Archive for the ‘The Fourth Way’ category

Mitchell 20 – Host a screening

November 15th, 2011

I love the AZ K-12 Center. I went to one of their technology conferences thinking that I was pretty hot stuff and left with my brain aching trying to absorb everything. I attended a leadership conference a few summers ago and chatted with some heavy-hitters in education across the state and felt good just being able to keep up.

The AZ K-12 Center has exceeded expectations again by working with Randy Murray and creating Mitchell 20, the story of 20 teachers who vow to improve what they have control over: the quality of the teacher.

The Mitchell 20 Trailer from Mitchell 20 on Vimeo.

Looks great! I really want to see it. The showings are very limited right now, but venues do have the opportunity to book their own screening.

I like that one of the options on the form is “I have a crazy idea”. It very much fits in the teacher mindset. More than once, when planning a way to engage students in the curriculum, I’ve said, “I have a crazy idea.”

There are many reasons to support the film. It’s about a local school, Mitchell Elementary. It’s from AZ K-12. It’s narrated by Edward James Olmos. Most importantly, it’s about teachers doing what they can to help students.

The Four Questions for Teachers

August 2nd, 2011

As I’m reading about improving our schools, these four questions keep coming up:

1. What do we want all kids to know?
2. How do we know if they have learned?
3. How will we respond if they haven’t learned?
4. How will we respond if they have learned?

Those are pretty straight to the point and seem like common sense. The issue is that we get caught up in what Dennis Shirley calls “the distraction of presentism”. We get caught up in the needs of the moment, a survival instinct, and lose sight of where we’re going and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

My challenge this is year is to continue bringing these four questions up. I hope others do, too.

Sustainable Leadership: The Journey

June 26th, 2010

I must admit that the journey metaphor is feeling worn. (And, thanks to Glee, I always associate it with “Don’t Stop Believing” (okay, so the cast sang the National Anthem? Pretty cool.).)

But it does feel like a journey when you look at where I was on Wednesday and then debriefing today. On Friday we were asked a variation on the set of questions that we started the conference with. One of those was identifying what leadership opportunities could be found in the current climate. On Wednesday that was a daunting task. What influence do I have? Can I fix the budget? Now I feel like the leaders that came from our campus have a purpose and a way to implement it.

I was chatting with a friend of mine today who always has great leadership insight. His big advice was to walk people through the journey of how we came to the end product. We, as leaders, can’t expect an end product without doing the work. We also can’t expect people to buy into an idea immediately (although that would be nice). It’s that growing process of coming to the solution that is so important. I need to remember that people are still seeing the daunting problem and not the smaller, more manageable, chunk to tackle.

Sustainable Leadership in Times of Great Change: A Summary of Day 3

June 25th, 2010

I am home and on my third set of McDoubles for the week. That can’t be good. The food at the conference was great and then for dinner each night I would maintain my artificial flavorings habit. Not sustainable in any definition of the word. This week shall entail celery for each meal.

I’d like to once again thank the AZ K-12 Center for a great conference. It is very refreshing to be surrounded by 138 of the best professionals in the state and to realize that I’m not crazy for wanting to improve my practice. If this is the first article you’ve seen from the conference, make sure to check out day one and day two for context.

Consistency. This is the word that kept running through my brain today. We heard from Ùrsula Casanova, author of Sí Se Puede. She brought us a case study of Cibola High School where 93% of the kids graduate and, of that number, 88% go on to a two- or four-year college/university. So, how do they do it?

Consistency. When the school started, Jon Walk was given the opportunity to travel and recruit teachers that adopted his high expectation – every student that graduates from Cibola should be able to go to college. He also was given time and resources to research how to make that happen.

One example of their consistency is their “35 minute rule”. If we truly value classroom instruction so much, why do we interrupt it so frequently? Jon Ward’s idea was to not have any interruptions to the first 35 minutes of a class period. That allowed the teacher to get into the flow of the lesson and for the students to retain focus.

Another big interrupter is the PA system. To me, it resembles the brain buzzer in Harrison Bergeron – I start to get a thought and then BLAM – I forget where I’m at. Cibola reserves it for the morning welcome and that’s it.

Consistency is something that we can control. We can’t always control what comes from higher-ranking government officials (although we can vote, right? Let’s not forget that option.) but we can control our consistency. Many of our students exist in flux and they need someone who can be their constant (to quote our principal and LOST).

