Thoughtful in what we do

Far too often in education, we spend time thinking about a question. It’s a question that will sometimes cause stress. It will sometimes lead us to look for new programs or resources. And at times, it creates overwhelm because we then feel like there is too much to do. The question I’m thinking of is “What more should we be doing?”

Depending on your perspective, that question may not feel like that big of a deal. But here’s the issue, if we always ask about what we should be doing more of, we end up with so much to do that we aren’t able to do any of it well. We can’t sustain the practice. Adam Welcome loves to talk about how schools in general are really good at collecting programs and things, but they are really bad at getting rid of those programs or things that are obsolete. This is something that I have definitely noticed (I have seen your pile of textbooks from 3 adoptions ago that you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of!).

The other issue I see with asking about what more we can do is that it leads us to a deficit mindset. That’s the thinking that leads us to only focus on the things that aren’t going well or the things that we can’t do enough of. Deficit thinking leads to a sense of hopelessness before we have even started anything.

One of the pain points that I have noticed in my time as a leader is that every spring and summer, I spend time with our leadership team. We look at the data we have, the growth we’ve made, and the areas to target for continued growth. Based on that information, we develop a school improvement plan that is focused entirely on the data that we can connect to the learners that we know in our building. Then, invariably, we come together at a beginning of the year administrative meeting, and there seems to be some new initiative or some new curricular resource that must be added to our plans. When that happens, the intentional design of the school improvement plan that was developed as part of our thoughtful work must be either revamped or potentially scrapped for a period of time.

I do have one quick caveat since I know that some of the people who read this blog are colleagues of mine, or maybe even are among the group that sometimes brings those initiatives to us… Oftentimes those initiatives involve us in doing good work that is for the benefit of our students, but it sometimes feels for the leaders in the buildings that we have now been given one more new thing to cram into the already busy schedule of the school year PD plan.

So, imagine if you could, hearing the following statement at your back-to-school meeting:

Much like Chris Lehmann, I believe that “Schools are better when they create spaces and expectations for reflection.” A formalized process for reflection is a necessity. This reflection can certainly occur as an individual, but I think the power of the reflection comes from when you are able to chat with others about what happened in your classroom, how the students responded to the learning opportunity, and what your data shows you about student learning and growth.

This is why I see such value in the PLC process. It’s the perfect place for the reflective process to take place. The four key questions of the PLC guide us toward reflection on a question that is much better than the one I mentioned at the beginning. Instead of asking ourselves “What more can we be doing?” we should be asking “How can we do what we’re already doing, better?”

Think about the power of that mindset shift with your team. Instead of coming into a PLC meeting with a deficit mindset that might imply that we don’t yet have the tools to be successful, we come in with the belief that within our team, we have the answers to help ourselves improve. That’s collective teacher efficacy at work.

And here’s the reality of this process. Sometimes we will start with reflective practices, we will begin by trying to problem-solve within our team, and we may find that the tools we have available to us are not working. This is where things get exciting for me. Now, your PLC team can begin some work in action research. Do some professional reading, ask for help from an administrator, work with your curriculum coach, or collaborate with another team that might not be having the same problem as you. Whatever you do, find a way to keep trying until you find something that does work for your students. Again, this is not about finding something new, it’s about refining something that we were already doing, but wasn’t working as well as we’d like it to be.

Another thing to keep in mind: as you begin to refine your processes, be sure to identify the pieces that you feel are already going well. Having an idea of the things that are working will help us feel more comfortable as we make shifts in the areas that aren’t working as well. Also, keep in mind that if you try to solve too many problems at one time, you probably aren’t going to solve any of them. Pick one area of growth to focus on and stay focused on that. Remember what your team’s limitations are for time and energy!

So, the next time you are together with your team and able to reflect on what’s been happening, be sure to focus on the question “How can we do what we’re already doing, better?”

How do you think that might shift the conversations in your work? As you reflect on what you can do better, how might you use that to set your own short- or long-term goals for your own learning and growth? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Research, meta-analysis, and John Hattie

Marzano on Research

All right, be honest, how many of you have begun to dig into some educational research article, and before you make it all the way through the abstract, you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed? Trust me, my hand is up too! As educators, we all know the value of research based strategies and skills, of using best practices, and of trying new ideas to meet the needs of our kids. Even with that knowledge, there are times that it is so hard to try to make it through the research.

Add to that another frustration that I sometimes come across when reading research… The fact that they don’t all seem to agree! I can read study A and it says to try one strategy, but study B gives me another option, and before I can make my mind up, someone shares study C with me, and it tells me something totally different. Talk about frustrating!

