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Roundtable: Douglas Reeves — Achieving Equity & Excellence: Immediate Results From the Lessons of High-Poverty, High-Success Schools


About Douglas Reeves, PhD

Douglas Reeves, PhD is the founder of Creative Leadership Solutions. The author of more than 30 books and 80 articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness, he has worked in all 50 US states and more than 20 countries around the world.

Show Transcript

Welcome everyone to the January meeting of the instructional leadership directors roundtable on your host Justin Baeder and I’m honored to be joined today by Dr. Douglas Reeves author of achieving equity and excellence which I have been poring over recently and pulling out some of those as the subtitle says immediate results from the lessons of high poverty high success schools so dr. Reeves welcome to the roundtable. Well thanks very much it’s great to be back with you. Why did you write this book what did you see you know as in terms of the reaction to your previous books which which are many in reaction to the the work and the articles that you’ve been been writing for more than 25 years what brought you to this particular book?

DR: Well there are two things Justin. First of all thanks for hosting me in thanks Heather for joining us and all your other listeners as well I think you know as you know I started this work focusing on high poverty schools that were outside the mainstream that is high poverty high members of ethnic minority groups high members of linguistic minority groups but but that we’re also very successful and you know 25 years ago we thought that they were kind of the outliers and what I found is in that original study that it was not really what they bought it wasn’t their money it wasn’t anything else was a specific set of professional practices in the intervening time to finally get back to your question about why I wrote this is that I wanted to honor the scholarship of many other people who have done similar work I felt to some extent a bit of a voice in the wilderness 25 years ago but I specifically have acknowledged people like Karen Chenoweth Heather Sadowski and many other scholars who have documented even though we’re all working independently similar results and so the reason that I wrote this is that I thought it was so important to say this is no longer a voice in the wilderness this is the preponderance of the evidence this is where many different people coming together are finding very similar results.

JB: and that phrase preponderance of the evidence I recognize from one of the early chapters where where you give us a framework for deciding what kinds of research or what kinds of knowledge to trust and it’s interesting to see actually two chapters devoted to that question of what is our source of knowledge what is our source of expertise when it comes to whether this is possible whether it is possible to get sustained high performance and results even in a high poverty school that doesn’t have all of the you know the advantages of maybe a private school or a wealthier suburban district and you say one of the kind of weakest forms of evidence but probably the one that we rely on most is simply our our personal opinion and then maybe one step up from that our personal experience why does that become a trap why does personal experience in personal opinion become a trap especially for people who have not really seen successful high poverty schools.

DR: well it’s part of what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error we we assume that that what worked for us and our personal experiences can be attributable to everybody else in the whole wide world further we assume that our motives are always sincere and Noble and when everybody else messes up it’s like the Puritans that’s that’s God’s punishment on them but the truth is and not quite that easy I I do respect people’s individual beliefs and experiences but in the research business we call that a sample size of one that is not the sort of thing that you can really generalize to that to the population and so I mean no disrespect to people’s beliefs but what I am I’m requesting is that we also consider what is the evidence broadly say different researchers different locations different scenarios and and I think the evidence in this book is pretty strong that a lot of the things that people traditionally say well gee if they’re poor if their parents are not well educated then they’re just stuck I recognize that is true for some students but it’s simply not true for all because there’s too many cases of high poverty schools doing well as a result of great teaching and great.

JB: leadership but I think we need to recognize absolutely and you know that kind of to level three in your levels of educational research and that is collective experience and you know the evidence is there as you mentioned from your own work and from Karen Chenoweth’s work and and of course you know organizations like uncommon schools you know there are many examples of excellence in high poverty schools but when we think about our collective experience often if we’re working and I started my career in a high poverty middle school and probably the lowest performing high high poverty middle school not the only high poverty middle school but certainly you know there was variation within a demographic band there was a variation in school performance within you know the same same demographics so that’s that’s definitely something to keep in mind but you know if I looked at our collective experience as a faculty if I looked at my colleague next door if I looked at my colleagues down the hall the collective experience that we had and I think the collective experience that that probably the majority of people who work in high poverty schools or who have worked with high poverty schools is that as much as we would like it not to be the case demography seems to be destiny you know that if you come from a poor zip code if you if you don’t have the family advantages of wealth and real estate and opportunity that there’s this direct relationship between you know parental wealth parental education parental assets and student achievement and and if I understand what you’re saying correctly like that’s that’s an illusion or a thinking error to say that just because I personally and the people immediately around me have experienced that that direct and kind of causal relationship between poverty and low achievement that we generalize that we say that it has to be that way

DR: I think it’s a really thoughtful insight Justin it is and it is confusing cause and effect for example if I’m used to for the last 20 years being in a school their home environment poverty and that sort of thing he’s associated with low achievement I assume that the former caused the latter whereas what I found in the schools that I studied is actually the causality is the other direction if I start with low expectations because the kids are poor because they can’t do it a wonderful new study from the new teachers project I probably read showed that kids that are getting A’s and B’s in secondary school only 17% were even asked to do grade level work so the variable wasn’t poverty the variable was the expectations that the schools and the teachers had and they’re rewarding with honor roll grades terrible work it is not on grade level because we think well gee that’s just the best they can do bless their heart anyway so my respectful suggestion is let’s rethink causality it’s not from poverty to low achievement but it is rather from low expectations to low achievement that’s the causal direction.

JB: It’s very interesting you say that I was interviewing dr. Tracy Benson yesterday a professor at the University of North Carolina who did his dissertation work at Harvard graduate school with Sarah Fireman and they were talking about implicit bias the book was about implicit racial bias and obviously we think about discipline as a source of you know as a nexus of racial bias and disproportionality but one of the first examples that he pointed to in our interview was low expectations and not by giving lower grades but by giving higher grades for non grade-level work and I and it took me aback for a second because you know I realized that like that that that focus on standards and that focus on doing grade level work is absolutely critical to the achievement that we’re trying to get like we don’t do students any favors by somewhat grading on a curve for poverty.

DR: So it’s not as bad as all that it’s actually worse and here’s the evidence in a study that I did it isn’t just that poor kids wind up getting high grades from the work but I analyzed in specifically in specific rather 9th and 10th grade students who had failed literacy and math exams and yet were on the enroll they were disproportionately members of ethnic minorities and they were disproportionately girls and I say this would be perspective maybe some of you have read my article called cheating our daughters but our daughters get rewarded for being quiet for being compliant for getting along not for doing great level work and in particularly affects our daughters who are members of ethnic and linguistic minorities and uh and we do them no favors in Florida for example there was just a study published this year this week rather in Florida seventy percent of incoming college students need remedial classes and in when they have to take those remedial classes it doesn’t count for graduation they don’t get financial aid for it so we are killing these secondary school students with high grades for low-level work.

JB: so I wonder if we could talk about the the gap between the you know the the confidence that you express in this book that we can succeed and and help students achieve high levels of academic success according to rigorous standards regardless of their level of poverty how do we square that with the just the commonplace observation that the more resources the more advantages the more assets students start with you know the the larger the vocabulary the more they’ve read and been read to prior to school how do we square that with just the the gap in advantage that students start with?

DR: so so that is a very fair question and and I take a very different point of view than some of my friends who also advocate for high poverty students I have no resentment toward rich kids what I want to do is learn from them so what does a rich kid get a rich kid probably was read to in the womb a rich kid by the time they came to kindergarten had five years of literacy instruction a rich kid may still struggle reading but if they go to a $50,000 a year private school nobody says sink or swim kid you should have had that earlier they say oh my god what are we gonna do this kids rich will give them intervention will give them support will do whatever they need so seriously what I mean is if we taught poor kids the same way that we teach rich kids which is the assumption that they will always succeed they’ll always be okay and that they deserve it because they’re rich that’s what we must do for poor kids as moreover when it comes to rich kids with all the extra years as you suggest an early childhood in infancy that they why in the world wouldn’t we give them the extra support that they need later on so to be really precise about this if a rich kid is getting all this stimulus in terms of of reading and literacy and and all these other opportunities outside of school why would we think that a 60 Minutes for a 90 minute literacy Block in school is enough rich kids get more than that why wouldn’t we give that to all of our kids so I I harbor no resentment toward toward those kids I just want to learn from them and then replicate but our wealthy advantaged kids get in every other school that I see.

JB: Yeah that’s it’s a very different philosophy and I’m sure people you get very shocked reactions from people when you talk about that that $50,000 a year school and the advantages that that brings but you know if we look at what specifically is being done to make a difference for you know for kids you know I think often about my own kids who are in elementary school now and I I will say despite my my background as an educator I’m not a literacy expert I definitely did not you know use any esoteric literacy knowledge to you know to help my kids learn to read and certainly their kindergarten first grade teachers deserve all the credit for that but seeing what has actually allowed them to start reading far above grade level it was fairly simple and a lot of it comes down to time you know they read for several hours a day I’ll brag a little bit we’re a small group here so I’ll brag a little bit my daughter won the County Spelling Bee and I overheard one of her friends mom’s telling her you know you studied the words yes but Vivienne is reading novels every week like that is that is what it adds up to and it’s like that was not expensive right that was not something that is only available to people who go to private school you know our kids go to public school they they check books out of the library and read them and I think one of the the messages that we take away from from your research is that these are accessible strategies we don’t have to go and spend a fortune on some program that was specifically designed for high poverty schools to do some sort of some sort of magic with with high poverty schools.

DR: Well Justin I really appreciate you mentioning that because I sometimes my research has been misinterpreted to have people say well gee Doug is thinking that poverty doesn’t matter of course poverty matters food insecurity matters sleep deprivation matters all these things really matter all I’m trying to say is is that it’s not determinative and with respect to the money issue look I will always argue for more money for schools to pay teachers they have safe and secure facilities and so on the problem is there are really dysfunctional unhealthy schools that have a lot of money that I have twenty five thirty thousand dollars per pupil allocations and they’re still failing so money is part of the equation but it’s not sufficient and that’s that’s all I’m trying to say and in fact sometimes again bearing in mind I will always argue for resources for you money can be a curse what I’ve seen in my other research that I talked about briefly in this book he is the lack of focus every time a new grant comes in every time more funding title one state funding and so on come in people buy another program and so I see and I’m not exaggerating here not just 20 or 30 60 or 70 programs in a single school and the teachers are just buried in initiatives so yes I’ll advocate for resources but we got to spend those resources in a focused way that allow teachers to to really give our students what they need the last thing I’ll say is that money is one resource time is the other one and so it’s interesting to me how rich kids schools to come back to the to our conversation spend more time than poor kids school school I’m astounded that in some of these poor schools a kid might have a nine period day and the same number of hours a rich kid will have five periods that is they’re getting almost twice as much time per period in a rich school than as a poor school and I want to make sure that our students are getting both the money and the time that they need.

JB: Well and I think that time issue shows up in a couple of places one of course is instructional time and and the time for deep work but I also see that in that difference in the time for adults to succeed with any change initiatives and and we work with one private school in the Toronto area that’s been highly successful for generations very very expensive school and I’ll periodically check in with my contact there hey what you guys up to what are you working on that’s new and usually the answer is we’re not working on anything that’s new you know and it’s interesting you know and and we think well that’s because they don’t have urgency and I think well no it’s it’s not because they don’t have urgency it’s because they have focus like those are two ways of looking at that that lead to very different conclusions and I think certainly remembering my time working as a teacher in a high poverty school you know the the lack of focus definitely was part of what ran people ragged and led to you know fairly high turnover and just the lack of you know are we gonna be doing the same thing tomorrow much less next semester or next year well

DR: So Justin you just mentioned something that also particularly since we’re gonna have a lot of leaders watching this that’s part of the issue of cause and effect rather than assuming that the clause promote student achievement and high poverty schools is the student characteristics or their family characteristics what you just said about turnover that’s the cost turnover of of administrators for example in high poverty schools is almost five times greater than leadership turnover in low poverty schools the same is true of teachers often times and I say this with affection and respect to my Union colleagues but if you’ve got a union bargaining agreement that says with more seniority you can move farther and farther away from a high poverty school what does that mean for your system that the highest poverty school always has the newest least experienced teachers and that’s not fair but my where I hope I can find common ground with my union friends is let’s provide financial incentives let’s provide extra time let’s provide a few support so that our very best and most experienced people are willing to incentivize to remain in a high poverty school.

JB: Yeah I think if we could cut turn over to the the level that turnover II in a you know in a wealthier school or in a you know more middle-class school I think that alone would would do so much and there’s a there’s a particular quote that you had you know we can get grants for lots of new programs you know we can always get a grant to start an initiative but Amy now we’re both reading last night she was reading a novel and I interrupted here to share this quote from your book where you said something along the lines of nobody will give you a grant to stop doing something that they don’t have that right?

DR: yeah I think

JB:I think that was the quote I don’t have it in front of me but you know basically this idea that the the urgency is always around doing something new doing more and never around doing less with more focus I think our colleague Mike Schmoker deserves some credit for his book results now in his book focus and into really calling a you know calling attention to that the power of focus but you know in your paradigm of kind of looking at what the you know what wealthy schools do and what the most successful schools that work with high poverty students do that you know that isn’t that as definitely their that focus and that sustained attention on a small number of priorities which we should get into the priorities that you talked about in the book.

DR: I just want to appreciate the fact that you mentioned Mike Schmoker interestingly yeah I’m Mike and I have been friends for many many years and we were actually neighbors in Colorado and and we both published what one focus Mike’s book focused with ascd and in my focus at Columbia University Teachers College finding your leadership focus focus were published within days of each other and we were both came to astonishingly similar conclusions that that focus in my book Michael Fuller wrote the introduction six or fewer priorities is really the hallmark of successful schools so thanks for mentioning Mike you also mentioned uncommon schools and I didn’t want to let the opportunity go by to a fail to recognize Paul Bambrick-Santoyo who has written splendid new books on that as well so I I really am trying my best to recognize other scholars and not make this the Doug Reeves show but recognize people like Mike and Paul Heather and Kristen and Karen as yeah well.

JB: it reminds me of the the invention or the discovery however you want to put it of calculus right there was there was a parallel discovery around the same time was it Newton and Leibniz

DR: On the shoulders of giants.

JB: But you know like working separately came to the same conclusions and came to the same discovery of the tools that were necessary for you know for solving particular problems that were widespread but that you know the solutions did not exist you know when you see that the same discovery has been made independently in multiple places such as the this discovery around focus I think that that tells us something powerful and that it’s not just you know I think we always have a tendency to do something and then feel proud of it and then try to generalize it and say well we’ve discovered the secret that everybody should use everywhere but when you see it actually popping up independently in in different places it’s a strong form of evidence so in the in the book you describe a three-column approach to looking at factors that we cannot control our influence factors that we maybe can influence but not directly control and factors that we can control things that are under our control as educators. What do you think is happening or what do you what do you think we lose when we fail to distinguish between those three categories of factors?

DR: well I I think just at the heart of your question is is a really thoughtful analysis of what evidence he needs unfortunately a lot of people are talking about efficacy these days you know certainly John Hattie has found efficacy to be very powerful Robert Marzano is latest meta-analysis efficacy powerful the problem is we don’t operationalize what this efficacy mean in efficacy is this bone-deep belief that what we do influence the student achievement but the problem is you don’t achieve efficacy with this kind of inspirational song and dance you achieve efficacy rather with as you suggested this three column approach hey there’s stuff I can’t control it’s three o’clock in the kids are awake on the internet checking their likes and dislikes I can’t control that they have access to alcohol tobacco guns drugs I can’t control that so that’s that’s this pile over here stuff I can’t control but there’s also this middle pile things like attendance things like tardiness which I think people used to think we can’t control and maybe they can’t control it but we can’t influence it because I’ve seen too much evidence that things like attendance parental engagement tardiness can be influenced by what we do and then over here in this column is stuff we absolutely control and that is stuff like like relationships with students like effective instruction like checks for understanding like good assessment like fair and accurate feedback that’s stuff we absolutely control so so we got got these three piles I can’t control I can influence and I do control efficacy is all about the right hand column is there more stuff that I influence and control than what I can’t control or influence that’s all it is in in so I sorry for the little mini lecture here but but all I’m trying to say is is don’t give your teachers a lecture about efficacy ask them instead what causes student achievement and then put those causes in three piles I can’t control it or influence it I could influence can’t control it and I can absolutely control it and then look at how much paper is in those three piles an efficacious school has all the paper you know eighty ninety percent of it in the I can control it or I can influence it.

