Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Motivating Teachers

A colleague asked for some tips on motivating teachers for a school and district that are facing conflict and tensions.  I thought I'd collect my ideas here if it would be helpful to others. Actually, the request was simply for inspirational videos, as I have used videos in the past for motivation.

However, I thought it important to say some things about the context and culture that need to be in place for sustainable motivation to occur. Showing an inspirational video during a time of crisis may lead to temporary feelings of re-commitment or renewed energy, but we need the determination that comes from day to day motivation that can only be achieved through attention to culture over the long run.


My thoughts are based on my own experience and Daniel Pink's book Drive, which outlines the three main drivers for motivation in the knowledge worker economy.  Those drivers are Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy.

Purpose


In order to motivate teachers, it's critical to reconnect them with the goal of our work.  This is not a difficult task.  It's not like we're selling vacuum cleaners.  What teachers do every day is, without question, life changing and transformational even on an ordinary day.  Videos and discussion about the purpose of learning will reengage teachers with their initial calling to work with children.  More importantly, the day to day actions of leaders must be congruent with the goal of improving learning opportunities for all students.

Leaders need to ask, What is the purpose of our school?

Sometimes, it's best to let the kids start the conversation. Adora Svitak can get them to see What Adults Can Learn from Kids



and teachers can answer the question Do you Believe in Me, by Dalton Sherman.




Furthermore, Rita Pierson will remind teachers,  Because Every Kid Needs a Champion.



If you are rethinking your school mission, vision, or purpose, you may want to watch Simon Sinek's excellent talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action.



While working on purpose, one must focus on the future and not the past. Opportunities for new learning are everywhere.  Get your staff thinking about kids,  while imagining and creating an amazing future together.

Maybe you want to discuss Dan Meyer's Math Class Needs a Makeover



or Ken Robinson's provocative How Schools kill Creativity.



You could also read Seth Godin's treatise on Stop Stealing Dreams: What is school for?.  Some of his ideas will anger or frustrate but they will get your teachers talking about the future of schooling and encourage them to band together to write their own story for their students.

Mastery


Everyone who shows up for work wants to be known for excellence.  Leaders can create the environment where excellence can thrive.  You need to embrace the growth mindset, which says that everyone can learn. Leaders should highlight existing strengths within their staff and elevate teachers to lead the learning.  Teachers should be encouraged to share their best work by blogging and sharing through other social media streams.

Leaders need to ask. How can I create a school where adults and students are always learning?

There are so many examples of individuals who have overcome struggles to achieve great things.  I always get emotional when I see the story of Jason McElwain, the autistic basketball manager who finally gets in a game and then ... well, you'll just have to watch it.



Of course, some athletes achieve greatness because of their God given abilities but hard work is still needed especially when it comes to other areas of their life. This decorated and famous University of Georgia football player was a highly sought out recruit who decided to become a great reader too.



Everyone wants to work in an environment where they have the tools, collegial relationships, and encouragement to produce their best work.  Leaders who inspire provide all the ingredients necessary for mastery to occur.  They provide clear and explicit targets with lots of timely feedback that helps every learner in the school learn and grow.  There is great satisfaction in mastering something that beforehand seemed impossible or out of reach.  Teachers are motivated when they are improving in their craft and they see the fruit of their mastery in the lives of students.

Autonomy


Finally, when teachers take ownership of their learning to improve their craft, they will be highly motivated to do the work that lies before them.  There is no one who will eagerly pursue rote implementation of programs and curriculum that are handed down from the state, district, or even the Principal.  Teachers should be deeply involved in the development of the course of action at a school as well as its implementation.  Do you want motiavted teachers?   Give them a voice.  Give them choice.  Give them "autonomy" to define how they accomplish the goals you have set for your school.

You can do this in any number of ways.  Leadership, grade level, and course alike teams are all vehicles through which teachers can chart a course (with guidelines of course) that make sense to them and allow them to define their reality.  In Ed Catmull's excellent book Creativity Inc he describes the feedback that directors receive on their films from a group called The Braintrust.  Although The Braintrust gave many suggestions, ideas, and feedback, ultimately it was the director  of the film alone who was tasked with choosing from all of these suggestions to modify and adapt the film based on the feedback.  Teachers need that same structure and power if they are to be motivated to pursue excellence  in the classroom every day.

Leaders need to ask the question. What structures and processes can I create so that you can do your work better?

So, if you want to motivate teachers to create schools where students AND adults can flourish, then by all means, show some video!  However, you also need to commit to doing the work every day that builds the kind of environment where motivation is ongoing and sustainable.



What other ideas do you have for motivating teachers?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Flow and Learning


I came across this quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow and it reminded me of the work we are doing around success criteria, feedback, and visible learning.

One reaches flow in activities where ... "a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing."

This quote demonstrates several truths that are the hallmark of quality learning experiences.

First, the learner must believe that she has the skill to meet the challenge so a) there must be some challenge and b) the challenge cannot be so great that the learner doesn't believe that she can attain the goal.  

Second, sufficient structure must be provided so that the learner can navigate the activity with a certain degree of certainty.

Finally, feedback must be connected to the goal that one is pursuing and must be explicit in describing the current performance against the ideal state.

Does this square with your beliefs about what quality teaching and learning looks like?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Reading Instruction from the Master

Richard Allington, in his recent article at Educational Leadership has some concrete steps that teachers can take to improve reading instruction.   He unmasks two villians of poor reading instruction 1) Overusing and misusing  oral reading and 2) Asking Low Level Questions.  Here is his remedy for oral reading.

