Archive for the ‘Improving Instruction’ Category

Do Teachers Have a Voice In Their Learning? A Gallup Survey Says No.

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Today on, results of a survey conducted by Shane Lopez and Preety Sidhu show that new teachers are amongst the most engaged employees when they start their careers, with 35.1% of new teachers reporting they are engaged by their work. I’m not sure that 35.1% engagement is cause for celebration. The data still show that many teachers are not engaged. Additionally, the data reveal that although teachers start out with the highest level of engagement, 35.1%, engagement dramatically drops to 27.9% for teachers with 3 – 5 years experience. After a few years, most teachers report that they are not engaged.

Why is that? What is it that is leading to such low levels of engagement? The data again are informative. Lopez and Sidhu’s survey results also show that teachers are the least likely of all occupations to say, “at work my opinions seem to count.” Think about that. Teachers are less likely to think their opinion counts than service workers, repair workers, bus drivers, construction workers, or in fact, any category of employee.

And do you think teachers are on verge of getting more voice in their professional learning? My worry is they are not. With the roll out of common core, which often involves a small team developing a curriculum and then imposing it on the rest of the staff, there is a danger that teachers will have even less voice (even though your  child’s teacher already thinks her opinion counts less than does the barista who sold you a coffee today).

What would it mean if teachers were more engaged? What if,  instead of 27.9% engagement, teachers were 80% engaged? What would it mean for our children and for this country?

We can give teachers a voice in what they do and we should.  Maybe we should spend less time telling our teachers what to do and more time listening to what they think. After all, our teachers, the people who spend every day with our kids, know a lot about students.  Certainly, it is worth taking a hard look at our schools and asking, can we do a better job of giving teachers an authentic voice in their own learning?

What YouTube Taught Me About Learning

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

This week I’m giving a post-dinner talk in Niagara Falls, Canada.  I’m never too sure about how such a thing can be done, but as I prepared the presentation, I asked myself, what would I want after teaching all day, driving to a conference, and having a nice dinner?  Aside from a short talk, I thought, I suppose I wouldn’t mind watching some videos and talking with my friends.

So that is what I decided to do.  The presentation summarizes six ideas about learning, both personal and professional, illustrated by some of my favorite video clips and quotations.  I’ve included the clips, ideas, and quotations here.

1.  Learning that dehumanizes carries the seeds of its own failure.

This clip, for me, captures a simple idea, that life should be fun, joyous, playful and human. Margaret Wheatley says it beautifully:

There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what’s possible. Being willing to learn and be surprised.

The learning we experience and the learning we provide should celebrate that humanity.

2. Learning involves partnership.

This conversation, for me, illustrates that no matter how different our level of expertise or status, we can still engage in respectful, partnership conversations.

When we do learning to each other, using what Paulo Freire refers to as banking education, we decrease humanity. An alternative is to learn with people in partnership, that is, to design learning that recognizes each adult or child’s need for autonomy.  Peter Block, whose work really introduced me to the idea of partnership, writes about it this way:

Partners each have a right to say no. Saying no is the fundamental way we have of differentiating ourselves. To take away my right to say no is to claim sovereignty over me. For me to believe that I cannot say no is to yield sovereignty.

3. Learning occurs in a culture.

Learning in any system — a classroom, a school, a school system — occurs in a culture. Therefore, one of the true challenges for a leader (a teacher, principal, superintendent, whomever) is to shape culture. Edgar Schein, who literally wrote the book on organizational culture and leadership, puts it this way:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.

4. Coaching accelerates learning.

For more than a decade we’ve been learning how coaching can help people improve practice.  When coaches help teachers set goals, work as partners with colleagues, demonstrate what Michael Fullan refers to as impressive empathy, they provide a very important service for their colleagues.  Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article is the best writing I’ve seen describing the challenges and potential of coaching.

