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Five aspects of complex systems help define internal structure. Internal diversity keeps the system flexible. Redundancy keeps small fluctuations from rippling into chaotic, destructive change. Decentralized control allows innovation and creativity to emerge from the complex interactions between diverse agents. Organized randomness keeps the system moving along cohesively without limiting where it will go. Neighbor interactions keep the system in check in relation to the environment and local fitness peaks (Davis et al., 2006).
Structure is important to complexity because “a hierarchical, building-block structure utterly transforms a system’s ability to learn, evolve, and adapt” (Waldrop, 1992, p. 169) by giving systems an opportunity to move subsystems around to increase complexity and creativity without having to try out every possible combination of agents and schema. Order is a byproduct of structure through routines and clear structures, rules, and procedures (Marzano et al., 2005). The structure itself is “influenced by social, economic, and political factors; created and socially constructed; learned; and dialectical” (Church, 2005, p. 48). Practices are determined by structures as well as construct structures (Swartz, 1997). Reflective practice gives individuals and groups the iterative vehicles to change complex organizational structures.
Despite the structures present in complex systems, “it is not possible to separate complex adaptive systems into neat categories based on whether and where selection is operating. In most systems, selection is manifest on multiple interacting scales” (Levin, 2002, p. 4). Structure cannot be permanent because agents reorganize themselves in response to internal and external stimuli so that renewal is continual (Fels, 2006). Complex systems can move along a continuum ranging from order to chaos with complexity sitting at the edge of both simultaneously (Waldrop, 1992).
“Since the boundaries of complex systems are difficult to determine, it is impossible to draw tidy lines between these organizational layers” (Davis & Simmt, 2006, p. 296). Fuzzy boundaries in the school as a complex system are especially evident when talking about differences in social class, the curriculum of a school, and the schemas used in the school community (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Lareau, 2000; Weiner, 2006). The unique sociocultural capital of diverse social classes determines alignment of groups of agents with the capital present in a school. “School practices and assumptions emerging from the deficit paradigm often hide student and teacher abilities” (Weiner, 2006, p. 1). Deficit thinking comes from either the recessive schema of the marginalized system or the dominant schema of the legitimate system depending on the context the school currently finds itself. The curriculum itself emerges from and as part of the emerging, iterative structures of the school community with “formal, informal, and even ‘hidden’” aspects (Barr & Parrett, 2007, p. 141).
The subsystems of complex adaptive systems are the legitimate and recessive systems with agents interacting according to schema with dominant and marginalized parts respectively. Paradox exists multi-dimensionally as well at the system, agent, and schema levels. Ordinary management techniques drive legitimate processes while the recessive system requires extraordinary management. Stacey (1996) claims that the boundaries of the legitimate system are “clear-cut” while the recessive system’s boundaries are “fuzzy”; however, the fact that the legitimate system is aware of and ignores much of the activity of the recessive system makes the legitimate system’s boundaries fuzzy even if they are less permeable than the recessive system.
The legitimate network in an organization plans enculturation and avoids surprises by using the dominant schema to control interactions keeping them linear (uniform, conformed, repetitive) resulting in proportional response to stimuli, balanced input/output, and in the end, the system equals the sum of its parts. The recessive system, a subsystem of the legitimate system, can also stop renewal and maintaining stability by resisting change; however, changes to the legitimate system are actualized through processes in the recessive system. Efficient legitimate systems are stable with the equilibrium to actualize the mission of the organization. The recessive subsystem’s schemas lead to diversity in the system which is an integral part of complexity and “comprises all social and political interactions that are outside the rules strictly prescribed by the legitimate system” (Stacey, 1996, p. 290). Conversely, power is relative and can exist in either the dominant or marginal ideology. Social change can be brought about by activating power and negotiating interests in the margins (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006).
In complex systems, team-based units allow for structure without being overly so through redundancy in the form of organic fractals. Teams exhibit characteristics of open systems with permeability and high information flow; nonlinear responsibilities and interests; self-referencing knowledge and redundancy; organic in the self-selection of members; and share vision, culture, and meaning as possible strange attractors (Gilstrap, 2005). Creativity also resides in the redundancy that teams allow “for the repetition of different ideas and experiments in slightly different ways, and…means that the organization will be more resilient in the face of inevitable failures” (Stacey, 1996, p. 280).
The principal acts as the recognized leader of the legitimate system; however, leaders operate as participants in the recessive system helping contain anxiety in the face of change through urgency and assurance at the boundary while observing processes in the organization. Leadership shifts from ordinary management in structured times to extraordinary management in phase transitions as the school moves along the continuum between order and chaos (Stacey, 1996).
