Looking For Learning

Getting back into some sort of blogging routine feels a lot like getting back to the gym.  I have great aspirations, but do not seem to always find time to fit everything in.  It’s hard.  So last week, I set a small personal goal for myself … try and build a blogging routine by posting something this week.

Following up on my previous post, I continue to find myself thinking about learning — its big idea, what it means to me, and my colleagues? What does it look like in our community?  I am a firm proponent that schools should always be learning focused collaborative endeavors.  As an educator, my professional practice continues to be a work in progress, constantly changing, adapting, and evolving. Now I am much more of a “coach” or “critical friend” to the kids I work with than ever before.  Quick, timely, formative feedback is incredibly powerful either on the ice at a hockey practice or in a reading workshop.  I would not want it any other way.

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As an educator, I am looking for a similar critical friend or learning coach to help improve my professional practice.  It is something I look for in my colleagues and formal administrators.  Fieldwork Education’s   Looking for Learning protocol is the closest experience I’ve had to receiving consistent, timely formative feedback.

Looking for Learning, is an effective process for working collaboratively with colleagues (teachers, instructional coaches, parents, principals, etc.) to see what learning is happening in classrooms.  The focus is on student learning.  So talking to kids about their learning is at the center of each visit.  Should a teacher be in the midst of a mini-lesson, classroom visitors can simply move on to another room, and drop by later when whole group instruction is no longer in progress.

Ten to 20 minutes is the typical length of a teacher or administrator’s classroom visit.  In the busy day to day routines, finding ten or 20 minutes here and there to visit a colleagues classroom is easily manageable.   However, it is absolutely fabulous when I manage to set aside an hour to visit and talk with students about their learning in a wide range of classrooms, grade levels, and content areas.

When visiting a classroom and talking to kids, four essential understandings helped shape conversations:

Is this a learning classroom? This simple line of questioning is incredibly powerful.  It is non-threatening and one that every educator, parent, and student would expect to hear a resounding, YES!  When a learning community has an established, shared common definition of learning, the power if this question is amplified.

Is the learning appropriate and sufficient?   As an elementary literacy teacher, this idea always makes me think of students’ “Just Right Books”.  Ideally, learning for the kids should not be too difficult, nor too easy.  It should be just enough of a stretch that they can independently achieve a level of success.  When speaking to kids, I tried to speak with them in order to find out if they were learning something new, consolidating their learning, simply treading water, or drowning.

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What is helping or hindering the learning? This is perhaps my favorite line of questioning.  I always found it to be amazing to hear students reflect on who they are as a learner, identify what they see as a need to further support their learning, and articulate exactly what is helping them on their journey.

Here’s a list of possible questions to help guide your conversations with kids.

The final piece of the puzzle is getting together with a colleague to share and discuss your visit.  This always created the biggest challenge for me, but I soon found that a short conversation over coffee at recess worked best.  It is easy to participate in a reflective conversation with your colleagues because Looking for Learning is not evaluative.  As the visitor, your role is to simply share out the evidence you collected during your visit, not your impression, your opinion, or suggestions for next steps.  When visiting classrooms, I tried to take detailed notes because I always found receiving specific quotes from the kids seemed to encourage reflection because they helped me recognize if my perception matched those of my students.

I am a BIG fan of Looking for Learning. Not only do I see its great potential to support student learning, but what I like most is that after speaking with students and my colleagues, I find myself energized and enriched by the experience. Thank you Pam Harper and Fieldwork Education.

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LEARNING … It’s What We Do

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For the past few months, work has been a little busier than usual.  We have been busy wrapping things up at the end of one accreditation cycle and launching into a new accreditation process — Excellence by Design.  Although things have been busy, I find the accreditation work very engaging and worthwhile.  I think it is because I always enjoy the collaboration and thinking about the potential that our learning community holds.  I believe it is important to recognize where we are, celebrate our wonderful accomplishments, and start to envision where we want to be.  The accreditation process has certainly provided me with a tremendous amount of food for thought.

Recently, friends who work in other professions were sharing what was happening in their work and personal lives. Both also happened to be in the midst of some sort of accreditation / self-evaluation process similar to ISO 20000 certification.  I was struck by the similarities of purpose, process, and importance of  accreditation in their work.  I was also surprised by the ease and simplicity with which they could clearly communicate the work that they do, be it producing a good or providing a service.  Both shared the great lengths that are taken in their professions to establish a simple, common understanding of what they do. It was central to their growth, development, and how they monitored the quality of their work.