JB: I was thinking about a book that I read last year that that made quite a splash I called the knowledge gap I don’t know if you saw that by Natalie Wexler appeared in the Atlantic and there are pieces published all over and and knowledge
Natalie Wexler argues really is the the thing that other knowledge sticks to write the the knowledge is cumulative and I think that’s represented in Bloom’s taxonomy and you know we’ve have known that in the technical literature for a long time that knowledge sticks to other knowledge that accessing students prior knowledge is a big deal and it seems to me that one of the one of the factor it’s one of the factors that makes closing the gap harder you know when you have students who start on third base so to speak they’ve been read to they’ve been exposed to National Geographic they have all this content knowledge they have all this understanding of the world and vocabulary and and that to me seems to be one of the harder gaps to close you know when when some students are reading a couple million words a year other students are reading very minimally what do you see as our opportunity you know what’s in our either we can control or we can influence knowing that what students have read prior to kindergarten or what students are reading outside of school maybe maybe less under our control what do you what do you see on the knowledge front there okay

DR: This is so yeah that’s a big big question that I want to unpack what several different levels first of all yes I respect Natalie Wexler’s work and I want to kind of amplify on that before I get to the big part of your question I think she’s got it half right which is the the background knowledge contributes absolutely to reading comprehension and to student success the scholar to read in my judgment on this is is Daniel Willingham who’s got a wonderful blog and I and I really recommend professor Willingham University of Virginia’s work on this or I think Miss Wexler is maybe wrong is attributing all this to charter schools that that’s a piece of the action it’s not all of the action the label if we’ve learned anything of a school doesn’t matter it’s the practices that really matter so put that aside I just don’t want your listeners who have one strong opinion or the other on this to be put off let’s instead of accepting or rejecting a scholar say here’s four they’re right and I hope they’ll probably say the same thing about me here’s four Doug’s right here’s one that’s wrong I really respect the fact that she acknowledges background knowledge is important I would disagree with her on some other things similarly another scholar that she cites Robert Pondiscio fabulous in this great book how the other half learns and I think he’s so honest in so forthright witnessed the fact that he’s been criticized by every side of the educational debate that tells me that you’re doing something right so shout out to Robert. Now back to the issue of of all the prior knowledge you’re right I can’t control what happened in the previous five years but what I can do is to say what do i what do I do to level the playing field so so one of the things you mentioned you know your children as mine did literally we can’t have a breakfast table conversation because they can barely get a spoon in their mouth because there’s a book like this I love that you know I’m never upset about that they’re reading all the time as I’m sure your kids do as well but a lot of kids who come from a home that doesn’t have any books in it don’t get that so instead of complaining about it that to me suggests what do we do during the school day to get them more opportunities for literacy and and I want to be really specific about this if you’re only having kids read 60 or 90 minutes a day and you know that they’ve got a literacy deficit that is the hundreds of hours maybe thousands of hours before they came to you why would you settle for 30 90 60 minutes a day moreover it’s not just about reading it’s about writing as well writing in response to text and finally here’s the thing that I just saw this week Justin that that really bugs me kids have got the headphones on and they’re being read to like they were three years old instead of learning to read and so technology is not always your friend here we got to make sure that our students really are reading and not just zoning out in in silent reading time. I have a article that I wrote that some of your listeners may may be interested in called rethinking sustained silent reading that frankly is in my judgment oftentimes sustained silent sitting there not really reading and so we if we want to close that literacy gap you need more time and you need more focus.

JB: Time and focus again yeah so I was thinking about that I was pondering that issue a little bit and I drew myself a little you know factors I can control factors I can influence and factors I can’t control chart for this this particular issue as you as you recommended and obviously students prior background knowledge prior experience reading their vocabulary when they start with us is something that we can’t control but you know it’s it’s always interesting to me to hear people say well our kids just don’t have the background knowledge they just don’t have the vocabulary I think we’ll wait a minute which which column does that go in if we’re teaching a unit we you know we’re we’re introducing a concept we have some big ideas for for a unit I mean obviously what is the first thing that we’ve always known we need to do and that is explicitly teach the vocabulary and help students you know master that vocabulary and not just act as you know as you as you indicated earlier and I think you say in the book you know like well you should have you should have learned that before you got here you know like what what sense does that make to say well they don’t have the vocabulary they don’t have the background knowledge like that is our that is our job and we know it’s something that we can do we know for a fact that we can teach vocabulary we can teach background knowledge

DR: Well it’s just not I just want to make sure that that we add a morale issue here that is affecting a lot of your listeners this is not when we talk about vocabulary for example that’s not just an ela issue I watched a masterful science teacher in a 100% poverty school this week explicitly linked vocabulary from one lesson to the next from one subject to the next yo you probably heard about this in social studies you probably heard about this in English and we’ve really complex vocabulary into a science class and and I’ve seen our ESL schools linked vocabulary vivid visual imagery and so my request for listeners is please for goodness sake don’t put this in the back of the teachers and tested grades in tested subjects all of us own this art in music and science and social studies and yes LA and math I know I know those the people who feel under the microscope but all of us on this the other thing just as a footnote on vocabulary development is we got to start early I mean great schools that I was studying in this book are all about what do we do in kindergarten in pre-k shout out by the way to the University of Washington in University of Pennsylvania for an amazing study of the lifelong impact of early childhood development when we do early childhood pre-k and K well if not only these scholars said influenced how those kids did in 4th grade in eighth grade it influenced how their own children did 30 years later and so we got to make sure that even though it as leaders I’m talking to you board members superintendents who are watching this broadcast if you leave out kindergarten in pre-k from your accountability report you’re leaving out some of the most important things that we do does that’ll have literally a multi-decade influence.

JB: Absolutely and I think about the the importance of universal pre-k and how Oklahoma of all states which has some of the most dismal funding at the moment for education you know we have huge problems with with teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma because the the salaries are so low and a lot of these stories about teachers taking weekend jobs at Home Depot are coming out of Oklahoma because the salary source like they just do not have the money in public education but one thing that I don’t want to say it’s an accident of history but because it was very intentional but one thing Oklahoma has been very strong in is universal pre-k and that’s that’s one of those things that maybe as individuals we might not be able to pull off but it’s an example of how when we take responsibility for what we can influence what we can control you know I might not be able to control how much parents read to their kids from from birth to age 5 but we can do pre-k at least it with the sufficient level of the of political will we can.

DR: And just one footnote from these scholars and I’m terribly embarrassed I can’t remember the names the authors University of Washington in a pen but nevertheless please give them credit for this not me it’s not just big here pre-k and kindergarten and what I do want to acknowledge that I can the Scholars on is Glenn Maleyko in in Jill Chochol in Dearborn Michigan we’re in the same school you can see kindergarteners writing sentences and there’s other places that I go or they’ll say oh gee that’s not developmentally appropriate matter near born where that were its high poverty high second language kindergarteners writing sentences so it really is all about our expectations things that you can do

JB: yeah that you mentioned writing I think is a great excuse to get into some of the specific strategies and you know which make up kind of the center of the the book here so you talked about a number of specific instructional strategies so you talked about collaborative scoring nonfiction writing and data analysis and formative assessment which I want to make sure we talk about each of those three in particular but again back to to refer to our colleague Mike Schmoker who talks about the importance of this why is nonfiction writing so critical?

DR: so this is interesting in in thanks for letting me again acknowledge not just my work but somebody else is working this Steven Graham and now at Arizona State formerly at Vanderbilt has written masterfully about this what what I originally documented was the relationship between nonfiction writing and increased scores in math science social studies and in my original work said that the hypothesis is gosh if you spend time in writing and during math science and social studies I don’t have time to cover the curriculum so my scores are gonna go down and the truth is that when I looked at the actual data the teachers in math science social studies who spent more time in writing had scores go up it was exactly the opposite of what their hypothesis was so so writing King says is thinking through the end of a pen now why nonfiction versus fiction what I specifically compared in this research were schools that had identical demographic characteristics high poverty high minority high ESL populations and what kind of writing were they doing the low performers were doing fantasy fiction high cues you know poetry hey I’m all for haiku is a poetry people please don’t send me angry emails you can have all the haikus you want but writing to describe ready to compare ready to evaluate one of the things you see in a lot of state tests claim evidence reasoning this is not just by the way k12 i’m helping universities these days we do their stat classes to say how can i look at an advertisement in education week in ED leadership in the wall street journal you know wherever it happens to be how can i look at an ad and say is the claim supported by the evidence that’s the kind of critical reasoning i want all of our students and frankly all of our graduate students to have as well so so that’s Justin why I think nonfiction writing is particularly important and that does not in any way diminish my appreciation for fiction and for literature but I want students to write to show that show they’re thinking

JB: Yeah I mean it really seems like a direct window into student thinking student reasoning and then thinking about my background as a science teacher a window into misconceptions you know misconceptions are a huge part of rigorous science instruction because if you know if you’re if you’re just talking generally about a topic and you’re not getting into what students misconceptions are you know some of the the details of how a system works in the human body or how a system works in the cell or how plate tectonics work in in earth science like if we’re not accessing students prior knowledge and understanding their misconceptions we’re going to waste a lot of time teaching and I think you talked about this a little bit in the the section on PLC’s which are the first strategy talk about where we don’t really spend very much time figuring out what students already know and what we’re going to do with that right.

DR: I don’t want to lose the opportunity it’s a science teacher for you and a math teacher for me know to to not acknowledge our listeners who are thinking wait a minute how does a science teacher how does the math teacher do writing and I and I don’t you know shoot I written 39 books but there’s a lot about writing that I don’t understand my English language arts colleagues do so the best thing that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks and I’ll see if I can get this in screen here okay it’s this big I saw a science writing rubric that was literally two inches tall like that so they weren’t asking the science guys to do voice but what they were asking for is don’t just settle for filling in the blank don’t settle for a worksheet right the lab report explained your conclusions tell me how the conclusion stems from the evidence that’s the sort of thing that in mind geometric proofs and they’re just in science classes but they need to need to be able to do so look let’s make clear that we we get writing established whether whatever the subject is not of us believe elaborate five paragraph essay but in something that that is better than a worksheet and too many people are defaulting to worksheets so sorry for that little diversion but I thought it was really important that for our science and math teachers who are watching

JB: Well I think it’s a perfect parallel to our work as instructional leaders because honestly you know and I primarily spend my time thinking about instructional leadership teacher evaluation teacher observations feedback conversations and we kind of do the worksheet thing with teachers as well or for ourselves we you know as instructional leaders often the task we give ourselves is to go into a classroom with a worksheet and fill it out about the teacher and my analysis of what that gives us is that it gives us something that is fairly high inference and fairly low evidence and I and I always am you know admonishing people to think you know if you want to change teacher practice write it as an instructional leader you you want to get into classrooms and change teacher practice you have to understand you have to know and access the teachers thinking right like practice does not change without thinking changing and if I’m just going in and filling out a worksheet or a walkthrough forum or whatever about the teacher I’m not really getting evidence of the teachers thinking so I don’t really know what my job is in helping change that teachers practice because I’m not even sure what thinking is behind that practice and that’s that to me is really where where practice lives is in thinking and to hear that we do the same thing with students and fail to access their thinking in the form of writing and we instead give them worksheets where they fill in the blank the blanks like that to me is a clarion call to align both what we do as instructional leaders and what we have teachers to do with students around that first-hand evidence that comes through I can certainly come through conversation you know and I absolutely recommend that administrators have conversations with teachers ask questions you know get their insights and explanations of their thinking and then certainly in writing as well we see that with with student learning and misconceptions and their their current understanding .

DR: Yeah so so I just want to highlight what you said a minute ago about asking students I’m I want to encourage our so we have a lot of assistant principals and principals watching here be careful about the way that you do observations too often the model that maybe we had as teachers is the administrator all dressed sits in the back of the you know classroom like this and we’re watching don’t do that what dico more at Harvard says is look down don’t don’t watch the performance by the teacher they’re there already for you every preachers got a great sermon right there they’re all ready for you there look down see what what I was do is I sit with the kids and I ask two very non sophisticated questions question number one what are we doing question number two what comes next this is not a big worksheet to fill out right it’s it’s not this giant 30 page you know evaluation form just what are we doing what comes next and if a student could tell you that then you know that they’re on task and they know that there’s not a minute of downtime and if they can’t I don’t care how great the lesson plan looks I don’t care how great the performance by the teacher is if they can’t tell you what are we doing then what comes next you’ve got a problem so seriously let’s make sure that we have our observations down to those essential questions

JB: Absolutely and then I love the the opportunity that you know non-fiction writing gives us to to look at that evidence after the fact you know and not just not just collected anecdotally as we’re in the classroom which certainly is valuable in its own way but to actually take that student writing and use it to plan instruction to identify gaps that we need to close with our teaching and and one of the the practices that that you identify in chapter 5 of the book is collaborative scoring and I would love to have you have you take us into that but I just have to share a personal recollection from being a principal I remember sitting in second grade team meetings when I was a principal we had an extremely strong second grade team that would give periodic writing prompts and they they had a you know particular prompt that they would give at different times of the year and they would you know flip the cover page or put a post-it note over the name they’d shuffle they’d mix them all up they would score each other’s they would have covered the score pass it to the left and then someone else would score that same paper and then like basically their entire PLC was talking about those scores you know what did you see in this paper I gave it a different score than you did and by the way we don’t even know what student we’re talking about yet so there’s there’s you know we’re looking for a very specific set of things we have a rubric and then we’re constantly calibrating our assessment of that work and then ultimately figuring out what to do about what we’re seeing so I just have to say I can’t take credit for what that team was doing but I witnessed it and there was a there was a magic and a power to it so so take us into that a little bit what is collaborative scoring why does it work so well.

DR: I’m smiling so broadly because there are several things that you said that just resonated with me so much number one the fact that we disagree and we always will we’re professionals what we disagree about things but the hallmark phrase that I use these scoring sessions as you described is the enemy is not each other the enemy is ambiguity if you think it’s a four word I think it’s a two that’s not because you went to a better college than I did although you probably did it’s rather that the the rubric is ambiguous and I and what we have to do is to make sure that we that we resolve the ambiguity when the ambiguity is not you against me the ambiguity is this inanimate object over here scoring guide or the rubric so that’s number one number two I really appreciated what you said about teachers kind of gaining momentum one of the things I’ve done so to the leaders watching this broadcast consider doing I certainly timed how fast people got and it was great so I have two graphs what is what’s the level of agreement and it goes from like 20 percent 30 percent 90 percent 95 percent never 100 but it’s pretty darn good so so the agreement gets higher but the other thing that a graph that I concealed was speed and the time it took to reach consensus got shorter and shorter and shorter man when was the last time you had a staff development meeting where you could say I’m gonna improve quality but I will save you time teachers resent the fact that that they don’t have enough time they got too much time too much to do and not enough time if we can approach them and saying this process of collaborative scoring is as you just said just now will save you time and that is the hook that I think teachers really respect and appreciate.

JB: You know the the recapturing of time that you know that’s being spent anyway I think yeah absolutely so in that scoring you know and when we have you know we we have standards that were working toward we have you know shared criteria help us think about the the formative assessment system that this is part of because you talked about in Chapter 7 using frequent formative assessment with multiple opportunities for success so how does the the collaborative scoring relate to that that frequent formative assessment practice?

DR:So I want to offer your listeners a consumer warning here there’s a lot of stuff being called formative assessment that is what I have described in another book that I wrote called uninformative assessment right it it’s teacher say you know thank goodness that’s over now we can go back to what we were doing that’s not formative it’s only formative if it informs teaching and learning so be really clear about this a lot of things called formative assessment publishers are trying to sell you stuff and I hope that everybody knows I’m not aligned with any publisher I’m completely independent people are trying to sell you stuff that is called that is not formative so it’s only formative if it informs teaching and learning so that’s kind of big idea number one big idea number two is sorry you don’t have to sample every Content domain what you want to be able to do is to say how are things that that I can learn about what will help me next week so some formative assessments are literally 40 and 50 items friends you don’t need that four or five items a few things on what’s most important that you can grade the same day you can give students feedback immediately that’s what effective formative assessment is so III didn’t mean to go into a big diatribe here but but I worry about the term formative assessments being misused it’s short its immediate and most importantly it informs me informs me as a teacher what what helps me inform teaching and learning.

