Note from Dave: This is a guest post by Grant Piros. As a rule, I don't do guest posts. But when Grant shared this piece with me, I found that I was sharpened. He clarified two questions for me this school year: How do we build stronger and more effective teacher learning teams? And how do we develop strong materials that teachers can use so that we're not all constantly reinventing the wheel — and poorly at that?
I appreciate that Grant writes from the classroom. Check out Grant's blog here, and read his brief thoughts below.
This past weekend, I attended my first Learning Forward Conference.
My hope with any conference is that it's like a good book: it disrupts our thinking. As novelist Franz Kafka says, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
This conference did just that for me.
After seven years in two school districts working as a teacher, instructional coach, and various forms of school improvement, this conference added a new chapter to my thoughts on improving education.
It started when Director of Learning Forward, Frederick Brown, presented an experience he had as a building principal.
He recalled the times toward the end of the year when parents would catch him in the grocery store, the parking lot, or his office, all asking one powerful question: could you put my child in _____ teacher's class next year?
This request from a parent makes total sense. They want what's best for their child.
Many leaders, as Brown admitted, acknowledge the parent's request and quietly do what they can to oblige.
However, there's an important alternative.
What if instead, the principal could respond, “I understand your request, but this is a learning school. All our teachers work as teams to help every student learn.”
This was the “axe in the frozen sea” for me.
It's not about being the “favorite teacher” as Dave writes. Instead, “we want schools filled with great teachers, not schools of competitors vying for Favorite, that most fickle of ‘honors'.”
Improving education is about everyone in a team, school, and system actively learning together. Everyone being committed to learn and grow for the sole purpose of providing equitable education outcomes to all students at scale. Not just in your room, but in teams across the school and across the system.
As I wrote on my exit slip at the end of the conference:
“I used to think collaboration was great for teachers. Now I think it's pivotal for all students.”
So, sounds great, but how do we do this?
Two things stood out to me as I left the conference.
Thing # 1
Strong learning teams are where the rubber meets the road in changing education — where the true change happens.
We know about PLCs. About Dufour and the 4 Essential Questions. But the key is to go beyond these questions. To share collective responsibility of student learning as a team of teachers. To learn together for their sake.
The authors of the book Becoming a Learning Team give an in-depth look at the five stages of a learning team cycle: analyzing data; setting goals; learning individually and collaboratively; implementing new learning; and monitoring, assessing and adjusting practice. The book comes with clear protocols to apply in each stage. It's a book of both theory and practical application. One example is the concept of KASAB Goals. Like SMART goals for students, these help educators be intentional about their learning, both individually and in teams.
Whether you're a teacher on a team of your own, a building level leader, or a leader of a system, this book is worth checking out to take your teams to the next level.
Quality instructional materials and the process of adopting them are dramatically undervalued ways of scaling quality teaching to every room and child.
This is clear from some powerful pieces of research. First of all, according to an EdReports study, teachers spend an average of 12 hours per week creating materials. Where do most of these materials come from? Places like Google and Pinterest that don't ensure vetted quality.
But how much do quality materials matter to student learning?
Speaker Jim Short pointed to this study that discovered that while quality teaching has a 59% percent impact on student success, quality materials have a 41% impact. Not only that, but quality materials provide their own professional development to teachers which, in turn, improve teaching.
On top of this, research has revealed that the cost for a district of “placing strong curricula in the classroom is not necessarily higher than placing weak ones.” And according to this study, “the average cost-effectiveness ratio of switching to higher-quality curriculum was almost 40 times that of class-size reduction.”
Of course I knew that materials matter, but this much?
So what does all this mean?
If we are committed to improving the outcomes of our students, we must realize that the gap between a teacher's best intent (because we know teachers show up wanting to do their best) and the best results is bridged by two things: strong learning teams and quality materials.
We must do whatever we can to take action in our system to make these two things available to all. All teachers for the sake of all students.
These two things are key at the school and system level. If you're a teacher who wants more specific things to improve your practice, check out Dave's new book, These 6 Things, to help focus your teaching on what matters most.