So, I found myself wondering, what is it that we do in schools?  Do we have a common understanding of what we offer our children, their families, and the greater community?  My guess is that if I asked this question to my colleagues, LEARNING would likely be a top response.  But do we have a common understanding of what it means to learn? Could every member of my school community share the simple, common understanding with a parent or colleague?  Would we be able to consistently identify learning throughout the grade levels and across the curriculum? I must admit I am not so sure.

I believe that International School Bangkok offers some great ideas for helping develop a simple, common understanding of what they offer the members of their community.  A simple, clear and concise Mission and Vision Statement is a great place to start.

MISSION
To be a model of excellence for educating students for success in the world community.
VISION
Through outstanding teaching in a nurturing environment,  ISB inspires students to:
  • achieve their academic and personal potential
  • be passionate, reflective learners,
  • becoming caring, global citizens

There is tremendous power in being able to simplify a complex idea and I believe that International School Bangkok does a particularly good job at it.  However, what I find most impressive is that as a community, they have established a common understanding of “learning” and what it looks like.

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure.  We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:
  • Explain its relevance
  • Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning
  • Communicate it effectively to others
  • Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations
  • Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning
  • Ask questions to extend learning
  • Create meaningful solutions

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If learning is an essential component of any school, why do more schools not have a definition of learning at the heart of their Mission and Vision statements?  It is  these documents that help shape and provide direction for a school and its improvement plan.  In the world of education, just like the world of business, having a shared, common understanding is essential for establishing a cycle of continuous growth.  ISB’s definition of learning provides an essential framework for collaboration, a tool for monitoring the quality of student learning, and a means of adjusting professional practice because stakeholders are looking at things through a shared, critical lens.

Dating, Buying, Recruiting

Originally Posted December 2012

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Since I last wrote, the Bronfman’s ideas presented in SWAY, continue to bubble away in my thinking.   First impressions are not always what they seem.

As a home owner and former first time home buyer, first impressions can be misleading.  Sure the kitchen needs to be updated. Avocado green and Harvest gold are so 1977.  Yes the closets are a little small and the roof is less than exemplary; but the floors are beautiful, there’s a jacuzzi tub on the deck, and it has great gardens!  Is this really the house for me or am I caught up in the moment? Am I looking at the right things or am I looking at only what I want to see?  Is my first impression correct?

Going on a first date is another experience where people can find themselves getting caught up in the moment.  It’s been a while since I’ve been on a first date, but I can remember finding myself having coffee, sharing a meal, taking a stroll and later wondering — Was there chemistry?  What kind of connection did we make?  I wonder if they like me?  Will I hear from them again?   Buying house and going on a first date are emotionally charged situations. People aren’t always at their best under these circumstances.

Dating and buying a home are a lot like recruiting. It’s easy to understand why home owners and people in search of a connection get caught up in the moment, but what is really interesting is why hiring managers, across all professions, including education, make the same mistakes.  According to the Bronfman’s, it is because recruiters simply don’t ask very good questions.

Here are a few of the most common interview questions.  Do any of them seem familiar?

Why are you interested in the position?
What do you offer this position?
What do you see yourself doing five years now?
What do you consider to be your greatest strength / weakness?
Tell me about a recent success / failure?
What subject did you like the best / least?
What do you know about our company / school?
Why did you decide to seek a job with our company / school?“

adapted from Sway

As someone who has experienced both sides of the table, I have asked and endured similar questions.  Semi-insightful and self-evaluative questions don’t really let anyone get or give a sense of the real candidate.  “They are taken from the Barbara Walters school of interviewing.” ( p. 81).  Likewise, “Why should I hire you?”, is too predictable.  Prepackaged questions elicit prepackaged responses.  They do not provide an accurate reflection of the true candidate.  Other questions turn candidates into historians or require them to gaze into the glass ball of the future.  Are these questions going to provide you with the best insight into an individual?

When hiring, principal’s can make the same mistakes as a home buyer and first dater … they focus on the wrong things — chemistry, connection, likability.  When recruiting, “we often base the image of the ideal candidate on ourselves.  Somebody comes in who’s similar to us, and we’re going to click; we’re probably going to want to hire them”. (p.86).

How do you ask the “right questions”?  Is staffing a collaborative decision making process?  Is the interview format structured, relaxed, or some sort of combination?  What types of questions do you pose?  Are candidates asked to demonstrate anything, like complete an IN BOX activity?  Skype is now an important tool for recruiting.  How often do you ask to watch a candidate’s lesson?  Or talk with their students about learning?

