Developing reflective practitioners: a conversation with Charlotte Danielson & Cindy Tocci

As our understanding of teaching expands and deepens, we need a vocabulary that is correspondingly rich, one that reflects the realities of a classroom where students are engaged in learning important content. Such a framework is valuable for veterans as well as novices as they all strive to enhance their skills in this complex work. ~ Charlotte Danielson, 2007

fall colours

fall colours

Brilliant fire-coloured fall foliage frames Princeton’s historic Nassau Inn, where I sat in a booth with Charlotte Danielson, creator of the Framework for Teaching, and Cindy Tocci, executive director of the research arm of Educational Testing Service. Somewhere in the wooden table is Albert Einstein’s name, where he carved it when he was a visiting professor at Princeton. After explaining my school’s journey with our teacher growth model, we talked about coaching, the Framework for Teaching and the challenges of maintaining a reflective transformative professional culture.

What is a coach?

One question raised was about the level of expertise of the coach: was conversation expertise enough, or was it more useful to also have content expertise? Our team of teacher coaches will often work with those outside their own area of expertise; this builds connections across school boundaries and allows the focus to be on pedagogy and the teacher’s own reflection, rather than on content. Another related question was raised about the potential space between a feedback-based (judgement given) approach to coaching and a reflection-cognition-based approach (no judgement given).

Charlotte challenged that “the opposite of judgement is not ‘do nothing’.” A collaborative approach was suggested as an alternative, in which teachers work together in a conversation to solve problems of practice or generate ideas for improvement, in which both teacher and coach are participating in the conversation as reflective educators. This speaks to some feedback we have had from teachers about their coaches not being ‘in’ the conversation and feeling that being Cognitively Coached was a one-sided unbalanced experience. In a coach-as-collaborator conversation there would need to be clarity around how much of the coach’s self it is appropriate to insert into the conversation, and how much content expertise the coach would need to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. There would still need to be restraint in resisting the urge to solve another’s problem for them and in the tendency to advise someone to teach using your own teaching preferences.

For us, I think the default position for the coach still needs to be the facilitator-of-another’s-thinking role, but there may be room for collaborative approaches to the parts of the conversation. Is collaboration appropriate for us in this context? Or perhaps peer collaboration in which teachers really work together in this way is an appropriate strategy for our teachers to pursue for their growth outside the official coaching conversations?

Princeton leaves

Princeton leaves

How to apply the Framework for Teaching?

Charlotte and Cindy both noted that, while it is important to strive for accuracy when using the FFT, it is important that teachers, coaches and managers not get too caught up in the micro-analysis of detail, or looking for all the dot points. In fact, Charlotte has been developing a more holistic, less broken-down ‘clusters’ model which encourages teachers to look at the big ideas of the Framework, as an alternative to the original document. This alternative might be a way for our teachers to focus on the big things happening in their classrooms, rather than minute details of lessons.

How to develop understanding of the Framework for Teaching?

Master Coding of teaching videos was explained as a difficult but powerful exercise in developing an attuned, precise understanding of the Framework for Teaching and forging shared understandings of its language. Videos of classroom practice are useful for teachers in showing how the Framework components translate into practice, and for coaches in developing a common understanding of the Framework and what particular levels of performance look like in practice. Collecting video footage of lessons involves:

  • Choosing a range of short lesson snippets (e.g. 10 mins) which relate to particular Framework components;
  • Ensuring audio, as well as visual, quality is good, especially if students are doing group work (how do you capture what students are saying? How do you decide which groups to listen to?)

Videos should be watched and independently scored, followed by conversations around the reasons for those individual scores, in order to reconcile individual perspectives into a group agreement.

Videos of coaching conversations also have a place in helping coaches to deepen and develop their coaching practice.

These kinds of rigorous processes take time. Charlotte and Cindy both highlighted the importance of a slow implementation process in which groups develop their understandings together.

We also talked about using the Framework for Teaching for teacher self-reflection purposes and also for student reflection on the sorts of learning and environment of their classroom. My school has been experimenting with different teacher self-evaluation tool possibilities, as well as perception surveys, but hasn’t developed a concrete approach to asking students how their classrooms rate against the Framework for Teaching.

How to encourage regular reflection between formalised processes?

Another challenge raised was that of developing the learned skill of reflection in teachers in between these formalised reflective processes. How do we know teachers are reflecting regularly on their practice in order to grow their practice? How can we make sure teachers are asking themselves:

  • What did my students learn today?
  • What did I learn about my students today?

Any model of teacher growth has this challenge: outside of the formalised process, how do we encourage and ensure meaningful reflection and growth on an ongoing basis?