Soon millions of school children will be celebrating the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. For many children this will entail family trips, swimming and camping out under the stars among other quintessential summertime activities. Yet for many children from low-income households it will mean summer school—half days back at school for remediation in math and reading in an attempt to thwart the dreaded, but very real “summer slide.”
These types of summer school programs have their roots in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and its most recent reauthorizations as the No Child Left Behind Act. Included in these acts is Title 1, which provides funding to close the achievement gap for students from low-income households. It’s a good thing, too, because it is well documented that there is a direct relationship between household income and academic achievement. Specifically, students from low-income households have lower levels of academic achievement than their more affluent peers. In addition, students from low-income households show a larger decline in reading skills over the summer than their middle-class counterparts. While remedial summer school programs have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ knowledge and skills, a large achievement gap still exists between income groups.
In further addressing the achievement gap, schools would benefit from broadening the scope of their summer school programs to include social and emotional skills. In fact, social and emotional skills become even more important during summer school because it is largely directed at children from low-income households. Research shows that students from low-income households are the very students that need social and emotional skill development the most. Similar to its effect on academic performance, household income is directly related to a child’s social and emotional development. That is, children from low-income households are at a greater risk of having weaker social and emotional skills than their middle-class counterparts. Strong social and emotional skills, in turn, have been linked to improved academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement gap persists because low household income negatively affects not just academic achievement alone, but also social and emotional skill development. Therefore, summer school programs unintentionally maintain the achievement gap by ignoring social and emotional skill development and only targeting one contributing factor of the achievement gap—academics.
If many of our students from low-income households will be spending their summer days in school instead of in ways that mirror our visions of idyllic summer days; let’s at least commit to make their learning as idyllic as possible. To truly make a difference for these students and reduce the achievement gap, social and emotional skill deficiencies need to be addressed along with academic deficiencies. Then, summer will become a bit more ideal.
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at email@example.com.
Many of us have heard the expression, “Too much of a good thing is bad for you”. It is no wonder that when people, groups, or organizations take things to the extreme, that misconceptions come about. Additionally, not every person is acquainted with every other person’s work. For example, I don’t know everything that a doctor does, so therefore, if the doctor is prescribing a lot of medication to patients, it may or may not be warranted, despite what my perception is around prescribing the medication.
Assessment is no different, and honestly, to some degree, standardized testing has earned itself a bad name. I’m not saying that I am a huge supporter of these types of tests, but with anything, they have their place and I suppose if utilized appropriately, could have some added value. For the general public, there is clearly not enough understanding about the types of assessments that provide educators information about student performance. Perhaps that is the first place to start.
Summative assessments have been likened by some educators, as an “autopsy” because of the finality of their administration and results. These types of tests, like so many high stakes state tests, often times are administered near the end of the year and by the time the results come back, do not offer educators a lot of time to go back and reteach or change instruction. Generally, these tests are for policy makers, who use the results to drive policy. Now, for some districts and states, these tests take up a small amount of time and schools work hard to use the information garnered from them to change instruction for the group that had taken them and also determine what they may do differently regarding instruction for the students coming to them. Other states use as many as 30 days to administer state driven tests, which seems to be the extreme and erodes from the amount of teaching time that classroom teachers have to engage with students.
Formative assessments, on the other hand, are likened to “check ups” because they are periodic, not final in nature, and provide teachers and instructors the opportunity to check in on student understanding and change the nature of their teaching before finally assessing students. They provide more opportunity for teachers to determine where students have clarity, and where they have gaps in understanding. Additionally, these formative assessments also are much shorter in length, and can be done quickly in the classroom with the teacher or team of teachers using results to quickly adjust teaching so to affect learning outcomes for students.
Universal screening tools are just that; screening tools. They provide an indicator that something might be needed on behalf of the student to help them be more successful. They are quick in nature, and usually administered across groups of students to determine if further probing may be needed. Some of these tools may be used to “progress monitor” children to see if changes in instruction produce changes in student learning.
In all three assessment scenarios, I always think about that expression, “Too much of a good thing is bad for you”. Massachusetts is a very MCAS driven state, with results being extremely public and along with other states, penalties being tied to lower than expected results for aggregate and disaggregated groups of students. While I do not believe in “teaching to a test”, I do believe in the following:
1. States need to be sure that their curriculum frameworks are at the LEAST, aligned to those national standards that have been designed to help students meet with success after leaving school (K-12).
2. School districts need to review curricula and ensure that they are not only aligned to state and national standards but that they are rigorous and engaging for learners.
3. Leaders in schools need to ensure that the district curricula is not only taught, but that structures are in place for those students that do not meet the standards, so that they have an opportunity to be retaught in a way that helps them reach the standard (RTI).
If the above three things happen, then in fact, teachers are teaching to the standards, which students should have mastered and then they are only needing to have some teaching around test taking strategies.
