Archive for the 'Professional learning' Category

Remembering Rick DuFour

Like hundreds of others, I have been following the hopes and disappointments Rick expressed over many months in his Caring Bridge updates.

And although recently the end appeared inevitable and merciful, I was deeply saddened when it occurred last week.

Three attributes come to mind when I think of Rick.

Tenacity. Against the illness that eventually took his life. In promoting ideas and practices that would benefit tens if not hundreds of thousands of teachers, administrators, and students around the world.

Engagement. In study and writing. In pursuit of excellence in all parts of his life. With Professional Learning Community colleagues and “students.” With Adlai Stevenson High School District 125. With Learning Forward (which was known as the National Staff Development Council when I first came to know Rick more than 25 years ago). With those with whom he shared the travails of his illness and treatment as he proved a steadfast and honest correspondent from a land he had not hoped to visit.

Love. For Becky and for his family and friends. For his work in all its manifestations.

I have heard it said that each of us dies three times—when our bodies lose their life force, when our physical manifestation is interred, and when our names are no longer spoken.

While Rick’s physical presence is no longer with us, his name will be passed down among generations of educators as an idea or practice is explained or his spirit is evoked as an exemplar of what we individually and collectively hope to become.

Deep work matters

Dennis

I’ve attended countless meetings during which some variation of the following happens:

Person A makes a point about a topic.

Person B comments on Person A’s statement.

Person C brings up another subject.

Person D returns briefly to person A’s comment and then makes a point on a totally different subject.

And so on as participants skate across the surface of important topics.

This type of “superficial work” is all too common in meetings, even those where important decisions are being made.

Likewise, professional learning can be deep or superficial.

So, too, professional reading and writing can be deep or superficial.

Deep work is obviously essential when decisions are being made and when learning is the goal, either for adults or young people.

While deep work typically takes time, a lack of time is not an adequate excuse for superficiality because there is always time to do what matters.

Deep work requires:

Intentionality. It is essential that we are committed to deep work when we examine our individual and collective beliefs, values, ideas, and practices.

Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, sustained focus over multi-tasking, problem solving over complaining, and meaningful professional learning over “sit and get.”

Protocols that help participants pay attention to both task accomplishment and the quality of relationships.

What other things promote deep work?

6 ways to ensure that things don’t change

Dennis

Over the years I’ve written countless articles and posts on how administrators and teacher leaders can affect positive change through school culture, professional development, and the application of emotional intelligence, just to mention a few possible sources of influence.

But I have never approached that challenge from the flip side—what school leaders must stop doing if they want to create a ceaseless flow of positive energy that improves teaching and learning for all students.

So here are 6 ways to ensure low staff motivation:

1. Tell people what to do. Make demands: “I am the boss. Your job is to do what I tell you to do or else.”

2. Explain that what you’re telling others to do is a mandate (a variation of #1): “I don’t like this either, but we have to do it.”

3. Cite research combined with a demand: “Research says, so do it.”

4. Use guilt: “If you are really a professional (or care about your students), you will do this.”

5. Emphasize that you are smarter and/or have better intentions than they do: “If you would just read the research (or analyze the data), you’d see that this is the right thing to do.”

6. Explain that you have their best interests at heart: “Do this for your own good,” or “Trust me because I know what’s good for you.”

What would you add to my list?

What it means to be a skillful teacher

Dennis

While the popular media often portray good teachers as charismatic “sages on the stage,” skillful teaching is a sophisticated cognitive process in an intensely interpersonal environment whose most fundamental activities are less dramatic and often invisible to the casual observer.

Skillful teaching requires:

• designing meaningful lessons that engage and ultimately ensure success for all students;

• developing a highly-nuanced professional judgment informed by both “hard” and “soft” evidence to assess student learning and to determine the most appropriate teaching methods;

• applying emotional intelligence and human relations skills with students, parents, and colleagues in complex and ever-changing circumstances;

• engaging in professional learning and collaboration with colleagues to continuously improve teaching and learning; and

• managing personal energy and time to enable vitality both in school and at home.

What have I missed?

Extending invitations

Dennis

I once heard a minister tell a story about being new to a congregation and noticing an elderly man who attended services each week, faithfully sitting front and center.

Upon learning that the man was not a member of the church the minister sought him out after a service to inquire about why he had never joined. “No one ever asked me,” the man responded.

Invitations can be very powerful.

While they don’t ensure acceptance, more often than not people are willing to step up to greater involvement when they are encouraged to do so.

At least that was true in my career as I was invited to take on new, more challenging responsibilities or encouraged to apply for positions that felt far beyond my reach.

An invitation, of course, is only the first step. Ensuring the success of those we promote often requires mentoring, coaching, and other carefully-considered developmental experiences.

But it all begins with an invitation.

In what ways have invitations enriched your life or career, and how have you sought to ensure the success of those you have invited to take on new challenges?

When we don’t know what we don’t know

Dennis

Many teachers and school leaders are largely self taught. For the most part, their training was on the job.

Their teacher and administrator preparation programs were inadequate. So, too, was (and is) their professional development.

They received little or no mentoring and have had few opportunities, if any, to learn with or from their colleagues.

One of the problems with being self-taught is that there may be significant gaps in knowledge and skills. Another problem is that educators are often unaware of those gaps.

Such blind spots will persist without skillful supervision and a strong system of professional learning that includes meaningful and sustained teamwork, peer observation, and instructional coaching that reveals what teachers and administrators don’t know about what they don’t know.

A strong system of support and learning will not only reveal gaps, but will identify and build upon educators’ strengths.

What do you think? What’s the best way for teachers and administrators to determine what they don’t know and to fill in those gaps?

Thinking with the best

Dennis

“Did you do the reading…? The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand. The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.” – Seth Godin

Sometimes the most important things are the most fundamental. Reading, writing, and learning-oriented conversations are the fundamental processes that enable school leaders, as Godin puts it, “to do the difficult work of learning to think with the best….”

To that end, I recommend that leaders:

Read widely in education and beyond. Make certain that at least some of the things we read stretch our thinking through the effort they require.

Write about those things we read that have the greatest professional and personal implications to deepen our understanding.

Have extended conversations about what we read with colleagues who will help us think more deeply about the subject matter.

Write about it again.

Apply our deepened understanding to new behaviors and habits, when appropriate.

Reflect on the results of the new behaviors and habits, perhaps by writing and/or conversations with colleagues.

Repeat all of the above as necessary…

Of course, many leaders would say that their professional lives are too full for such time-consuming “difficult work.”

What do you think?


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