IMAGINE

IMAGINE

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Teaching Matters: the challenges of putting theory into school practice

The personal is linked irrevocably to practice. It is as if the teacher is his or her practice. Teacher practice is the maximum point of vulnerability. Classroom teaching is the arena of greatest anxiety and insecurity. ~ Goodson, 1991

Teaching Matters

Teaching Matters

It’s amazing how flying across the world can result in familiar conversations! In my meeting with New York City professional development provider Teaching Matters, the same challenges and tensions came up for both our contexts in terms of professional learning, supporting teachers and developing distributed leadership: time and buy-in. That is, finding appropriate time for teachers to thoughtfully engage in meaningful work, and providing the philosophy and conditions which allow teachers to buy in to that work.

Teaching Matters is an independent provider of customised professional development to teachers and leaders of New York City public schools. Their aim is, by partnering with and training teachers and school leaders, to increase teacher effectiveness, raise teacher performance and positively influence student learning. Their organisation is built on a philosophy of sustainable change; that is, to build capacity in the schools with which they work, in order to help each school to build its own effective teams and teachers. They base their work in a belief about the capacity of teachers to be leaders and for schools to be vibrant places of distributed leadership. Their job, as they see it, is to help schools develop their own cultures and skill sets to ensure effective leading and teaching.

Understanding the busyness of being a teacher and the need for workable, applicable solutions for teachers, Teaching Matters balances its work between building schools as professional communities, and providing accessible protocols, tools and techniques for use in teaching, assessing, improving instruction, establishing PLCs, coaching and leading. Teacher buy-in, for them, is linked to teachers’ perceptions about change being something which will be manageable as well as useful. They are therefore highly aware of the need to support teachers professionally while also saving them time and work. The problem of innovation fatigue – “another additional thing” constantly being added to teachers’ workloads – seems an international phenomenon which needs to be considered when designing anything new to be implemented in schools.

My work on professional learning and growth is within my own school and with my own community, whereas Teaching Matters needs to “synergise” with the diverse school cultures and people with which they work. Much of their work is based on that of Daniel Venables, author of A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams (2011) and How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action (2014) and founder of the Center for Authentic PLCs. Venables focuses on the development of high-functioning professional learning communities to facilitate positive school change.

We discussed the challenge and opportunity of leveraging data to monitor and inform change, such as teacher self-reflections against the Danielson Framework to, for instance, allow the identification of community professional development needs.

A question that came up in our meeting was around the use of the Danielson Framework. My school is using it for teacher growth, through cycles of observation and coaching, but to what extent might it also inform teacher planning or the work of teaching teams?

I heart NY

I heart NY

One of the Teaching Matters foci – data-driven collaborative inquiry as a way to improve student outcomes – sits snugly with my school’s work on developing a data-supported coaching cycle of teacher reflection and growth. Interestingly, one of their documents suggests that the best teams of teachers are those who teach the same content and share the same learning goals.

The Teaching Matters approach to peer observation involves the following steps of a teacher being observed by one or more members of their teaching team:

  • A pre-observation conversation in which the teacher outlines the lesson context and the teacher and observer/s discuss the time and focus of the observation (20 mins).
  • A classroom observation (or video) in which the observer/s takes notes on what the teacher is doing, what the students are doing and what practices are being used by teacher which relate to goals for student learning (30-45 mins).
  • A post-observation conversation in which the observer/s share observations, questions, constructive suggestions and future steps/strategies (45 mins; protocols are based on ‘Conversations: Turning Points Transforming Middle Schools,’ Teachers working together to improve instruction (4, 2) 2004)

Our model differs to this one in:

  • its length of lesson observation (ours are 2 x 20 minutes, rather than 1 x 30-45 minutes);
  • the type of data taken (our observers take all non-inferential data – just what happens rather than impressions about what is happening); and
  • its approach to post-observation conversation (ours is a Cognitive Coaching approach which does not involve ‘constructive feedback’ or lesson advice; our teacher coaches are there to guide the teacher’s own thinking about their lesson rather than provide comments about it themselves).

While our coaches do find that seeing others’ lessons influences their own teaching, this is not a formalised part of the conversation for us; the conversation is focused on the teacher being observed. I can see the Teaching Matters model as very useful collaborative work: peers in the same team observing each other’s lessons and using that as a basis for team discussion of pedagogy. Perhaps this might be something we can add to suggestions for strategies that teams can use to collaboratively develop pedagogy?

