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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

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Ten Things About Presenting That I Learned (or Remembered) at NSDC

One: How you respond to participant comments is really important. If you respond with a smile and enthusiasm, there is a much greater chance participants will contribute to a lively discussion. Jennifer Borgioli did a great job of this in her session with Theresa Gray on data and high-stakes testing.

Two:  Use a remote.  They only cost $75.00 but they are a huge difference maker.

Three: A simple question, or a short poem can provoke a lively discussion as effectively as a video clip.  In one session, the simple question “what percentage of your life is impacted by race?” launched a great dialogue, and more importantly, a lot of thinking on my part.

Four: Video is powerful.  When you’re talking about a sophisticated behavior, like a dialogue session, for example, it is hard to beat watching it in action.

Five: Buy good speakers.  I love JBL sound stage speakers.  They fill the room and cast a bit $150.00, but they are well worth it. Use your persuasive communication skills to ensure your organization buys these things for you.  If your speakers are squeaky people aren’t going to get the experience you’re aiming for when you show them that awesome video.

Six: Have enough handouts and organize them to eliminate all confusion.  If participants can’t find the right handout, or worse, if they don’t have a handout at their table, they will check out. If you lose them on one activity, it can be tough to bring them back.  Just ask the fellow who fell asleep beside me at one table.

Seven: Keep a perky pace. (thanks to Anita Archer for that phrase). Err on the side of too fast.  When people spoke with a lively pace, they kept my interest.

Eight: Humor rocks! If people laughed, they liked the sessions, they stayed engaged, they felt connected to the others laughing with them, and I bet they learned more.

Nine:  Stories are a difference maker.  I was honored to see a profoundly influential man, Dr. Stephen Covey at the conference, and I was looking forward to hearing him tell some stories—I consider him a master story teller. However, he really didn’t tell many at all, and it was hard for many around me to stay engaged.  In fact, the most engaging part of the presentation may have been the guest speaker with him who told a very compelling story.

Ten: Offer ideas provisionally. I found it easiest to listen and learn when speakers respected my professionalism, and shared their ideas in a provisional way, suggesting that they knew I’d have to reflect and make my own decisions about what they said. When presenters spoke as if there was only one correct way of doing things and they happened to know it, I found it harder to listen.

Ten and a half. Walk the talk.  For example, if you are talking about the need for teachers to change, don’t say, “this is just the way I am, I can’t help it.”  So, I guess I’d be better walk the talk and be provisional too, by saying that these are just my experiences.  I am sure that there are plenty of situations where these suggestions might not work. Feel free to ignore any and all.  And hey, if you’re reading this and you were there, leave a message and let us know what you learned.  


Instructional Coaches and Fidelity

One of the most frequent comments I hear when I talk with people about school change is that coaches will only be effective if they ensure that teachers implement new practices with fidelity.  This is an easily justified goal. If teachers don't teach innovations with fidelity, the thinking is, they won't get results. So we need to make sure teachers do it (whatever it might be) the way it is supposed to be done. I think, however, that it is worth while to ask what is fidelity before we totally adopt this way of thinking?

For me, there are some thorny issues that we need to think about with respect to the topic of fidelity.  Of course, if coaching is going to be effective, coaches need to partner with teachers to provide the supports that empower teachers to implement new practices in a high-quality way that gets results.  But we make a big mistake, I think, if we assume this means that teachers must mindlessly follow a script.

Lucy West, in the new book I edited Coaching: Approaches and Practices  suggests that coaches, rather than encouraging fidelity, which she describes a "dictum to follow a script," should strive for mindful engagement of the curriculum with teachers.

I agree completely for a number of reasons, but I'll mention two here. First, asking teachers to implement exactly what a script says, exactly as the script says, treats teacher like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals.  This means, I suspect, that an over emphasis on fidelity likely leads to low quality instruction where teachers do every task on a checklist but do not teach with passion, or love, or even in a manner that involves reflection.