5. Learning involves striving for personal bests, striving to do things we couldn’t do before.

What I notice about this clip is how profoundly empowering it is for Cooper in this clip to do something he couldn’t do before. There are at least two ways to understand learning. One way is to assume that people need to be motivated by leaders, and therefore learning requires extrinsic rewards and punishments if people are going to move them forward.

An alternative is to assume that people actually want to do good work; people need to be trying to improve, to be striving for personal bests, to feel they are living a fulfilling life.  One of my favorite authors, George Sheehan, puts it this way:

My end is not simple happiness. My need, drive, and desire is to achieve my full and complete self. If I do what I have come to do, if I create the life I was made for, then happiness will follow.

6. Learning involves moral purpose.

One thing, I believe, that characterizes Mr. Rogers is that he clearly did what he did because he cared about other people more than himself. For professionals, for educators, focusing on something bigger than ourselves is very important.  Michael Fullan, who’s written several books about moral purpose and moral imperative, put it this way:

Moral purpose, defined as making a difference in the lives of students, is a critical motivator for addressing the sustained task of complex reform. Passion and higher order purpose are required because the effort needed is gargantuan and must be morally worth doing.

I love all these quotations and clips, and like so many things, I see them through my perspectives. I hope you see them from your perspectives, and that you benefit from watching them too.  I’d love to know what other clips and quotations you think truly illustrate key ideas about professional and student learning.

What clips and quotations inspire, encourage, and educate you?

Words: The Power of a Shared Vocabulary

Friday, April 5th, 2013

The Eskimos have 52 words for snow because it is so special to them; there ought to be as many for love. Margaret Atwood

We tried to talk it over, but the words got in the way. Leon Russell

Margaret Atwood is right, of course. We could communicate more effectively with more words to describe different kinds of love. But having just one word is infinitely better than none. Words, despite their limitations, help us talk about topics we would not otherwise be able to discuss, and see things we would not otherwise be able to see. A word is a candle held up in the darkness to help us move forward.

Words might be humanity’s greatest invention. A shared vocabulary helps us share emotions, share ideas, learn, grow. And this is just as true in conversation in schools as it is in conversations at home.
An important shared vocabulary in schools, as Phil Schlechty has explained, could be developed around student engagement. Teachers can have meaningful conversations defining and acting on the terms authentic engagement, strategic compliance, and off-task behavior. And once the words are defined, teachers can share ideas and strategies to increase authentic engagement.

Educators can also benefit from coming to a shared understanding of positive reinforcement, and defining such ideas as growth mindset, ratios of interaction, and positivity. When people develop clear definitions of positive and negative reinforcements, they begin to see interactions in a clearer way in the classroom. Some words make the invisible, visible.

Powerful professional learning also happens when teachers agree about the meaning of other words, such as those describing reading strategies, like text-to-self or summarizing, or writing concepts such as sentence fluency, coherence, or voice. The simple act of talking about a word like voice, and working to develop a shared, deeper understanding, can be very meaningful professional development.

Teachers, of course, are not the only people who need to develop a shared vocabulary. When administrators and teachers do not share a common vocabulary about the meaning and importance of observations, admin evaluations have little positive impact on teaching and learning. What good is an administrator’s evaluation when the teacher and administrator can’t authentically talk about what was observed? Worse, what good are observations when observers can’t clearly define what they are seeing?
A clear picture of reality is an essential part of growth, but the picture does have to be clear, and people need a shared understanding if they are going to talk about it.

Students should also be a part of developing a shared vocabulary. When students understand authentic engagement and strategic compliance, they can give meaningful feedback to their teachers on what works and what doesn’t work for them. Sandi Silbernagel, for example, a teacher in Slidell, Louisiana, learns a lot by asking her second graders for their feedback on their level of engagement.

No doubt Leon Russell was right. Sometimes the words can get in the way. But without words, we can’t talk. Language is the means by which communication takes place. And as in life, so in schools. We should do all we can to develop a shared vocabulary. When we can truly talk about what we see, important learning—for teachers, administrators, and students—can really happen.