While working in content-similar or year-level-similar teams allows for collaboration on and experimentation with similar approaches, my school has also found value in teaming teachers from disparate parts of the school to broaden perspectives while also connecting teachers around those aspects of teaching which are common across year levels and subject areas.

Like Teaching Matters, what we want to provide for our teachers and leaders is both a philosophical foundation and a useful toolbox of processes and strategies, to help teams and individuals self-direct their growth.

HOPE at 7th & 53rd

HOPE at 7th & 53rd

Context is king in teacher growth: connecting with the Upper East Side

It is not down in any map; true places never are.  ~ Herman Melville

school on the Upper East Side

school on the Upper East Side

Today I visited a school on the Upper East Side of NYC which is in many ways similar to my Australian school. While they have vertical campuses and we have horizontal ones, both schools have some similar structures, similar values, a focus on the whole child, similar expectations of teachers and a similar desire to build a context-appropriate model for teacher growth, collaboration and professional culture.

Like us, they have been grappling with how best to design a model which fits their school context and their teachers’ needs. Their challenges are similar to ours: finding a model which is school-appropriate, and time for managers and teachers to enact it in a meaningful way (rather than as a tokenistic ‘tick a box’ process to be gotten through).

In speaking with administrators and teachers, this school’s model for teacher growth has a similar goal to ours: to facilitate meaningful, evidence-enriched conversations around teaching practice which encourage teacher reflection, collaboration and growth. It is being piloted with middle managers this year and its components include:

  • A supervisory model in which the line manager is the observer who leads the pre- and post- observation professional conversations;
  • A set of school-customised descriptors which emerge from fitting the school’s expectations of their teachers within some elements of the Danielson Framework for Teaching;
  • The teacher receiving a score from the line manager based on how the line-manager rates the teacher against those school-customised descriptors, on a four point scale;
  • The teacher receiving clear specific feedback from the line manager about areas of strength and weakness; and
  • Use of Folio Collaborative to manage the lodging and monitoring of the process. One thing I particularly liked about Folio Collaborative was its ‘spotlight’ function in which staff are able to ‘shine a spotlight’ on a colleague’s practice by adding moments of celebration or excellence they have seen.
class windowscape

class windowscape

I can see the value of, as this school has, developing a customised series of descriptors of ‘what teaching looks like at this school.’ It allows staff to see clearly the alignment with the school’s core values, allows the school to own the language, and provides a more streamlined document than the hefty-feeling Framework for Teaching which can seem daunting. This streamlining may be seen to dilute the complexity of the Framework for Teaching and the precision of its rubrics which allow teachers to easily find a place to fit their lesson evidence, based on clear research-supported descriptors at each level of performance.

Where this school’s context is different to ours is in their history of performance review processes. While my school has a series of well-worn processes for recruitment, permanency/tenure and appraisal/review/evaluation, this school does not have existing processes and is looking to put them in place in a way which is beneficial to its teachers. They are looking to develop a feedback system which stems mainly from managers, while we are looking to move towards a less manager-driven and more teacher-driven model in which teachers are self-managing and self-directed in their growth, relying less on external influence to judge and grow their practice.

music corridor

music corridor

Our use of Cognitive Coaching is the cornerstone of our conversations, placing our emphasis heavily on the coach (that is, a peer-teacher for 2 years, and then a line manager in the 3rd year) as non-threatening facilitator of teacher thinking, rather than feedback-giver and scorer.

The one thing this visit certainly affirmed for me is that context is king. It is important for each school to work with its own mission, values, plan, teachers and managers to grapple with what the most context-appropriate design is for their particular situation.

Many of us seem to have the same goal. We each need to find the path that works best for us, our teachers and ultimately our students.

the world is our neighbourhood

the world is our neighbourhood

Lessons on Teacher Evaluation from Westchester County

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

lockers

Today I met with an administrator at a school in Westchester County, New York, who spoke to me about his experiences with teacher growth and effectiveness models being developed and implemented in and around New York State.

It was interesting to hear first-hand about the constraints and pressures on the New York public education system. It seems that laws, funding and standardised testing have had a profound impact on the way teacher effectiveness is being measured and pursued in the State of New York. My understanding is that a law mandating that schools only receive an annual 2% increase in funding has resulted in sometimes severe cuts to leadership roles in schools, curriculum programs, pastoral infrastructure and resources. By the sounds of things, some schools still have middle leadership positions like Heads of Faculty / Curriculum Supervisors, but many have had to lose these roles, putting all the pressure and responsibility on principals and assistant principals.

Additionally, conditions of the No Child Left Behind funding include State-approved teacher evaluation measures. So while Charlotte Danielson published the Framework for Teaching in 1996 with a view to promoting conversations with teachers about practice, it is now used for scoring and assessing teacher performance on a lesson by lesson basis.