JB: yeah and I think I think there are some critical distinctions there that that we often do lose because the you know the the pressure I don’t want to say pressure but you know the the amount that we get from our test vendors often causes us to pay attention to what the test vendors are giving us and not what we might need to make ourselves you know nobody is coming into our school with money that we’ve spent on them to make us you know to give these kind of curriculum based assessments the you know the the pattern that I’ve seen with some of the the more commercial assessments is you know stepping away from those curriculum based and standards-based and mastery based formative assessments and toward things that are useful but in a different way and I want to give a particular example that I’m that I hear a lot about that I experienced a great deal of as a principal but I think have some misconceptions around and that is the map assessment from NWEA which is a criterion or excuse me a norm-referenced assessment it’s often given three times a year in elementary and even middle schools and it’s one of the few things that both I experienced as a principal and my own kids experience as students years and years later and I think it’s a very high quality assessment for what it does if you know it is a norm-referenced test and you get a rich score that tells you where your kid is relative you know where each student is relative to the the norm for their grade level but of course and this is a common complaint of teachers you don’t get to see the items as an educator as a teacher you don’t see the items and it’s not aligned to you know the unit that you’re teaching right now it’s aligned to important content I don’t think anybody argues that but it’s not aligned to what you’re teaching so so what what’s your thought on that and what gaps does that leave that we need to fill in terms of formative assessment that is linked to our curriculum and our standards

DR: So Justin you’ve nailed the essence of the issue and that is there’s always trade-off I understand and respect the fact that test vendors whether nwea or for that matter the a CT and the SAT they want to have security over their items so that’s why they they don’t disclose them the problem is if you don’t have that kind of disclosure you lose the link between the the test item and the curriculum did the student miss it because I was a bad teacher because the directions were ambiguous because maybe the item wasn’t related to the curriculum that I taught so there’s all these things that remain so all I see is math low reading high that doesn’t tell me anything about how to improve as a teacher so back to what I said earlier about formative assessment it’s only formative if it informs teaching and learning let’s me be a better teacher let’s my students be better learners and so here’s my consumer advice to our leaders and policy makers who are watching this don’t buy stuff that is not transparent if teachers can’t say if that means excuse me if that means that we create them ourselves so that the assessment items are open and transparent great so what what’s the trade-off you lose some item security I think that’s a potential loss but honestly not that big of one the gain in terms of how does it help me inform teaching and learning is much greater so I I’m not trying to take potshots at SAT, ACT, NWEA or anybody else I’m just saying that that their concerns about test security I think are overwhelmed by my concern about teaching and learning how do i how do i as a leader as a teacher use these data to better inform my practice

JB: yeah and you know if this strikes me as a as a teacher you know the I think there’s been a good a good effort among educators to recognize and respond to the fact that like it’s if a question can be memorized or googled you know there was a lot of concern maybe five years ago about students googling the answers to their homework when that became kind of broadly feasible when students universally started to have smartphones at the secondary level you know and some some leading educators started to say well wait a minute maybe if you can google the answers to your homework maybe it’s not very good homework you know maybe we need to you know if we have to keep it secret for it to be useful maybe we need to look at you know the kinds of tasks were giving students so that it’s it’s not homework that you can cheat on it’s you know it’s an assignment that I want you to know what you will be asked to do on the test you know the test is not locked in a vault I will tell you what’s gonna be on the test you’re gonna have to write an essay or there’s some opportunities there.

DR: so Justin you were inspiring me to brag on to great teachers that I so admire I’m just in their fan club one in San Bernardino California Michael Dahl another one happens to be in in Lima Ohio these are both very high poverty systems and in contrast to our stereotype of the students sullenly sitting in their places either going through homework or listening to a boring lecture on why the quadratic equation will make them wealthy and successful in life what they’re doing instead is they were all 100% out of the chairs doing the work in the board correcting each other’s work getting real-time support that’s what great homework is my principal Mr. Robinson used to tell me that homework has nothing to do with the word home and and I love these two teachers in in different parts of the country in very high poverty systems but they they had the homework done where it really mattered on the wall right in front of the teachers writing for their peers you know I just don’t wanna miss the opportunity to tell these teachers in both Lima and San Bernadino you know how much I respect and appreciate their work.

JB: And it’s funny you mention that because I referenced the elite private school in Toronto that had that sustained focus for years and years and that was one of their sustained focuses the the board writing especially in math to to solve those problems publicly and to get feedback and you know prompt discussion so again it’s interesting to see the same things popping up independently being in different places um so as we start to run out of time here I wanted to make sure we asked asked about an accountability system which you have the the fourth section of the book is on accountability is learning system system level accountability give us some some you know kind of kind of key thinking points for a topic.

DR: So I want to acknowledge for our United States listeners we’re governed by ESSA, the every student succeeds act for our Canadian you know the listeners I realize that every province it’s got its own jurisdiction with respect to accountability but nevertheless if I’ve learned anything from the North American continent and abroad it is that nobody no country in the world does the satisfactory job of saying what is the world what what is the word accountability really mean and so I’m asking you as leaders to say let us redefine them and what I tried to say this book is most systems around the world focus on effects test scores attendance discipline what I’m asking you to consider is to focus on causes teaching leadership parental engagement in other words what do we do that we own that we take responsibility for so maybe the best illustration I can offer for your consideration is what I’ve called the science fair now we all know what a science fair looks like you probably had them in in third and fourth grade with but but in this science fair there’s no red and purple ribbons okay just plain a display over my challenges or my interventions or my effects that is my results so challenge intervention results that kind of science fair display is what really good accountability looks like in other words it’s the difference between accountability as a Gacha system so here’s gonna be your your rating in your rank and your in your brand that will stay on you to humiliate people or accountability as a learning system here’s what we learned about the relationship between a challenge and intervention your results I’m an advocate for accountability to be learning and that’s I say with deep respect to all of our ministers of Education and policymakers who are watching here I I want to respectfully request you rethink this it’s not about labeling it’s all about learning

JB: well and I love the the role of it that you’re essentially casting system-level leaders in there as kind of organizational scientists right as chief scientists of practice you know and looking at the evidence looking at the the practice that is being employed and looking at the results that’s getting and leading continual cycles of inquiry I think we’re so quick to look at data we’re so quick to look at our numbers but it takes courage to look at practice and to look at first-hand evidence and look at student work and talk with students about what they’re learning and to talk with teachers about what they’re doing but I think we get the most out of that and I have to do a little internal commercial here so for our members of the instructional leadership directors Roundtable one program if you remember that you have access to is the organizational learning intensive so you will find that in your member dashboard and I strongly encourage you to go through that whenever you’re about and a new initiative whenever you on board a new cabinet member maybe you have you’re hiring an assistant superintendent have them go through that and get that that vocabulary and that scientific way of thinking about change because you know obviously we want data we want to use our data in smart ways but we also want to make sure that we are using the other evidence that’s available to us especially the qualitative evidence about what people are actually doing what people are thinking about their work and how that’s impacting students I think that in that firsthand qualitative evidence really got short shrift in a lot of our fervor over quantitative data which which has its place but it doesn’t give us the whole story so just wanted to make an internal kind of a cross-promotion there for something you already have if you’re a member because what Dr. Reeves is saying here is you know is essentially that we do need to be that that chief scientist for the the organization if the organization itself is going to continue to learn and get smarter and get better at what it is that we’re here to do. So I think we are out of time today and Dr. Reeves I just want to thank you again for for spending this time for for being here to to talk about your work and I certainly want to encourage people to to check out the book achieving equity and excellence and I have to say one of the things I love about this book is that you know as it says in Ecclesiastes there is nothing new under the sun you know there is nothing in this book that you invented two months ago I don’t think but it just the clarity and the you know as you said the preponderance of the evidence and the the you know increasingly sharp focus on what we need to do I think is much needed so you know I think it would be a mistake for someone to say well nonfiction writing I’ve already heard about that I read about that ten years ago you know that in some ways that’s kind of the point isn’t it I don’t know what’s what’s your thought on that nothing new under the sun aspect?

DR:As I said just two quick things that number one you’re right it’s we are famous in education for always going after the shiny new object what’s the new new thing when in fact what you want to say is what are the things that have endured over the course of time and and I think that endurance is one of the things that is really important for our listeners to consider I’ve attempted the second thing is my favorite graduate school a professor always said that she would read students work backwards that is start with the reference list so this is absolutely not about me this is about the preponderance of the evidence about other researchers that I’ve tried to acknowledge so yeah you know I’ve tried to be a pebble on the mountain of research here but look at the mountain don’t look at my pebble look at the mountain of all the research that’s there it says we can succeed in high poverty schools that non-fiction writing is effective you know the last book that Rick and Becky DuFour wrote before they passed away they co-wrote with me called responding to the ESSA with professional learning communities you know these are things that are not new that are the preponderance the evidence over time and it’s not just me it’s multiple scholars so I’m not asking anybody to read this book because I wrote it I’m asking you to look at the reference list and see what everybody else has done.

JB: Very well said well Dr. Reeves once again thank you for for joining us thank you for your time today if people want to get in touch with you and and see what you’re up to and and maybe reach out about doing some work together where’s the best place for them to find you online

DR:so to be clear the lots of free stuff it’s all that so creative leadership that you’ll find free videos articles and just if you don’t mind there’s a couple of new volunteer projects that I’ve got that I’d like to highlight as well also free I’m not well many of your listeners may be working on a dissertation so I have a group that I started in a church basement in Boston called finished the dissertation at org I started it because 69 percent of graduate students never finished their dissertation we have helped them for the last six years cross the finish line you don’t have to be their own boss we have students on six continents all over the world and then the newest one is called the Marsh Writer’s Collaborative you can go to and it’s about helping people who are writing their first book their first article and it’s just writers encouraging articles I had writers and encouraging writers so if you’re a writer or you aspire to be a writer please consider going to and will help you also get your first book or your first particle published that’s our mission.

JB: I love it and and I have to say for for many of our listeners who are superintendents assistant superintendents or maybe on that track those those are two projects that often are running on a parallel track maybe on the backburner depending on what else is going on but yeah thank you for for sharing those so and you know I think one of the nice things about both of those types of projects is that you know if you have been away from them for a while you can always come back to it you know you can say okay maybe there was a season where health or family or you know organizational factors interfered with with that happening but I just want to encourage anyone who is who maybe has an unfinished manuscript or has half an outline or has an unfinished dissertation to pick that up again because you know the the world needs your work to you know to reach the light of day so thank you Dr. Reeves for your commitment to helping people with that well

DR: Thanks it’s my pleasure and I want to be clear you don’t have to live in Boston either one of these we have people joining us on the internet from all over the world so wherever you happen to be joining us but these are offers are free and available to you.

JB: well thank you so much and thank you for your time today and we will we’ll be in touch soon thank you thank you so much to everybody for for tuning in and we’ll see you next time take care

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1 Roundtable: Kim Marshall — Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation


About Kim Marshall

Kim Marshall is the author of The Marshall Memo, which reaches thousands of leaders each week. He spent 32 years with Boston Public Schools as a principal, teacher, and central office administrator, and regular speaks about teacher supervision and evaluation.

Show Transcript

Justin: Welcome everyone to the December roundtable I’m your host Justin Baeder and I’m honored to be joined today by Kim Marshall. Kim is the author of the Marshall Memo and the new book volume one of the best of the Marshall Memo we’ll have a podcast out about that soon that we recorded recently and of course, Kim is the author of this is the old version but several editions of rethinking teacher supervision and evaluation and Kim I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of this version because this was the one I read as a new principal and I have to say it was far on away at a single most impactful book that I ever read as a principal the one that really helped me understand the importance of getting into classrooms as a principal of being in classrooms not just when I was required to but being here being in there frequently and having a relationship with teachers and a way of working with teachers that went beyond the formal observation requirements so Kim welcome to the roundtable. Thank you I wonder if we could just do a kind of a brief bio? Tell us about your professional background and what you’ve been up to for the last 17 years.

Kim: So last 16 years I’ve been that’s my post principal life so I was in the Boston Public Schools for 32 years as a 6th-grade teacher and as a central office curriculum director and then as a principal for 15 years of a large Elementary School in Boston the center of Boston then I got exhausted and part of my message to people is don’t burn yourself out you know pace yourself have a life and so forth but in the last 16 years I’ve had a less intense life but still pretty intense the three halves of my life right now are the Marshall Memo which is Sunday and Monday I just finished this week’s issue late last night it’s not it’s sending out right now around the world the second half of my life is coaching principals and I’m on my way down to New Jersey and Melbourne today to work with three different districts in the middle of New Jersey and then the third half of my life is you can do the math is a lot of presenting and talking and consulting on the issue of teacher supervision differentiation understanding by design backwards unit design and several other topics

Justin: Fabulous thank you yes so I think it’s it’s helpful to go into kind of the origin story of the work that you know that you did in this book rethinking teacher supervision and evaluation which was part of the origin story of my work and again I owe you a huge debt of gratitude intellectually and as a thinking partner before you knew you were my thinking partner and it’s been just a real privilege to correspond with you over the years as I was writing my book and to get your feedback and your pushback in some cases that were was really helpful in that but you had some realizations as a principal around the typical state of teacher evaluation and I think you have you know some very strong grounding and you know certainly we have some colleagues who did some pioneering work in teacher evaluation like Jon Saphier here what did you start to realize required a different approach or a different perspective as you did teacher evaluation the best way it can be done and then and then kind of pushed up against the boundaries of that

Kim: So I stormed into the principalship of a large elementary school sort of 600 students 42 teachers and other staff in 1987 with a lot of energy about this very issue because I had been trained by Jon Saphier here and he was a close friend of mine we worked together on the early editions of his book the skillful teacher and I really believed in the traditional model of in-depth classroom visit for the whole staying for the whole period writing up in-depth every detail as thoroughly as possible and then writing that up you know two or three pages of detailed write-up and then sitting with the teacher and going over it so I really was wedded to that and I was pretty good at it in fact teachers actually speculated that I was wearing a hidden microphone because I got so much down and what was happening in their classrooms but at at some point after what five years of doing this and kind of exhausting myself doing try to do as many of these as I realized because told by teachers that they really weren’t reading these very carefully that they knew what was going on because they were there there wasn’t any big revelation in my detailed write-up but they cared about was the rating they got at the end and so they skip to the end and so really I began to realize that it was a slow learner it took me a while this process really wasn’t helping to move instruction it was merely documenting what was already happening and in case I give suggestions there were occasionally tearful conversations about criticisms I made but it really wasn’t moving the ball in fact in my retirement dinner when I left in 2002 a one woman who had come to tears in one of my critiques I asked her if she remembered that moment and and she the retirement brain this is what we’re talking like 14 years later and she said oh yes I remember that and I said well what was your big takeaway from that and she said never to take a risk so that was a kind of not really what I wanted to hear and I kind of began to suspect that so anyway everybody six years in I got a suggestion from our phys ed teacher again in Julio Avila why don’t you lighten up a little bit Kim you know you’re kind of bring yourself out here I mean he was very personal first pick a shoes and you know why don’t you can’t come on our class was more informally and why don’t you talk to us about what you see instead of you know staying up all night writing these along things and that’s what I did and right away it was it was embraced by our union folks who were very skeptical but very quickly and the first couple of cycles and and people began to enjoy these conversations and I get better at seeing what was important in short visits and classrooms and got my frequency up but I was seeing people 10 or 11 times each year and kept that up for nine years and then began to write about it percent about it and the rest is history I should quickly add and I’m not the only person who thought of this idea I mean Carolyn Downey had written a book called The Three Minute Walkthrough a few years earlier which I had not seen and I think a lot of principles sort of stumbled upon this this approach however as you sort of sort of alluded to a minute ago they were can continue to they continued to be required to do the traditional system and what I was able to do and then I think I’m fairly rare in this is I was able to actually toss the old system completely overboard we got a waiver there was a provision in the Boston contract at that point there was a faculty vote you could get a waiver so we simply stopped doing traditional evaluations and it became entirely short frequent on a nest visits face to face feedback and then sort of a kind of a write-up at the end of the year

Justin: Yeah so so you realized that when teachers would get the big long write up that you put hours and hours and hours into they pull it out of their mailbox and then they do this they the last page and they look at what you marked they make sure that they were satisfactory and that was kind of it like you were seeing that the growth was not there the reflection was not there and you used the phrase in the book kind of a dog and pony show that the process had become just a formality a game of going through the motions how did that change when you adopted this much more frequent practice of unannounced visits.

