the “what” (content, curriculum, tests, programs, technology) to the “who” to create a more personal learning experience for all kids. At the forefront is developing and sustaining a culture that imparts purpose, meaning, relevance, ownership, and various paths that cater to all students' strengths and weaknesses. Tools such as the Relevant Thinking  Framework and technology can certainly assist, but what is more important is an emphasis on three core elements. While these are not new by any stretch, it is valuable to see how they seamlessly connect to create a personalized experience.

Learner agency

The underlying premise is to move learners from a state of engagement to empowerment so that they exert more ownership over their learning. To achieve this goal, they need to be granted more autonomy in the classroom and beyond. It is driven by high-agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place. These aid in developing critical competencies needed for success in a disruptive world.


While not a new concept by any means, the challenge has always been with effective and consistent implementation. The overall premise is that instruction is tailored to better meet students' needs in the areas of content, process, and product. Whereas agency focuses more on what the learner is doing, differentiation is typically driven by the teacher. Ongoing assessment is vital as this provides the teacher with the necessary information to develop lessons and tasks that are more personalized. A simple Google search will unveil all the many strategies and techniques that are available to educators to make this a reality.


Response to Intervention (RTI) represents a multi-tiered process to identify the behavior and learning needs of struggling students early on and then provide specific support in the form of interventions. Components include:

  • Tier 1 – Teacher provides research-based instruction to the entire class using extensive checks for understanding as a means of formative assessment. This data, and that collected through routine benchmarking, is utilized to determine what supports are needed in Tier 2. Behavior screenings are implemented as well.
  • Tier 2 – Targeted supports using the data collected from the Tier 1 interventions are used to provide small-group instruction that focuses on specific learning and behavioral needs. 
  • Tier 3 – At this level, the most at-risk students are provided individualized support, typically in a one-on-one setting. 

Data is a huge component as it influences the types of supports used in each tier above. For specific strategies that can be used in each tier, click HERE.

While digital tools, research on the brain, and an emphasis on high-agency strategies might be new, personalization is not. Developing an understanding of all the interconnected elements can assist you and others in creating experiences that meet the diverse needs of students while nurturing a positive school culture. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Humble Leadership

Suppose you were to research or Google the qualities of effective leaders. In that case, all you would come up with are the typical characteristics such as good communication, ability to make difficult decisions, having a vision, models, and listening intently, to name a few. What doesn’t show up in routine searches is humility. There is a strong link between this trait and effective leadership. Jeff Hyman shared the following in a Forbes article:

A number of research studies have concluded that humble leaders listen more effectively, inspire great teamwork and focus everyone (including themselves) on organizational goals better than leaders who don’t score high on humility. Case in point: A survey of 105 computer software and hardware firms published in the Journal of Management revealed that humility in CEOs led to higher-performing leadership teams, increased collaboration and cooperation and flexibility in developing strategies.

Humble leaders are able to get the most out of people through intrinsic means, which often leads to lasting change and a positive culture. Here is another bit from the Forbes piece referenced above:

Humble leaders understand that they are not the smartest person in every room. Nor do they need to be. They encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas, regardless of whether they originate from a top executive or a production-line employee. When a leader works to harness input from everyone, it carries through the organization. As other executives and line managers emulate the leader’s approach, a culture of getting the best from every team and every individual takes root.

So how does one become a humble leader? The first step is understanding who you are and how your actions might be perceived or impact others, something I dive into deeply in Digital Leadership. Humility is characterized by a low focus on the self and an honest assessment of one’s worth and accomplishments. It also requires an acknowledgment of one’s imperfections, limitations, mistakes, shortcomings, and other areas of growth. You basically need to understand who you are.

Humble leaders are highly effective because they:

  • Earn trust
  • Use an equitable lens
  • Treat everyone with respect
  • Encourage teamwork
  • Admit mistakes
  • Foster a culture of learning

Although this is a common misconception, being humble does not mean you are weak. While some might see humility as a weakness, it is possibly the most significant asset a leader can yield. You don’t need to have all the answers. Instead, you must know where to find them, or better yet, leverage your people as a means to build capacity. Humility means you trust the people who you work with, delegate when necessary, and provide feedback to spur growth. Sometimes you might need to evolve into a humble leader and daily reflection is critical using a window and mirror approach. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”