Approaches to classroom observations vary. In some places whole lessons are observed and a score given for each and every component in Domains 2 and 3 of the Danielson Framework. Another approach is to take observation data and see which components emerge as the most dominant in a given lesson. Another is to focus data collection and conversation around components which teachers have identified as areas of focus in a pre-lesson conversation.

Each year, teachers receive an effectiveness score, based on a very “paperwork driven” system which includes:

  • Observations from their administrator (60%)
  • School-based pre- and post- year testing (20%); and
  • Student scores in standardized national tests (20%).

Each teacher’s score is available to parents (“Your child will have Mrs AAA who received a score of BBB and was rated Highly Effective/Effective/Developing/Basic”?). The school also receives a publically published ‘report card’ based on its students’ test results and its teachers’ effectiveness scores. So teachers and schools are quantitatively scored on their apparent effectiveness. Interestingly, the administrator I spoke to said that his personal experience of the scoring of teachers by these measures presented a highly inaccurate picture of their effectiveness.

It seems that this quantifying and scoring of teachers and schools leads to a skewing of the teacher effectiveness model. Administrators might, for instance, give their teachers false ‘highly effective’ ratings. Teachers might teach to the test. The administrator told me that teachers began seeing themselves in terms of numbers (“I’m a ‘3’”) but that “you can’t quantify highly effective teaching.”

While in Australia schools are often measured by league tables based on standardised testing, we certainly do not have the same pressures as those in the United States.

This administrator’s reflections on what could and should work in a teacher evaluation and growth system were:

  • The focus should be on teachers talking about their practice, not on numbers;
  • The Danielson Framework should be a tool for growth, conscious competence and developing a common professional language among teachers;
  • Schools should ask what it means to be a ‘Danielson School’: a community of learners who think and talk about teaching practice, and in which professional development is aligned with the Framework;
  • Money and time are both significant challenges to meaningfully and effectively developing a meaningful model which encourages teacher growth, especially in a United States context; and
  • Teacher-administrator/coach/observer conversations should be based on invitational questions which encourage cognition, but there are situations in which teachers may need more direction or support in terms of talking about evidence or reflecting against the Framework; there is an expectation that the teacher is engaged in the process and prepared for pre- and post- conversations.

track

A teacher growth reconnaissance mission: takeoff

If you actually look like your passport photo, you aren’t well enough to travel. ~ Sir Vivian Fuchs

For the last few years I have been working with others in my school on a consciously-developed, research-based and teacher-driven model for teacher growth and professional collaboration. Our work over the research and pilot years has been based in some central assumptions around learning, school change and leadership: that all teachers have the capacity for reflection and growth; that going slowly and deliberately will result in more positive roll-out; that leadership is distributed; and that leaders are responsible for facilitating the self-driven self-managed learning of others, rather than telling, advising and solving.

Pleasingly, our work so far seems to be fostering that which it originally set out to cultivate by:

  • developing a common language for and shared understanding of ‘good teaching’;
  • strengthening professional culture by connecting teachers across the school, and by formalising professional conversations about teaching practice;
  • depersonalising classrooms, with teachers more open to and familiar with having others in their lessons;
  • providing a formalised process of reflection which is meaningful to teachers, allowing them to improve their teaching and develop their capacity for reflection while honouring their individuality and respecting their capabilities; and
  • supporting teachers as leaders and experts, both in their collaboration with others and in their own capacity for self-reflection and growth.

Our experience continues to be that our work on teacher growth has subtle immeasurable ‘butterfly effects’ across our teaching, relationships and communities.

Grand Central

Grand Central

As I explained in my very first post and another post, I now have the privilege of traveling to New York in order to gain some international insights for our Australian work.

Sitting in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport I am reflecting upon what I might find during my time in New York visiting educators, researchers, trailblazers and edu-organisations. It’s time to ride on a big jet plane and find out.

awaiting departure at Sydney International Airport

awaiting departure at Sydney International Airport

Reflections on ACEL 2014: learning, leading, teaching

Effective change is a matter of both will and skill. People have to want to do it, and they have to know how to do it. ~ Levin

Passion & Purpose at ACEL conference Melbourne by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

2014 ACEL Conference lanyard on the Southbank boardwalk: passion & purpose

I have spent this week in Melbourne at the 2014 Australian Council for Educational Leadership Conference, including presenting a breakout session with colleagues about our school’s story so far: of building a professional growth model, based on our own context, vision and beliefs about learning, teaching and leading.

