Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Becoming a “Teaching” Institution!

This week I had the pleasure of working with more than a hundred teacher leaders and administrators from Santa Barbara County in California. All of them are extremely dedicated to their work -  especially their leadership of the PLC collaborative team effort toward improving student achievement. We spent time in deep inspection regarding the relational and social intelligence necessary to do PLC work. 

At one point we were discussing the process of collaboration that capitalizes on the fact that teachers and administrators come together, using diverse experiences and knowledge, to create a whole that is larger than the sum of the parts. Although teacher collaboration as the solution to sustained professional learning and teaching of one another is the pursuit, there are often few structures in place that allow for that pursuit. 

Seeing themselves as partners with other teachers, they are dedicated to improving the profession. They care about the quality of teaching in their schools, and, to this end, their collaboration with colleagues is continuous and explicit. They recognize that collaborating in a professional learning community contributes to their own professional growth, as well as to the growth of their peers, for the benefit of student learning. Teachers promote the ideal that working collaboratively increases knowledge, reflection, and quality of practice and benefits the instructional program  (p. 75).

This led to a reflection on my Northwestern Memorial hospital experience a few years ago during a 5 hour heart ablation procedure. A variety of medical personnel were in attendance in the operating room, as observers.  In my follow up visit to the cardiologist, I asked him why there so many observers that day during my procedure – and, didn’t it make him nervous?

His response was simply, “We are a teaching hospital”. He went on to describe the intentional and formative feedback he and his team receive on such procedures – with all level of detail – in order to both teach others and to learn from those “others” in the room that day. They do their great work (I am evidence of that work) in the context of understanding their deep responsibility to teach one another as they grow in their craft and their understanding of what works and what could still be better.

It begs the question, are you part of a teaching school? Do the adults daily observe the work of other adults in order to routinely seek and give formative feedback to one another? Is your school structured in such a way as to support this type of culture? 

The professional development and learning of teachers and teacher leaders is not solely a prerequisite for improved student achievement. It is a commitment to the investment in professionals who have the largest impact on students in schools – the administration, faculty and staff. There is an understanding that the knowledge capacity of every faculty member matters.  More importantly, however, is that there is also an expectation that every teacher and leader acts on that knowledge and transfers the professional development they receive into their daily classroom practice.

I’d like to think that my doctor is better at his work today than he was almost two years ago, in part, because of that transparency and inspection of his practice. As his patient, I was the beneficiary of his being part of a “Teaching” hospital. Can your students say the same for your school?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finding Grace in the Workplace and at Home!

What if all leaders started each day asking themselves, “In every interaction today, considering all the people I interact with, what one thing can I do to make them better?”   (K&P, 2006)

One of my favorite leadership books is James Kouzes’ and Barry Posners’ 2006 book A Leader’s Legacy. Although not an educational leadership book, these gifted authors present a powerful and motivational message about your leadership life – its significance, its impact, its aspiration and its courage. You can click on the icon to find out more about the book.

 It is their quote listed at the start of this blog, that inspired me to write about Leadership Discipline number Three in my Five Disciplines leadership book: The leadership discipline of getting better at service and sharing. You know, becoming more relationally intelligent in your work and home life. Recently I referred to this as “Plusing” as you can see from the powerpoint graphic below. What are you doing to make the people around you (colleagues, students, parents, and community members) better? And who is in your life that is spending time making you better? Does he or she know that it is part of their job to do so?

As we approach Thanksgiving, I keep thinking we could all use more grace in the workplace and absolutely more grace at home. The job is just too hard without it. And our families are too important to ignore it. Have you ever had someone in your work or personal life that just did not exhibit much grace? You know, a perfectionist that had almost no tolerance for human error or mistakes or perhaps exhibited tolerance but not much compassion for how to deliver the message of accountability?

Your relationships with all that are in your North –South - East and West spheres (and PLC’s are filled with a lot of E-W impact) are very personal in that your words, actions, and inactions impact them – one way or the other. Are your words, actions and inactions adding to my value as a human being – are you “plusing” my world and making me better at what I do and whom I am? 

Your journey for development in the leadership discipline of service and sharing or “plusing", begins by knowing extremely well what you need to be firm and fair about, but more importantly, how to do so every day with grace and understanding. 

The people we work with and count on are also human, and despite their best intentions, they don’t always do what they say they will do.  We need to give them the same opportunities we afford ourselves to try and fail and try again. We need to give them the chance to be the best they can be, even to be better than they thought they could be. We need to support them in their growth and help them to recognize that the journey is not about perfection but about becoming fully human. (K&P, 2006).

We could all use a bit more grace these days. We could all use more thanks giving. So, as you approach Thanksgiving this week, and you take some well-deserved time away from the stress of your work and your commitments, I hope you will take a moment to reflect: Who do I need to “plus” at work or at home next week? Who do I need to thank for their time and effort in “plusing” me or in “plusing” so many of our students and colleagues?

Isn’t that what the truly great leaders do?  Don’t they touch us this way, making us say to ourselves:  “I want to be in this relationship with you because being in this relationship brings out the best in me and makes me want to be and do all that I am capable of.  You see greatness in me that I don’t even realize.  And you care for me even when I am not at my best.” (K&P, 2006). 