We’re already doing many of the things Cibola does. Our counselors go the elementary schools and emphasize the high expectations we have for our students. We do have programs in place to keep students in class and discourage tardiness. Our counselors meet with small groups of our students. But, like anything, we as a campus need to still grow in our profession. What we can’t do, though, is adopt a school’s end product without looking at the twelve years worth of work that produced that end product.

We closed out the day with our stories. Our butterfly metaphor, where the tendency of visions is to flit off and avoid consistency, was well-received. Many of the other educators could relate. Instead of it just getting a “Oh, that’s nice” reaction, we received so much feedback to take to our campus. That’s a result of the sharing structure established by AZ K-12 during the event.

Next summer’s conference will hopefully feature Dennis Shirley and his co-author, Andy Hargreaves. They’ve been investigating social capital and have tons to share.

On the topic of networks, I’ve joined shelfari. My profile is , surprisingly enough. Check it out to see my bookshelf.

Well, my virtual bookshelf. I have tons of real bookshelves.

Also of note – Dennis Shirley will be addressing Capitol Hill on Tuesday to recommend the Fourth Way as a framework for reform.

The conference was emceed by Penny Kotterman. Normally I don’t voice my opinion for who people should vote for, yet knowing that Penny is an educator and is trusted by the AZ K-12 Center wins her my vote. The mind boggles to think what it would look like to have a skilled, experienced teacher as the Superintendent of Schools.

Sustainable Leadership in Times of Great Change: A Summary of Day 2

June 24th, 2010

“From foxholes to freedom.”

Today we really dug deep into how having a World War I, foxhole mentality in times of great (‘great’ meaning ‘large’, but maybe could be ‘good’) change is counterproductive. Hunkering down, remaining isolated, and just trying to survive is not how effective reform happens. Gone is the collaboration and the growth from connecting with other professionals, especially those who are different from you.

But if you reach out to people who are different to you, there’s risk. There’s also risk in trying something new – you could fall flat on your face. When jobs are on the line, and tenure is gone, do you want to take a risk?

You know, we could learn from the rest of the world. Many times I hear about competing with India and China – is there anything wrong with wanting to collaborate with India and China? (Yes, I know there are political issues there. But not every school in a foreign country hates the United States, right?)

Finland has intrigued me in the discussion. It’s a lot tougher to become a teacher in Finland. They actually get paid less than we do (on average) in the United States but they have a higher social standing. Would we be willing to trade some salary for being treated like professionals? For parents trusting us at our word?

If we’re to ask for freedom as teachers, though, we can’t be licentious (Dennis Shirley usage) with that freedom. If we get time to collaborate, it can’t devolve into a whine session or a chance to grade papers. We can’t show up late to staff development, duck out early, and expect to be taken seriously.

So, students in Finland do really well, including on the PISA test. We didn’t do poorly but we also weren’t near the top. On my To Do list is to find a staff directory for a Finnish school and e-mail one of their teachers to develop a rapport. With as much technology as we have access to, collaborating with another country can’t be that tough, people.

Another concept introduced today was the Tuning Protocol (the link downloads a PDF). It’s a structured process for assessing student performance. Because it has guidelines, it’s not a venting session. It’s not about meaningless validation of your teaching – it’s about truly making your instruction better so you feel good at a job well done. We have team meetings, where a group of teachers address a multitude of issues. I think the structure in the Tuning Protocol could streamline some of that and make us feel like the meetings are worth something.

The Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning project in England and the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement were discussed as models for improving schools. Both emphasize working alongside the community as well as partnering with another school (or multiple schools). It’s like mentoring, but on a school-to-school basis. Another push is for transparency – not just the punitive side of things but also on the efforts that are made for improvement.

What’s great about the AZ K-12 Center is that it does provide those connections, that time to step back and regain perspective. It’s like a mini-reform. When looking at changing education in the US, it’s a daunting task. There are so many polarizing elements and a top-down structure (“deliverology” – here’s what we’ve legislated – do it) that’s still stuck in Second Way thinking.

It’s the principle of stopping to think that has stuck with me this week. Three things that work against change are privatism (the foxhole mentality of individualism – “you want to observe? How come?”), conservatism (“I’m surviving, this works” – but are you growing?), and presentism. Presentism is where the needs of the moment overshadow everything else. This is where I get stuck – I do things because they have to get done and don’t think about why.

In the near future we may see the Quality Education Investment Act in California challenge the teachers’ union to expand from solely defending members’ interests to being a positive change for student achievement and learning. They would be the voice of reform and not just a collective bargaining unit. That would get the public’s attention and leave politicians with not much more to say.