It was affirming to hear the keynote speakers’ key messages reflect the real work that we are doing at my school. Some of those keynote takeaways, as aligned with my school’s work around professional growth and culture were …

We know that teaching is complex

Noel Pearson highlighted for the over 1000 delegates that effective instruction is at the heart of education.

Charlotte Danielson reminded the audience of over 1000 delegates that “teaching is so hard it can never be perfect” and that the complex, demanding cognitive work of teaching required educators’ ongoing quest to improve teaching practice, in order to improve students’ learning. She joked that, while doctors’ work is complex, they get to see one patient at a time; “I would call that tutoring.”

In his panel response to Charlotte’s keynote, Phillip Heath, Head of Sydney’s Barker College, emphasised the importance of focusing on celebrating the full, highly cerebral, in-the-moment and sacred nature of teaching, rather than on exposing and shaming failures, or ticking boxes.

Our school’s model of professional growth and culture is focused on a default position of meaningful teacher-owned growth.

Building minds, inspiring learners

Charlotte Danielson also reminded the audience about the constructivist nature of learning for students and teachers; that learning is done by the learner in an active intellectual process. Danielson pointed to conversations in which an observer or leader advises a teacher after a classroom observation, and in which the teacher passively endures the feedback. “Who is doing the work?” she asked. The Danielson Framework for Teaching, or as she pointed out, any framework for teaching, is a conduit for teacher learning which allows teachers to do the thinking for themselves.

Tim Flannery encouraged educators to encourage exploring, imagining and being open to organismic change.

John Medina shared his knowledge around increasing the brain’s executive function, the part of the brain (responsible for openness to cognitive and behavioural change) that we are attempting to access in our teachers by applying a Cognitive Coaching approach to professional conversation and reflection.

Richard Gerver talked passionately about the need for developing self-managing people and systems. Our model’s key aim is the development of teacher-driven, teacher-owned self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying teachers-as-learners.

Leading with clarity, coherence and collaboration

Richard Gerver highlighted the importance of the clarity and coherence in educational leadership.

Tim Flannery encouraged collective wisdom over individual genius, the harnessing of the informed community rather than the singular expert.

Linda Darling-Hammond reminded us that “teaching is a team sport” and that the greatest achievement gains are from those schools in which educators work together with a coherent approach. Beware ‘popcorn reform’, she said, with which we might innovate our way to edu-failure. What we need is to learn from each other’s successes and failures; teachers, schools, districts and nations.

Both Linda Darling-Hammond and Noel Pearson underlined the importance of backward design: having students’ learning outcomes and futures in mind when designing their education. For Pearson, this future was “giving people the capabilities to choose lives they have reason to value.” In particular, he advocates for Indigenous Australians to realise the potential, talent and creativity which afford them real choice and the mobility to orbit between external worlds and their indigenous homes, cultures, languages, traditions and peoples.

Charlotte Danielson reminded us about distributed leadership; it is not the principal but all teachers who are responsible for leading learning in schools. Leading and learning are about collaborative growth, not punitive measures. “We’re not going to fire our way to Finland,” she said. “We need to learn our way there instead,” by  coming together as communities of teachers which use a common framework as a scaffold to provide common definitions of good teaching, a common language with which to talk about teaching and shared understandings about what good teaching is and how teachers might enact it. This, Danielson says, helps to avoid conversations in which teachers and leaders use the same words but mean different things.

John Hattie challenged educators to “change the narrative” of education by building the profession and taking pride in teachers, rather than in buildings, resources, websites or canteen menus.

Yesterday, when presenting at the conference, my colleague described our school’s continuing journey as an “evolution not a revolution”, an ongoing, organic and iterative process which is based in our own context and the needs of our teachers and staff.

We have been taking the approach of ‘go slow to go fast’, deliberately unfurling a new initiative by allowing it to bubble up out of the school’s strategic vision and then be piloted, driven and owned by teachers. We have been attempting to distribute leadership in a project which is connected by clear, coherent, school-wide organisation-aligned threads of vision and practice.

Safety and challenge for growth

Charlotte Danielson talked about getting the balance right between support and challenge for teachers; schools need to provide an environment of trust in which it is safe to take risks in the spirit of ongoing professional inquiry.

This need for balance – between safety in which teachers feel supported and trusting, and enough discomfort to challenge practice and change thinking and behaviour – has been a cornerstone for us in providing the setting for transformation of classroom teaching, professional conversation and collaborative culture.

Thank you, ACEL for an affirming experience of layered, interlocking ideas.

Champagne at Crown Melbourne by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

champagne view from Crown Casino, Melbourne