  1. Use oral reading selectively. By the middle of 1st grade, most reading should be done silently.
  2. If you elect to have students read a text aloud, consciously bite your tongue as they read. Wait until the student has completed at least a full sentence before you interrupt, and then interrupt with a comment that encourages the student to self-regulate.
  3. Ensure that other students who might be following along or listening to the student read aloud also do not interrupt the reader.
  4. If you're concerned that you cannot monitor the accuracy of students' reading when they read silently, remember that all you really need to do is ask them to retell what they've read. Misreadings become obvious during retellings.

(numbers not in original, because bullets drive me crazy.)

And here is what he prescribes in place of Low Level Questions

In a study of high-poverty schools, Taylor and colleagues (Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 2000; Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003) found that more effective teachers asked five times as many higher-order questions and offered twice as many opportunities for discussion as less effective teachers did.  The more effective teachers were also more likely to ask students to respond in writing to higher-order questions.

He goes on to describe a familiar routine of turn pair and share that is an excellent structure in which to engage students in literate conversations answering high level questions, while also including writing about what they are reading.






Monday, September 29, 2014

If You Could Write the Formula for the next California Academic Performance Index (API)...


Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/

For years I have longed for a dynamic school dashboard. I'd like to refresh my computer every morning and look at all the most important data to help me get a picture of how the students at my school are progressing toward their individual and collective goals?  But, so many questions remain.  What is of greatest importance and how best to meausure?  Here are some things I believe would be beneficial to measure (notice I didn't say easy to measure).


  1. Attendance - Easy to measure and of obvious importance
  2. Tardies - would definitely encourage commitment to getting to school on time.  
  3. Number of books read - This is of critical importance.  The challenge is verifying that students have actually read... or I should say read with high comprehension.  
  4. Reading Conferences/Writing conferences - I believe anytime that a student spends time with a teacher getting feedback on their reading and writing life they are on the way to reaching the next step.
  5. Writing Entries - All writing is beneficial (just like books) Of course, it would be even more beneficial to get data on writing that is of high quality or meets certain criteria.   Since we are working at Camarena Elementary to get every class blogging, we could measure blog posts rather easily.
  6. Mastering Math Facts - Whenever students master these building blocks of learning they become more capable and able of thinking critically and problem solving.
  7. Student Teaching Videos Created - Clearly these need to be previewed and judged for quality, but it is without a doubt that the creator of these videos solidifies and enhances their learning.
  8. Formative Assessments - Students tested on their skills learn more when that assessment is coupled with explicit feedback.
  9. Parent/Community Volunteer Hours - Parent engagement in school (for any reason) strengthens our connection with families and supports learning in every way.


What am I missing?  What would you add to this list?  What would you take away?  What assessments of these areas would be most helpful to collect?



Monday, September 22, 2014

Persistence in Teaching and Coaching

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Give Students a Purpose for Listening

Caught this excellent post on Educating Grace about small things that increase participation in classroom discussions and especially appreciated this nugget:

Providing clear instructions for how others should engage when their peers are talking, beyond simply "tracking" or "listening" or "following along," such as "listen for whether you used a similar method or did something different" or "as you listen, think about how you would say this in your own words" or "listen for how [student] used a pattern to find a solution" gives students a reason for listening...

This is a much more authentic reason for listening that gives students a clear purpose that will enhance their own understanding of the content and process that is being discussed. Go on over and read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Your Disadvantages Prove to be an Advantage

New York Times archives


Why do we complain so much about defeat or disadvantage or difficulty?

It is absolutely true that we all benefit from overcoming challenges, therefore we should not shrink in the face of insurmountable odds and difficult tasks and we should be very leery when life is smooth, and peaceful and pleasant.

Two examples...

William Howard Taft

Theodore Roosevelt

William Howard Taft grew to be over 300 pounds and faced several bouts of illness while serving in the Philippines before returning to the US to work on Roosevelt's cabinet and eventually succeed him as President. His physical state deteriorated over years of indulgence and lack of physical exertion.
Teddy Roosevelt, on the other hand, was the picture of health and vitality who regularly took foreign ambassadors and reporters through the woods of Washington DC on rigorous hikes where the only rule was you must go straight over whatever was in your path.  He also was known to dabble in boxing and other combat sports.

So, how did these men start the race?

One of them was the picture of strength and youthful vigor standing over 6 ft tall,  strong and athletic  the quintessential high school quarterback who probably dated the head cheerleader.

The other was sickly as a youth, suffering frequent and severe asthma attacks that nearly led to death.

William Howard Taft is the first example, and Teddy Roosevelt the second.

The lesson here is that it was not the advantages or disadvantages of the hand that they were dealt, but how they responded to them that matters.  William Howard Taft, blessed with physical size, strength, and vitality, wasted away those physical gifts through a life of leisure and indulgence.

Teddy Roosevelt, through the mentorship of his father, attacked his weakness with vigor, dedicating himself to disciplined and rigorous exercise and strength training that helped shape him both physically and mentally.

The lessons are obvious. Encourage your students to do two things in honor of Presidents Taft and Roosevelt.

Don't fret because of difficulty or challenge, but embrace it and improve through disciplined effort.
Don't take for granted your strengths, but seek always to improve and build on the foundation you have been gifted.

What about you, do you have any examples of determination in the face of challenge?  I'm afraid we can all point out plenty of examples of failure in the face of great promise.

#finishstrong

Reference: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin