school culture

Summative Season and the Self-Directed Learner

It is summative season once again. IB Exams are in progress. Summative teacher evaluations are due. Report cards are on the horizon, and schools are scrambling to get the last bits of data that will inform the next academic year’s instructional goals, both for children and adults.

During this summative season, when we are reflecting on the actions that have been enacted and continue to be until the last day of school, do we ever consider how much of what we do actually builds a culture of self-directedness?

In the Twitter chat on self-directed learning, collaborating minds raised the following points.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.13 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.35 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.22.36

The views from the Twitterchat on Self-Directed Learning suggest what Costa, Garmston and Zimmerman pose as a guiding principle of self-directed learning, that “the gates of learning are only opened from within and that motivation to learn or change cannot be externally coerced” (2014, p. xvi in Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2015).

I left the Twitterchat with more questions.

If schools want self-directed individuals, how do we reconcile the reliance on external assessments of learning with our aim to promote self-directed learning? When the assessments of learning are significantly anchored to someone outside of the self, how do we shift learners toward internal motivation?

Asking these questions in their latest book Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it (John Catt, 2015), Powell and Kusuma-Powell present schools with the task of examining our assumptions about self-directedness and how the adult learning structures as they exist might use a lot more reflection.

Assumptions guiding teacher evaluation

Powell and Kusuma-Powell (2015) suggest the following assumptions guiding current practices in teacher evaluation:

  1. External feedback systems gives teachers ways to improve instruction and hence student learning.
  2. Student learning is like an algebraic algorithm and deficits can be addressed technically as in the equation, if x then y must follow.
  3. Schools can be operated like factories.
  4. Relationships, especially trusting relationships, are not significant aspects of schools as learning organizations.
  5. External rewards and punishments are necessary to coerce teachers to be better at facilitating learning.
  6. Teachers need to be praised and affirmed by someone else all the time.
  7. Principals and supervisors are the best source of knowledge about teaching and learning.
  8. One principal can mentor 40 or 50 teachers at a time and be effective at it.
  9. Compliance is more important than personal investment.
  10. If you cannot reduce something to an algorithm or a quantity, it does not exist.

The above assumptions, if they guide teacher evaluation, direct us to a culture wherein:

  • Teachers are infantilized.
  • Internal motivation is not a resource for school development.
  • We waste a lot of time, and we do not guarantee that teachers learn how to facilitate learning better for our students.

Patterns are the best teacher, suggests Wellman (2013). If school patterns of behavior hinge upon the premise that the adults in the school learn best with external coercion, how will those adults facilitate self-directedness in themselves and in their students?

We need a new set of assumptions if our schools are to create cultures of self-directedness. What if we created our schools based on these assumptions?

  • That each person, including teachers, learn best when they are motivated internally.
  • That each person has the capacity to self-assess, self-monitor and self-modify.

And what if we created systems in our schools, which honor and respect the learner within each individual?

References

Garmston, R. & Wellman, B. (2013). The Adaptive School: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Powell, W. & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2015). Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.

Photo Credit: Toutes direction By Dyon Joël (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Fractals by Aloha Lavina 2012

Finding patterns

Recently at an Adaptive Schools® Seminar, the cohort was invited to think about fractals, which represent the patterns of being and behaving that construct the organizational behaviors of a group.

These invisible fractals are the calculus of the architecture in and through which we build our relationships and collaboration in organizations. Fractals are repeating patterns, wherein the resulting geometry is composed of the repeating patterns of the original pattern, but in more pronounced complexity.

When we think of the invisible fractals forming the patterns of an organization, we might find that as these patterns are constructed:

  • We add things that we value
  • We multiply the things we believe and that we assume are good for ourselves and our organization

Our beliefs, values and assumptions are the woof and warp of the organizational identity we weave.

We always weigh our actions and decisions against the assumptions we hold about learning and relationships in which learning is undertaken.

We may not do this deliberately. We may not do this by design.

If we did cultivate a deliberate architecture for the relationships that hold up learning in our schools, we would see…

  • That we value relationships in how they support learning and meaning-making around learning.
  • That we continually seek to improve the ways we communicate – listen and speak both verbally and nonverbally – so that our communication respects and values all perspectives and allows a balanced participation within our community, not just of the extroverts and those who process by talking
  • That we presume positive intentions and seek to understand the contexts and personal learning trajectories of all individuals
  • That we are open to the examination of our assumptions, beliefs and values as they pertain to and impact the ways we learn and teach.

The analogy in schools’ work

Each iteration of the ways we communicate and treat one another becomes a part of the patterns of our community.

When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we begin to groove this unproductive way of communicating into the very expression of our organization. When we allow ourselves to hold meetings in which advocacy rather than inquiry is the default stance, we create a culture of debate, of winners and losers, of one-upmanship instead of creating a culture where all ideas are valued and there is a healthy, balanced cognitive discourse where ideas may be shared, tweaked, challenged, evolved, co-constructed.

Patterns of being are great teachers. Wellman (2013) suggests that “Patterns are the ultimate teacher.” When we are not mindful of the ways in which we create the invisible fractals of our organization, what might we be teaching those who are members of our organization?

When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we might be teaching any or all of these:

  • That only some ideas are valuable
  • That idea generation is competitive
  • That you, my colleague, have to try to beat me by talking over my talking, to be heard
  • That this is a place where the loudest person can triumph
  • Introverts need not apply

Imagine the new person who comes into this situation. How long before they begin to either withdraw from the conversations, or begin to compete for air time? How long before they experience frustration with this dynamic of communication? The answer might be: immediately.

What an exhausting and unproductive fractal. Repeat this pattern over and over, and the results might be a tangle of ideas and communication wherein few ideas reach shared understanding, few ideas evolve beyond the initial expression by whomever is loudest. There might have been other iterations of the ideas, more effective iterations, but these are already lost in the silence of those who are drowned by the loud. There might have been intended shared understanding, and perhaps there might be resulting coherent practices among the group, but this potential for coherence and consistency has not had the opportunities to emerge because members are busy competing to be heard, but the listening is missing. Perhaps one take-away we might have from this illustration is the importance of examining our intentions in the collaborative work we do, and choosing congruent behaviors to make that intention happen through the actions we choose. Perhaps to communicate well, we must seek to understand the fractals of our communication.

Why patterns are important

Although we have evolved to be social beings, we are not naturally able to get in a group and collaborate effectively without learning, without rehearsal, and without feedback. Just like all learning, we need design and planning, design and instruction, feedback from assessment.

If we are mindful that the architecture of our small meetings affect the overall patterns in our organization, we might find that deliberate study of the ways we talk and form relationships ultimately teach our community the ways we become.

And if we are the adults, what might we be teaching the children?

 

 

It’s About You…and it’s Not About You at All

In our classrooms, we know that not all students are at the same place in their learning. Some have more background knowledge than others, maybe because they read regularly and read a variety of material. Some have more developed skills than other students, and each student has had more or less rehearsal of one or more skills. The classroom is a matrix of different learning trajectories, and as skillful teachers we must recognize where each student is and address each one’s learning accordingly.

Supporting adult learners is not unlike supporting young learners. Adults in any MYP are at different stages of understanding of programme elements and implementation. They come from a variety of teaching backgrounds and frameworks, they have different learning preferences, and they each have a different context and conception of their identity, of who they are as professional learners.

Because each learner comes with different strengths and needs, coaching as a support function is a way to value each learner’s existing knowledge and help him or her to find resources to set goals, achieve them, reflect on implementation of intentions, and solve problems encountered along the way.

Coaching as a differentiated support function

Coaching is allowing each individual learner to form a self-portrait of the self as learner in his or her own words. The narrative he or she provides through the coaching process is a “process of authentic self-presence, thinking and choosing as a way of discovering and knowing the nature and meaning of significant experiences in identity formation and selfhood” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 63). The coach functions as a mediator of this learning.

Feuerstein and colleagues (2000) suggest that this type of mediative learning includes being able to “experience that thing at deeper levels of cognitive, emotional attitudinal, energetic, and affective impact through the interposition of the mediator between the learner and the experienced object or event” (p. 275).

The coach is someone who conveys another person through their thinking from one state to another, more desirable state. Costa and colleagues (2013) use the metaphor of a stagecoach to represent coaching—a vehicle for taking a person from one place to another.

Source: US National Archives & Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: US National Archives & Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s about you…and it’s not about you at all

If you are the coach, the coaching is about you, but it is not about you at all. The role of the coach is to attend to the other’s thinking.

When I first trained to be a cognitive coach, I thought I was a good listener. As I learned about the quality of listening necessary to be other-centered as a coach, I realized I was wrong.

In fact, when I used to listen, I engaged in either one or more of these:

  • Autobiographical listening – listening so I can connect to or chime in with something from experience
  • Solution listening – listening so I could help the person solve the problem
  • Curiosity listening – listening because I was curious

It is about you, the coach. The biggest change for coaching to become a successful support function is for the coach to struggle through the challenge of having to stop listening from these positions. We have to give up our own thinking and context to truly attend to the other person’s thinking.

Ways to listen thoroughly 

The skills needed to adopt a coaching attitude necessitated a change in the coach’s own cognitive behavior. If a coach is to convey a person’s thinking from one state to another, the coach needs to listen so that he or she can do the following:

  • Paraphrase the thinking to clarify it to the other person
  • Pose questions to move thinking forward

We might notice that with these two behaviors, we do not need our own experience, we are not the problem solvers of the case, and we only need what we are listening to, nothing more. These behaviors eliminate the necessity for autobiographical listening, problem-solving listening, and curiosity.

To be effective coaches, we must let go of our own attitudinal predispositions and practice complete empathy.

The values of cognitive coaching

Teaching and learning occurs through three valuable stages: intention, action, and reflection. (These are familiar to us as the curriculum: plans, teaching, assessment. It is also a reflection of our inquiry cycle: inquire, take action, reflect.)

Coaching helps to clarify how action addresses intention, and supports reflection on how this relationship between intention and action might be strengthened (Costa and Garmston, 1994). This function of coaching helps people work toward their goals for teaching and learning.

It helps people solve their problems. Often when people are stressed by challenge, it means their skills and understanding necessitate a stretch toward crossing what Vygotsky calls the “zone of proximal development” or what we might recognize as an implementation dip. Coaching helps the person find cognitive resources to continue their work toward stretching, through learning, to meet the challenges they face. In a coaching conversation, the listening, paraphrasing helps to acknowledge the emotions, and posing mediative questions helps elevate the thinking to the cognitive level, where problem solving can occur.

Leading learning is ‘messy work’

Each learner is on a different trajectory toward understanding. As leaders of learning, we need to allow each learner to follow his or her own trajectory at his or her unique, optimum pace. We also have the privilege of helping them find their cognitive resources to support them along the way. If we continue to be the assessors of each one’s learning, how might we help learners become independent, self-directed learners?

Leading learning, whether in a classroom or in a programme, is messy work. If we are mindful of what each person needs to learn and help them help themselves through coaching, we can cultivate a culture of self-directed learning in our schools.

 

References

Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (1994). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Costa, A., Garmston, R., Ellison, J., & Hayes, C. (2013). Cognitive Coaching Seminars foundation training: Learning guide (9th ed.). Highlands Ranch, CO: Thinking Collaborative.

Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Beyond smarter: Mediated learning and the brain’s capacity for change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

 

 

Weaving threads of understanding into school culture

When faced with the challenge of implementing new practices, often organizations go through an implementation dip because previous expertise no longer suffices in the new programme.

The organization can support teachers through some processes, which when combined provide what Drago-Seversen (2009) calls “holding environments” for professional learning. Holding environments are specific structures and processes, which help practitioners feel safe as they experiment, innovate, and create to enact implementation goals.

Support functions for teachers in implementation

MYP schools are fortunate to have teachers remain. Having knowledge and understanding of the MYP remain within a school as schools grow is a benefit to the overall culture of a school. How might a pedagogical leadership team provide support functions for teachers, as they grow and develop their MYP practice?

How might we support teacher thinking as teachers implement their plans in their classrooms?

The four support functions available to pedagogical leaders have inherently distinct purposes and ways of communication, and they each use assessment in very specific ways.

Evaluation as a support function

Evaluative Support is a more direct form of supervision. This is most familiar to us in many of the traditional appraisal systems, where the supervisor provides a formal process and criteria for teacher evaluation; there is a formal set of conversations that accompany the evaluation, and the teacher is bound to provide a formal, documented response to the evaluation. Evaluations are often useful when teachers are perceived to be not meeting expectations in a school, and the communication between the supervisor and the teacher consists of judgments of the teacher’s practice.

Evaluation as a support function usually comes from the supervisor. The assessment stance of evaluation comes from the formal appraisal system and its purpose seems to hinge upon a transactional contract, specifically the transactional contract between the teacher and the school as employer. The limitations of the evaluative support function lie in its inception; since the assessment is from a point of view outside of the teacher’s identity, the teacher’s default response to the evaluation is compliance. The response may take on more in-depth self-assessment, but this may not be an inherent element of the evaluative support function, unless it is specifically spelled out in the process itself.

 Consultation as a support function

Consultation as a support function is more two-directional in that its initiation can come from the supervisor or the teacher. Consultation means the direct instruction of aspects of practice, for which the consultant (often the supervisor) has expertise, which he or she transmits to the teacher. Either the supervisor can provide the consultation by directly arranging instructional meetings with the teacher, or the teacher can ask for consultation from the perceived expert. Whether the start of a consultation is from the consultant or the teacher, consultative conversations have a more flexible transactional contract than evaluation; if the teacher is the one asking for a consultation, there is an implication of prior self-assessment that has led the teacher to seek advice.

In both evaluation and consultation, the relationship between the two parties is not collegial, in that one party is providing the instruction for changes necessary to practice, and the other party receives or responds to this instruction.

Collaboration as a support function

Collaboration as a support function is collegial in nature. In a collaborative situation, colleagues gather to engage in dialog or discussion. Dialog has the purpose of reaching a shared understanding, while discussion has the purpose of reaching a decision together (Garmston and Wellman, 2013). Both of these conversations require that colleagues equally participate in meaning-making, and they use collaborative norms to contribute to the shared outcomes.

Because collaboration helps group members to contribute to shared outcomes, collaboration might be less stressful as a support function and more engaging. Each colleague contributes, each idea is honored and acknowledged, and all have ownership of the outcomes. Successful collaboration involves active listening, and norms, which when practiced make for effective, powerful work (Costa and Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013).

Collaboration is multi-transactional, in that each person independently finds his or her contribution, but the group also finds its collective co-constructed contribution. This support function increases interdependence, or what Costa and Garmston (1994) term holonomy. Collaboration might also be transformational, in that the process and outcomes of collaboration increase a sense of agency and efficacy in individuals and groups (Brody & Hadar, 2010).

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Coaching as a support function

Finally, coaching as a support function shifts the focus of the relationship in the support structure. Whereas collaboration requires that “we pay attention to self and others” (Costa, Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013), coaching is wholly other-centered. Coaching is being attentive to another person’s thinking, and helping the person’s thinking move from one state to another, desired state. A coach conveys the person, through reflective paraphrasing and mediative questions, from a state of pondering into a state of knowing and understanding.

These support functions help teachers in implementation, and the pedagogical leadership in a school can thoughtfully apply each of these support functions in a range of situations deliberately assessed and provided the support to help teachers develop and grow their MYP practice, and embed understanding of the MYP within the cultural fabric of the school.