The Power of Clear Explanations

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Oliver Wendell Holmes

 If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you watch Joe Smith’s four and a half-minute explanation of how to use a paper towel.  His simple explanation changed my life.

What makes Mr. Smith’s explanation so effective?

There are at least four strategies Mr. Smith uses to make sure we know exactly what he is describing. If we apply his strategies to our own explanations, I’m convinced we can be much clearer as teachers, instructional coaches, or presenters.

Why: How to use a paper towel is not that sexy of a topic, but in just a few words, Joe gets our attention and explains why we should care about what he’s describing.  One paper towel per person per day would save 571,230,000 pounds of paper in a year.  Wow.  Even if I’m not that concerned about the environment, I would find it hard to resist those numbers. If nothing else, Joe has captured my attention at the start.

Simple:  Smith doesn’t give us a lot of extra information.  In fact, his talk is built around two words:  shake and fold.  By telling us only what we have to know, he makes it extra easy for us to learn and remember what he is explaining.

Modeled:  Mr. Smith shows us several times how to do this. He even sets up a little sink on the stage so that we can see exactly what to do.  Some of the viewers the TED website give him grief for using too many paper towels during his explanation, but I think he does exactly what needs to be done.  He makes sure we get it by overdoing it.  Too often modeling is cut too short and people are left a little confused. Joe leaves no doubt in our mind how to do what he’s describing.

And, for the record, I’ve already saved dozens of pieces of paper thanks to his explanation, so I’ve made back the few he used up modeling.

Memorable.  Smith helps us remember his explanation in simple ways: getting the crowd shouting out “shake and fold,” displaying a sense of humor, connecting the twelve shakes to twelve to the twelve apostles, twelve zodiac signs and so forth.  After less than five minutes, he makes it almost impossible for us to forget what he has to say.

These are simple strategies, but they are powerful. If we (a) explain why, (b) keep our explanations simple, (c) model, model, model, and (d) make our talk memorable, more people, (children and adults), will remember what we say. Our explanations might just change people’s lives.

Joe Smith changed mine.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Master Communication

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

“A person can have the greatest idea in the world—completely different and novel—but if that person can’t convince enough other people, it doesn’t matter.”
Gregory Burns neuroscience professor at Emory University

“It’s intriguing to ask,” Carmine Gallo asks, in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, “would Steve Jobs’ ideas have been translated into world changing innovations had it not been for his ability to persuasively communicate?”

“Steve Jobs is the world’s supreme corporate storyteller,” Gallo writes, and Gallo believes it was Jobs’s communication skills that helped him make Apple enormously successful. Unfortunately, most innovative thinkers do not have Jobs’ communication skills. For that reason, many great ideas go unnoticed. As Gallo writes, “Countless ideas will never see the light of day, let alone move society forward, if their stories are not told effectively.”

Jobs used several techniques for clear communication. His slides were simple and he used images and pictures to make it easier for his audience to remember the messages. He spent a lot of time planning every detail of his presentations.

Jobs recognized that communication requires simplicity, so he used language that was lively—Gallo says “zippy”—and easy to understand. He wrote short, twitter-friendly headlines—“the world’s thinnest notebook.” And he organized ideas into groups of three, recognizing that too much information often leads to too little understanding.

What is Jobs’ lesson for teachers?

Like Jobs, we can be more effective and reach more students if we plan carefully and constantly reflect on how our communications can be clearer, our slides (if we use them) simpler, more visual, and more dramatic, our language more accessible, our information better organized.