I find myself fascinated by the recruiting process.  What questions do you ask? How do you manage first impressions?

First Impressions

Originally Posted November 2011

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I just finished reading SWAY: The Irresitable Pull of Irrational Behaviour.  A friend and colleague who recommended the book described it as the opposite of Gladwell’s BLINK.  It is a fascinating book that examines the pull of irrational behaviour.

The authors of SWAY, Ori and Rom Bronfman, share an interesting study about the draft rankings of NBA players and their resulting professional careers.  It turns out that scoring points, rebounding, blocking or stealing shots does not impact the playing time or even the career lengths of NBA players as much as draft order does.  In essence, “once a player is tagged as a ‘low pick’, most coaches let that diagnosis cloud their entire perception of him.” (p.71-72).  We all have a tendency to label ideas, things, or people on the basis of our first impressions, and find it difficult to change our perceptions once they have been established.  In essence, we are inclined to see what we want to see, expect to see, and what seems to reinforce our opinion.

As an educator, this is a big concern.  I don’t want to have any pre-conceptions concerning my students.  I know that it will interfere with my work in support of their learning.  I make conscious efforts to avoid having a fixed opinion of my students.  Perfect, I am not.  But I know that I am doing well simply because I continue to challenge myself, ask questions, look at things from multiple perspectives, use multiple sources of evidence, and remain flexible.
As a colleague, I know I can do better.  I need to do a better job of managing my diagnosis bias.  Like most professionals, I have an opinion of my colleagues, mainly based on first impressions, limited evidence or perspectives.  Regretfully, I have certainly not been as flexible with my colleagues as I have with my students.  I am striving to challenge myself to re-think my first impressions, to ask questions that will challenge or highlight my own personal bias.

As an inspiring administrator, monitoring diagnosis bias, is of keen personal and professional interest.  I am equally confident in saying that I have benefitted from, and been restricted by, the bias of administrators that I have worked with.  I have witnessed colleagues who struggled to overcome this bias. As an educational leader, your bias has an enormous impact on the culture of your community, and ultimately on the quality of the teaching and learning in your school.  Do the first impressions you make of people help or hinder your efforts as a learning leader?  Are they empowering or limiting?

As educators, we need to avoid the pitfalls of the NBA coaches. But how can we do it?  I think the best place is to simply try.  Be meta-cognitive.  Be flexible.  Be reflective.  How often do you change your first impressions?  Challenge yourself to look at things with different lenses.  I think if you do, like the Houston Rockets, you will be able to recognize the talents of individuals that may have gone unrecognized or under appreciated.  And like the Houston Rockets, you are likely to find your own Shane Battier, your own superstar.

List Building

Originally Posted October 2011

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Since I last wrote, and now that school is back into full swing, I have continued to think about how checklists can help improve student learning and my professional practice.  I have started to realize how many checklists I already use on a regular basis in support of learning.

As a literacy teacher who follows a workshop model based on Lucy Caulkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, a form of checklist guides the multiple conferences that I have daily with my students.  They follow a common format, a type of checklist, to an effective conference.

  • Research : Spend a few minutes with each student to determine individual needs.
  • Complement : Begin by identifying a particular strength or improvement in the learner.
  • Teach : A quick little targeted mini-lesson to help individual growth.
  • Link : Link the mini-lesson to past and future ideas.

For years, I have used a hodgepodge amalgamation of binders, notebooks, clipboards, papers, and sticky notes to help track learning, performance, anecdotal notes, and learning targets.  Some of my colleagues are experimenting with the Confer App for iPad and iPhone.  It is formatted to follow the conferences structure and serves as checklist to remind teachers of the key components of a reading / writing conference.  I’ve chosen to experiment with Evernote, creating a similar conference checklist that I can use with multiple devices and keep everything stored in the cloud.  So far I’m quite pleased.  I especially like how I can embedded recorded conversations and digital exemplars of student work in my notes for each learner.  With conferences next week, I expect my notes to be more insightful and useful than ever.

In thinking about a back to school checklist, I’ve started to revise and add to my tried and true checklist.   I have started breaking  it into manageable pieces following the guidelines on making an effective checklist.  I have started to break things into the common components of Communication /  Collaboration / Organization / Resources / Culture.  I’ve made it available at SCRIBD.  Give it a go.  Let me know what you think.  I’d love to continue to revise and improve the checklist and hope that you find it helpful.