The second issue, though is more troubling. I just don't think it is likely that a heavy emphasis on fidelity is practically effective.  As Thomas Davenport has shown in Thinking For a Living  when professionals (whom he calls knowledge workers) such as teachers are not given the opportunity to reflect and think for themselves, they resist change.  Simply put: what knowledge workers do is they think for a living; if someone else (researchers, administrators, policy makers) does the thinking for teachers, teachers will resist.

Now I'm not saying everything is up for grabs, or that a teacher can say, "OK, this year, no more reading and writing, this year it is all hockey."  That is ridiculous. I'm also not saying coaches shouldn't worry about high quality implementation, or understanding the teaching practices they share.  In fact, I believe just the opposite.

Coaches need to deeply understand the materials they share, and they should be highly skilled at finding precise and easy-to-understand explanations for those practices.  However, when they explain, model, observe, and explore data, coaches need to present that information in a way that allows teachers to do the thinking.  For example, when explaining teaching practices, instructional coaches can say, "Here's what the research says. However, do we need to adapt this at all so it will work for you and your students. What do you think about this approach?"  95% of the time when coaches ask for teachers' opinions, the teachers say, "let's do it the way you describe it."  When coaches tell teachers what to do without honoring their thoughts and voices, however, the first thought if not word for the teachers is, "I want to change it."

There are several key lessons here. 

First, instructional coaches have to deeply understand the teaching practices they share.

Second, coaches have to find precise language to describe in easy-to-understand language how a new teaching practice will look in a teacher's classroom.

Third, rather than telling teachers how to do it (encouraging mindless fidelity) coaches should engage teachers in reflective conversations about how they think teaching practices might work in their classrooms (mindful engagement).

By treating teachers like professionals, by letting them do at least some of the thinking, coaches have a much better chance of enabling high-quality teaching and better student learning--and isn't the whole point. 



Outliers, Success, and Schools That Work

I love reading Malcolm Gladwell's books.  What Gladwell does, I think, is popularize ideas, like memes in The Tipping Point, or emotional bids in Blink, in books that I call, "edutainments'--books that communicate new ideas, but that describe them in a way that is a lot of fun to read.  Even if his books didn't raise interesting questions, they are worth reading just for the stories.  But of course they are more than stories.


In his new book, Outliers, Gladwell, discusses hockey players, Bill Gates, the Beatles, a man with an IQ of 195, the causes of airplane crashes--which I happened to read just as I started off on a flight--and other wonderfully interesting anecdotes designed to tell, as his subtitle says, "the story of success."  I'm going to offer up an overly simple summary of those ideas (you can find better summaries all over the net) and cut to what most educators will find interesting.

First, there's a lot of luck involved in being successful.  Most NHL hockey players, for example, are born prior to March, for reasons he explains--now I know why I never made the NHL!  

Second, success requires hard work, in fact, Gladwell offers a number, 10,000 hours, and offers plenty of examples, including Bill Gates and the Beatles.

Third, culture is an incredibly important part of success.  Here Gladwell suggest that the success of Asian mathematics students, and the failures of Air Korea pilots are both the result of cultural heritage.   

Gladwell's example of an organization that capitalizes on all three of these factors is KIPP charter schools.  You can see a video about KIPP schools at this site .

What Gladwell suggests is that KIPP schools are successful (and they certainly do appear to be very successful) for these reasons.  First, their students spend more time in class.  Their classes start earlier, last longer, and classes also run on some Saturdays.  KIPPS students do better because they work harder.  

Second, KIPP schools are ground in a culture that acts on a shared, authentic belief that all students can learn, and KIPP schools are populated by teachers who are deeply committed to making a difference. For example, all KIPP teachers give their cell phone numbers to students, and students are free to call them any time in the evenings if they are hung up by home work.  KIPP teachers also work on some Saturdays.  I have been told that KIPP found some of its first teachers by going to school parking lots in the evening and putting flyers on the cars of teachers who were still in the schools working.  Teachers who worked into the evening because of their commitment to kids were the kind of teachers wanted in KIPP schools.