Of course a lot of the most important learning in school is led by students, not by teachers. But when teachers share information, their effectiveness should be measured in part by how easy they are to understand. If educators aren’t constantly trying for better communication, their ideas, to paraphrase Gallo, may never see the light of day in students’ minds.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Create Insanely Great Experiences

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Jobs launched an innovation in the retail space precisely because he had a bigger vision than his competitors. His customers would enter an Apple store to shop for products and leave “feeling” inspired. —Carmine Gallo

One of Steve Jobs’ innovation secrets, Carmine Gallo tells us, was his desire to create insanely great experiences that affect us emotionally. When he decided that his company would create Apple stores, for example, he was convinced that he needed to do more than “move metal,” which was the commonly held approach to selling computers. He had a much bigger vision. Gallo quotes Apple store designer Ron Johnson who describes what they were trying to accomplish with the Apple store:

To succeed in any business, you need an exceptionally clear vision… The fewer the words the better… When we envisioned Apple’s model we said it’s got to connect with Apple. It was easy. Enrich lives. Enriching lives. That’s what Apple has been doing for thirty plus years.

To create stores that enriched lives, Jobs and Johnson, Gallo explains, established criteria that clearly differentiated them from other retailers:

• Design uncluttered stores
• Locate the stores where people live their lives
• Allow customers to test-drive products
• Offer a concierge experience
• Make it easy to buy
• Offer one-to-one training

A classroom is not a store designed to sell electronic equipment. However, a lot can be learned from Jobs’ desire to create insanely great experiences.

First, we can all ask what our vision is for the experience that our students experience? Are we committed to inspiring students to love learning, to experience respect, to love to read? There is value in asking, “What kind of experience do I want for my students in my class this year?”

Second, we can ask, How can I arrange my class so that it best embodies that vision? Sandi Silbernagel from Slidell, Louisiana found her vision by asking a simple question, “What would I want if I was a seven year old?” Her answer was “comfortable,” and she created a classroom culture that beautifully brought that vision to life:

You can see a short video of Sandi talking about her class here .

You can download a checklist for analyzing your classroom’s environment here .

Creating insanely great experiences for learning takes a lot more than a pithy statement and a perfect room, but environment does make a big difference. Steve Jobs knew that, and his company greatly succeeded because of it—Apple recently passed Tiffany’s for having the highest sales per square foot of any retailer. When we understand the importance of environment, we improve our chances of making a difference for our students.  And in my mind, that’s insanely great.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Saying No To 1,000 Things

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

A “no” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. Mahatma Gandhi

According to Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, how Jobs acted when he returned to Apple after 11 years “tells you everything you need to know about how Steve Jobs creates innovative products.” When he returned, Apple had more than 350 products. Within a year, Jobs reduced the product offerings to 10. Jobs initiated the rebirth of Apple by saying no to hundreds of things.

Gallo explains why saying no is essential. “It’s only by saying no, that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” In fact, as William Ury writes in his excellent book The Power of a Positive No,

Everything you care about—your happiness and the well-being of your family, your success in your job, and the health of the larger community—hinges on your ability to say no when it counts.

And many of us, I suspect—teachers, principals, instructional coaches, radical learners—need to be saying no more often.

A teacher, for example, can say no to the seductive power of content, and write unit questions that emphasize the most important knowledge, skills, and big ideas students need to master.

Click here to watch a short video of high school English teacher Wendy Hopf talking about the importance of focus.

Click here to download a free checklist for writing guiding questions.

A principal saying no to “innovation overload,” can lead a school toward a simple school improvement target that everyone understands, agrees with, and commits to implementing.

Click here to download a Learning Forward 2012 presentation I gave with Jadi Miller from Lincoln, Nebraska School district, describing Elliot Elementary School’s success doing just that.

Instructional coaches can say no by refusing to try and know everything for everyone and instead focusing attention on a small number of high-impact instruction strategies that have the most potential to increase student learning and well-being.

When he talked about his accomplishments, Steve Jobs said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” All of us can take the same approach. In fact, I believe that it is only by saying no to many things, that we can begin to effectively do those few high-impact things that can have the most impact on student learning and well-being.

What do you think?

Do you struggle to say no to demands that pull you away for achieving your best?

When should educators say no more often?

