Thursday, October 1, 2015

Growth Mindset: Praising the Process

Praise the process, first. 
Last summer, my oldest and my youngest daughter spent a week together, making a stand-up paddle board. They bought a kit and borrowed power tools.  They had very little experience and zero supervision.  But, they did approach the entire project with a Growth Mindset.  My only contribution to the project was to exact from them one promise, "Wear Goggles". 
The project was most certainly not error-free.  What they did discover, however, was that almost all mistakes can be eradicated if given sufficient amounts of time and sandpaper.
They mixed epoxy resin, sealed the frame with fiberglass and created a pretty impressive paddleboard.  All along, I doubted their ability to bring the project to completion.  And yet, they did it!  I think that hefty doses of process praise (from their Dad) kept them going when the project may have faltered.  In the end, the process praise resulted in a great final product.
Sometimes, we classroom teachers are so concerned with outcomes that we tend to emphasize the perfect final product more often than we notice (and praise) the effort in the process 
In the end, all of the mistakes come together to make a beautiful, if imperfect, finished product.  Begin with a Growth Mindset, and who knows what might be able to float! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thinking about Thinking: Growing or Fixed?

Carol Dweck and her book on Growth Mindset are the focus of our district's 10-minutes of think-time during PD each month.  We're blending the book with online PD modules and face-to-face collaborative discussions.

It's important for us to ask ourselves if we teach with a Growth or Fixed mindset.  

I think I have always acknowledged the power of effort, but I also (mistakenly) assumed that some students were simply better at math and chemistry than others.  In essence, I used my fixed mindset to let myself off the hook by thinking that some of my students just wouldn't get it--no matter what we did in the classroom.  It's hard to admit it, but before brain research changed my idea of teaching and learning, I honestly believed that some kids were just destined for the "D".  Ugh. 

I know that I am not alone in coming to terms with this new realization of the importance of high expectations.  Listen to the opening lines of this discussion between Carol Dweck and Sal Kahn.  I like the hashtag #YouCanLearnAnything.  Really.  Even chemistry.

Monday, March 9, 2015

3 Steps to the Next Level for Iowa's TLC

What are the next steps for the Iowa TLC in Sioux City? 
We've marveled at the impact of our teacher-leaders, as they have invested in teacher-initiated, classroom-embedded, professional development.  Recent conversations with coaches have identified three steps which we must take in order to climb to the next level with Iowa's TLC.
Step One: We need to train our coaches to light fires.   
With a partnership-approach, I believe teacher-leaders can go places with constructive feedback that will transcend the typical administrator interactions about classroom management or instruction style.  A coach can light a fire within a teacher, looking for the burning purpose rather than the burning platform.  There is a strong bond of trust among our classroom teachers and our teacher-leaders.  This trust opens the door for professional growth and healthy self-reflection.

Step Two: We need to act on insight rather than instinct.   
In a data-rich school culture, our best teacher-leaders are effectively utilizing real-time achievement data to immediately impact instruction.  We are increasingly seeing teacher-leaders rely on data-based insight rather than gut-level instinct to recommend changes in classroom instruction.  Achievement data is somehow “safer” in the hands of a trusted colleague…it isn’t evaluative, it’s informative.  Teacher-leaders can lean into the data and leverage it for positive change.

Step Three: We need to stop making everyone happy 
Our consulting teachers must develop strategies connected to both consensus building and team leadership in order to empower classroom teachers to raise the bar on curriculum, instruction and assessment.  Teachers don’t teach in isolation anymore—and teacher-leaders need to be able to knock on closed doors and pull up a chair at team meetings.  The district as a whole is experiencing an increase in communication and collaboration as a direct result of this work. Yet, coaching for consensus means that ideas must be examined, compromise must be shaped and practices must be altered.  At the end of the day, not everyone is happy; but we are all better, together.

Our teacher-leaders continue to exceed our performance expectations and anticipated outcomes for Year One of the implementation.  To climb to the next level, we need to ensure that our next steps include lighting fires, acting on insight and building great teams that will not settle for less than excellence.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Authentic Enthusiasm

Each week, I ask our Consulting Teachers to reflect about how their interactions with classroom teachers will impact student achievement.  While our leaders are teacher focused, our intended outcomes are student focused.   Here are a few statements from last week:
From an Elementary literacy coach:
First grade teachers are stating they have students that are excited about writing and are able to write better than before with the structure, plan, and scaffolding we have provided for them to be successful this year. Teachers are really seeing development and growth as we progress through the second semester of the school year. Teachers are excited and thankful, as well, that they have been given a coach to help them make this happen.”
The magic of coaching transforms secondary classrooms as much as elementary.  One of our middle school coaches, writes:
Last week was the first full week that I had collaborated with an 8th grade Math class to use a differentiated math intervention. We focused on the Iowa Core standards to identify individual students that required remedial help and those that were needing to be challenged. Together, the classroom teacher and I are using project based learning and tiered grouping to meet the needs of individual students.”
As I review our teacher-leader reflections, I am looking for our two-fold goals of increased collaboration and increased student achievement.  They are both evident here:
“This has been a great week of collaboration for me! I am so excited! I have four teachers on board for a 15 day challenge! I love going into classrooms daily with the same students to teach, co-teach, and collaborate with teachers! I am learning just as much from them as they are learning from me. The students are loving it too!! THIS IS TRUE learning!! I can't wait to get others on board with this teaching strategy!”