In the end, it really isn’t about the test, and I wouldn’t advocate teaching to one either. Additionally, that test is just one snapshot of a student’s performance and therefore, the formative assessments a classroom teacher gives, if aligned to the standards, shows a student’s performance over time and may indeed show a more robust picture of what kids know in regards to the standards.
Districts and states need to be smart about balanced assessment systems and not lose sight of the teaching that needs to take place with students. That teaching does not only mean academic standards, but citizenship, pro social skills, and all of the other teachable moments that help our students be well rounded, global citizens. While many of us may not like standardized tests, good practices help ensure that they aren’t the “standard” of how we assess our children on a regular basis.
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
With state assessments in multiple states coming up soon, I thought I'd share some resources about assessments and test anxiety and opting out and those things related to assessments that have been in the news recently.
This blog post is meant to briefly address the recent “opt-out” concerns and provide resources so that the reader can make informed decisions. Some of the resources that I am sharing here will be easy to nitpick apart and cull details from that may seem inflammatory when pulled out of context and remixed and redistributed. I encourage any of you reading this to read closely what the text says explicitly, paying attention to words like “may” and “might” and “could.” These words are modal words of variability and as such, should be read with a menu of potential implications in mind--not a set in stone either/or scenario that the media tends to latch onto.
The major issue here is not really too much testing, it is academic integrity. That integrity extends over the whole of our educational system and has been in place ever since the notion of school was conceived. Teaching and learning without assessment is like preparing for a performance you never give. Like a book never published, like practicing on a field for a game never played. Integrity is disrupted when we only accomplish part of this process--education must be directed to its designed checkpoints--the assessments.
Students need opportunities to show what they know. The media and all others who are against the high stakes testing are really fighting the wrong battle. The “high stakes” part are labels attached to assessments recently and represent the usage of the data from the assessment to figure into student promotion, teacher evaluation, Title 1 funding, school effectiveness, etc. Those are external issues applied to assessments that have been in place for decades. These external issues are passed down to teachers and students which is what is causing the stress--not the assessment itself.
Additionally, because of the “high stakes” label, schools and teachers are participating in associated behaviors that represent what we should really be “opting out” of. Those behaviors include: test prep for weeks on end, multiple practice tests, teaching TO the test, traditional teaching throughout the school year and then a mad rush just before the assessment, negative assessment talk, misalignment in the rigor of instruction not matching the rigor of the assessment, misinforming or not informing parents about changes in standards and assessment in a timely manner and more. We maintain the “high stakes” label with all of these associated behaviors.
Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled “Ditch Test Prep.” Click the link and you can read what I wrote, but I encourage you to read the comments as well. All blog posts are invitations to conversations, not one-off publishing moments. The conversation in this particular blog post helped me shape my thinking around being what my colleague Jen Borgioli calls being “test-wise.”
In an effort to be more “test-wise,” I’d like to share the following resources:
Jen Borgioli’s Test Prep without Corruption Video Series on YouTube.
The actual document from the New York State Association of School Attorney’s about opting out.
My resources on Test Taking Skills (caveat: I used this stuff years ago and it has not been recently updated, but it represents perhaps a few different ways to approach embedding "test-wiseness.")
Please, continue to advocate for kids and their learning. Continue to do what you think is right for your children. But, be informed. Know what the real issues are. (For instance, I didn’t mention anything here about students being “overtested,” which the media would have you believe. If you think that, have you actually been in the schools looking at the way data is collected and used for instruction? If assessments are being done for the sake of “giving a test,” then perhaps the students are overtested. If the assessments are being used to shape instruction and give teachers an idea of the next instructional steps, then probably not.)
Our students need a chance to show what they know. We can talk about college and career readiness, we can talk about preparing kids for the world they will be graduating into, but I like to think about it like a ship we’re all on. Teachers are captains and the students are crew. If the students don’t ever get a chance to demonstrate the understanding of their learning, they will never be captains themselves. We need these assessments. We just don’t need all of the associated minutiae around them.
If you know of additional resources, please feel free to share them here!
One of my former student's parents contacted me recently to share my memories of him for a graduation scrapbook. I wanted to share with you what I wrote, as this was the last group of students I had before I left the classroom to do Professional Development full time (in 2008). I still get to interact with students, but I call it "Grandparent Teaching." I come in and do what I do and then I leave--it's not the same as having your own group of kids for the year and I miss being in the classroom full time.
The student to whom I am writing this is Matt--but the message is to all of my former students. I value every one of you and wish you the best that life has to offer!
My letter to Matt:
When you’re a teacher, you are tasked with not only teaching children something important, but also with developing a relationship that can be sustained for a year or sometimes, if you’re lucky, longer.
I’ve had the pleasure, over the course of my years in education, to teach a couple thousand kids. I remember every single one. Some stick out more than others, but all of them are locked in my brain and for at least a year—they were my children. I remember their interactions, their values, their humor, and their personalities. I remember their interests, their abilities, and their collective awesomeness.
In this age of social media, I’ve enjoyed my extension of interaction beyond the year I was granted as a teacher and being able to watch my students grow, and think, and react, and interact.
The year that I met Matt, and Libby, and Paige, and Maria, and more—was a year to be remembered. I remember trying to prepare a lesson, but always considering the 8 or 10 different ways it could potentially shift and trying to be ready for whatever happened. I had a group of thinkers that I had yet to encounter and they were all wired the same way—to question ANYTHING I came up with. I was in heaven as a teacher. I loved a challenge and I loved the multiple directions our classes always took. Sometimes, I knew the kids were just rolling with my ideas, and other times, I knew that they were really exploring new territory – learning beyond anything I could have really conceived but in the moment seemed absolutely perfect.
So, that said, my main memory of Matt specifically involves a teacher observation. Our assistant principal at the time really wanted to observe my teaching of the 6th grade students, which included Matt. They had been working on a project that involved their deconstruction and depiction of song lyrics and their visual representation in a digital presentation. The parameters of the project asked that students “teach” my class for ten minutes, but every single student taught an entire class period. Yes, each.
During the observation, the assistant principal was able to see the high caliber of the students’ projects as well as the questioning that followed, much of which was directed by the students. During the course of questioning and discussion, Matt raised his hand.
He asked, “Why do other teachers have us answer questions at the end of the chapters we read? Why can’t we do stuff like this all the time? It’s way more interesting.”
I was thrilled for a couple of reasons. He said this in front of an administrator during an observation and made me look awesome. But, deeper than that, he showed me that he had a keen interest in deep learning and sought to understand his world at a level beyond the prescribed zone. For a teacher, that is nirvana.
Later in the year, I tasked the students with creating their own “museum.” I asked them to create exhibits around areas of interest and wanted them to explore something that they were really interested in, that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore in school. Matt created an exhibit around astronomy and shared pictures that he and his dad took using their telescope. I was really impressed, as I shared an interest in Astronomy and was just in awe of their pictures.
That class of 2013, including Matt, is my last class to graduate from Starpoint Schools before I left the classroom. While I know I am doing good work now with teachers (and ultimately their students!) all over the country, I have VERY fond memories of my time with these specific kids. I love this opportunity to celebrate their passage into adulthood and feel so very lucky to have been part of their journeys.
To all of these students, these fabulous humans, especially Matt—I wish Godspeed. Go and grow and conquer—the world is yours! Be thinkers! Be givers! Be kind!
Be the change you wish to see in the world! Be the initiators and the trendsetters; be the caregivers and the change agents. Be friendly and be loving. Be questioners and be humble.
But beyond anything that you will eventually be, continue to be YOU.
You matter. Your contributions matter. You matter to others and every relationship and every interaction you have from now on will be predicated on the fact that you have gifts to offer others that they’ve never seen before.
So, be YOU. Be awesome.
And know that everyone whose life you’ve touched is cheering for you to succeed.
I’m grateful that I had my opportunity to have any sort of impact, Matt. I am grateful to you and your peers for having an impact on me.
Congratulations, Class of 2013.
I couldn’t be more proud.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?" To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
In a perfect world (or at least my perfect world), teacher effectiveness would be measured with a simple rubric. The rubric would have a four letter title, and three simple check boxes. It would look a little something like this:
Pillars of Effectiveness
Whole Lotta Love!
Where’s the Love?
Working with Others
Belief in Oneself
Ideals of Education
The rubric would be completed by all educators (whether teacher, teacher-leader, building leader, or other educational staff). An educator who could not honestly check “Whole Lotta Love” for each category would leave the profession and use their strengths somewhere else.
Realistic? Unfortunately, not in today’s world.
With the emphasis on in-depth evaluations and constant collection of data, we rarely take the time to truly ask, “What, in its simplest form, does an effective educator do? What values must an effective educator have?” After reading this week’s Forum topic (and a recent article in the New York Times), I can’t help but think these three “loves” are at the epitome of effective education. After all, if you ask an effective educator if they feel deeply passionate about these three areas, all will say, “Yes.” At the same time, if an educator doesn’t exhibit a true love for these strands, then chances are, that educator is not effective.
So, what makes these three areas so imperative when talking about effective education? Here are my thoughts; feel free to add yours in the comments section
Imagine if. . .
. . .rating teacher effectiveness was this simple.
. . .a process like this was used across the country.
. . .rating systems were built on “love” and not “punishment.”
. . .our educational system truly wore its heart on its sleeve.
If you’re proud to be an educator now, imagine how filled with pride you would be then.
Anderson, Jenny. (2013, March 30). Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/education/curious-grade-for-teachers-nearly-all-pass.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&
Using traditional tests as formative assessments to improve learning and give feedback can be difficult at best. But here’s a simple and powerful way to use traditional summative tests to increase learning and thinking.
When I was teaching middle and high school social studies, like most teachers, I often gave a traditional summative test (multiple choice questions, matching, short essays, etc.) at the end of a unit. But then, after I graded the test, I handed it back to the students and we did the following activity:
For multiple-choice, matching, or fill in the blank questions, we went over the questions one by one, and for each question one student was called on to tell everyone the right answer and explain why it was the right answer (of course, anything that was just recall or fact was explained that way). But there was an additional rule – for any question, if a student could show me that another answer was correct, and could justify it, I would accept it as right and change my grades for all those who marked that answer as correct!
This process led to some fascinating discussions and some interesting insights into student thinking. It also highlighted the difficulty of creating right answer questions that had only one right answer!
For short essay questions, I would indicate what I was looking for in their answers (criteria) and students would review their answers in pairs. Then anyone could challenge my grading if they could justify why they thought their answers did meet my criteria, or if they could even suggest additional criteria that indicated their essay better demonstrated their learning or gave a better answer to the question.
After all this happened, students wrote a “self-reflection” on what they had learned in this process, and how they might improve their test scores on future tests.
All this was done publicly, so the entire class benefited from our discussions, challenges, and justifications. We all had a good time in the process. The learning and relearning that took place was enormous. And many students figured out ways to improve their study habits and their work in the future.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
Recently a colleague asked me a question that made me pause and reflect. “How successful is PBL, really?” He’s an advocate for PBL, like I am, so the question wasn’t designed to nitpick or argue against PBL. He was reflecting on his own experience, and asking if mine had been similar.
I began to look back on the nearly 175 workshops I’ve presented and the large number of schools I’ve coached that have taken on PBL in hopes of changing the culture of teaching and learning. All of them wanted to move toward more depth and inquiry, and away from direct instruction, pacing guides, coverage, and the general lethargy that pervades schools as they labor under outmoded rules of engagement. Most of all, they hoped to sustain PBL year over year to power their school into 21st century learning.
How successful have they been? There are two answers to the question. For schools designed from the ground up to support integrated instruction, an inquiry-based culture, and a relentless focus on 21st century skills, the answer is clear: Extraordinarily successful. When the organizational philosophy supports student-driven inquiry, the natural outcome is great projects. These schools are the lights across the land—the Envision Schools, High Tech High, or the New Technology High Schools—that have become well known , as well a growing number of similar schools in every state. The students at these schools perform at world class levels, in some cases leading the world.
I’ve worked with many teachers, principals and superintendents who have toured leading-edge schools. They return to their own campus, wanting the same results. So they plunge into PBL. How successful are they? The answer, unfortunately: Not very.
Mostly, the schools start well. A core number of teachers implement projects that begin to show results. Students get excited; teachers feel satisfied; principals report a turning point. But that’s the first year. By the second year, typically after a strong start in the fall, PBL fades. The effort is not sustained. Why? It’s the well known rubber band effect. The industrial system can stretch to accommodate new viewpoints, but over time the constraints—mainly in-the-box thinking about tests scores and the lack of a collaborative culture committed to change—take their toll. Everyone settles back down into the routine.
This same dynamic, by the way, now drives the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Will they transform schools or become a new and improved laundry list? Here, the lessons of PBL are instructive. More than anything, it tells me that grafting an inquiry-based culture onto an industrial framework is an impossible dream, unless the effort is accompanied by a innovative focus on organizational change and high performance. This is a holistic endeavor, requiring a crucial brew of synergistic elements that work together to create a seamless system for sustainable change.
What are the key ingredients? For those schools that did transition successfully to PBL, I can think of six essentials that enabled them to power through tough barriers and emerge at the other end of the tunnel. I suspect the list for the CCSS will be the same:
Thom Markham is a psychologist and author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for Inquiry and Innovation for K-12 educators and the forthcoming book, Redefining Smart: Make your mind bigger than your brain. Download tools for project based learning on his website, www.thommarkham.com, or contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.
After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.
In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.
If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.
Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.
Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.
The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.
Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.
Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.
Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.
My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.
I just completed two one-day workshops on “Neurodiversity in the Classroom: A Revolutionary Concept in Special Education,” for educators in the Albany, New York area, March 13-14, 2013. The March 13th workshop was comprised of 200 educators who were part of Capital District Beginnings, a service agency that provides a wide array of special education and therapy services to children in their homes or in one of over 70 different child care centers, preschools and schools including Universal Pre-Kindergartens and Head Start programs. During the workshop, teachers shared many great experiences about working with the strengths of kids with special needs. One teacher, for example, talked about a child who had an emotional/behavioral disorder but loved to draw, so after an emotional meltdown, the teacher would sit and draw with him the events leading up to the disturbance. This helped him gain insight and distance from the experience, and learn better ways of handling the situation in the future.
On March 14th, I worked with 40 educators at a workshop sponsored by the Tinsley Institute (which also co-sponsored the March 13th workshop), a group that engages in professional development, research, program evaluation, and curriculum development in the greater Albany area. They also co-sponsored this event in conjunction with the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA), which is the school improvement center at the University of Albany. There were also wonderful anecdotes told by teachers at this event. One teacher, for example, talked about a boy with autism who knew absolutely everything there was to know about vacuums. He was fascinated with them, and even served as a consultant to the teacher when she needed a good vacuum for cleaning up dog hair in her home. He found the perfect model for her! As a reward for good work and behavior, he was allowed to help vacuum classrooms with the school custodian!
In both workshops, we talked about the difficulties that students with special needs face in New York state due to the increased emphasis on standardized testing, and the fact that these students will no longer be allowed to graduate with an IEP diploma (i.e. one tailored to their needs), but will have to take the same pencil and paper tests as typically developing students in order to graduate (with minimal accommodations allowed). For kids who need alternative ways of meeting standards (through assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools, alternative texts, hands-on learning, one-to-one attention, and other strength-based approaches), there are few options for them in this scenario, and many of these kids are facing the prospect of not graduating with a diploma, thus hampering their future school and career ambitions.
This is disheartening, considering all of wonderful things that kids with special needs can offer the world if their unique ways of learning and knowing are simply honored and valued. We can still have the same high standards for these students as for typically developing kids, but we need to provide alternative means of learning and demonstrating mastery of the Core Common Standards. I promised that I would write an email to Governor Cuomo to advocate for the needs of these students. Here is the message I sent to him:
Dear Governor Cuomo, I am disheartened on learning that students with special needs will no longer be able to graduate in New York state with an IEP diploma, but must meet the same paper and pencil standardized testing requirements as typically developing students in order to graduate from high school. This is going to be very difficult for most of these kids to achieve. They certainly must be held to the same high academic standards as other students, but because of their diverse ways of learning, they need to be provided with opportunities to express their competencies in core subjects through alternative methods, including assistive technologies, Universal Design for Learning, alternative texts, hands-on demonstrations, project-based learning opportunities, and the use of a portfolio with materials that document their competencies in state standards. I implore you to work toward creating a fair and equitable set of alternative strategies through which students with special needs (e.g. autism, learning disabilities, ADHD, intellectual disabilities etc.) can be allowed to show what they know in terms of their strengths and abilities, rather than having their disabilities and difficulties make it so that the route to graduation and further school and career advancement is closed to them. These kids have many strengths that our culture needs in order to stay vibrant, and we must give them every opportunity to have the same chances for post-secondary education and career advancement as typically developing students who are simply better able to cope with pencil and paper standardized tests.
Yours Truly, Dr. Thomas Armstrong
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Attending ASCD Annual Conference?
We hope to see you in Chicago this weekend at ASCD’s 2013 Annual Conference: Our Story, Our Time, Our Future. Here are a few tips as you head out for St. Patrick’s Day weekend:
Can’t make it to Chicago? Attend the ASCD Virtual Conference instead!
Join the ASCD Forum Conversation
For the first time, ASCD is hosting a forum to focus on a topic of importance to educators across the globe. Nations, states, and provinces all around the world are grappling with the issue of educator effectiveness. ASCD invites all educators to make their voices heard in an ongoing discussion of the question, “How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” The current discussion theme (March 3-16) is:
Educator Evaluation Systems: What research and evidence support the validity of existing evaluation systems?
Upcoming themes include:
The ASCD Forum concludes April 12. We invite educators to join the conversation by blogging on the ASCD EDge®social network, commenting on other blog posts, taking a survey, and attending a live session at ASCD Annual Conference. Results from the ASCD Forum conversations will inform the ASCD Board of Directors’ position development process. To learn more about the ASCD Forum, join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newest Policy Points Highlights Teacher Evaluation
ASCD’s newest issue of Policy Points (PDF) spotlights the association’s original 50-state analysis of educator evaluation systems as outlined in states’ NCLB waiver applications and other resources; it features a series of maps for easy comparison of key evaluation system components across the states. The resource provides graphic depictions of the frequency of state teacher evaluations, the rating levels used by states to rate teacher performance, and the extent to which states use student learning data in teacher evaluations.
Save the Date! ASCD Whole Child Virtual Conference: Moving from Implementation to Sustainability to Culture
May 2–10, 2013
How can schools implement and sustain a whole child approach to education? ASCD invites you to participate in the free, online Whole Child Virtual Conference from May 2–10, 2013.
· Hear from renowned speakers, including Pasi Sahlberg, Michael Fullan, and Andy Hargreaves.
· Learn from educators, authors, and experts who have successfully implemented a whole child approach in schools around the world.
· Discover the steps taken by ASCD’s Vision in Action award-winning schools and Whole Child Network schools to implement comprehensive, sustainable school improvement and provide for long-term student success.
· Discuss how you can bring a whole child approach into your schools.
Twenty sessions will be broadcast live over five days, May 6–10, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern time, with additional sessions on May 2 and 3 for Australasian and European audiences.
No matter where your school falls on the whole child continuum, be it the early implementation stage or well beyond, the Whole Child Virtual Conference provides a forum and tools for school sites and districts that are working toward sustainability and changing school cultures to serve the whole child.
Register Now! Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference
Throughout March at wholechildeducation.org: Reducing Barriers and Expanding Opportunities
Addressing students' needs levels the playing field. Or rather, addressing students' needs is only leveling the playing field. If a child is hungry, then schools can address the need by providing breakfast, lunch, and assistance as needed. The same applies if the child is unwell. Many schools have made great strides in addressing students' needs, but some schools have gone further. They have taken an issue that was initially a need and used it to enhance and improve what the school offers.
Join us throughout March as we look at schools that have taken a deficit and turned it into an asset. Some schools have used connections formed into and across the community to enhance and build on what they first envisaged. Other schools are forming alliances to improve a specific situation and have then used those same alliances to improve the entire school. How has your school or community taken a challenge and turned it into a win?
We are taping this month’s Whole Child Podcast in front of a live audience at ASCD’s 2013 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, on Saturday, March 16, in Chicago, Ill. Joining hosts Sean Slade and Donna Snyder of ASCD’s Whole Child Programs team will be representatives from the winning school of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award as they discuss this month's topic and what works in today's schools. The podcast will be available for download on Monday, March 18.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
New Jersey ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
ASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the fifth post of the series, New Jersey ASCD Executive Director Marie Adair writes about the challenges and successes that New Jersey has had with CCSS implementation.
Join the ASCD Forum Conversation
The ASCD Forum has begun, and you’re invited to be a part of it! Check out these ASCD EDge posts on teacher and principal effectiveness:
Use Emotional Intelligence as an Effectiveness Tool and Both Sides of the Scale by Professional Interest Community Facilitator Mamzelle Adolphine
The Road to Principalship and Beyond by 2012 Emerging Leader Dawn Imada Chan
Making Teacher Observation Matter by Virginia ASCD Executive Director Laurie McCullough
Conversation is also taking place in the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge, and the #ASCDForum hashtag on Twitter. You are also invited to join us for a live face-to-face session at Annual Conference that will also stream live via Virtual Conference. For more information, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
ASCD Leaders to Ignite ASCD Annual Conference
With the tagline “Enlighten us, but make it quick,” Ignite presentations are a fast-paced, breathtaking, and inspiring way to share stories. Each presentation is 20 slides long, and each slide automatically advances every 15 seconds; this format keeps the presentations moving quickly. The following ASCD leaders will present their Whole Child stories in Ignite session format at ASCD Conference on Saturday, March 16:
Please join us for an exciting Saturday afternoon session from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.!
Welcome to the new Common Core Professional Interest Community
We are pleased to announce the newest ASCD Professional Interest Community: Common Core in the Classroom facilitated by Suzy Brooks of Massachusetts ASCD! The group will share ideas and resources for implementing the Common Core State Standards in instruction. Please join the group on ASCD EDge.
Congratulations to Matthew Cotton
2012 ASCD Emerging Leader Matthew Cotton has been selected to serve as a reviewer for the music standards by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Matthew was identified from among hundreds of applicants and nominees nationwide as an expert in an area of music education who can contribute to this process. Congratulations to Matthew on this exciting achievement!
Check Out These Great Pieces by ASCD Leaders
Something to Talk About
In our daily quest for teaching resources we can pass along to you, we came across a website called Thesis Builder. Essentially it allows users to plug in a topic, an opinion on the topic, two supporting arguments and a counter argument. From this, Thesis Builder will generate a sketchy, but nonetheless discussion-worthy thesis statement. You’ll also find three additional tools on the site:
Here’s what we plugged into the thesis statement builder:
And here’s the thesis we got back:
Alright, it’s not the best thesis statement we’ve ever seen, but it does quickly reveal deficiencies in an argument—which could be a useful way to spark questions like:
Something else we like about the web application is that it exposes students to what Gerald Graff has called “the key intellectual moves” experienced writers take for granted. When we say “moves,” we simply mean the conventions of academic writing that seasoned writers have either been deliberately taught or learned through years of reading, writing and mimicking.