So imagine my happiness when I started to learn about the idea of a meta-analysis. For those of you that aren’t familiar with that phrase, a meta-analysis will combine data from multiple studies and develop conclusions that have a greater statistical power.

That brings me to the work of John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning. In his work, Hattie developed a system of ranking a variety of influences based on how great an effect they had on student learning. The study was most recently updated in 2015, and includes a list of 195 effects. When you look at the effect sizes, you will see a variety of items with a number score based on the effect size. In Hattie’s work, he identified the average effect size as a 0.40, and uses that as his guide for what works best in education. The things that fall above the 0.40 are considered successful, while things that fall below do not have as meaningful of an effect.

While not every strategy will work for every kid in every situation, the more you rely on the strategies that have higher effect sizes, the more likely you are to provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students.

So I guess all that’s left is to look at the rankings. This link will take you to an interactive visualization of Hattie’s rankings: Hattie Rankings Interactive

Some advice on how to read this visualization:

  • The larger the effect size (in other words the higher the number or larger the bar) the more likely this strategy would be listed in a “What works best in education?” blog post.
  • Several things that we often think of as “go to” reasons for student success and failure (home life and things that happen outside of school) fall pretty low on the list.
  • Many things that are within our control have very large effect sizes.

Hopefully you take some time to analyze the items that appear on this list, think about what it means, and think about how integrating some of these strategies into your teaching (or maybe just your thinking) could have an impact on learning for your students. One of my big takeaways as I analyzed the data that appears here is that we should change the things that are within our control, and ignore the things that we can’t control.  The data here, along with our own common sense of what’s best for kids, tell us that we do have control over the learning that happens in our classroom every day.

What are your thoughts on Hattie’s rankings? Are there any that you feel missed the mark and are too high or too low? What about things that aren’t on the list? Anything that you think needs to be there? Share with us in your thoughts below!


To set the scene, imagine that you are in your classroom.  You are getting the kids started on one of your standing assignments that everyone in the room knows will come each week:

You: All right, let’s all get started on (insert that assignment that your students hate to do).

Class: Collective groaning.  From the back you can hear one student say “Why do we always have to do this?”

You find yourself wondering why the reaction is like this – you might think to yourself “they loved doing this earlier in the year!”  Fast forward to the due date.  As you are collecting the assignment, you see that the students who play school well completed the assignment, but it’s clear that they put forth the minimum amount of effort possible.  You also notice that some of your students did not complete the assignment, and no amount of effort from you is going to get them to finish the task – you could have them work in the hall, take away recess, call parents, etc. – nothing is going to make a difference for those students.

As a teacher we have all experienced this.  So here’s the question – why do we keep asking our students to complete assignments that they hate?  Why do we keep giving assignments that students don’t put forth much effort, or simply don’t do the assignment at all?  Why do we keep giving assignments that put the effort on us to run down the missing assignments when the students are putting no effort into the assignment?

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

When I was writing last week’s post, I inserted the HSE21 Best Practice Model.  As I put it into the post, something jumped out to me in a different way than ever before.  Look at the Best Practice Model above – in this blog I have spent a lot of time talking about the boxes on the outside: Student-Centered Approaches; Cognitive Curriculum; Fundamental Classroom Conditions; and Transfer of Learning.  Last week for some reason, the purple circle that connects them all jumped out at me – in particular the word at the top “Reflection.”  Given that New Year’s Day is approaching, I would guess that a lot of us are taking time to reflect on the last year, and many of us think first of our personal life, however reflection is an important aspect of teaching as well.  What better time to take a few moments for reflection than to do so over the 2 week winter break?

Think about how your year has gone so far.  What’s working well?  What isn’t?  Do you often have situations like the one that I referenced at the top?  How could you adjust your assignments so that they don’t get stale?  Even the most engaging activity today may get old and stale to our students if we do the same thing every day or every week over a long period of time.  Find some ways to mix up what you are doing in your classroom to increase student engagement.  For me, an important part of reflection is also getting feedback and ideas from my colleagues.  If you have an activity that has gotten stale, talk with your colleagues – see if anyone has an idea of how you could spice up that activity and make it more engaging to your students.  Or maybe you will just decide to let that activity go for a while – replace it with something else that might serve the same purpose.

New Years ResolutionIf you never take the time to reflect, you may miss out on opportunities for growth as a teacher, as well as opportunities to help your students grow.  As I reflect on this school year, one of the things I am most disappointed in is the amount of time I have had to spend in my office rather than out and about during the school day.  One of my resolutions for the new school year is to spend more time out in our classrooms seeing the awesome things that you all do on a daily basis with our students.  Please help hold me accountable to this goal!

What resolutions have you set for yourself?  Personal or professional, share them in the comments below.  We can all help hold each other accountable to our goals and resolutions.