Kim: well the first thing once I began to see what was not the dog and pony show I began to see everyday practice and that, of course, is what really matters in terms of student learning is what teachers consistently do on a day-by-day basis and I saw some wonderful stuff and really hugged people about that but I also saw a mediocre practice it’s, for example, a teacher only calling on the kids to raise their hands or a teacher using sort of crappy worksheets or a teacher slow getting off the mark in the morning you know a half hour into the day and things really haven’t gotten going yet those sort of mediocre practices that are not scandalous and certainly not fireable but which people need to work on and I’m beginning to get people’s feedback on these and I think it really sort of moved the ball our school did much better I’d also really contributed I think to a good professional climate of trust and you know the research out of Chicago and elsewhere is the trust is one of the most important things so I think building trust was a really really important part of this

Justin: yeah well let’s talk about trust for a minute because I think there’s a there’s a sense of safety that teachers get from the fact that formal observations are pre-announced and scheduled and they know when you’re coming they can prepare extra the night before they can prepare the kids the day before and you know kind of create the optimal conditions for you to see them at their best and that sense of safety can contribute to that sense of trust but what did you see as some of the differences trust wise with your approach when you started coming more often and unannounced

Kim: well for one thing it may seem safe if things go well but what if things don’t go well or what the principal doesn’t like the special lesson or what if the technology fails or what if you get tongue-tied out of nervousness and so forth so really it may seem safe in one sense but it’s very dangerous and kind of scary in another sense so when I shifted to this to the many observation approach as I call it you know I think people are nervous at first and if we had a you know if we had a blood pressure cuff on people when I walk in and probably the blood pressure went up a little bit but people get used to it and then they the trust was really built by the fact that there was this face-to-face conversation afterward I see this I see variations on this in my travels for example people who send an email before they leave the classroom they bring their laptop yeah then they sort of write some notes and they send an email or they leave a note on the teacher’s desk and I’m a big proponent of the face-to-face conversation but I believe you agree with this as well you know that there’s that really builds the trust because then you know whatever notes you were jotting down the teacher can see you’re referring to those and they kind of realized there isn’t any any magic box that things are going into and the biggest insight and I really got this language from Paul Bambrick Santoyo it was another writer and practitioner who was in this in his camp is the idea of focusing on one leverage point not try to give this teacher a detailed sort of synopsis of what happened but focusing in with with curiosity and you know wondering why you did bit sort of this seemed to be working you know tell me more about that tell me what happened after I left or let’s look at those writing things that the kids were working on just just a really a curious sort of low-key non-judgmental approach of course there are times when what you do say you know that needs to stop you know that sarcastic tone or something where you really can have a you know a sharper conversation and a directed conversation with the teacher but that happened very rarely I mean mostly I saw good stuff great stuff things I was curious about things that weren’t work particularly well and teachers were mostly open to my suggestions although I tried as much as possible to have a solution come from them not to paternalistically tell them what they should be doing

Justin: oh yeah absolutely and that sense to go back at a minute or two that sense of trust related to the stakes I think is a big part of you know what we’re talking about here that when something is the only opportunity that teachers have all year you know they’re very nervous as I said people you know some people get tongue-tied there they’re fine in front of kids but you know when they know they’re being watched by another adult they get very nervous and if that’s it for the year that’s their only opportunity to demonstrate that they’re even competent it becomes this very high pressure very high stakes thing so in in your approach you’re giving people you know a minimum of you know like nine or ten opportunities to you know to demonstrate that that proficiency and that confidence and then the the nervousness just kind of starts you know maybe not the first time but over time the the nervousness starts to go down and you start to see people you know and you know maybe not their absolute best but they’re at their more authentic and more kind of typical you know typical sense of practice Eileen do you want to jump in here and ask your question about how teachers responded to some of those changes you want to give me a thumbs up if you want to do that then I can unmute here okay there you go

Eileen: Hey Kim hi Justin I’m curious in the transition how did you how did the teachers respond and how did you talk to them and communicate that there was going to be this change and sell it to them so that they were on board with that change and how did you see them responding to the frequent observations at least initially

Kim: so I told people what I was gonna do I think they were skeptical that I would do it you know they could see how busy I was as a very busy school and I think they were nervous about like coming in and some of them were still in this habit of all the kids stand up in chorus good morning Mr. Marshall which I used to get a big kick out of it then I realized how disrupted that was I so well by the way is me of that let me just do a quick sidebar here I was in a Jewish day school in New York City last a couple of weeks ago and they said that in their schools it’s really an issue of respect that the children will stand up when an administrator comes in and that it would be disrespectful to consider and this teacher actually this principal excuse me I developed a signal the signal was this if she did this when she walked in it meant respect me with your eyes but not by standing up and disrupting the class and so that became there’d be the procedure and that’s what when she walked in and did this now if she did this it meant okay go ahead and stand up so any case I mean the goal is to be a minimally disruptive to have instruction continue as is and I think it only took a couple of cycles thinking of going through the 42 teachers once you know with these short visits a couple of times and of course I was positive to start with I was another key thing for people to realize okay so this is probably better so let’s see how he does let’s see how these conversations go and they were mostly pretty brief mostly stand up not in my office you know in a classroom or in or in the corridor on the stairway or in the playground or after school and I think the conversation is really the key part though that’s what we really got into appreciating what was working well appreciating funny things the kids said moments of insight but also getting into some of these difficult issues like is that work she really you know the best way to teach this concept well I’ve been doing this way for a while okay so what about this have you thought of this or I tried this once it’s been work but then I try a dislike that kind of conversation so then that’s really what made it I think what built the trust and what got people and then they saw that I actually kept it up now this is partly because I have an assistant principal who is very good at a lot of the other stuff we always split the two of the three lunches you know I did one and a half she did one and a half and so she but she took care of a lot of other things that made it possible for me to do an average three of these visits today that’s great thank you in deal

Justin: yeah Kim I think a big part of the trust they’re thinking about some of the research on the elements of trust is that that follow through on your part that you know anybody can announce at the beginning of the year I’m going to be in classrooms a lot more and let me know anytime you want me to come by and we’ve probably all experienced that as teachers or seeing that among our colleagues where there’s this grand announcement and then we’re pretty much back to normal and it’s January before anybody sees the principal in their classroom so so that follow-through really I think is key there Heather I wouldn’t want you pop in here and ask your question Heather Bell Williams is one of our superstar members from New Brunswick in Canada hey Heather

Heather: good morning Kim you answered I think you answered most of this in the previous question but I was the question I had was around some of those moments I have one teacher and doing walkthroughs pretty consistently three a day for about three years now three school years one teacher still super nervous right we talked it through she still just I can see it when I walked in the room she knows exactly how many times in a school year I’ve been there so far and so I’m wondering if there’s specific words that you use when you might see some of that mediocre and there’s a mediocre moment I’ll call it and you need to have that conversation I’ve stopped giving her written feedback in the form of emails or notes simply because I know her nervousness is taking over want to build some more trust what kinds of words do you use specifically when it’s a mediocre moment, not something that’s horrible it has to stop immediately

Kim: Well it sounds like there are two things going on here, first of all, she’s nervous secondly she’s using mediocre practices is that correct

Heather: Yes

Kim: Aha okay no wonder she’s nervous because she knows you’re critical of her and so when you come in there are two reasons you’re the boss and you know she knows that you’re looking with the critical eye and certain things that she’s doing. So I think one misstep you’ve taken it sounds like is you’ve gotten away from giving written feedback right away to having a conversation is that correct?

Heather: Yes

Kim: So so I here’s a question where are the conversations taking place is that there in your office then that would add to the nervousness right so maybe if you can have the conversation in the classroom when the kids aren’t there is that possible

Heather: absolutely I was reading and I don’t know if it was what I read last night in your book or another journal article but that notion of trying to be really strategic about timing those conversations I get lost and chaos of all that’s going on during the school day and and and then I end up at the end of the day and I need to make sure that I may be following through more on prep times and things like that so that I can be strategic about the win of the conversation and not just always at the end of the day which could tend to be in the office area

Kim: yeah so I used to carry around in my pocket a shrunk down version of the schedule so I knew when teachers planning periods were and I was strategic about wandering up there and catching them sometimes at the Xerox machine or you know some other place some neutral place I think definitely the principal’s office is definitely a scary place and I think a lot of us still have associations from when we were students and even teachers will say oh I saw you in the office you know is everything okay that kind of thing right so I think those things a minute and then in the actual conversation a lot of people have had different styles of starting the conversation with the teacher after and any observation but one might be you know how’s that how are things going or how did you feel the less than when I think those are a little too open-ended you know I think the other approach would be that was terrible you need to stop doing that now that would be a little harsh so I think I developed a set of sort of opening lines I mean it’s just some church some minimal chitchat you know great to see you again and then you know here’s what struck me or tell me a little bit about always happening before I came in or tell me how that worked out did you achieve your learning target that sort of thing and I think you know one of the best ways to lower the stakes is to get away from judgmental language and criticism and and talk about results talk about actual student learning so if you’re in there and you’re actually looking over student’s shoulders that the work chatting with a couple of kids then you can actually say when I talked to Melissa you know and she seemed so interested in this topic or I talked to you know George and and and he really wasn’t clear about what was going on and that I think is it makes teachers nervous when they see you walking around talking to kids but at the same time that’s great sort of data to use a horrible word you know for the conversation but I think you know that to me the most important thing is get the frequency out you know make it at least once a month have a conversation as soon afterward as possible have the conversation before anything is written up and and focus really on only one thing at a time I mean this teacher is probably nervous I’d be actually curious about what the mediocre practices are but maybe you don’t want to go into that you want to talk about that at all

Heather: sure things that you mentioned a lot of worksheet kinds of thing was follow-up activities that are very structured she does struggle historically with classroom management so her or her solution to that has been to do very structured follow-up activities where everyone is sitting quietly allegedly saying quietly I’m doing the follow-up work on she’s avoiding the active learning and the manipulation of materials say math in order to in order to keep a lid on things and management mice

Kim: yeah that is so interesting I’m also having a little post-traumatic stress here thinking about my own teaching where I used worksheets very heavily to keep kids settled and by the way that can be a very many that can be a very winning strategy from a principal is admitting you know that you yourself had issues with that as a teacher maybe you didn’t maybe you were rock stars on day one but that can really set a teacher’s mind and rest a little bit but actually seeing a worksheet so there’s an interesting issue I there’s also the possibility in these conversations bringing in an outside resource I don’t know it so you get the Marshall memo through Justin right?

Heather: yes

Kim: okay I don’t know if you’ve ever looked in the archive but there was a wonderful article by Jennifer Gonzalez who’s like I summarized frequently because she’s so terrific she’s a former middle school teacher and she just writes very very thoughtfully and frankly and wonderful things was about worksheets and she says there’s a there’s a continuum with worksheets from what she calls busy sheets which are just you know kind of low-level that kind of low cognitive level to which equals power sheets and a power sheet is a worksheet that really does get kids thinking for example an original source document or a real conundrum or something where it really gets them thinking so if you can find that article so you probably know how to log into the archive and and just search for Jennifer Gonzalez and look for her look you’ll find that one right away and maybe you suggest the teacher read that and and get into a conversation about well so this this worksheet was this a power sheet or was this a busy sheet or was it somewhere in between and and because I think a written word can be very powerful but it sounds like you also want more all class discussion more interactive stuff so that’s a great conversation to have with this teacher that’s great thank you very much yeah and idle something for her I mean there’s all kinds of ways but we’re really talking about here as being a coach to the teacher not and I think what makes our nervous is you’re coming in as the boss and the judge did you can turn it more into I know you’re probably not thinking and firing this person she said she’s a keeper so so that any one I want to hear that to nobody might want to one of my favorite two opening lines that I picked up from an administrator in New Jersey you remember this one he was a teacher the administrator said you’re a great teacher that lesson didn’t go well let’s talk so notice the reassurance the frank statement had been the conversation the coaching conversation around you know are we going to approve this

Justin: thank you very much yeah yeah can I love that sense of safety to create and I remember having very similar conversations with people saying you know there is zero chance that you’re going to be fired you know as a result of how this is going but at the same time it does need to change you know and I think it’s it’s hard for us to say both of those things at the same time because when we mean that something is kind of non-negotiable that like we cannot persist in this mediocre practice forever we do need to see a change but we know that if people are feeling under the gun if they feel threatened then you know hey the situation is probably not dire enough that I could get rid of this person if I wanted to and I don’t want to but B they’re going to be more successful at changing and improving if I do create that sense of safety right off the bat so I appreciate your frankness on that that yeah Ron save you

Kim: another dimension of this and it’s very helpful especially for young administrators who are working with veteran teachers is to simply look at the students work you know if there’s an exit ticket there’s a piece of writing they did if there’s a worksheet that they did you know spread it out and think about okay so how did this go okay so here’s a third of the class that actually didn’t get this you know who didn’t do too well you know what’s up with that are you satisfied with that you know teacher they’re probably gonna say no they may have excuses about that but that’s a good conversation and it’s more sort of putting it in neutral territory or like there you go you know what did you get your learning outcomes okay so why not and then if it becomes systemic that you know certain maybe the girls are not doing so well or the african-american kids are not doing so well then then it’s a conversation of an instructional technique how can we up the game here so the more kids are successful which is the goal that any teacher would embrace

Justin: yeah and just the opportunity to have that as a conversation I think it is a big shift for a lot of teachers and I don’t know what your experience like was like as a teacher being evaluated but often I feel like teachers are conditioned to just kind of sit there and accept everything like smile and nod smile and nod agree with the weaknesses that are identified promise to work on them and then like soon it’ll be over if you smile and nod at the right pace

Kim: right and the person is not going to come back for a long time whereas with this method they’re coming back fairly soon and also probably just dropping in the time like the many observations so I advocated about 10 a year which is once a month but most of the principles I work with are around their buildings every day so just you know just and that really would be accurately labeled a walkthrough you know in terms of just really walking around saying hi but not not giving feedback but just sort of seeing what’s going on monitoring it and maybe getting a pat on the back for things that are that are being picked up on that are going better so I think I think a combination of you know being around the building a lot and then focusing on a couple of day and most schools it’s to get to 10 per teacher per year that means a couple a day you know and I think having a numerical goal is very helpful because it was very helpful to me to know if I did three a day you know I could get to all these 42 people 10 times during the year and I did it yeah yeah and that’s a that’s a number that is shocking to a lot of people and especially you know if there’s if you have some homework if there’s some writing that you have to do to document that and and make that count how did you how did you actually make that happen in terms of the writing because I think you know a lot of people will say oh I can probably get to the classroom but the the homework that I have is the principal you know like are we back to the staying up all night to write it up how do you how do you get the writing done efficiently well this is where many observations have gone off the rails in a lot of districts working with some people in New York City and the high school in Queens and I you know by crushing the assistant principals I found that they were spending an hour and a half on each visit and that just shocked me and it’s because they felt this obligation to do a detailed write-up after even a short visit so my approach to this is to say keep the visit to about 10 minutes most people know the ten minutes you know is enough time to be gather important insights and have a conversation have the conversation last about 10 minutes ideally in the teachers classroom where the kids aren’t there as soon as possible afterward and then do a very shortened write-up and the software that I love on this comes out of Tennessee it’s called T eval on limits the the administrator to 1,000 characters and 1000 characters is is a basically on paragraph I can show you what it looks like but you can picture it it’s sort of you know it’s a paragraph like this it takes about ten minutes to write so ideally you know one mini observation cycle is a 10 minute visit a 10 minute conversation with the teacher and a 10 minute write-up done perhaps in the late afternoon or maybe in the evening so that’s half an hour and I would go out on a limb and say that any administrator who can’t get into a couple of classrooms a day have a couple of conversations and do a couple of write-ups something is really wrong there you know either they’re being called out of their building a lot or they have a lot of parents who are driving them crazy or they have a lot of discipline issues or they’re trying to keep up with hundreds of emails during the school day all these are reasons they would pull you away so I just say have a numerical goal to a day you know get up out of your office didn’t do those did be systematic about spreading them around you know catch teachers for the conversations the teachers are very curious they want to know what do you think you know how did it go and then do these very brief write-ups afterwards that to me is that is the formula

Justin: okay so so writing less you know putting a character limit on it is a big part of it the analytical aspect of the writing I feel like often we overdo and we say okay in in my feedback I need to come up with some insight like this needs to be you know like you know sophomore composition that you took in college I need to write like a critical review essay of this ten minutes of a lesson that I just saw and I feel like often we’re trying to squeeze blood from a turnip in some of that writing like I know that every aspect of a good instruction is here and opportunities for improvement are here if I can just kind of squeeze the turnip a little bit harder I will find all of these rich insights in these ten minutes and and sometimes I would get into a classroom and I’d say all right there you know here are some things to talk about but honestly I don’t have ten thousand words for you on what I saw like we can kind of talk about it in just a few minutes and let’s not let’s not try to squeeze more out of it than then we need to and I think that gets back to the formal observation once a year mindset where that’s it like that that is the turnip for the year and we have to squeeze everything out of that or you know worst case scenario we have to repeat the process and then it’s twice as much work and you know they were we’re back to square one what did were your thoughts on that?