Sustainability is key to reform. Sustainability means that if I step away from it, it will keep going. This is where the systemic network comes in. If others have caught on the success of the change is not resting on my shoulders. We must also realize that we can’t adopt an end product. We can’t see that it worked somewhere else and think that we can transplant it perfectly and do it quicker. Changes need to be crafted by the network affected. We need to help our struggling peers, not out of condescension but out of a shared purpose of helping students. That’s why we’re all at school, right?

Privatism (versus collegiality – trusting that we’re colleagues) gets in the way of that. No one likes to be told what to do. But if we had mentoring, true relational mentoring, at all levels of our career, the students would benefit. We need to honestly look at our practice.

A reminder of why we do it, why we care: check out this three minute video from the AZ K-12 center.

Lots of thoughts to delve into, but I swear I’m going to get to watch Netflix tonight.

Books that were mentioned:
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
Drive by Daniel Pink
iBrain by Gary Small
Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao
Mindful Teacher by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley

Simons and Chabris – Selective Attention Basketball Video
Robert A. Compton – Two Million Minutes – Comparing schools from around the world – See a clip


Dennis Shirley is speaking at Capitol Hill on Tuesday. I hope the call to professionalism matched with educator-based assessments catches on.

Sustainable Leadership Conference: A Summary of Day 1

June 23rd, 2010

First off, the AZ K-12 Center knows how to host a conference. The materials are always very professional and organized. It doesn’t look like it was thrown together. They also do a great job of taking care of teachers and can predict pretty accurately what we would appreciate.

The focus today was on an introduction to The Fourth Way by Dennis Shirley. The concept of reform coming in waves or Ways is not new. Anthony Giddens was talking about the Third Way in the Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era.

The Ways look like this:

  1. 1930s-1970s – Innovation and inconsistency – Teachers could do what they want and were respected. Some performed well with that freedom, but others didn’t really teach anything worth writing home about.
  2. 1970s-1995 – The way of the markets and standardisation – This is when the Reagan administration released A Nation at Risk. This is when teachers started to not be trusted as a whole.
  3. 1995-Present – Performance and partnership – The government can’t blame teachers for everything. There needs to be partnership in reform. The trouble is that some of the methods for reform are actually counterproductive.
  4. The Fourth Way – Take what we learned from the other reforms but then push forward for professional standards set by people who teach. The standards need to be honest and student-focused, without influence from special interests.

Something that resonated with me is not throwing out all that we have learned from the previous reforms. A concept that kept reappearing this past school year was the importance of a consistent vision. As educators (teachers, administrators, district office types), we are tempted to follow the vision of the moment, what is trending in the short-term and to lock up (sometimes literally) the ways of the past. It’s this lack of forward thinking, true investment in the future, that causes a big distraction against effective reform.

One of the presenters is having us think critically about where we stand on educational leadership through the context of a story. People relate to stories, connecting complex ideas and internalizing them. You don’t have to convince the librarian of this assertion. The story that I’m thinking through involves butterflies. (Stay with me.) Vision-casting from an educational leadership standpoint feels like I’m throwing butterflies out there. They’re pretty for a moment but then they flutter off. In the same way it feels like every few years we have a vision to focus on, it looks great, but then flies away before we know what’s going on.

The immediate needs distract from the long-term. Who has time for a vision? It’s the ability to stop and think that is missing in most reform. Usually it’s a reaction to something.

Japan always comes up when talking about school achievement. An interesting fact about Japanese schools is that for the first three years the content focuses mainly on social knowledge and how to interact with others. In the U.S. we say that’s our focus, too, but I know from experience that standardized testing is entering the Kindergarten classroom. Benchmark tests are being introduced the second week of school. The six year-olds are just trying not to be homesick during that period.

Technology is great but the ability to mass test Kindergarteners does not mean that you have to test the Kindergarteners.

In Japan they have the first years wear a colored hat(tsuugaku-bou) so that the other students will show them grace and understand that Kindergarteners don’t know the rules of the school (and for safety). An interesting fact from Dennis Shirley and an illustration of a community focus.

We also participated in the World Cafe method of collaboration. I think I’m going to order the book for our professional library.

An article mentioned was Goals Gone Wild. It warns that too much goal-setting may harmfully narrow our focus and make excuses for unethical behavior/gaming the system/doing whatever it takes to win.

All in all, a great dialogue for the first day. I’m always impressed with the teachers I work with. They’re shining and the added bonus was gaining insight from other professionals from around the state. Check back tomorrow for a summary of day two.