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Sell Dreams

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

The [think different] ad campaign … reveals a fundamental difference between radical innovators and mediocre copycats: the former believe in their customer’s dreams and their ability to change the world; the latter see their customers as dollar signs and nothing more.

Carmine Gallo, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs may be the most innovative creator of our generation. What separated him from everyone else was his ability to create products that people didn’t even know they wanted until they saw them.

Most people didn’t realize they wanted a personal computer, an iPod, an iPhone, or an iPad until they saw each of them, but once they saw them, they had to have them. As Carmine Gallo says in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, “the iPad fills a gap, one that most of us didn’t know existed.”

Steve Jobs created such compelling products, Gallo writes, for two reasons.

First, Gallo says, “Steve Jobs knew his customers better than anyone at the company. He understood their needs, hopes, and dreams.

In Apple’s world, customers are … men and women, young and old, professionals and amateurs, who have one thing in common: they dream of a better life. Apple has created world-changing products precisely because they help their customers fulfill their world changing dreams.

Second Steve Jobs had exacting standards for what Apple created. Gallo writes, “Jobs is relentlessly focused on the customer and his or her experience with the product and the company. He will not tolerate anything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards.”

What can these suggestions mean for educators?

First, like Steve Jobs, teachers can strive to have a deep understanding of their students’ hopes, fears, and expectations. One way to do this is to ask questions. I’ve created a list of questions teachers can ask students to learn more about what makes them tick. There are questions for elementary, middle, and high school students.

Second, like Jobs, teachers who truly want to inspire their students, need to commit to extremely high standards. Radical learners know this. They relentlessly pursue excellence—video recording their lessons and learning from the recordings. Reading anything they can about how to be more effective. Observing other teachers. Finding and using technology to accelerate student learning. And doing whatever else they can to increase engagement, well-being, and achievement.

Jobs understood that a deep understanding of his customers and a deep commitment to excellence would lead to world changing products. For teachers, a deep understanding of students and a deep commitment to excellence can lead to life changing experiences.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: How Teachers Can Think Different

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

For Steve Jobs, Think Different was more than just an incredibly successful marketing campaign. According to Carmine Gallo, “think different” was an essential part of Jobs’ creativity.

Many radical learners embrace the “think different” goal, so it should not be surprising to hear it was the fictional radical learner, John Keating–played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society–that inspired Rob Siltanen when he wrote the original copy of the Think Different campaign. In a fascinating column for Forbes magazine, Siltanen explains how Dead Poet Society influenced his initial copy.

The emotion and the context of the movie [Dead Poet Society] very much related to what I wanted to capture for Apple. Below are some key passages from “Dead Poets” that resonated with me and ultimately served as inspiration for the Apple script.
“We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”
“Despite what anyone might tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Poetry, beauty, love, romance. These are what we stay alive for. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

How, then, can teachers “think different”? Steve Jobs, as described by Carmine Gallo in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, offers some advice:

Explore: To see things differently, we need to see more things. Jobs consciously put himself in different experiences, traveling to exotic locations, learning about topics that had very little to do with his work, and surrounding himself with creative people from a wide-range of fields: artists, musicians, architects, and poets.

Neuroscientist Gregory Berns, cited in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, explains why exploring is vitally important:

Breakthroughs come from a perceptual system that is confronted with something that it doesn’t know how to interpret. Unfamiliarity forces the brain to discard its usual categories of perception and create new ones.

Exploration doesn’t require a passport. We can see differently by exploring all kinds of new experiences–going to opera if we’ve never listened to classical music, going to the Grand Ole’ Opry if we listen to Mozart more than we listen to Merle. We can explore new books, new fields of endeavor, new magazines or communities of learners.

Experiment: “Successful innovators,” Gallo writes, “engage in ‘active’ experimentation, whether it’s intellectual exploration, physical tinkering, or seeking new surroundings.”