Kim: so I think the key insight is to not try to write it up before the conversation you know Jon notes absolutely get those funny quotes get that insight get that thing you noticed on the wall jot that down and I advocated doing that by hand not with a computer on our the tablet or a laptop then having the conversation and the conversation may actually change your mind I mean you may come in you know wanting to deal with one issue and then the teacher quickly fills you in on something about that and then you move on to another one of the teacher brings something up did you notice such and such or that freaking I was smart for it he’s breaking down you know we’ve got to get this fixed or so and but then you know ideally in the conversation the leverage point emerges you know the one particular thing I mean for example with the person who just came from your brother just spoke for New Brunswick you know the crappy worksheets the anxiety about classroom management you know tamping kids energy down by giving them a lot of paperwork or you know that that’s the issue talking that through with the teacher and then they’ve the write-up is simply summarizing that so I think it takes a lot of the stress off the write-up if you’re simply you know it begins with as we discussed you know we’re going to try this approach and and I referred you to this article by Jennifer Gonzalez and we’re going to talk about that after you have a chance to read it and you know that sort of thing so the write up is not this big sophomore SAT you referred to and by the way I love the metaphor squeezing juice from eternity the write up should be a simple summary rather than and you certainly wouldn’t want to break new ground you wouldn’t want to so and by the way I also am critical of such-and-such no the conversation is where the heavy lifting is done that makes sense?

Justin: absolutely absolutely and I think what we’re letting go of in that writing process in order to let the conversation do its job is we’re letting go of the obligation to solve the problem in the written feedback and I think that’s where a lot of principals get hung up is they see a problem they want to fix it so they want to document it exhaustively they want to provide a prescription exhaustedly in writing and you know and take them through kind of the whole process when that may not be realistic for the principal to do that like it may be a little bit of a process for the teacher and the principal working together to figure out how to get to a better place you know I think especially when there are skill gaps like you’re not gonna fix the skill gap by scolding someone in writing like that takes. It takes work. Let’s see Eileen do you want to jump back on and ask your question here about voice feedback?

Eileen: sure so can I have some colleagues in a mastermind that I’m in I’ve talked about getting into classrooms and effectively doing that juror four times a day and the way that they successfully do that is they leave Voxer messages for the teachers and I’m just curious because I love the face-to-face when I can sit down with the teachers and I believe it really builds trust with the faculty I don’t know how I know they have massive massively large schools so maybe they feel it’s prohibitive to try and have the face-to-face what is your perspective about a Vox message or another voice message to a teacher about their observation

Kim:so I really have a problem with that because basically, that’s the principal going off half-cocked that’s you know because because you have an impression you may have a critique you may have a thought and so forth and you’re gonna give it but that’s but before you’ve talked to the teacher you may have gotten it rollin you may have misunderstood a situation you may have you know been been overly critical you may miss something that was on the classroom wall you may have of course you weren’t there to see what happened after you left which is so I really think a fundamental issue of respect for teachers is the face-to-face conversation first before anything is sort of put into any kind of electronic form I now that the kicker here is that teachers are curious and nervous and teachers may actually request getting something in writing or in a box message before the conversation so I mean if you put it up to a vote with teachers they might actually vote for that but I’m I’m for not being democratic here we’re going for best practice which i think is having the conversation now of course another reason for avoiding the conversation might be what you mentioned having too many teachers but the thing is in most schools the ratio is about 20 to one and 25 to 1 you know I had 42 to 1 you know but most of my schools it’s it’s it’s and it’s doable to do a couple of day but there is one other issue which could be which is simple cowardice you know like simply not wanting to have a face-to-face conversation and have a difficult conversation with somebody who is for example using crappy worksheets or screening of kids or you know only calling on the kids to raise their hands or whatever the mediocre or ineffective practice is and and this is where they’re actually several good books are not difficult conversations and having the courage and having this strategy if like how do you broach a topic it’s difficult especially if you were 28 years old and the teacher is 55 years old and I heard a wonderful quote from one of my friends who’s coaching teachers this teacher said to her I’ve been at this for 30 years and I know what I’m doing I don’t need you so I mean breaking through that takes courage it takes strategy it takes maybe practicing the conversation and it may involve some tears and some difficulty so but that’s what the job is that’s what we get paid for is to step up to the plate and and deal with those issues that make sense?

Eileen: absolutely and I love that both you and Justin come from the viewpoint of asking questions you don’t have to go into a conversation knowing everything about a subject matter that’s outside of your content area perhaps but as long as you’re curious and ask questions that encourage the other teacher to think and to have to answer them and process the iceberg the part that you don’t see in that planning part I think then you really can get to the heart of the matter so just in case someone doesn’t know it Vox is it’s like a walkie talkie system where you can leave messages for people so Justin I know you maybe someone else on the call doesn’t know no

Kim: thanks well you know there’s other clever electronic ways of giving feedback to teachers I don’t know if you’ve seen the bug in the ear approach where the teacher has a Bluetooth earpiece and the principal is at the back of the room and actually talks into their ear while they’re teaching real-time coaching bug in New York so I mean you’re laughing you know but there are people who swear by this I mean Teach for America the program uses this and there’s some teachers who because they have a trusting relationship with the principal and because you know they’re eager to learn maybe these are brand new teachers they appreciate hearing in their ear you’re only calling on the boys or you know you haven’t narrated the positive there were some tip like that that would drive me crazy you know I could I would not tolerate that there’s also the practice of actually intervening during the class you know like like you know my philosophy is the administrator should be like a fly on the wall there should be in a unobtrusive as possible but some people cannot resist the temptation to jump in and correct a mistake or you know ask a question or contribute an insight to a discussion I know my feeling is you know like shut up and unless it’s an emergency and then there’s you can do the bug in the ear remotely like professors at Ed schools will do this you know with a camera at the back of the room and then of course there is electronic feedback you know sending a message doing a box thing so I but I’m for low tech you know I’m for human low tech which takes courage and and skill I mean it’s definitely you know kind of an art form to doing this there are lots of questions I mean you said questions are good but they’re questions it don’t work so well for example how did you feel in less than what Oh what great it was terrific we knocked it out of the park and it was a great success you know you and then you have to say well actually you’re wrong so I think I have a set I’ve I can send these to you if you want a set of good lead-in questions that help one of the most clever I’ve seen this is not my own invention is after the conversations the conversation gets going saying I what can you hope I would notice there’s not a lovely question now this is obviously for something that’s going well and were you’re really probing what is it what does the teacher want you to see cuz you’re only in there you know once out of every 100 lessons so so yeah what do you want what do you what’s in you bulletin board or this very quiet as participating or I’ve taken one of your suggestions and I’m doing this you didn’t even notice it so those are the kind of things that get good conversations going and also build trust

Eileen: That’s beautiful thank you. I’ve never heard of the bug in the ear

Kim: and I tell you it’s but some people think it’s good no they’re smart people who are doing clever things and but I’m for low-tech curious humble frequent face-to-face you know that’s that sort of way and then the electronic could be that they’ve written feedback afterward that can be done electronically now that’s and and and then the teacher opening it means that they’ve seen it so you don’t have to sign stuff forget formal about it you know so so that’s a good use of technology thank you

Justin: it’s interesting Kim how and Thank You, Eileen. That’s a great line of questioning there it’s interesting how the technologies that are available to us can be used well if the trust is there if the relationship is there if the context is right but just about any technology can be used in kind of an abusive Big Brother kind of way as well like a I’ve heard somebody was telling earlier this school year about you know the camera system that allows the principal to watch remotely and even buzz into the classroom you know on kind of a loudspeaker in the classroom and I the story I heard was the principal was not even in the school the principal was at home taking a personal day or a sick day and would just hop on the camera and buzz in and make a comment you know and certainly the technologies or technologies are always going to allow us to do both wise well-intentioned things and and and probably harmful things but Kim I really appreciate your point that this doesn’t need to be complicated it should be grounded in human interaction because that’s what this is right that’s the business that we’re in

Kim: and people who are using mediocre practices may not be aware that their mediocre may not have fought them through they were that way you know the work worked for me kids weren’t listening and that’s their fault I mean they have all kinds of rationales or simply be putting one foot in front of the other and living their life and not knowing not getting the results that they could so I think you know improving I mean to me the moral issue is improving mediocre practices you know occasionally we have to fire a teacher who’s really abusive or creepy or something else or sort of failing in health and so forth that’s but those are very rare mostly this is an issue of moving average up you know improving on average and pretty improving and it constant I love the book teach like a champion by Doug Liman which talks about specific teaching techniques that are effective and just moving people to use more of those and the kids who benefit most from that are the kids who are needing the kids who walk into school with any kind of disadvantage and there are lots and lots of those kids and they especially need effective and highly effective teaching Justin: Yeah absolutely well and I think I love your perspective on this because I think you know Doug Lemov and Paul Bambrick Santoyo probably better than anyone I’m connected with but I’ve also seen those strategies used just as we can use technology inappropriately and kind of break the human interactions that should be driving this I’ve seen technique used in that kind of inappropriate way so it so I’m curious what your your thoughts are on that like if if we have a let’s say I have a list of techniques that I got from a great book they’re effective techniques but you know I hear from a lot of teachers who say my principal is kind of out of control with these teach like a champion techniques and like I come in and they’re always like why aren’t you doing this one why don’t you do number 42 what about number 34 like linear Leslie works what’s the way to balance that and manage that we we have lots of

Kim: yeah that sounds like a kind of out of control principal so what about having a study group where they take one chapter at a time and it’s discussed and you know and teachers sort of fun because most teachers really like that book I mean do we’re talking about teach like a champion I mean it’s it’s a real teachers book it’s about teaching and anyone who has you know is any you know sort of a blood pressure around around the profession around their work is gonna take to that I remember seeing a veteran teacher union rep and Connecticut years ago we kind of like that someone you know in the middle-age section of her career you would think that she would bridle at this book that’s largely for charter schools or comes out of charter schools and many sort of inner-city schools there that’s the where a lot of the mobs videos come from and she loved the book she said it was it was a fantastic book you just sort of made her appreciate something she was doing that she didn’t even know she was doing and we think some things so I think it’s how his handle I would I would suggest you know a study group take one chapter at a time discuss it talk it through push back and there’s some gaps in Lemov’s work I mean his work is more sort of focused on classroom management than on 2d parts of curriculum it’s not a critique I mean it because that was his interest so what’s missing here what could we use there would be more thoughtful on a particular issue you know there’s lots of other books about it about teaching you know wonderful books about teaching and so I think that’s it’s all about the craft of teaching but I think back to your you know the description of teachers being driven crazy that kind of sounded just sort of thoughtless management I mean that comes down to you know being in people’s faces and using a poor strategy and I wonder if as those principals are getting into classrooms you know if they’re actually getting in and and and talking one issued I mean all my recent oils big thing is take one thing at a time you know one leverage plenty of time like a good basketball coach you know like let’s work on the dribbling let me show you this okay try that okay so can I come back and look at rather than flooding people with a whole bunch of brilliant suggestions

Justin: yeah well and again to get back to the idea of curiosity that you brought up just a few minutes ago and I saw some of our our panelists here nodding because I my emails the last couple of days have been about about curiosity and you know if you see something that’s that you think is not okay that really needs to change you know rather than just getting aggressive about that and really hitting that feedback hard getting curious about it and saying you know what’s what’s behind this what are what are people that not what are you thinking but you know what’s what’s the thinking behind the front you know there’s a big difference between what are you thinking and what do you think depending on the the tone but you know that you know that that human side and not the the feedback that is the as you said kind of the the lacking encourage let me drop you a voice memo and run away or you know let me throw a grenade in the door and run away that you can’t can’t push back what do you put your thoughts on the teaching is so as teaching us so hard I mean let’s let’s face it it’s a really hard and it’s it’s even more challenging now with teachers looking over their shoulders about crazy people running into their schools with guns and opioid addiction and the families and this week’s Marshall Memo and I just finished late last night it has a couple of articles about stress racial stress other kinds of stress that kids are under especially adolescence but even young kids family issues divorce shouting at home you know all these kinds of issues are going on and teachers are dealing with that with the pressure step accountability with all the correcting both of my children our humanities teachers one teachers high school history and like no other teachers teachers seventh grade English and the amount of correcting they have the amount of papers by donor has 137 papers to correct and did so over the Thanksgiving vacation so it’s just really hard and I think there has to be a certain humanity and intact and wisdom of somebody coming into a classroom and and critiquing that I mean you got over you know the three big things in there’s a book called thanks for the feedback and I know you’ve seen the three big things so teachers want to be appreciated and and whether it’s a hug or a compliment or something but it’s you know face to face individual appreciation the second thing is coaching and it’s a most teachers I’m to ninety five percent of teachers want to get better and appreciate coaching and then the third thing is knowing where they stand and that’s back to the thing you mentioned earlier there’s a zero percent chance you’re going to get fired Oh relax you know what we’re about here is improving practice and you know those three things you know appreciation coaching and reassurance really you know we got to convey those in a human way and I think the best way to do that is short frequent classroom visits unannounced face-to-face conversations as soon as possible afterward brief and getting the rhythm up and keeping it up all year long and really being kind of being a mensch about this business that’s what it comes down to

Justin: I love it I want to pass it over to Rachel I think we’ve got time for one more question Rachel was wondering and you can go ahead and unmute if you’re able to Rachel about getting in the conversation go ahead, Rachel.

Rachel: Thank you one of my struggles that I’m facing right now is finding that time for the face-to-face conversation not that I don’t have the time but more so my teachers not having the time a lot of my teachers will go all day with maybe only a 20 30 minute break so having to come touch base with me real quick ends up being one more thing on their to-do list which does take them away from planning and prep and you know just dealing with the the day-to-day so I have been providing feedback on a tool that we use and it’s just really scripted I’m just documenting what I see in a class participation totally unbiased it’s just what I see for them to see what I saw in those 10 to 15 minutes and then I’ve been putting on the forum if I saw something I really like like great use of whatever the strategy is that I know the teams working on or if the teacher had told me that they were struggling with a student I’d say you know you’re doing everything that you can keep it up be consistent here’s an article I read recently on responding to trauma you know students experience trauma maybe maybe some of these strategies will help is that more detrimental to staff or should I continue it like I will try to talk to the teachers in the classroom but lightens up if they’re helping students or it’s a direct instruction I can’t really pull them off to the side and you know have that quick conversation what are your thoughts on that and I have about 60 teachers I’m a coach I don’t evaluate but um I do document it and I documented to show growth for them especially if something were to come up and administration that supervises them you know they don’t want to rehire but then I can see look at this growth like look at this track record of what you know all these informals have gathered. What are your thoughts?

Kim: So how long is it taking you to do these write-ups after the visits?

Rachel: It does take some time um it’s not too much anything I’m getting it down to about 20 minutes per her teacher I pair every action that I’ve documented to a Danielson domain but not a level just a domain like this is I’m for you know assessment or this is an artifact for engaging students, you know, that type of connection

Kim: Yeah I mean it could be and I’m not seeing your write-ups it could be that these are very sensitive and thoughtful and helpful the teachers what kind of reactions to get anything from teachers so.

