Saturday, May 23, 2015

How we came to real consensus

The Teacher Evaluation Committee (stay with me...) has been working for months on revising our Teacher Evaluation Plan.

Doesn't sound like the most exciting thing ever, I know. (And it's not.)

Probably sounds downright excruciatingly boring. (But it's not that, either.)

But I have to say, this time, it needed up being kind of exciting.

Here's why:

I'll spare you the boring details, but we all came into the meeting with different ideas about how administrators should score the three "informal" observations currently required for tenured teachers. (Don't worry about the details, I just want you to see the flow.)

We all started at different places: I wanted to simplify the form and make it more of a flow-chart. Other's wanted it to be more quantitative. One veteran teacher suggested we allow the informals to build on each other, recording them all in the same form. Another suggested we replace one informal observation with a formal observation, using the other two informal observations as formative, rather than evaluative, tools.

Many liked that last idea, but then we went back and forth on what to do with the two informals until a new teacher suggested we just use the informals only to flag problems or to allow a teacher to move up a level from their formal.

Then an administrator suggested we just record comments (not scores) from the informals and use them to adjust the scores from the formals.

We played idea ping-pong again for a while, but found ourselves drawn to that final model, and ended up voting unanimously for it.

To me, it was an exciting example of "ideas having sex." That's Matt Ridley's term for what happens when people get together like this to really collaborate: Ideas combine in unpredictable ways and we get a sum that's greater than the whole of it's parts--something that wasn't there before in any one person's mind. It's a self-organizing process.

It was a great example of Pink's "Yes, and.." approach--a great example of how humans work best.

That's the power of collaboration. And that, to me, is more than kind of exciting, because in my mind, if we can unleash that power within education as a whole, we can change things.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Making a habit of autonomy, mastery and purpose

My differentiated biology class is based on the concept that humans are most powerfully motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose--a concept I got from Daniel Pink's powerful book, Drive.

But another powerful book has gotten me wondering lately whether I'm missing something: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg breaks down habits like this: Habits consist of a cue (a trigger, like stress), a routine (like biting your nails or drinking), and a reward (dopamine).

But Duhigg emphasizes that it's really not a habit until you start craving it--until your brain starts expecting the reward every time it sees the cue.

I'd like to help my students form new habits, but at first the idea of habit seemed contradictory to Pink's trinity of intrinsic motivators.

Then I realized how the two ideas fit together:
  1. Motivation is a craving. 
  2. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are routines that can produce rewards for your brain (dopamine). 
Some students crave good grades. Others don't.

Some develop the habit of doing their homework. Others don't.

We could focus on teaching them to crave grades and fear penalties, do their homework, and turn stuff in on time.

But I want to aim higher. I want to help my students develop habits of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I want to help them crave the reward that comes from those things.

Because that's the essence of intrinsic motivation. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quality vs. success

In her book, The Rise, Sarah Lewis contrasts the "momentary nature of success and the unending process required for mastery."

That process, she says, is what's important--not the goal of success, which forever retreats into the distance.

It got me thinking about whether I'm more focused on "success" than mastery, perfection than the process, and recognition than relationships.

It made me wonder if slow is better than fast, cultivation, than harvest, learning, than winning, growth, than achievement, creativity, than conquest.

And I forced myself to sit in the yard under a tree for an hour on Sunday and watch my bees.

And today as I hiked to Wolf Den again, I wondered if it's really more about the quality of each step than about how fast I make the round trip.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Making a habit of accomplishment

I've been re-reading Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and I've been seeing connections with Pink's Drive.

I was looking for connections, because it's not obvious how the concept of habits would connect to motivation by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

But it hit me the other day, when I was thinking about how to merge the power of habit with the motivations I'm trying to build into my mastery-based biology class.

Duhigg tells the story of Febreze: It was a failure until the marketing team met a lady who used it every time she cleaned her house. She spritzed the bed with it when she finished making it. It was like the fresh smell indicated that the room was clean, and was linked to a sense of accomplishment. It's similar to the Pepsodent story--toothpaste caught on because Pepsodent left a tingly sensation in the mouth that people associated with clean teeth.

Duhigg says all habits are made of cues (triggers), routines, and rewards, and you have to use these 3 components when you build a new one or replace a bad one. In bio class, I've been working hard to create a routine of independent learning and project completion. I thought about how I could apply the Febreze/Pepsodent technique.

I need something students could physically do, and physically see when they complete a project, something that acts like a tingly sensation or fresh scent.

I came up with this chart on the board showing their progress toward completion of the unit projects. I asked them to color in their progress each day.

(I have no intention of this being a competitive thing. In fact, I told them as soon as everyone is done, we'll have a celebration. I intend to encourage them to help those who are behind.)

They loved the idea. All but a few were anxious to mark their progress.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Four things I gained from my admin. prep program

Two years ago I decided I wanted to be a school administrator (why? see here). Last week, I finished UCONN's school administrator preparation program (UCAPP), and here are four things I gained from the program (not including all the things I learned in my internship):

1) Perspective. I walked in there thinking I had education all figured out, but being exposed to other perspectives has a way of shaking up your paradigm. Somewhere along the way, through nine courses--courses like Program Evaluation, Educational Policy, Law, Supervision, Curriculum, and School Climate, my paradigm shifted. It was a shift from seeing my job as mostly about the kids who could (or wanted to) learn, to seeing it as about every single student, equally. I began to see the job of a principal as making that happen (by building capacity in teachers).

2) Practice. I'd like to think it also improved my teaching practice. Two years of poring over the CT teaching rubric, studying the new teacher evaluation system, observing teachers and practicing evaluations, and listening to my colleagues talk about their teaching, gave me perspectives and insights I'd never been exposed to before. I feel like I learned more about teaching in the past two years than I had in my previous twelve.

(Funny how that works. It proves that experience alone does not lead to improvement. Improvement takes more than that. It takes new ideas and outside perspectives. And it takes other people. It takes collaboration, because otherwise we get stuck in ruts, comfort zones, confirmation bias and the status quo.)

3) Preparation. I feel very well prepared to be an administrator. We produced school improvement plans, program evaluation plans, school climate analyses, teacher evaluations, theories of action, and curriculum plans. We looked at tons of data, from case studies, our own schools, and our internship schools. The hands on projects we did, cutting-edge readings and research we studied, case-studies and data we analyzed, and discussions we had, built on and amplified our internship experiences, and I feel like we walked away with authentic experience.

4) People. UCAPP uses a cohort model for their program. Fifteen of us spent two years together. I made new friends--lifelong colleagues I’ll be able to call on in the future. And I learned a lot from them. It was a two-year collaboration, and I was introduced to approaches and perspectives different from my own. They challenged and changed my thinking in many ways, and I’d like to think I absorbed a part of each one of them.