Friday, June 23, 2017

Walkthroughs Don't Work!!!

This year, after 23 years in education, I will work in a school where we will not do walkthroughs. Why do you say? Well it's simple. 

Walkthroughs don't work. 

Think about it. What has a greater impact on student learning, instruction or assessment?  Obviously instruction is the variable on student learning and assessment is the gauge of learning. If we really believe in this idea about growing kids, then why are we only assessing our teachers when we walk in their classroom?

The research shows that walkthroughs don't improve teacher effectiveness.  Here's what I mean. Walkthroughs with no feedback negatively impact teaching.  Yes, they make teachers less effective. Observations with a form have no positive or negative impact on learning, so walkthrough forms have little impact on teacher effectiveness.  When observations are accompanied with coaching, teachers see gains in their effectiveness. In other words coaching is what helps teachers grow. 

So What Will We Do This Year?
If we want teachers to grow, we must admit that forms with checkboxes won't suffice. Ratings scales won't do either. To grow our teachers, we will replace walkthroughs with coaching visits. 

Yes, Coaching Visits!!!

Our teachers will receive coaching feedback that does 4 things.
1. Affirm positive practices in places
2. Identify missed opportunities. 
3. Pose questions for reflection and to open the discussion. 
4. Help the observer grow in their ability to help teachers grow. (MOST IMPORTANT)

The Goal is Simple. 
We will work to drop the imbalance of power that the term, walkthrough, brings forth. If we are truly instructional leaders, then we must realize that we must offer our teachers instruction on how they are doing and how they can improve, not just assess how they're doing. Furthermore we must provide a platform of reciprocity for teachers so that teachers can also instruct leaders on how they can improve at supporting teachers. 

Pure and simple, the purpose of a walkthroughs is to rate the teacher.   The purpose of a coaching visit is to improve both the teacher and the leader. Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen another. If we truly want to make schools better, it starts by creating observation system that require feedback protocols for that is the most productive way to grow all educators. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What if Kids had Learning Streaks???

Snapchat is everywhere, and kids are seriously addicted to it.  Seriously, they are, and why not?  It has a relevant goal that all kids want to reach.


Kids essentially are gamifying their connections to other kids, and when a kid loses a streak, it is devastating.  When my kids lose their phone privileges, it is heartbreaking.  The streak ends and they have to start all over again.

So How Can We Tie STREAKS to Learning?

It's pretty simple.  Kids need connections with other kids to accelerate their growth in learning.  In other words, collaboration is not just important.  It downright ESSENTIAL.  Below are a few ideas that we could use to get our kids to create learning streaks.

  1. Use Snapchat to share their learning with other peers during classtime.
  2. If technology rules prevent the use of Snapchat, use Twitter or Instagram for kids to tag their learning to a class account.  The consecutive days of tagging classmates to learning could become the streak.
  3. If technology is a problem altogether, build collaboration into your instruction where students can share their work with other students and have peers give written feedback or suggestions for improvement along with the student's signature to signify the learning connection and to curate the streak.

Honestly, this is a random thought running through my head and not really formalized into a completely rational thought.  I do however think that educators must leverage the relevance that students find in STREAKS and let this fascination serve as a tool for engagement and a relevant entry point for learning.  

What ideas or thoughts would you add?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ending the Institutionalization of Education

One of the most powerful if not the most powerful institutions in our country is the public school. If you look around you, you cannot see anything or find anything that was not influenced first by the institution we have come to love.  There are so many positive actions that the institution of education has done to impact our country, but there is one action that has a negative impact on the future of education.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Shawshank Redemption. At a powerful moment on the story, Morgan Freeman's character talks about how prisoners become institutionalized because the institution grows on them and eventually becomes something they can't live without. In other words, the institution doesn't just shape thinking, it limits creativity and opportunities for growth.  Now I'm not saying that schools are a punitive place that imprison us.  What I am saying is that we lose sight of our moral imperative when we become driven by the structures, language, and labels that at times inundate schools.  

Reflect on this section and ask yourself this.

Do the following words institutionalize your thinking?

Passing - This word sterilizes growth. For some, passing is too high a standard and for others it's way too low.  When passing is the goal, learning is not longer the priority.  We must make this term a step towards excellence rather than the standard.

Intervention - In the mind of the institutionalized, it is a location or a separate segment of time in the schedule. What it should be is a mindset about learning and when any students fails to learn, we immediately respond.

Redirection - When students are misbehaving, we have been expected to redirect them. Let's face it.  Redirection is reactive, not proactive. We must anticipate when kids are showing symptoms of misbehavior and intercept behaviors before we have to sacrifice instruction to redirect them.

Grade - This word has been one of the greatest paradigm builders in education. It sorts kids into ability groups. Sure it rates proficiency, but it also stifles progress in creating schools that are kid- centered.  The question is this.  Does the almighty grade inspire all kids to pursue learning?

Leadership - When you see this word, do you think of the person in charge or do you think of a function that everyone in the school must assume.  From the custodian to the principal and everyone in between, schools need leadership to become a collective function of the school, not the person in charge of the building.

Schedule - To the institutionalized, this is a static structure that can never be altered for any reason.  For the kid-centered school, it must change to meet the needs of all kids.  Time is a constant, but how we use it to help kids grow in learning is the variable.  Schedules are tools to help us better help kids, not a structure to shuffle them through the day.

What would you add?
If we want to end the institutionalization of education, it starts with eradicating words and the thinking behind them that shackle us to the schools of yesterday.  We must view schools not as they are but as they must become if we truly want to prepare kids for their future.  Drop a comment to add your thoughts of other words that inhibit growth in education.