Gladwell's third factor, luck, of course, occurs for those students who happen to live in the communities where they are able to go to KIPP schools.

I don't know a lot about KIPP schools, but I do hope to learn much more. Gladwell's book, and the story of KIPP schools, suggest that a culture of success and hard work can make a difference in all schools.  I'm looking forward to learning more about what KIPP does and what all school leaders can learn from them.


The Big Four: Beta Version

When I was a little kid, my Mom took me to Montreal's Expo 67 World's Fair.  This was a really exciting time in Canada, as we celebrated our centenary, on the verge of a new era as the country was about to vote in a young, visionary new Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.  

Expo 67 was a big part of that excitement, and all of the world build these great pavilions celebrating their country's accomplishments.  Britain's pavilion was purposefully left unfinished to symbolically suggest that Britain's story as a nation was also unfinished.

I've always liked that metaphor because I think many of the things we do are too quickly finished.  We need to continually revise our teaching practices, for example, never getting to the point where we say, well, I'm done!  

For that reason, the Kansas Coaching Project, in partnership with the Instructional Coaching Group, is announcing the beta versions of the Big Four teaching tools. If you go to the tools section of the KCP website you'll discover that we have added a lot of tools, including mini-coaching manuals related to such topics as the real learning index, content planning, high-level questioning, and intensive-explicit instruction.  Also, you'll find a copy of the new Big Four walk-through, a survey for assessing the effectiveness of coaching programs, Sue Woodruff's assessment tool that coaches can use for evaluating the impact of coaching, as well as several articles and many new presentations.

These tools are not finished products; indeed, they may never be finished products.  With the British Pavilion as my metaphor, I am beginning to believe that we should never stop improving the teaching tools that coaches use to improve instruction.  So I am putting these tools out there for people to try out and give us feedback.  We hope to continually refine our tools so that they are simpler and more powerful, with the goal of creating a set of tools that help us achieve our goal of having an unmistakable positive impact on children's lives.

All of these tools are free, and you can copy them, use them, and share them.  All we ask is that you share with us what you have learned. Your ideas will help us make them better.  I have already received many suggestions for improvements, and I'm excited about putting more and more simple and powerful tools on line.

I know it is almost a cliche to say this, but I really believe that if we at the Kansas Coaching Project can tap into the expertise of the hundreds of coaches we know across the country, as well as the wisdom of the thousands of teachers with whom they work, well there is no limit to what we can accomplish.


What is Instructional Coaching Institute Level 2

Some of you have asked about Instructional Coaching Institute Level 2, so I've included a quick description below.  On October 15 on our website we will be releasing new tools for coaching these practices and you'll be able to download them for free.

Instructional Coaching Institute Level II has been created for coaches and other educators who wish to deepen their knowledge of coaching tools and teaching practices that improve teaching practices in the Big Four areas of instruction—classroom management, content planning, intensive explicit and constructivist instruction, and assessment for learning. Participants   in this institute will learn high-leverage teaching practices that coaches can share with teachers to have a quick, powerful, positive impact on instruction and ultimately student achievement.

This session will cover

·       Classroom management teaching practices such as developing and teaching expectations, improving praise to correction ratios of interaction, increasing students’ opportunities to respond, correcting students fluently, and increasing time-on-task

·       Content planning teaching practices that include developing essential questions for lessons, units, and courses, and developing lesson, unit, and course maps to provide a living study guide for students

·       Instruction--Intensive explicit teaching practices are designed to ensure students master essential information, strategies and proceedures. These teaching practices include pretest, describing content, learning by watching, sharing, practicing, post-tests, and generalization.

·       Instruction--constructivist teaching practices are designed to ensure students master construct their own understanding of information, strategies or procedures being learned. These teaching practices include cooperative learning, project-based learning, thinking device, high-level questioning (HLQs), reflection learning, and stories.

·       Assessment for learning—teaching practices empower teachers and students to carefully monitor student learning and progress.   These practices involve identifying teaching targets, developing propositions, identifying and implementing checks for understanding.