That’s a lot of authentic enthusiasm for January, in my opinion.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

3 Essential Reagents Drive Standards Based Grading in Iowa

Over the past few decades, leading educators have expressed a growing urgency to transform traditional grading and reporting practices.  With student achievement hanging in the balance, today’s educators are working to fix the broken cultural paradigm of school grading which sorts, selects and compares kids based on a conglomeration of points, percentages, zeroes and extra credit.  In place of the oddly lopsided bell curve which serves only a select few, educators today are advocating for a standards-based approach to reporting student progress. 

Put simply, students need to be given clearly articulated learning goals and then empowered to achieve them.   

There are several factors accelerating the transition to Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Iowa, not the least of which is a growing adherence to the Iowa Core.  With implementation of the Iowa Core expected for all districts, teachers are finding that close monitoring of student progress on the Iowa Core standards is essential to guaranteed learning outcomes.  

Many districts have also found SBG to be a logical outcome of the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  A PLC thrives when teachers participate in rich conversations and professional dialogue about course standards and common assessments as a measure of student achievement.  Teachers naturally want to begin reporting on those same standards for students and parents as well.  A single mark (or grade) to represent all of math or literacy or science seems inadequate in light of the complex curriculum work being done in our highly functioning PLC structures. 

For instance, Sioux City’s well established PLC structures provide the distributed leadership which is an essential factor for SBG.  More than any other variable, teacher leadership provides the momentum needed to deeply embed a robust SBG system of practice.  A healthy, high-functioning PLC platform creates an environment that embraces a cycle of continuous improvement and collective effort toward the common goal of student achievement.  Since teachers are the front-line curriculum implementers, it only makes sense that they should take the lead as the curriculum designers as well. 

Lastly, student information systems (SIS) like Infinite Campus are finally progressing to the point that they can provide teachers with a framework for reporting at the standard level to parents and students. While still inadequate from a progressive ideal, today’s SIS do allow teachers to enter assessments and classroom activities organized by standard (instead of the traditional categories of daily work, quizzes, tests or labs).  Now that assessments can be grouped by learning standards it is much easier to monitor a student’s progress toward mastery of course content.  Grades can be a dynamic reflection of ongoing progress, rather than a stagnant report of past performance.

It’s not a difficult stretch to see that the combination of meaningful course standards with closely aligned assessments and a robust Student Information System are the essential reagents in the SBG equation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December and the First Year

I wonder how many of us can remember the moment, during our first year of teaching, when the honeymoon phase was over?  The graph below is referenced in a great article, "Phases of First-Year Teaching".

2011, New Teacher Center
Author Ellen Moir offers some great insights as to the possible reasons for December Disillusionment.  Those of us who have experienced a few weary Decembers might be able to conjure up an explanation or two as well! 

Today, the Consulting Teachers met together to create some words of encouragement for the district's 107 new staff members.  We focused our reflections on the joy of career and calling, service and meaning. 

As we worked to create words of encouragement for new teachers, I realized that the new Consulting Teachers in our district work tirelessly to encourage all teachers--daily! We may not move the needle on student achievement with a mid-winter greeting card.  But, I hope we can move toward rejuvenation and revitalization as we reflect together on the great profession of teaching.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The First Ninety Days of TLC

Ninety days ago, the new teacher leaders in Sioux City met together for the first time:  new leaders in new roles with new schedules and new goals.  Ninety days.
There is a prevailing wisdom that the success or failure of a new leader may rest in the accomplishments of the first ninety days---or, if you are an American president, the first hundred.  

What have our new teacher leaders accomplished in ninety days?  Let me count the ways:
  •!  Our new Instruction “Help Desk” and resource center is now LIVE, with over one hundred essential curriculum resources for SCCSD classroom teachers and over 450 new “tickets” (teacher inquiries) answered.  More added daily!
  • Boots on the Ground.  Job-embedded instructional coaching doesn’t happen from behind a computer.  Consulting teachers log hundreds of interactions with teachers each week, from modeling new strategies to brainstorming classroom management techniques. 
  • Curriculum work uncorked!  Teams of teachers across the district work alongside teacher leaders to refine standards and build powerful common assessments, supporting student achievement with standards-referenced teaching and learning.
  • Got PLC?  Check!  Forty consulting teachers invest deeply in grade-level or content-alike teams every day across the district, working shoulder to shoulder with classroom teachers to drive instruction for student learning.
  • More than a Monday,  building level professional development is instructionally focused as classroom teachers and consulting teachers work with their administrators to use assessment data to monitor student progress toward learning targets.
A lot can happen in 90 days.