Experienced writers already know how to execute these conventions, but the fact of the matter is that many students will never truly develop the “moves” we take for granted—unless, that is, we truly break them down and make them digestible.
To help you do this, we highly recommend Gerald Graff’s book, They Say, I Say. In it, Graff shows that writing well means mastering some key rhetorical moves, the most important of which involves summarizing what others have said ("they say") to set up one’s own argument ("I say").
In addition to explaining the basic moves, his book provides writing templates that show students explicitly how to make these moves in their own writing. You can download a PDF of the first 63 pages here.
"You cannot have performance breakthroughs without cognitive dissonance ... in other words ... challenging what you think you really know and believe is the truth."
The more that I work with schools, the more I realise how important it is to coach teachers and school leaders in having personal performance breakthroughs as part of the journey to creating a high performance learning culture in a school. What I have been finding is that it is the unconscious limitations a person imposes on themselves and/or the individual’s ingrained habits and practices that can limit or slow down the building of an authentic learning culture.
In my coaching one of the first tools I use I gleaned from Steve Zaffron and David Logan’s book called “The Three Laws of Performance”. The Three Laws are:
1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them
2. How a situation occurs arises in language
3. Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people
Let me delve a little into the neuroscience here. In the simplest description, our brains are pattern making machines that, through trial and error of experience and learning, create a template or mental model of how the world is so the individual can successfully interact with the world around it. As a short cut to operating in an increasingly complex environment, the brain creates unconscious habits and practices for those actions that are ritualised. For example, most of us don’t have to think about walking. We just walk. We put one step in front of the other not consciously recognising the extraordinary coordination required of our brain and body to have this happen. For those of us who drive to work, many of us drive home from our normal place of work mostly unconscious because our brain “knows” where it is going.
As we grow up there are there spans where we undergo large physiological and neurological changes. These include the period from being a baby / toddler to a child (gaining of language), a child to a teenager (puberty), a teenager to an adult (pre-frontal cortex and executive decision making). These neurological developmental changes are critical periods in our lives as it is at these times that we lay down certain foundational or fundamental ways of being (mental models or templates). Based on these templates we build our interpretation and reaction to the world around us.
My experience in coaching people over the past 15 years is that in areas where individuals lack performance they have not overcome the programming that originated when they were children. Have you ever experienced an adult who still throws tantrums like they were 6? Have you noticed that some people can’t seem to organise themselves and still act like they are teenagers in managing themselves and their time? Have you noticed the emotions and feelings that come up when you are confronted by conflict in the workplace (most teachers avoid constructive conflict like the plague)!
In those areas where you experience being challenged to develop yourself or you lack performance, your actions are logical and consistent with a childhood perspective or viewpoint of that situation. How a situation occurs to us is correlated to our fundamental way of being or mental model that originated when we were quite young.
Conversely, in those areas you do perform, at some point in your life you challenged your childhood mental model and “grew up” in that area. You went through a period of cognitive dissonance and challenged and re-circuited your hardwired habits and practices in that area.
Let me give you an example. I come from an Italian family and my viewpoint of my father when I was young was that he was not very communicative, he didn’t really show his love for me like my mother did, and that when I did something wrong (which being the middle boy of three boys we always got up to some mischief) he yelled at us and we occasionally got smacked. So I decided at quite a young age that I would “never be enough”. When you look at my behaviour over a long period of time it is not surprising that I am always out to prove myself and succeed in whatever I do. I have three degrees including a Ph.D. I taught Aerospace Engineering (including … yes … rocket science). I came second A LOT, in sport as well as academically, and it frustrated me no end. I know myself as someone who, no matter what I am given, will figure it out and become successful at it. Within this fundamental way of being I have developed particular habits and practices that enable me to learn and develop myself. It isn’t surprising that education is one of my fields of interest.
The problem with the Fundamental Way of Being is that until I became become conscious to how it was driving me in everything, and the cost it had to my well-being and just being able to be in relationship with people, I had no power to choose to behave in a different way. I was very hard on myself and overanalysed everything. My brain was always whirring and busy so I found that I was constantly exhausted to make up for NEVER being enough. I was quite often surrounded by “fools and idiots” and became frustrated with people when they didn’t understand me. I lacked empathy for others.
The Fundamental Way of Being is not a bad thing as it has you gain a certain success in life. But like any ritual habit it drives you to behave in particular ways in circumstances that other ways of behaving are more appropriate. You cannot begin to change a habit until you have become present to how it is driving you. Until then you are the passenger in the car that is your behaviour.
When I coach teachers and people in leadership positions I give them two pieces of homework involving reflective journaling.
What I have found is that, over time, people start to produce remarkable results and shift their behaviour in those areas where they felt stuck or unable to develop and grow.