Check. Please!

Originally Posted September 2011

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In Saudi Arabia, the new school year started on Saturday.  The start of each school year is an exciting time.  It is a  time to reconnect with friends and colleagues who have flung themselves on great adventures around the world and close to home.   As an international educator, it is also the time to meet new colleagues and build new friendships.  This year, the rituals of the “Welcome Back Coffee Mornings” were enjoyed by one and all, but quickly, everyone jumped back into the swing of things to get our school ready to the nearly 900 kiddos who will arrived at our doors.

One of my rituals at the start of each school is to delve into my “Back to School” folder.  I always go looking for a checklist that I received years ago from a principal in Monterrey, Mexico.  Ever since, this checklist has helped me organize and plan each school year.  I must admit, it is a bit of a laundry list with more than 30 items to think about, but it serves its purpose.  The “Back to School Checklist” helps me make sure that the simple and mundane pieces of the puzzle are not forgotten or allowed to fall between the cracks.  I couldn’t agree more with Atul Gawande, who in The Checklist Manifesto noted :

“The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (Are the elevator controls set? Did the patient get her antibiotics on time? Is everyone on the same page here?), and lets it rise to focus on the hard stuff (Where should we. land?).”

In the spring, my son was finding learning to read a challenge.  He loves school, loves books, enjoys listening and telling stories; but found learning to read quite difficult.  He has been fortunate to be supported by some of the best literacy teachers I have ever encountered, yet he still struggled.  We met.  We discussed strategies, plans, approaches, and after months, eventually hit upon eyesight.  It has been about 6 months since he had had his eyes last tested.   In short, he got glasses and began experiencing greater success with his reading.  As an educator and a parent, I found myself asking … why didn’t I think of it sooner?  I know better!  I needed a checklist.

Checklists exists throughout the world, in every profession.  They are central components to aviation.  Pilots have well developed checklists for everyday routines like taking off, or the unexpected incidents of a bird strike.  The medical profession is adopting a 90 second surgery checklist that has reduced patient deaths and complications by 1/3.  The skyscraper industry uses checklists to reliably manage complexity.  Van Halen even added “no brown M&Ms” to their concert riders (checklists) to help monitor compliance.

In the many schools since Monterrey, ASFM has remained the only one that provided teachers with a back to school checklist.  End of year checklists have been more common, and few have used checklists to support student learning (RIT, support services, etc.).  I find myself wondering, how can the world of education make better use of the checklist to improve student learning?   What checklists can I use to more deliberately to effectively manage the increasingly complex world of students, education and learning?

Ahead of the Curve

Originally Posted June 2011

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I am always interested in hearing my friends who work in the business world talk about their work. Their vocabulary is peppered with words like “synergy”.  They talk about leveraging opportunities for growth and harnessing innovation for improvement.  They are always seeking a competitive edge.  They want to do the best that they can.

The more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that my professional world and the professional world of many of my friends, have a lot in common.   According to a recent TIME magazine article, most drivers consider themselves to be in the top ten percent of people on the road.  Ten percent of Americans believe that they will live to a hundred years or more.  The reality is that only 0.01% of us will actually live to see a hundred years.  In the context of a standard distribution curve, we know that there will a few outliers at the top and bottom ends of the spectrum, but the majority will fall somewhere in the middle. Yet, no one strives to be mediocre.

Like most drivers, I consider myself in the top 10 percent of people behind the wheel.  I also want to live to see a hundred.  As a parent, I want my children to have access to the top medical care. Is anyone really comfortable with seeing a doctor in the bottom 10 percent of their profession?  How about boarding an airplane for a flight with a pilot in the bottom ten percentile?   Likewise, as a parent, I want my children to have access to the best teachers so that they can have the best possible educational experience.  I want to be an exceptional teacher, an exceptional leader.  I want to be in the top 10 percent of educators.  Simply, I want to be ahead of the curve.

How do you stay ahead of the curve?  I think that there a couple of key practices that P.D.  Broughton outlines in Ahead of the Curve, that exceptional principals can do to stay ahead of the curve.

First, they pair intellectual restlessness with grounded competence.  Exceptional principals are “life long learners”, professional development omnivores, and prolific readers.  Yet they are also master teachers.  They understand where the rubber meets the road and how to get things done.  Like the ying and yang, they balance ideas with practicality.

