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Saturday / November 18

5 Steps to Making Teacher Practice Visible

In The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dorothy’s little black dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain revealing not an imposing and powerful Wizard, but a kind, gentle man. Just as the journey to see the Wizard was depicted as frightening and intimidating in the film, so too might teachers feel frightened and intimidated when attempting to change their teaching practice. Changing classroom practice requires that teachers step outside of their comfort zones, take risks, and pursue a course of action that can feel uncertain. The feeling can be similar for school administrators who are being held accountable for leading the move toward an improved teaching practice. One way to pull back this metaphorical curtain dispelling fear and mystery is by slightly modifying a well-known mantra from Visible Learning.

You might have heard the saying,

[Visible Learning is] when teachers see learning through the eyes of the student and when students see themselves as their own teachers (John Hattie).

When embarking on the journey to change teacher practice, it might be useful to modify this familiar mantra in this way:

Changing teacher practice is successful only when instructional leaders see learning through the eyes of the teachers and when teachers see themselves as instructional leaders.

Making Change in Teacher Practice Visible

Several schools systems with which I collaborate have made the journey to a new teacher practice successful by following these 5 steps:

The pulling back of the metaphorical curtain begins with administrators, or instructional leaders making learning visible to teachers. In order to change their practice, teachers first need to gain insights into what they are changing.

Step 1: Develop a List of Assertions

Step one involves administrators developing a list of strengths and opportunities in the school building. These are assertions that administrators believe they can make about what is happening in classrooms.

Strengths

In our building we successfully…

Opportunities

We should be better at…

1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.

After drafting the list, administrators provide the data that informs such assertions. If the data does not exist, the assertion must either be deleted or administrators must work to enhance the robustness of their data collection practices by, for example, adjusting the nature of their classroom observations or PLC meetings.

Strengths

In our building we successfully…

Data

Supportive evidence includes…

Opportunities

We should be better at…

Data

Supportive evidence includes…

1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.

Including a chart like the one above as part of an instructional leader’s regular practice requires that they have a consistent system of gathering relevant data on what is happening in their school and classrooms. “Know thy impact” is an essential component of Visible Learning and requires data.  The strengths are to provide the foundation for changing practice by identifying successes.  The opportunities become the focus for changing teacher practice. Each opportunity becomes an area of focus, the area that the administrator would like to see change in teacher practice.

Step 2: Set Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Step two of the process is to convert each opportunity into a learning intention and set of success criteria for classroom teachers.  For example, if administrators identify that teachers engage in too much “sit and get” lecture, then the learning intention for the faculty might be to understand the value of classroom discussion and dialogue in student learning.

In addition, teachers must have a clear understanding of what success looks like for this learning intention. In other words, what are the success criteria for this learning intention? An example of these criteria might be:

Learning Intention Teachers will understand the value of classroom discussion and dialogue in student learning.
 

Success Criteria

1. Teachers can incorporate two or more opportunities for classroom discussion into the learning period.
2. Teachers can monitor student discussion to better assess student understanding.
3. Teachers can use data from classroom discussions to plan the next step in the learning episode.
4. Teachers can collaborate with their planning team to develop opportunities for classroom discussion.

Once administrators have established the learning intention and the associated success criteria, they have laid the foundation for all subsequent steps in this process.

Step 3: Make a Professional Learning Plan

Step three of this process is to make decisions about what professional learning is necessary to support each teacher’s pursuit of the learning intention and success criteria.  As highlighted in Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, and Fung (2007), this professional learning should:

  1. Occur over an extended period of time as learning takes time.
  2. Deeply engage teachers and challenge their existing beliefs.
  3. Encourage dialogue amongst colleagues.
  4. Be perceived as having strong support from school leadership.

Step 4: Engage in Formative Evaluation and Feedback

Step four of the process is to use the learning intention, success criteria, and professional learning to inform classroom observations and PLC discussions. In other words, administrators should engage in formative evaluation of teacher progress towards the learning intention and success criteria. Every opportunity to observe a classroom or participate in a PLC should make teacher practice visible so that administrators can clearly see growth towards the learning intention. Therefore, every classroom observation and PLC is an opportunity for feedback. Teachers should be able to answer the following three questions, informed by feedback from PLCs and administrators:

Where am I going?

How am I getting there?

Where do I go next?  (Hattie, 2012)

Where am I going? refers to the learning intention and success criteria. Therefore, the feedback given by the administrator and PLC peers should be specific to both the learning intention and success criteria. Extraneous feedback that is not related to where the teacher is going provides cognitive overload and is detrimental to the change in practice process. How am I getting there? refers to the teacher’s current level of progress towards the learning intention. This feedback should be constructive and concise so the teacher has a realistic view of his or her practice. Finally, feedback focused on the question Where am I going next? should provide timely information about the next area in which he or she should focus.

Step 5: Show Evidence of Success, Move on to the Next Opportunity

Step five of the process requires administrators to evaluate the results of changing teacher practice. If the previous four steps were successful and administrators have evidence of their impact in changing teacher practice, they can then move their focus to the next opportunity starting Steps #1-4 again. If evidence of positive impact is not present, make adjustments and re-engage in the process with a revised learning intention and success criteria.

From Fiction to Non-Fiction

Recently, this process was utilized in a school district to enhance the quality of instruction across the entire division, grades PreK-12. When it came time to develop the assertions about strengths and opportunities, each administrator had different areas for growth and thus needed a different plan for changing teacher practice. Administrators met multiple times throughout the year to share assertions, data, learning intentions, success criteria, and approaches to professional development with all administrators across the district. At these same meetings, administrators also met with colleagues at the same-level (i.e., all elementary school administrators, all secondary school administrators) and district-level administrators (i.e., coordinators, supervisors, and superintendents). Through multiple conversations with building-level and district-level administrators, the single biggest factor driving the five-step process described above was the empowerment of their teachers by making the process visible. After all, the conclusion to The Wizard of Oz comes as the Wizard, along with Glenda, the Good Witch, reveals that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion’s challenges could be remedied by simply believing in themselves. For Dorothy, she had the answer with her the entire time: the ruby slippers. I believe this is what my colleagues refer to as teacher efficacy and it starts by pulling back the curtain.

References

Hattie, J. A. C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, H. (2007). Teacher professional learning and development. Best evidence synthesis iteration [BES]. Ministry of Education: Wellington, New Zealand.

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Written by

John Almarode conducts staff development workshops, keynote addresses, and conference presentations on a variety of topics including student engagement, evidence-based practices, creating enriched environments that promote learning, and designing classrooms with the brain in mind. John’s action-packed workshops offer participants ready-to-use strategies and the brain rules that make them work.

John is the author of Captivate, Activate, and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math, Grades 6-12.

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