As a public educator, I aim to share my story with those interested about what really happens inside today's classroom. I hope my stories inspire, educate, and entertain you, as the calling of teaching is never neat or predictable. Please note that my blog content does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or beliefs of my school district or colleagues.
Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of DiscoveryEducation.com
Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown
My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.
"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Building capacity for all......
This is a great article from the most recent Educational Leadership issue. Here are some guiding questions I am using for my school's leadership team as their new Staff Development Teacher:
article discusses how school leaders must create conditions that enable
teachers to learn from others. How will you facilitate this process as a
Content Specialist/Department Chair in your PLC work this year?
of the most powerful quotes from the article says, “Simply having the time
together doesn’t guarantee that teacher conversations will focus on instruction
or student learning.” What does this mean to you as an instructional leader?
of the work of the 6th grade humanities team at Cedar Bridge Middle
School. What are they doing right? How can we use their example to guide our
PLC work this year?
4.In order to be truly effective and geared
toward student achievement, schools must have four types of instructional
resources: instructional knowledge, instructional tools or materials,
instructional relationships, and organizational structures. How can we use
these available resources to help our teachers improve their teaching and
2013 | Volume 71 | Number 2 Leveraging Teacher Leadership Pages 56-61
Instructional Capacity: How to Build it
To improve teaching and
learning, teachers must take advantage of all the instructional resources in
their schools. Here's how principals can help teachers lead this work.
Principals can increase the instructional capacity of their
schools by creating opportunities for teachers to collaborate as they use key
resources to improve teaching and learning. This is easier said than done.
To illustrate, let's look at how principals in two schools I
studied organized teachers to work together.1 These urban middle schools, which are located
in the same school district and serve similarly diverse student populations,
provide portraits of different approaches to organizing teacher learning. One
common approach creates an organizational structure to enable teacher
collaboration but falls short of changing teachers' ideas about how to use
instructional resources or supporting teachers in making instructional changes.
A second approach builds instructional capacity that leads to the ongoing
generation of more effective instructional resources.
Liberty Middle School: What's Wrong with This Picture?
At Liberty Middle School, teachers met with their grade-level,
subject-area "partners" once a week during the school day and with
their subject-area colleagues once a month after school. The Liberty principal
had reorganized school structures so teachers were less isolated from one
another. She believed that an excellent education combined responsiveness to
students' needs with social equity. She thought caring and respectful
student–teacher relationships were crucial to student success. She also
believed that the principal's job was to create organizational structures for
teacher collaboration and provide many opportunities for professional
development—then stay out of the way and let teachers do their job.
At Liberty, teachers' meetings occurred in relative isolation.
Teachers met in individual classrooms, and administrators didn't participate.
Every department had three pairs of teaching partners, who were expected to
develop common summative assessments and administer these to their students at
the end of each unit. According to one teacher, they had "all the leeway
[they] wanted in terms of curriculum; nothing [was] mandated."
Many teachers liked this autonomy, and teaching pairs typically
approached their instruction of curricular units differently. They set their
own meeting agendas, designed the focus of their collaborative work, and rarely
discussed how they approached instruction. The teachers attended some
thoughtful professional development on literacy, but they never worked together
in their meetings on using any of the suggested instructional strategies.
Although teachers had autonomy over how they spent their
collaborative time, most teaching partners used this time to construct
end-of-unit summative assessments. The three teams I observed designed their
assessments to mirror the format of the California State Test (CST). These
teachers typically developed their unit assessments by culling premade questions
that were similar to the multiple-choice questions on the CST from a commercial
database the principal purchased for this purpose.
Even though teacher partner meetings occurred in relative
isolation at Liberty, their form and substance were remarkably similar. Look in
on any language arts or history teacher collaborative planning meeting, and
you'd probably see a pair of teachers sitting in front of a computer screen;
they'd be scanning a databank of assessment questions organized by content-area
standards, trying to identify the most appropriate test questions to use.
Cedar Bridge Middle School: Getting It Right
At Cedar Bridge, the entire staff—teachers and
administrators—gathered in the library on a Monday afternoon to work together
in small groups. A poster of Richard DuFour's four essential questions for
professional learning communities hung on the library wall:
§What do we want students to learn?
§How will we know if students have
§What will we do if students don't
§What will we do if they do?
Nearby a sign offered this advice: "This work should be
relevant and manageable."
The principal framed the work that teacher teams would engage in
that afternoon: "We want to focus on nonsummative assessments to figure
out exactly [what and] how our students are learning." Small groups of
teachers, organized by grade level and subject area, were seated around
rectangular tables with student work—essays, math problems, and science lab
write-ups—spread out in front of them. Cedar Bridge's five school
administrators were sprinkled among the teacher groups, but they were
indistinguishable from the teachers, who were reading student work and looking
for evidence of understanding.
At this meeting, the 6th grade humanities teachers worked together
to assess the efficacy of a reading strategy—talking-to-the-text—that they used
to teach the novel that their 6th graders were reading—Christopher Paul
Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (Yearling, 1997). The
teachers had been introduced to this strategy in a professional development
program that Liberty had also participated in. Unlike at Liberty, however, they
were expected and supported to use this strategy in their instruction.