Exceptional principals establish cultures where new ideas are encouraged and developed.  They create a culture of continuous improvement and curiosity.   “No!” or “We can’t do that.” are not  typical responses.   Instead, “That’s an interesting concept …” and “Let’s explore this further” is how they approach new ideas and situations.

Exceptional principals understand their school from top to bottom, but  they are also ready to tear it up and start all over.  They possess a deep understanding of learning, teaching, and leading.  They value what can be learned from the past to help guide the future, but the exceptional leader does not accept the status quo. They are continually seeking to improve the quality of learning experiences for their students.

Finally, exceptional leaders ceaselessly revise their judgements and consider evidence that challenges their beliefs and biases.  It’s easy to collaborate and think that you are headed in the right direction if you surround yourself with like minded people.  Embracing the dissent and alternative points of view is challenging.  It takes work.  It takes thoughtful planning and consideration.

Where do you fall on the curve? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?

Leadership Lessons @ The GAP

Originally Posted May 2011

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Shopping, ugh!  It is not one of my preferred pass times, but my wife likes to shop.  Living in Saudi Arabia, this means I am her wing man and chauffeur for outings to the mall.  While waiting patiently in our local GAP franchise, I had the chance to sit and think.  I spent my time reflecting on the great professional learning experiences that I have had since my last post in February.  Over the past few months I completed an elementary math specialist course, attended a leadership seminar at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the NESA conference in Bangkok, Thailand.  It has certainly been a wonderful period of professional learning.

So, while mulling over some big ideas and reflecting on my practices and beliefs, I started to recognize that educational leaders have a lot in common with their khaki clad brethren.  Leadership, and change in particular, is a retail experience.  In order to establish an effective culture, change a culture, motivate a group, or shift a school, it requires “face to face” experiences, personal attention.  The staff at the GAP offer great leadership lessons.  Not only do they attend to the requests of shoppers (How can I help you? Let me know if I can get any specific.), they provide individualized feedback (That’s a great color on you! Those pants are a great fit!), and offer new perspectives (Did you see the new cotton tees?).  They make their customers feel valued.  They are out and about in the store, roaming the floor meeting customers, building personal connections, seeing how they can help.  Sometimes they are very active,  while at other times they step back, let individuals shop, and help out when required.

Come to think of it, as the educational leader in my classroom, I do this already.  My roles is that of a guide, helping guide differentiated student learning, providing individualized feedback, and offering new perspectives and ideas.  Effective teachers don’t hide behind their desk.  They are out and about, roaming the classroom, monitoring learning, engaging students, sometimes providing direct active assistance, or from a short distance allowing students to explore and build their own understanding.

I’m drawn to leaders who exemplify what’s best about the GAP’s sales staff.  As an aspiring principal, I want to be an educational leader who lives outside the office, who helps propel student learning by recognizing and supporting the needs of individuals.  If I want to encourage a change or implement a new initiative, I need to build relationships, make personal connections, and communicate clearly.  To accomplish this, I need to be present in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, yard, and faculty lounge; talking, listening, observing, and helping out … just like the best teachers and the people at The GAP.

“Is that clear Mr. Bender?”

Originally Posted February 2011

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Earlier today, I participated in one of our weekly PG&D (Professional Growth & Development) afternoons at Saudi Armaco Schools.  It was a productive time spent collaboratively building understanding of the Words Their Way program.  Time, planning, and effort had obviously been well spent by Jen, our literacy coach, to set the stage for a productive meeting. Tables of treats were organized to help boost our groups energy at the end of a work day and near the end of the work week in Saudi Arabia.  A protocol was selected to help facilitate collaboration and focus our dialogue.  I liked this.  I’m a big fan of protocols!!  Group members were assigned different roles within the process and everyone was expected to, and did, contribute.  After working through the protocol with my team, the reporters from each grade level team (k-5) shared out their findings.

Our collaborative time was well spent as we worked to better understand the Words Their Way program.   A great many ideas and themes emerged that will be helpful in moving forward.  So did a number of “big picture” questions …

Why are we implementing this program?
What do we hope to accomplish?
How will this benefit our learners?

I love these types of questions for a number of reasons, but mainly because they demonstrate that my colleagues care about students and student learning. These questions could easily be interpreted as resistance to change, colleagues reluctant to try something new or move in a different direction.  However, from a leadership prospective, I like the questions because they provide me with additional insight into next steps.