The classroom is a perfect place to “think different” because each new day, new semester, new year is an opportunity to be better. To trot out the same lessons year after year is a recipe for personal boredom. We need to be learners if we want our students to be learners, and some of the most exciting new ideas in education today, (like the Flipped Classroom or Kahn Academy) are the result of innovative thinkers experimenting to find better ways for children to learn.

Network: Gallo writes, “Steve Jobs does not attend many conferences, but he connects with others outside of technology to widen his perspective.” Part of Jobs’ ability to think different came from his pursuit of people outside his field.

Educators can also learn from networks. They can participate in conferences (such as Learning Forward), nings (such as The Big Four Ning), or other online groups (such as the educoach virtual learning community) and learn from their colleagues in their school or district.

Like Jobs, they can also look outside traditional networks. They can contact the thinkers who most interest them and see if they’ll agree to interviews. They can also learn a lot by talking with the professionals and accomplished workers in their community. The local orthodontist or hair stylist could teach us a lot about learning if we listen for what they have to offer.

Observe: “Innovators,” Gallo writes, “watch people carefully.” Certainly these observations can occur in schools, and an enormous amount can be learned by watching other teachers in the classrooms or online on sites like the Teaching Channel. We can also learn a great deal by watching our own teaching by video recording the class and watching our own lessons.

Some observations can also take place outside the school. The world is full of learning opportunities. Just in the past week I watched someone get coaching at the Apple Store, watched my Mom learn how to use an iPad, and I tried to master Evernote watching Youtube videos. Learning surrounds us everyday, and by watching we can learn a lot about how to increase our students’ learning.

One thing remains constant at the heart of Jobs’ creative work and the creative work of teaching: The restlessness of the curious mind. Innovation may involve some secrets, but more than anything else it is the desire to know and do more. For teachers, this creative work makes our work so much more interesting, and it can mean the world for students.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: the Power of Personal Vision

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Steve has an incredible ability to rally people towards some common cause by painting an incredibly glorious cosmic objective. One of his favorite statements is “Let’s make a dent in the universe. We’ll make it so important that it will make a dent in the universe.”

Trip Hawkins, Former Apple V.P. Strategy & Marketing

According to Carmine Gallo, author of the Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Steve had such a dramatic impact on your life and mine because he passionately held and communicated an incredibly compelling vision. Gallo writes: “Nobody would have joined Jobs without being inspired by his vision.”

Sharon Aby, who worked at Apple from 1983 to 1996, told Gallo, “Our vision was to change the world by putting computers into the hands of everyday people… We felt like David fighting Goliath.” And Trip Hawkins—quoted above—echoes Aby:

Steve has a power of vision that is almost frightening. When Steve believes in something, the power of that vision can literally sweep aside any objections or problems. They just cease to exist.

Michael Fullan recognized this in 1993 in Change Forces, when he wrote:

Personal vision and purpose are the starting agenda. It comes from within, it gives meaning to work, and it exists independent of the organization or group… Personal purpose in teaching should be pushed and pushed until it makes a connection to social betterment in society.

Meaningful personal vision involves at least two things: (a) a clear understanding of how our actions can make the world a better place, and (b) a deep, fierce commitment to that understanding.

A powerful personal vision like Jobs’, gives us the energy to do the important but difficult knowledge work of teaching by connecting what we do to something highly energizing: making a difference. Vision gives focus to our actions by providing a clear destination. And vision guides our decisions by providing an ethical foundation for what we do.

In Change Forces, Michael offers seven questions as a starting point for vision:

1. Do I have a personal vision?
2. What are the essential elements of my personal vision?
3. What can I do to make my vision coherent and legitimate?
4. What kind of school would I like my children to attend?
5. What kind of school would I like to teach in?
6. What would happen if I made my personal vision public?
7. How does my vision compare with my current school and my personal teaching practices?

By answering these questions, and others of our choosing, we can find our vision and act to make that vision become real.

Teaching is the perfect profession for “making a dent in the universe.” Every day, every student presents that opportunity. Personal vision is one way to increase the chances that we might do that.