Rachel: For veteran teachers that I have built a relationship within the past who have come to me I I received positive feedback because when I brought it up to them like should I just walk through you know leave a sticky note you know every time I’m in there you know a kudos stick you know that’s on these walkthroughs or these informals but then they always say that they like the feedback

Kim: Yeah so is the change in practice do you see improvements

Rachel: I don’t know that I’m necessarily seeing improvements just yet but I see them utilizing the tools you know like I’m seeing them take those risks but I don’t know that I’ve necessarily seen like instructional improvement

Kim: So I think the picture here is it seems to be of you doing a lot of work and probably very good work it’s it’s there’s a lot of description and then there are some suggestions and some kudos and so forth so you have a lot of good elements there I definitely don’t think you should be giving feedback during the class I I think your instinct on that is absolutely correct you know you don’t interrupt construction you don’t pull them away from the kids because they should be working with the kids it sounds like there may be a macro scheduling issue going on here a teachers don’t have any breaks today yeah it happens that my son-in-law is a middle school teacher in Boston Public Schools and he has a schedule like that and it’s really killing him I mean he just simply does the are less time to go to the bathroom during the day yeah and that really is I don’t know what kind of school you have you know it really is a union issue which you know this is what unions are really good for it is making sure that teachers have working working conditions which includes you know out of seven thirty a day a couple of periods of non teaching periods that are spread and no more than three in a row and that kind of thing so I don’t know what your situation is in

Rachel: That we aren’t charter we don’t have a union but they do have a break a forty forty-five minute break except they get called to sub-issue there that break goes away

Kim: Well okay so charter schools there is some of the more wonderful and some of the best schools I’ve seen are charter schools but but this is one of the downsides it is if people are being burned out and you know I know charter schools that have a 50% turn teacher turnover rate every year and that’s not good getting to a humane and manageable schedule is one thing but back to the face to face even I do think is you’ve gathered from you know the previous administers I do think the base faces should happen before anything is written up and I think that has numerous advantages your dilemma is can you do that because teachers don’t have time to talk to you I’ll bet that most of your teachers are really curious to hear your feedback going to talk to you and I’ll bet that they can find the time whether it’s at lunchtime or after school or before school or even a zoom conversation late in the afternoon I mean charter teachers you know my experience are mostly eager-beaver interested thoughtful you know want to improve and I’ll bet that they could find the time you know and if you’re only doing a couple a day it should be possible and those conversations don’t have to be long psychodramas you know they can be no 10-minute conversations I mean it do you think you could fit a couple of those in I mean during the day and with charter I mean they can’t give you a union push back you know that let’s talk to them they will know

Rachel: Yeah you know I think it’s more on the the personal level of kind of hindering myself from going into more classes in the day because I know that okay if I do five classrooms today that I should be touching base with five teachers the likelihood of them catching me after school between meetings and all that you know now we’re probably talking just a couple days yeah so you’re it sounds like you’re trying to do short visits I’m wondering with as a coach whether it might be less is more you know like like more longer visits more you know co-teaching or you know sort of working together more like and I know we’re running out of time here and Justin may be about to get out the hook here but uh you have access to the Marshall Memo yes okay so if you go to the website, you log in and I think it’s a The Principal Center I believe to login look under teacher coaching and there been a lot of really really great articles about coaching it’s it’s sort of a dilemma you know like a lot of coaches are if you push back and you just I want to hear it or you know the teachers are most needed don’t get it you know there’s all these issues but there there really is a way of a coach making a big difference and one of the biggest ones it’s looking at student work you know with the teacher team I don’t know if you have like great little teams and they have PLC meetings where they look at at the work is that a dynamic you can be part of those

Rachel: Yeah it’s definitely its one that’s a work in progress right now but we will definitely have the structure and professional development day is next year in our new charter annual to really like move those conversations like do it this year but really have productive conversations next year yes

Kim: So rather than kind of micromanaging teaching actions looking together as a teacher team and how did this work and what was effective in your class and what was what do I need to change became what ideas can I get from it cause I think Paul Bambrick Santoyo says all the time and he’s a big charter guys you know is that the teacher teamwork looking at student work together that is the most powerful driver of improvement you know supervision and so forth can be but it’s the actual teacher teamwork at carving out time for that in the schedule I think is absolutely crucial it sounds like your school is moving in that direction are you familiar with the Bambrick Santoyo work at all?

Rachel: Yeah a little bit yeah

Kim: His book leverage leadership 2.0 or it’s one of the most powerful books out there in his schools in Newark New Jersey this is where I’m going this afternoon his schools are unbelievably successful and they don’t have as much teacher turnover and they’ve really figured out use of the North Star Academy charter schools they really figured out how to get the teacher teamwork working and also they’re in classes frequently and coaching

Rachel: Great that that’s helpful thank you

Justin: I love it and Heather is mentioning the PLC plus playbook from Fisher and Frey I believe and there were some of our earlier guests and by the way thinking about some of our past guests on the roundtable here we’ve also had Jen Abrams on hard conversations so definitely some good work to check out there and as Kim said Paul Bambrick Santoyo’s work and Doug Lemov’s work absolutely. Rachel one the other thing I wanted to mention that I think I never really got the hang of as a principal but that some of our members suggested to me people who are going through the instructional leadership challenge and really trying to get serious about getting into classrooms every single day they said you know what I actually made myself note cards and wrote out each teachers schedule on the note card so I would know okay if I go visit this teacher now are they going to have a free period later in the day or if I already missed that and just that little bit of planning and being able to kind of anticipate you know what’s what’s going to come up and you know when kind of the optimal time to visit is really makes a big difference so we actually took that feedback from our members and designed the notecards you can get those at or if you’d like we have them print it up in batches of 5,000 if you wouldn’t like some just let me know we’ll send you some in the mail and then just have your office staff write those out get yourself organized and then you know we and can I say this a little bit she officially because we actually have an app that will help you organize this but I’m still a big advocate of the paper note cards because they’re in your face you know

Kim: This is what I carried around in my pocket so this is the whole schedule and the big light the big number is when that grade-level team has a planning group so I could see at a glance at any point during the week you know you notice in my pocket you know when I could zero in on people now, of course, they might have been busy they might be running to the bathroom they might be running stuff off and everything so you back off but still you can be strategic and you can catch those people and again it’s only a couple of day so one thing of Rachel is she’s trying to do five a day so that’s I think a little bit overload in terms of frequency and especially in terms of being able to catch those people for a meaningful conversation

Justin: Yeah absolutely and you know and if you are in classrooms you know I think it is also okay to say hey you know what I stepped in I don’t really need to say anything to this teacher so I’m just gonna tell them nice to see you today and move along and then prioritize those ones that you know there really is something to talk about because just honestly sometimes there’s not and that really bugs people when there’s not really much to talk about they think oh I gotta find something I’ve got squeeze blood from a turnip, but there is nothing.

Kim: That might be the time to ask that question what did you hope I would notice yeah that’s a good one maybe you didn’t see it but maybe they’re aware of it or they’re worried about something so forth

Justin: Love it so again I can’t recommend highly enough reading the Marshall Memo and the archives are there and if anyone is wondering how to get into those archives I think one of the best ways Kim is the book that you just put out with Jenn David-Lang the best of the Marshall memo that highlights some of those and I know we’ve done a podcast that’ll be coming out soon to take people into that book but final thoughts on anything we’ve talked about today

Kim: For me or from so I think frequency is the best thing authenticity humility curiosity those are the key things here looking at student work almost focusing in the classroom focusing more on what the kids are doing perhaps than what the teacher is doing checking in with a couple of kids what are you working on today all kinds of insights from that but I think it really is a certain amount of self-discipline and just one thing I do think having a numerical target of classroom business for the day is very helpful you know mine was three. I pushed myself to do three a day and there were bad days when I did zero just keeping up a steady pace and keeping it up all year long and being systematic about different parts of the day different parts of the different groups that teachers are teaching I think that and those conversations those face-to-face that’s the heart of the matter that’s the real work and I think when you go home after doing two or three of those and having conversations you just feel like you’re in the middle of the work you know you’re really doing your job you’re making a difference that’s really what it’s all about

Justin: Well said yeah well said okay it has been an honor and a privilege to speak with you today and to engage in this conversation thank you so much and stay in touch we’ll talk soon that we’ll send you the video but thanks so much for the work you do and thanks for your consistency and your frequency and your you know steadiness in putting out the memo every week

Kim: You’re welcome thanks so much,

Justin: All right everybody take care and have a great day all right

Return to Roundtable Dashboard


Roundtable: Anthony Muhammad — Time For Change


Justin Baeder: Welcome thank you, everybody, for being here. Very excited to have this chance to chat today. We’re talking about Time For Change with Dr. Anthony Muhammad and we are Dr. Justin Baeder: We’ve already done an interview about the book. We’ve spoken previously for Principal Center Radio and had a great interview there. So thank you very much, Dr. Muhammed, for joining me again to go in-depth on some of these important issues around transforming school culture, transforming school performance. And very excited to go a little bit deeper on some of these topics so thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Anthony Muhammed: Thanks for having me it’s a pleasure. I enjoyed your show and also congratulations on the latest book so honor to have an opportunity to interact with you.

JB: Well, thank you very much! And I see we have a great group of participants today our roundtable members tuning in and some guests. And the way that this is going to work in terms of asking questions—I don’t want to surprise anybody by putting you on webcam if you’re commuting or whatever you may be doing this time of day. So what we will do is use the chat to indicate if you have a question and then I will just promote you to a panelist the same way I did with Dr. Muhammed so just let me know in the chat if you’d like to ask a question—if you would like to ask a question, but not get on video please let me know and I can ask that question for you. Just type that out in the chat but for the maximum fun, we like to have people come on video and turn on their webcam and ask their questions out loud. So just let me know if you’d like to do that I can hit the button and hopefully it will work a little bit more smoothly next time. So let me know and we will get into the deeper issues of bringing about change in schools.

So Dr. Muhammad, thank you again for being here. Just by way of introduction you are the author of numerous books including Transforming School Culture, Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap, and the book we’re here to talk about today is Time for Change—which focuses on four essential skills, three investments, and one that you described as a return on investment. I wonder if we want to start by talking a little bit about your experience as a school principal and then your experience with some of the schools that you’ve worked with as a consultant over the past decade to bring about some of those same types of changes. So give us a little bit of context here for your work that went into this book.

AM: Sure, I had the pleasure to serve as a site-based leader for 11 years. I spent two years as an assistant principal and nine years as a principal at two different schools. And leadership—school leadership as the Wallace Foundation study proved—is ultra important to the growth of an institution. You can have a great classroom you can have a great but to have a great school you really need a person, a group of people as a leadership team, kind of leading the way. There’s always pockets of excellence, but to do it systemically you really need visionary and effective leadership. My experience as a leader was unfortunately like many it was trial and error and human beings aren’t really good to do experiments on.

So the more we can kind of mitigate some of the probability of missteps because students don’t get a do-over—you only go to sixth-grade one time, you know, you’re only a ninth-grader once. So my experience as a leader was a success but there were some struggles and part of what motivated Dr. Cruz and me to write this book is that leadership is a totally separate skill and we tend to make the assumption in education that just because someone is good as a teacher— you may be a great literacy instructor, you may be a great coach—the assumption is that those skills translate into supervising people to do the same job. And the prevailing research in business and leadership is taught that people who are naturally good at something are probably the least qualified to lead somebody else, because of when a person has a natural gift in something they tend to not develop certain important leadership characteristics like patience, like good communication, being precise. When something comes easily to me the assumption is it’s going to come easily to people that lead. So that leads to a little hubris, a little impatience.

So parts of my job as a teacher that came easy to me, I was pretty impatient and I had to learn the hard way through some resistance through some uncomfortable moments with teachers that I supervise because I wasn’t mature enough yet to understand that leadership is a specific skill. So as a consultant—I think I figured most of it out as a principal through hard knocks—so as a consultant as I went into the field where I was a champion of the PLC process and we had experienced great success at my former school. We were the first urban school my honored as a model PLC and the assumption was that everybody, when I walked in everybody, would love PLC the way did I do. And I had a very rude awakening that no that was more of a fallacy than a reality. And Dr. Cruz and I found that the skill level of the leader or leaders was very important to the PLC process—or any effective process for students being embraced by their subordinates was the skill level of the leader of certain characteristics that they had. And from my Transforming School Culture study if you get a chance to reach after seven identified four gaps that prevent people from embracing a collective change agenda. This book is an expansion of chapter 7 and Transforming school culture and really given some insight on huddle leaders develop their skills to help people overcome those gaps or those needs so you can get consensus for the benefit of students? So that’s probably the best analysis I can give you.

JB: Thank you. Very helpful. And the point that you made about the curse of expertise like the things that come naturally to you are things that we tend to be impatient about with other people right? And I definitely saw that as a principal in Seattle yes when I would see just the impatience of principals who were literacy experts. You know, I worked with a lot of elementary—I was an elementary principal so most of my immediate peers were elementary principals and I would see just a tremendous impatience among the principals who had been literacy coaches—which I mean they were instructionally some of the strongest principals but also had the most learning to do to figure out how to get other people on board with the changes that they in their mind it was crystal clear they knew exactly what they wanted literacy instruction would look like that was a big focus for the district to get students reading on grade level. And sometimes it would seem like they were in a hostage situation where they had kind of taken all the other staff prisoner and they were not going to let anybody go until they had their way. And that patience and that figuring out, “okay how do I actually bring people on board with this?” was a little bit more of a challenge. So I’m thinking about our roundtable group of superintendents who are in that boat of needing to carry out the work of change through principals, right?

And I think so many programs are sold as this just kind of handles itself, right? This program runs itself, you know, you make the decision you invest and boom the staff will run with it and students will benefit. But I think anybody who’s been in this business a long time knows that as you said exactly what you said, you know, leadership is make-or-break. and the way that a principal approaches a change really has a huge impact and you give an example in the book of a principal who stands up at a faculty meeting and says, so I know I’m really sorry to have to share this with you but the district is requiring us to do whatever what the staff members pick up what a faculty picked up from a principal who says so I have some bad news for you the district wants us to…whatever?

AM: Yeah that specific scenario that you mentioned is a subcategory of the skill of building trust and Dr. Cruz and I break down trust into two components which are empathy and credibility. And part trusts often people mistake the term trust for likability. I can trust somebody I dislike and I can dislike somebody that I trust—they’re very different affability versus reliability are very different. So often a leader will pander to people and what they think that inhibitions are they’re there their desires are to get them to like them, but simultaneously while they’re pandering to be liked they’re losing trust. And we cite several studies in the book about why trust has a much greater impact on the ability to lead than being liked.

And trust is synonymous with reliability so when a person is trying to become trusted you have to become credible. I like to use to Jim Collins example of the bus. The bus has a bus driver and I might think it’s a good bus but I’ve got to trust you as a bus driver. And I want to know are you a good person you care about me as a person? That’s the empathy piece and can you drive? are you are you credible? are you competent? So when a leader stands before teachers or anybody a superintendent stands in front of principals whoever is in the positional Authority at that time and acts as if they’re in a hostage situation or they’re somehow being forced to do something that they really don’t agree with intellectually or morally or professionally, what they’re showing is that I’m giving you permission to disengage. And it’s an issue of bad body language posture they’re not saying it directly, but their body language and the posture is saying more than what’s coming out of their mouth.

So I show a clip by Colin Powell on leadership and he said he was taught in the infantry school when he was becoming an officer he was told by his commanding officer that if you’re cold you can’t appear to be cold. if you’re hungry you can’t appear to be hungry. if you’re sleepy you can’t compare to be asleep because if you’re cold tired hungry and sleepy then the soldiers have permission to be cold tired hungry and sleepy. So if you want them to follow you into a foxhole around a dangerous corner your behavior dictates what they have permission to emulate. So when a principal does that I might think he’s a nice or she’s a nice person but I don’t trust them because if you’re asking me to do something that you don’t embrace then what would you expect my level of investment to be if you’re not invested in it? so whatever the leader does either builds trust or undermine truck undermines trust.

And if you want to be considered ethical then what you do has to align what your strong core values and I’d even respect you more if you said we are in negotiation with central office and we’re working on some things I think that is good for the district but they’re not quite complete yet, I’m going to get back with you because I want to be able to strongly support whatever the district askes us to do I’d respect you more if you said that then to almost in a political fashion. that’s one of the reasons people have problems with politicians they come off as disingenuous

JB: Yeah and I think that’s a situation where we don’t necessarily want to say to principals, hey you know tell us what your staff thinks and if they don’t like the idea we’re not going to do it you know because every idea is going to have pushback any change is going to have pushback and we’re not saying you know go get the feedback from your staff and if it’s not 100% positive we’re gonna can the whole thing but the authenticity of belief or understanding and being on board you know I feel like the the the weakest presentations of the district mandate by principals come from those situations where the principal does not personally understand well and other than just the details of here’s what you need to so let’s soccer if we could about the end. Go ahead.

AM: And what I like to do in scaling this up is that central office has to take some culpability there as well if principals are responsible for teachers and teachers are responsible for students the district office has to do more than just dictate we see kind of the impact of leadership skill it suffers the farther you move up the system. Classroom teachers have typically had really good relationships with kids then it kind of in wanes as you move to the principalship to central office. And the state and government they’re the most ineffective. So you seem that the further you get away from the classroom the level of culpability or responsibility for guiding people, people tend to relinquish that responsibility the further you go up it should be the opposite but if the state wants to pass a new teacher evaluation system they have a responsibility to engage the districts to get them to understand and then the district has to get the principal to commit. But it seems like the further you move away from the classroom the level of personal responsibility wanes I just find that disturbing.