At the moment, I am in the middle of reading Switch, Chip & Dan Heath’s book about change.  One point that they highlight is that what is perceived as resistance is often a result of a lack of clarity.  People need crystal clear directions.  Think about it.  A doctor can’t just say to a patient that they need to loose weight, and expect success.  So doctor’s clearly layout the need for change with metrics and outline a plan for success … changes to diet, lifestyle, and specific goals with repeated check-ups to monitor progress.

So when asking teachers to adopt a new program or undergo a change of any sort, think about clarity, especially when faced with resistance.  A friend Dana also reminded me this week to take a moment to check your Vision?  Has the rationale for any change been clearly identified and communicated?  How has clarity been achieved around the intended goal and the benefits to student learning?  Is there anything else that can be done to add clarity? Maybe there’s something we can learn from Principal Richard Vernon, in the  The Breakfast Club.

Start With Teachers

Originally Posted February 2011

I believe that schools are great places, filled with great people, and great learning; but in the complex world of the

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21st century, that’s simply not enough.  Our students deserve better than simply maintaining the status quo.  As a profession, we have a responsibility of becoming “better”.  What does it take to become better?  According to Atul Gawande, it simply “takes a willingness to try”. But where do you start?  What do you try?

I think that Schmoker and Marzano convincingly say, start with the teachers.  Their work clearly links the quality of a teacher with student learning and success.  A year with an ineffective teacher greatly inhibits student learning and achievement.  Two successive years of ineffective instruction is debilitating.  In contrast, a year with a highly effective teacher is very powerful and two successive years with highly effective teachers enables student learning and achievement to soar.  So, what do you do?

You start by being a learning leader.  You start by being a teacher.  I think that everyone in education aspires to be the “highly effective” teachers.  People always want to do their best.  No one wants to be the “ineffective teacher”.  However, like the students in our classrooms and people in every profession, there are varying decrees of competence and excellence.  So where do you start? What do you try?

You start with the positive assumption that teachers are doing the best they can with what they know, and begin to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledge. People are comfortable sticking to what they know and what they know works.  It’s human nature.  Why reinvent the wheel?  So show them something new, something alternative, something better. Show them that “new wheel”!  Share a favourite book. author, website, blog, podcast or resource. It’s unreasonable to expect students to learn something new unless we have shared it with them.  Why should teachers be any different?  Show your colleagues a better possibility and they will more likely to attempt a new instructional practice rather than stick with the familiar and known.

Get teachers working together.  Today’s world is too complex to manage by yourself.  Schools and the work of educators, is no different.  Build schedules that allow for easy collaboration. Include training and staff development on collaboration.  Cooperation is easy.  Collaboration is hard work. People need to know how to participate in a collaborative group, they need to know how to produce an agenda, to come to a decision and communicate it,  to understand the difference between dialogue and discussion.  The work of Robert Garmston with the Center for Adaptive Schools is a great place to start.  Start modeling the use of protocols when working with small and large groups, and gradually begin training the early adapters and informal leaders in your community on their use and purpose.  If you do, Critical Friends Group training will soon follow.

Start getting rid of shared drives, servers, Rubicon Atlas, and cluttered email In boxes.  Begin using Google’s Education Apps in your school.  There are incredible tools at your finger tips, so get exploring.  Google Docs and Google Calendar are simple and effective tools for getting people to work together collaboratively.  Imagine teams of teachers meeting together to purposefully discuss and share ideas about student learning. Tools like Google Docs are great for collaboratively building agendas, sharing nuts and bolts, and keeping the minutes from a meeting at everyone’s finger tips, their true power is in the ability of teams to craft Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings together, to build units of study or collections of shared resources together, and reflect on student learning at anytime, from anywhere.

Be a role model.  Get out of the office.  Get out of the meeting and into the classrooms and hallways.  Make it an uncompromising priority.  Actions speak louder than words.  As the learning leader in your school, start talking to students about learning.  Start talking to teachers about learning.  Engage in these conversations daily. If you do, students and teachers will take notice.  Fiedlwork Education’s “Looking For Learning” has excellent resources and ideas for building this reflective practice.  Soon teachers, students, and all community members will see that learning is the priority, not teaching.  They will see how they are expected to interact with each other.  They will be more likely to visit each other’s classrooms.  We know that providing students with exemplars is an effective instructional practice.  So why not do it with your faculty?  Get your teachers learning from the best, by seeing the best!

If students are the most important people in your school and their learning is the central focus, then what are you doing to make it better?  All you need to do is try.