How can I exhibit more grace in the workplace for the remainder of the 2011-2012 school year? This is a great question. And your response begins by recognizing the need for more grace from everyone in the workplace – and helping him or her move toward it. Ask those that are closest to you. They will let you know about your relational intelligence, as you open your leadership mind and heart to the Thanks Giving season. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paradigm Shifting Teachers!

Back in September I wrote a blog entry titled “Ready-Set-Action” about the formative assessment efforts of many of the mathematics teachers and teacher leaders in Phoenix Union High School District. Well, their moment of accountability (and celebration) occurred last Wednesday as they gathered together to share their formative assessment stories, highlight samples of student reflection and action, and begin to re-shape the district assessment paradigm for quizzes and tests.

Why do tens of thousands of grades 6-12 mathematics teachers give tests and quizzes (assessment instruments) every week?  Surprise - Not to assign grades - although that might be a secondary reason. The paradigm shift that is and needs to occur across the country is that the primary reason you or I prepare and assign our students an in-class assessment (and in a PLC, a common assessment at that) is for the formative purpose of students embracing their errors, identifying their strengths and weaknesses on various learning targets and then taking action (often action required by the teacher or teacher team) to act on that evidence in the pursuit of proficiency on the learning targets. Got all that?

In short, the Phoenix Union mathematics team leaders were given this task:

Every high school’s mathematics PLC collaborative team in the district would commit to using the following assessment process: 

1) Write and design Unit (or Chapter) quiz and test instruments together. 
2) Agree upon the scoring rubrics to be used to grade the exams. 
3) Grade a sampling of student papers together to ensure inter-rater reliability and improved accuracy of the feedback and the grades assigned students.  
4) Create a student reflective worksheet, and require this worksheet be completed as part of the student self-reflection and goal setting process when a quiz or testis handed back to the student. 
5) Provide specific student practice action materials (worksheets), for the learning targets self-identified as in need of continuous student focus. That is, provide a venue for the student to do more than just make a decision about what they do or don't know, but to take some type of action to get better.

Thus, their assessment instruments would no longer be the "End" but would become the middle of a Teaching - Assessing- Learning never ending cycle for students and for teachers.  

And the PUHSD teacher leaders response to this challenge was awesome. They will all readily admit that it is not easy. That it is hard work to create the exams, ensure fidelity to the grading process and to create opportunities to for students to perform meaningful reflection and action on results. It is messy and they are all learning how to improve the process so that it works well for the teacher team as well as the students. For more examples of their assessment work, you can visit the PUHSD Mathematics blog at where samples will be posted in the next week or so. 

And the beneficiaries are of course the students. As first Semester final exams are about 5 weeks around the corner, it will be interesting to find out the impact this effort will have on student performance overall. Pretty exciting isn’t it?

In the meantime three cheers again for the PLC collaborative mathematics teams in Phoenix Union. It is courageous to step out of their comfort zone and commit holistically to the new mindset about the primary reason why they give quizzes and tests to their students. And to stay strong in that commitment – when some of their colleagues might want to do so.

When we met this past week, for continued professional development together, they took on another major common collaborative team task – that if not addressed leaves these huge inequity gaps in what students learn in mathematics. And if not addressed will leave students far behind in preparation for the CCSS mathematics rigor coming right around the proverbial corner.

But they are a courageous bunch and they dug in willingly. The pictures you see in this blog is the team sharing that took place as they worked together to create high cognitive demand rich mathematical tasks for their next unit of study. Detail on how to do that really well within your collaborative team is for another blog…

These teacher leaders are learning to share their stories and their artifacts – their successes and their failures – as they risk and learn from the reality of paradigm shifting implementation. Will you join them? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Great Experiences at Authorspeak!

This week I am attending Authorspeak, a new event for Solution Tree that presents the voices of their authors (of recent books) and provides an opportunity for more than one thousand school leaders to learn, plan and interact together.

In the past two days I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers, educators, publishing experts, and thought leaders on every topic from School leadership, to 21st Century skills, to RTI, , PLC's at Work, Literacy, Assessment and more...

Today I had the chance to interact and work with many conference attendees during the course of two presentations. My sincere thanks for taking the time to attend both sessions and for you interest not only in the Five Disciplines book, but the Principal's mathematics book as well!

At the Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders session we defined a PLC Leadership Discipline as a Set of actions you intentionally practice, through continuous training, to improve your ability to lead in your N-S-E-W sphere of Influence. For a PDF of the Powerpoint presentation, and for information on the book, and its resources for your own professional development, you can click on the picture.

For those of you in a attendance, I hope you find some Quadrant II time this weekend, and remember, watch out for the Quadrant III drift! 

For those that attended our Principal's Mathematics Session (with Diane Briars and Skip Fennell), I will add those links to this site tomorrow! 

In the meantime, remember, Your first responsibility as a leader is to define reality, your last is to say thank you, and in between the two, you must become a servant of others - understanding that PLC's are a really great thing, but they are not soft. In the end it is your leadership of others that will close the performance gap on that defined reality!