JB: Yeah that is interesting and I think there are so many different things going on there with you know teachers have you know obviously the students are sticking teachers have tenure but you start to get into the principal assistant superintendent level people tend to move around a little bit more. There is less protection. You know, people are more at will at those more senior levels and I think we do see a more kind of bear exercise of power sometimes to get a change across. I was reading a Harvard Business Review article and if you’re on my email list you saw my link to that yesterday that talked about the Wells Fargo scandal when bank employees and managers would open just millions and millions of kind of fake accounts in order to hit these targets that the CEO had set and the CEO would say things like 8 is great. We want every customer to have eight accounts or eight products with us so the employees interpreted that as if people don’t have eight accounts open some extra ones for them. And the authors of the article concluded that one of the problems with conveying that strategy that it occurred within Wells Fargo and happens in a lot of organizations is that when people are not involved in the strategy and they only receive the implications for them they don’t get the rationale they don’t get the heart of it because they’re not involved they tend to mess it up in something you know.

And sometimes we see that with cheating sometimes we see that with you know just going through the motions and complying for the sake of complying without really being on board with the heart. So I think that’s probably a good segue into talking about the first investment which is the cognitive investment and let’s get into that wit and we talked about the four investments in the podcast but let’s get into this a little bit and by the way our participants today any time you have a question please please feel free to chime in in the chat I’m happy to put you on webcam to share a little bit about a situation that you’ve seen an example or pose a question to dr. Muhammad so just find that webinar chat and put you on webcam if you would like, just let me know. But yeah dr. Mohammad talked to us about the first investment the cognitive investments.

AM: the first investment is probably most profound it’s not the most difficult but it has the greatest impact and that is we know that human beings are naturally wired to solve problems. It’s one of the things one of the elements that makes us human is to need to solve problems and any organization affects you go back to Max Weber’s research favors theory was the only reason organization exists is to solve a problem. Why do we have restaurants? Because people don’t always like to cook and that solves a problem why do you have a Board of Water and light or electric cookers people need like this a problem that you’re solving so solving problems is part of what makes us human and teachers want their students to be successful now they all may go about it in different ways but I’ve never met a teacher even the least effective teacher who didn’t want his or her students to do better so every teacher has a set of problems and a unique opportunity to leader has is to connect his or her vision their proposal to the person’s natural need to solve problems. That’s a natural attraction. So if I’m having issues with classroom management and what you propose is an intervention or an investment that’s going to help me do that—that’s a person who is going to be intrinsically engaged because your needs and their needs are meshed.

Often what happens is that the leader’s intentions or the leader’s purpose are not clearly conveyed to teachers in a way that fits with their natural need to solve problems and grow and evolve. And communication becomes the bridge for that intellectual connection. I think in the last podcast I gave you the definition the Latin root of the term word means the sound of an express thought. So if I have a thought about why PBIS, or PLC, or art and science of teaching is going to help us solve a problem— that’s the only reason you would propose change is that you want to improve. If I’m poor and communicating that then the teachers or whoever I’m trying to influence they’re not really intellectually in tune with the sense and the investment but what I like them to do because they don’t see it as a benefit because it doesn’t in their mind and solve a problem. So that’s why we broke down communication which is really filling the vacuum why. You need evidence and you need to be able to articulate or be persuasive about out of all the options we have to solve this problem. This is the most attractive offer this is what a salesman does. A person has a problem that person doesn’t have the power of coercion you only have the power of persuasion why is this vehicle out of all the vehicles you could choose because your vehicles old is breaking down—this Subaru is the best option for you and leaders often don’t take on the responsibility to be the best pitch people or the best representative of their idea. They tend often many would tend to lean on authority to address an issue that is cognitive. Authority is not a good tool to invest to address an intellectual or cognitive need.

JB: I like the way you break it down in the book into two parts the cognitive investment having a data component like confronting the brutal facts looking at where we have opportunities for improvement and how we know we have opportunities for improvement. And I especially like the example of a high-performing school that has massive achievement gaps you know overall you know ninety percent of the kids are doing great but if you break it down a little bit there are some troubling patterns so there’s the data to kind of pinpoint the problem but then there’s the persuasion angle that gets at the specific solution because I think for any problem that we might identify we’ve got dozens of possible solutions and you know one option is to do nothing of course. So help us distinguish between those a little bit because I feel like the investment is so often underestimated and I feel like with principals especially who have a core of teachers who like them and support them who will kind of do whatever they suggest I think it’s especially tempting for those principals to look at that group of teachers and say, okay I have cognitively persuaded— I’ve explained it—I’ve persuaded this group of people so I’ve done my job and everybody else who hasn’t gotten on board yet they are the problem. But in the book and I think in our previous interview you said the cognitive investment really is about 70% of the battle. So what’s going on with that first group and what’s going on with kind of everybody else in terms of that cognitive investment? Because I feel like we deceive ourselves a little bit and saying okay well the teachers who like me understand it and are on board maybe they don’t quite understand and everybody else definitely doesn’t get it.

AM: Yeah, when you really look at its essence it’s not that complicated. When we give it a parallel example if a teacher went eat when the leaders looking at a teacher’s performance data the teacher says well I got 10 kids in that class who are on board and the other 20 they just sits on matter of fact is their fault. As leaders we’ve learned that it’s not politically correct or that’s not a part of our culture as education that’s we’ve shifted—Larry Lizotte, Ron Edmunds, All Children Can Learn—we’ve shifted from that kind of socially Darwinistic model. A person might think that but they would never say it. It doesn’t fit the climate of education today so if a teacher can’t say that well I have kids to do their homework who do every assignment I give them what’s wrong with the other twenty? Then why would a leader be excused from the same responsibility? Look at teachers who have not engaged like students who need intervention. If we believe all children can learn all adults can learn. They might not have learned at how you taught it because that’s where we identify for different needs there may be some needs that the ten had that you fulfilled but the other twenty may need something. Your goal is to get all thirty on board so it’s kind of hypocritical the hold teachers accountable for egalitarianism but then an administrator would act in a socially Darwinistic fashion in kind of a “my way or the highway” approach. So I would ask that leader have you analyzed that perhaps there are some needs that those teachers who are not on board have not committed that you haven’t met? Have you been clear in your explanation if you gave persuasive evidence that it’s a better way to go? have you considered maybe you’re the fifth teacher in three years maybe it’s trust maybe it’s capacity maybe it’s none of those things and it’s just challenging your authority and at some points, you may have to use your authority but ultimately everybody has to hit that target. when that paradigm shift is made it’s not about whether it’s possible it’s what do I need to do to get there.

JB: I think that’s such a powerful parallel to see you know that we expect teachers to take responsibility for student learning and not to say well half of them got it the other ones are turkeys and it’s their fault and I think that’s tricky for us because Trust is always like the air we breathe in any of these conversations and that is the second investment so Trust what was the percentage behind trust you said 70% cognitive investment once the 20 percent behind establishing trust so after we communicate the rationale just going through the book here making that emotional investment and one of the things that occurred to me as you were making your opening remarks, Dr. Muhammed was the possibility that for some principals it’s not anything that they have done to damaged trust personally it could be about the turnover context. you know And I think like when I came in as a principal the previous principal had been there for seven or eight years very well-liked very well did and because of that you know stability I think enjoyed a pretty high degree of trust and coming in as the new principal I knew I would have to establish my own reputation and earn that same level of trust and I knew that that would take time. Help us think about what could vary from school to school with different trust scenarios so like if I look at the group of principals that I supervise and I say you know they all seem pretty trustworthy they’re all very reliable people they are people who stick to their word you know they do what they say they’re going to do they are trustworthy help us understand the context that we might not be paying attention to with

AM: Great question when it comes to trust often if you’re a new you’re really inheriting issues that you didn’t create you may be very collaborative the last leader might have been autocratic. The last leader may have been very decisive and directive and you’re more about building consensus. So any leader walking into a situation as to recognize that there’s a context that he or she is going in to. And that’s something that before I would take any new position I would have to understand the cultural context that I was inheriting because that’s going to be very important in the moves that I made to what decisions do I make.

So Dr. Cruz and I like to describe kind of when it comes to trust when it becomes a new leader there’s really three ways to describe three different situations a new leader is either an adoptive parent a foster parent or babysitter. If you’re a babysitter people view you as a temporary surrogate in a long line of temporary surrogates. So babysitters don’t get a lot of respect they have an established date they’re there for a short period of time or that’s the perception and so if I’m the seventh principal in five years they see me as the next babysitter. So before they can take me serious I’m to get through that period I have to understand that’s where they’re coming from that’s how they see me.

I could be a foster and I kind of moved from temporary home it’s not it’s not for an evening it may be for a couple months it may be for a year, but when a person if you looking into the research and foster parents it’s difficult for both the foster parent and the child to get attached because their connection is is volatile you don’t know if they’re gonna be moved, adopted, a relative might take them so there’s a reluctance to deeply engage you’ve got to recognize that. Or kind of like you’re so you’re the new adopted parent they lost the old parent did they had some stability but something happened and they’re looking for somebody to be the head of household. But you have to recognize there’s gonna be an attachment to the old parent throughout the past or it’s gone on and you’re taking over. So understanding that context becomes very important. If you’re seen as a babysitter and you know you mean you got to recognize that cut that bad situation so you got to know the context that you can hear it and the level of trust that needs to be built. When it comes to being an adoptive parent you got time not going anywhere. So but if you strike in and it’s just a very short period of time you got to establish trust relatively quickly at least enough to get the job done.

So we have high turnover I believe the last data was 3.1 years is the average tenure of a principal in one building. And in urban areas and in rural communities that turnover is much greater. People got to know when you’re walking in what are you gonna be? Are you a babysitter? Are you a foster parent? Or you the new parent? And that’s gonna guide how you behave when you inherited school.

JB: I love that metaphor I think that’s so powerful because the expectation of how long are we going to have together really really does make a big difference. And as a foster parent who recently said you know said goodbye to a child who went to live with family, I definitely feel that yeah the reality of that.

And so thinking about a district that has a school that maybe has had a lot of turnover, a lot of damage to the trust that teachers place in their administrators because they know their administrators probably are not going to stick around long. I feel like there’s a tendency to reward you know your most capable leaders with kind of the easiest assignments and you know the flip side of that I mean obviously we want everybody to be successful but the flip side of that is typically there are school—there’s kind of an 80/20 to it within every organization right there are schools that are stable for decades you know they’ll have the same principal for 14 years and there are schools that have a new principal every year every two years every three years and you’ve got teachers who’ve been there thirty and they’ve just seen the revolving door. What can assistant superintendents, directors, superintendents, who are responsible for placing principals and you know to whatever degree people move around the district responsible for overseeing those decisions do to kind of rebuild that trust? I think you give a specific example in the book of a school that has had that kind of revolving door and really say like that you know that issue has to be solved almost before anything else like if we have 40% turnover we can’t fix anything until we fix that. So what can district leaders do?

AM: Recognize their responsibility in placing the right leader in the right school it’s one of the most important decisions the essential administrator will make is picking that person of people for the to lead those particular buildings their cut relationship and their link is going to be essential so if I know that this is a school to see at high turnover why wouldn’t I adjust my hiring process why wouldn’t make that a consideration in looking at résumés that if I have a person I want to interview but they have a great transcript but they move jobs every two to three years and that’s not what this school needs and that’s that person’s pattern I’m really I mean the culpability of central office I just don’t believe it’s been addressed enough. A lot of the messes that are made at the campus level are made by poor central decisions where there’s no accountability and no responsibility. So if I’m responsible for placing stable leaders in all of my district’s schools a lot of that falls on me. I have to assess their needs.

If this is a building where teachers are relatively self-directed they’re strong instructional leaders they highly collaborative then the seriousness of having a person that’s competed for eight to ten years is not as important, because those teachers are going to be strong anyway but a building—I was just recently had a conference call with a district that wanted me to come and do some in-depth cultural work. And it’s what they said—we have one title one school in the district and the poverty level there is really really high we like free to come fix our call the culture there here’s the issue. They had a principal who went on stress leave because he couldn’t handle the building he had and he came back and they assigned him to the media schooling the district they have severe reading issues so they purchased a very expensive reading protocol with training and halfway through the year realized it wasn’t the right system so they pulled it after the teachers make all of those investments.

Somehow some of the students with the biggest and most of most severe disabilities end up being placed at that school they have the highest turnover. I said sounds like they don’t have a culture problem . It sounds like they have a bad central office decision problem every single problem you gave comes right back to your decision.

So when it comes to hiring people district office has to be much more methodical and take responsibility for putting the right person or people in the right situations. Turnover doesn’t have to be this issue that we accept. We can be more proactive than that, be more open and transparent. Listen we’re looking for somebody was finally making five to seven-year commitment. Is that a commitment you’re willing to make? because I can’t place somebody in the school because they really needed that when the next good offer comes along you’re gonna take it where you’re gonna run when things get rough that should be a part of the interview process. You should ask questions about resilience longevity if that’s an issue that’s just a byproduct of poor leadership.

JB: Yeah I’m thinking about some schools that I saw kind of have a little bit of a revolving door in Seattle. You know some schools that really struggled over a period of decades to retain staff and to have a positive upward trend. I think there definitely were some you know some good decisions made in that regard to really identify people who had been in one position for a long time had been successful and then ask them to not come in in one year and replicate the success of their other building in a very different context, but to bring that same level of maturity and level of commitment to the long haul and really having a conversation that that involves discussing multiple years.

And professor Kenneth Hayes is asking you know what about multi-year contracts? Why is this not a tool that we’re using? And kind of feel free to jump in here happy to have you come on camera and ask some follow-ups here. But this is something that I see international schools using.

So at The Principal Center, we have a fair representation among Americans or English-speaking international schools that you know if you are in Myanmar or Bulgaria and you have an English-speaking school you need Brits Americans Australia you know you need people who are native English speakers to run the school—it is difficult to attract people to various regions around the world so one of the things that they do is they say this is not a one-year contract this is a three-year contract or they’ll say this is a two-year contract but you get an extra 25 grand if you stay for a third you know things like that that actually incentivize people and set the expectation that this is something that you know like the trust the stability the long-term trajectory is something that we believe in strongly enough to actually invest in it to hire for it and to make it almost our number one priority.

AM: And we do that with superintendents all the time.


AM: So it’s not as if it’s a foreign concept to us we just don’t use that same tool when it comes to principals which have a much higher leverage on increasing student achievement so absolutely I would totally be in favor of that. And perhaps we wouldn’t incentivize people to leave the position because really good principals get incentivized to leave the to go just because they make more money so why not it’s just a matter of distribution of resources why not place more resources in hiring really effective people who are gonna be stable in long term in a high leverage position it just makes sense.

JB: Yeah absolutely and I think sometimes we’ve got to have that conversation with our bargaining units with you know with the principal’s association if there is one. And I was part of a principal’s association not that was especially you know unionist in the traditional sense but one that you know did have a seat at the table and I think helped make professional decisions. But I think one of the things that were maybe hinting at here is that there can be you know even though money is probably not the main thing there can be you know some flexibility there. And certainly, I would say not all jobs are equal even if they have the same title you know there are jobs where you’re just on 47 committees and in another school, you might be on 12 and those jobs are just not the same and I think we’ve got to recognize that.

And you know and the money thing also comes in when we realize that in almost every geographic area there’s going to be another district that pays more alright I think everybody has that problem right that you know there’s another district that pays more you know those jerks two counties over that constantly stealing our people.

AM: but you want to hire people who are committed to your direction and our meeting a need that you have the need to just fill a position has to come second to putting the right person in that position. And I said it’s all situational. If you have a staff for the veterans but very student-centered highly engaged they have great practice the need for having a long term principal to build stability might not be as important but in a very high-risk area that’s had a lot of turnover and Trust is low turnover which is it’s really an issue that undermines trust. people are pessimistic. if I’m in a relationship and I’m in my fifth relationship in two years and the same pattern has emerged I get attached and the person leaves we’re human so the second skill is really about recognizing and honoring the humanity of a professional. it’s not just our knowledge base it’s not just a skill it’s not just policy people want there’s some human needs of people at and you got to know that you’re a good person you care about me just because I may struggle a certain aspect of teacher bit of teaching doesn’t mean I don’t have to right to my humanity. I may stink at differentiation but I’m still a person I need to know that Justin even if I disappoint you my humanity is not up for negotiation. and I got to know that you’re a person that I can relax and trust your vision trust your leadership and your stability and your reliability that you’re going to take us what you say you’re going to take us. that’s what we talked about with trust those are really the two basic components. If you don’t recognize the impact of certain decisions I have on these human part of the professional then you’re naive.

JB: What I think that that understanding that people are human. It sounds obvious when we say it right but what I’ve seen happen in hiring is that there there’s an expectation that the person who’s being brought in to fix the situation is some sort of superhero and I think that’s especially the case when we don’t that person and we’re bringing them in from the outside, they have this great résumé, they have these great you know letters of recommendation we place almost a superhuman burden on them so I think part of like recognizing the humanity of people is recognizing that nobody is truly superhuman and if we have those superhuman expectations—the support the resources the patience that that person is going to need to succeed are probably not going to be there and that is on us as district leaders. So with respect to that kind of superhuman expectation and kind of bringing that down and saying okay this is this is a person. Kenneth is saying in the comments here, how do we make sure that we are supporting people adequately who have been put into that difficult leadership role? So a lot of turnover low-performance building trust is going to be an uphill battle. We’ve secured this individuals commitment to stick with the school for five to seven years. How do we make sure that that we’re balancing the the urgency to bring about change? This person is not just gonna coast they’re not just gonna you know avoid stepping on toes we want to see those investments yield results. How do we support that person in developing the new skills?

Because I’m thinking about the different high schools especially in my district you know you have some high schools that are just you know everybody it knows every you know every everything is very stable everybody knows what to do nothing has really changed in a very long time so it’s easy to come in as a principal and look like you’re a super high performer. You move that person to another school where everything is in flux there’s a lot of staff turnover there is a lot of programmatic turnover where we’re trying new approaches every year, different consultants are coming in, and the skill set you know you’ve got the same person the same character but the skill set that’s required may be very very different in that school. What do we do as district leaders to be both patient and helpful to that person in developing those those different skills that are needed in that different context?

AM: What’s really ironic is that shift is right to skill number three which is professional support. People can’t do what they don’t know. So if I place you in a position where I’m asking you to perform I’m asking you to influence better performance than I have an obligation to feed you professionally to be able develop that skill set. So if we go back to trust if a schools issue is trust and you need stability, I’d rather hire somebody who is less skilled but more trustworthy and then build their skill. If you’re looking for a certain skill set that you want to develop then there’s an obligation as a leader that I have to give you that. Let’s scale it down to teachers they have administrators a lot of times talk about you got to build better relationships with kids as if by simply saying it they know how to do it. That to me triggers an investment I need to make if I’m a principal to teach teachers how to develop better relationships because if they knew how to do it the assumption is they would do it. Albert Einstein said you can’t solve a problem at the same level of intellect that caused the problem.

So whenever a person that might have been adequate in one setting without another, if I’m that person’s leader I’m asking what type of support professionally would it be a cohort or critical friends group among principals to study and grow professionally on certain issues? Would I address it with all of the administrators to emphasize district-wide problems or certain cohorts? Peter Senge hit it on the head—learning organizations are the organizations that are going to be learning is the new currency of the 21st-century organization. The organization has ability to learn and to grow and evolve is going to be the organization that stays viable. So in the PLC professional learning community concept the learning community piece it always been around they’ve been around for a long time. But Rick Dufour and Bob Baker really emphasized the professional part. And a professional’s personal goals to rite-of-passage to enter a field that is also expected to evolve in that knowledge base while they’re practicing.

So whoever you hire that’s not the end that’s the person who walked in the door. Once they walk into the door, if I was that person’s supervisor I would ask what do I need to develop? My former school was 98 percent African-American my staff was split by about 40 percent African-American 60% Caucasian and my staff really struggled with understanding responding to my students’ culture. It had nothing to do it to race to the teacher it was understanding the culture of our students when the best investments we ever made were deep training and culturally responsive teaching. Our teachers understood the route of Black English or Ebonics. They understood some of the psychological and social-emotional issues of culture, how to integrate and how to build bridges to mastery of the curriculum and content. They weren’t bad people they just didn’t know what to do. So simply telling them to be culturally responsive, without teaching him how to be culturally responsive, is a recipe for disaster. So whatever you want to see in a subordinate that’s where skill number three comes in. Have you made the adequate professional investment? Because they may be resisting because they just don’t know how to do what you’re asking them to do.

JB: Yeah and that’s a really interesting one because I think the percentages that you gave me on the podcast like 70 percent understanding what you want me to do. 20 percent the trust and the relationship and what was it for the capacity building, 80 percent? You know I think we might make the mistake of thinking that the clarity is about 10% and the how to do it the capacity is about 80 percent you know like that would be my intuition that it’s much more about the how and basically I just need to make a decision to explain its people and then send them training and we’re good to go. But you have it almost completely the other way around that it’s it’s much more about understanding the rationale and the nature of the change having the trust to you know to see that through but then the capacity building being a smaller piece a little bit.

AM: I want to clarify a little bit. That was for their willingness to engage. About 8% of those that we in our assessment were reluctant simply because they didn’t know how to do it. Some of those who committed with communication they didn’t know either but they committed because it’s it the logic of it engaged them. About 8 percent of those that we interview said you know what I’m kind of uneasy about taking this risk in practice because I’m not confident I can do was about 8 percent. That didn’t mean that everybody didn’t need training, but for about 8 percent the lack of understanding of how to perform that task prevented them from engaging. Once the task becomes clearer and they get a little bit more comfortable with their professional capacity, that becomes the bridge that gets them engaged.

JB: Okay so you have some people who will say “Yes let’s do it, we’ll figure it out” and you have other people who will wait and say, “I’m not gonna say yes until I figured it out—until I know how to do it and have that confidence in myself.” Okay I appreciate that clarification.

And you know and I see that with my own kids sometimes. They’ll say you know. “Oh no, I can’t do that.” I’ll say, “Yeah you can” And they’ll say, “No I can’t do it.” I say, “all right, well I’m gonna make you do it. And then you’re gonna see that you can do it.”

AM: And when they do it they get more confident. They might decide hey, this is not so bad. So recognize that they’re not bad people they just need some confidence in the capacity to be effective because that may make them kind of risk-averse because they kind of anticipate they’re not gonna do it well.

JB: Yeah and I appreciate you saying like that they’re not bad people because I think that’s a point that like it’s when we encounter resistance as leaders. It’s hard not to take that personally and it’s hard to separate the different reasons that people have resistance. And I think that’s why your framework is so powerful because it not only distinguishes between those reasons but it solves them, right? Like when we get the rationality cognitive investment first the relational investment second and then the how the functional investment third you know a lot of those issues kind of go away and I think the model—I’m gonna grab I’m gonna reach over here and grab a book—Diffusion of Innovations is a book that I cite quite a bit in our Organizational Learning Intensive when we talk about people’s different readiness for change.

Everett Rogers—this book is like 50 years old and you know he has the kind of bell curve of people’s adopter category. You know some people are innovators they’re always going after new ideas. They don’t need anybody’s permission. They’ll do it even if you tell them not to. You have other people who kind of follow in their footsteps and are eager to try new things as soon as they look promising, you know, like flipped classroom. You think about the first people who flipped their classroom a few years ago and get on board with that. And then the two biggest groups in the middle—you’ve got the early majority and the late majority which are each 34% of your population. So you know again kind of a bell curve distribution.

Typically I think we think we do most of our thinking and planning for professional development around that center group—the early majority and the late majority—but they’re different from one another their needs are different from one another and the pace or the order in which they adopt a change is different. And I think the lumping of everyone together is just kind of either on board or resistant it’s one of those things that keeps us from really understanding what’s going on in the change process and why people are resisting. But let’s let’s talk about that group that’s left. When we’ve done everything right when we have you know made the case, we’ve built the trust, we have built a capacity what’s left when we’ve done all of that and still we feel like we have some pushback— some people who are not on board?

AM: That’s the simple power struggle there’s no rational reason for not engaging. The brutal facts have been provided we’ve vetted the different methods of theories of what’s best. It’s not as if so yet got that through persuasion yeah here’s our problem intellectually this is the best proposal. We’ve addressed past emotional wounds we’ve built some consensus I’ve modeled for you we provided you with resources and training and practice. All that’s left is for some reason it may redefine how I view myself or my job to relinquish a level of autonomy or to cooperate, I might lose some personal definition. So it’s not a logical resistance it is you just can’t make me.

And there are some people who are like that. There’s a book called Inside Teaching by Mary Kennedy who studied some schools where people actually look forward to the recognition of almost sticking it to the man at all costs and just protesting no matter what it is because that’s how they become defined. So when that happens this is the test of the leaders resolve. And they often people use unions as an excuse. Well I’ve never read a contract that allows for insubordination and incompetence, but there’s a process you have to follow. Follow the process.

And personally and my skill set that fourth one is the easiest for me. Help me understand why and if you can’t give me a plausible explanation that I can assist you with but at this point I’m not asking you I’m demanding. And these are the parameters that I’m gonna use to it to assess your accountability. I want notes from this, I want to report on that, you need to be here at this time I will be checking on this. Put it in writing if it’s not done letter of reprimand follow that’s just insubordination. And often these tools aren’t used because of the fear that person may slander you. If they are they slanting you anyway that they may not be pleasant they’re probably pleasant now anyway this really in test the resolve of are you serious about improving the conditions for children or being protected and beloved and building consensus about invalidating you as a person. That’s why I believe being self-actualized is very important to go into school leadership because you can’t use your work environment as a way to plug in some insecurities you have. You have to be very securing yourself and sometimes you make you have to do something that for some people are not popular. And I love how Dr. Cruz described that last group he calls him CAVE people: Colleagues Against Virtually Everything. JB: CAVE people? Colleagues Against Virtually Everything I love it.

AM: Yeah so there’s some environments they don’t exist you might be able to be open in that case I like to use it’s that old Sesame Street skit, one of these kids is doing his own thing. When that one or two people become such deep outliers and another sign is the colleagues start to come to you and say that somebody needs to do something about Anthony, somebody needs to do something about Justin. When there is a public outcry or consensus but this person is an outlier that’s a clear sign that they’ve lost their political clout. Their colleagues find them disruptive and annoying in it they know that the only thing that works is in your possession which is your because they’ve tried to persuade, they’ve tried to encourage so they’re really looking you and if you don’t take advantage of that if you don’t what you’ve just said to everybody else who cooperated is that better practice as a suggestion. And as soon as I don’t want to respond to that suggestion I don’t have to. It’s a very dangerous precedent.

And I want to just kind of say this I have some colleagues of mine who I really really admire who written things as if you never get everybody or ignore the people who are not with you. Good luck with that because there’s a political aspect of school culture the separation from the formal and informal culture and if that person’s behavior is not dealt with and their clear outline there is I can guarantee you a very strong level of informal toxicity that’s eroding the foundation of what you’re trying to build. Sun Tzu is famous for saying in the Art of War when you have your enemy surrounded give them a clear exit route because the person that feels captive will reorganize and come back against you.

JB: Hmm give them exit, wow. So I think often we’re hesitant to use that skill set with that small number of people because we’ve seen it used with too broad a number of people. We’ve seen leaders who are ineffective because they don’t make those first three investments, they go straight for the withdrawal and they say “It’s my way or the highway. I’m the boss,” and they treat a large number of people as if they’re insubordinate. When really it’s you know it’s understanding, it’s trust, it’s something else. And you know it’s one that I think many leaders don’t really have much opportunity to develop because most of the time we’re not dealing with those people.

What’s your estimate of what percentage of people are we talking about here who really will respond to nothing but eventually that accountability? And how are they distributed because I accept you like some schools drive out those people some schools kind of collect those people.

AM: It’s not going to be the same in every school, but in our sample that was about 2 percent. Just totally illogical there are some people like that. Are they abundant from our sample? no. But they exist so I asked leaders to focus on the behavior if they’re resistant it has to be some reason and my goal is to try to build consensus. And once we know our necessary needs are met then you can conclude that those that did not respond to those because you would see some evidence of growth and consensus. Most people might start off somewhat reluctant you get 90 95 98 percent on board, you’re pretty confident in saying this small group or this person is a clear outlier. Something’s off because everybody else gets it like this in a way we address it is by gathering evidence on implementation. That’s how they get identified. So it’s not about walking around brooding as if we’ve committed to collaboration, but I consistently get evidence from your team logs you’re always late or you’re not contributing but the rest of your team is. That becomes the foundation of our dialogue because the accountability is an important leadership skill in general. It’s only an effective change tool for those who are not engaged. A person who’s already doing it, I don’t mind accountability, if you want as an instructional leader some exemplars from some of our formative assessments over the course of the week or the month why would I mind that? Because I’m all already doing it. You’ll gain the attention of those who aren’t and that becomes a talking point. If the expectation is that you’re going to engage and you’re not it couldn’t be because you don’t know why. Couldn’t be that you don’t know how. Couldn’t be that we don’t haven’t developed a trusting relationship that’s when you can conclude I’m not asking you here’s what’s demanded.

So you let the gathering of evidence on the implementation process guide you to those people well most people. it’s not a it’s not it’s not a change tool they’re already engaged they don’t mind accountability it’s effective for those who are the over my dead body people.

JB: the CAVE people I love that so that that really is what I love about this book just the sequencing there that we cover our bases and we cover them in order and and make sure that we’ve we’ve solved problem a move-on problem B. And only use accountability for the people that specifically need that tool to make the change do you need to run right now or do you have a minute for any additional questions.

AM: I can take one or two more and just okay as we went as I talked about my leadership journey early um trial and error making some mistakes that book is the book that I really wrote to myself that I wish I had when I started. Because I made almost every mistake in that book I made them. I was blessed to be able to recover that people were patient enough with me in 2005 I was a state of Michigan principal the year but there was a whole lot of non-principal-of-the-year years I had before then. So I think we have an obligation people like you and I will publish our thought leaders to really save people from making mistakes. The field has to evolve and that book is the book I wish I have, it’s the book I wrote to myself that I wish I had when I started so like to encourage anybody listening if you’re struggling with people who are trying to figure it out, dr. Cruz and I put that book together like a manual. And if they would read it and just apply what’s in it we guarantee you they’re gonna have a big gonna be more effective you’d have an easier time with the transition to building consensus and you can save a lot of headaches.

JB: Absolutely. All right so to all of our participants today Aisha, Louanne, Chad, Dana, Jamal, Rachel, Sarah—anybody who would like to hop on webcam and ask a question, feel free to do so. Just let me know in the chat and I’ll add you on here. And I’ll just say as we’re giving people a chance to do that and kind of wrapping up here—the way that we identify topics for our roundtable video conferences here—so this is our group of you know senior building leaders as well as the district leaders who supervise principals—the way we identify topics for these video conferences is often I will go back and listen to our principal center radio interviews if I find myself saying this one’s really good like this book you know I need to go back and reread this book and go through it and underline. and I’ve I have torn up the pages with underlining and you know I read with a pen and I’m shredding this one pretty quickly here.

So Dr. Muhammed I just have to really hand it to you for the practicality, the research. I mean this is a book that has a substantial dissertation length references and resources section and I really just appreciate the grounding in the research on change and psychology and understanding what people are going through and experience a change.

So before we take any other questions I just want to say thank you so much for writing this book. Thank you for coming on the podcast to share it with our broader audiences thank you for going deep today with our group of senior leaders who are overseeing this work I just very much appreciate the work that you do and the the the time that you’ve given us today. If people want to get in touch with you talk about some of the on-site works, I know part of the capacity-building for leaders is around these skill sets. People want to talk to you about working with you more directly on building some of those leadership skill sets. where is the best place for people to contact you personally? on my website is It has articles, services there’s a link for contact us. That email link comes directly to me. So my website is kind of the 24-hour one-stop shopping any ticketed events I’m speaking at with solution trees my partner those links there. but to contact me directly new frontier 21 calm. fabulous alright. Everyone have a wonderful day have a great weekend and thanks so much for being here take care


About Anthony Muhammad

Anthony Muhammad, PhD, is an internationally known educational consultant, a former middle and high school principal, and the author of numerous books, including Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division.

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Roundtable: Jennifer Abrams — Having Hard Conversations


About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams is an international educational and communications consultant for public and independent schools, hospitals, universities and non-profits. Jennifer trains and coaches teachers, administrators, and others on new employee support, supervision, being generationally savvy, having hard conversations and collaboration skills.

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Roundtable: Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey — PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design


About Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey are professors at San Diego State University and co-founders of Health Sciences High & Middle College, where their co-author Dominique Smith is Chief of Educational Services and Teacher Support.


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