Teachers read and discussed the 6th grade samples of talking-to-the-text,
which consisted of' comments and questions that students had written on sticky
notes and placed inside the pages of the novel. The administrator sitting with
this team asked the teachers how they were using the talking-to-the-text
strategy and what students' "text-talk" revealed about their
understanding. One teacher described how she used students' talk to focus class
discussion and find out what was unclear to her students. "During a
confusing chapter," the teacher explained, "I had students keep the
sticky notes in the book, and I looked through them … and picked out five
common questions (or observations) … which laid the foundation for the next
For example, many students asked about Wool Pooh, a scary
character invented by the narrator's brother to deter children from swimming in
a dangerous place (Wool Pooh—think whirlpool). Others students wondered
whether the main character—9-year-old Kenny—believed in ghosts. Students'
text-talk also clarified that many students found the description of the
bombing of the Birmingham church confusing. Teachers discovered that looking
over the sticky notes was a useful way to see students' thinking—and this
became a refined use of this strategy.
Other teachers suggested other approaches. One pointed out that
she had students discuss their text-talk questions and observations with one
another in small groups. A first-year teacher in the group asked how the
teachers helped students who struggled to "talk to the text." One
colleague replied, "I have the students read aloud to me and tell me their
thoughts and questions. Then I prompt them to write those comments down."
Like all teacher groups in the library that afternoon, the 6th
grade humanities team analyzed students' work to develop a common lesson to
teach in their classrooms that week. They also developed common criteria for
assessing the student work that would result. The teachers would then look at
that new work to determine how well students had understood the lesson's focal
concept or skill. Collectively, they would decide on their next instructional
One move they discussed was to have students make a list of how
each character in the novel reacted to the church bombing. They also considered
what they could do to help students become alert to the use of figurative
language, which the novel is rich in. Another instructional move they debated
concerned a chapter that most students found confusing. The teachers thought it
might be a good idea to read the chapter out loud and then ask students to
reread it to themselves and talk to the text.
The teachers' common lesson plans grew out of these instructional
conversations. This cycle of developing common lessons rooted in teachers'
collective examination of students' work occurred five times during the year.
Defining Instructional Capacity
Principals at both Liberty and Cedar Bridge were committed to
improving student learning outcomes, and they viewed teacher collaboration as a
means to this end. Each principal set aside time for teachers to work together,
and each defined joint tasks for teachers to work on to improve student
learning. However, the tasks and structure of teachers' collaborative work in
the two schools differed considerably. These differences affected the extent to
which each school generated instructional capacity.
Principals are more likely to exert the sort of leadership we saw
at Cedar Bridge when they clearly understand what instructional capacity means.
Instructional capacity refers to the collection of resources for
teaching that a district, school, or grade-level or subject-area team has to
support instruction and, most important, the ability to effectively use
these resources to engage students and deepen learning. A school needs four
types of instructional resources:
§Instructional knowledge (knowledge of content, pedagogy,
§Instructional toolsormaterials (curriculum, teaching materials,
§Instructional relationships characterized by trust and mutual
§Organizational structures that promote the use of various
instructional resources, such as common learning time for teachers and formal
instructional leadership roles.
School leaders need to know where these four types of
instructional resources reside within their schools and how they interact. They
also need to know how to create opportunities for teachers to use these
resources to improve teaching and learning.
How to Build Instructional Capacity
So how can school leaders guide teachers in making the most of
these four instructional resources to build instructional capacity in their
schools? The following practices can help.
the Right Structures
How principals conceptualize, organize, and provide professional
learning experiences for teachers can influence the type of instructional
resources that schools typically use. For instance, at Cedar Bridge,
administrators were tapped as an instructional resource. In addition, the
teachers' own instruction—represented by joint lesson plans and the resulting
student work—became a source for their ongoing learning. Leaders at Cedar
Bridge also provided an overarching structure for teachers' learning—teachers
and administrators met five times during the school year to develop common
lessons on the basis of collective examination of student work. Moreover, the
leaders designed a role for themselves in this process and continually adjusted
the learning design to better meet team needs during the year.
For example, provided with results from the district benchmark
test, teachers at Cedar Bridge were asked to identify a common student
misunderstanding and design a lesson together to address it. Administrators
immediately recognized that teachers perceived a disjunction between what the
district test was assessing (for instance, punctuation and grammar rules) and
what they were trying to teach (that is, reading for understanding and writing
evidence-based arguments). So they abandoned their focus on standardized test
data and replaced it with a different focus—students' performance on class
Administrators at Cedar Bridge continued to hone the purpose of
the professional learning meetings, asking teachers to zero in on the groups of
students who were consistently underperforming. At one meeting, the principal
asked teachers to look specifically at the performance of their black students.
Then teachers were asked to write a reflection that answered this question:
"What did you observe about your black students that informed your lesson
on the spot or will inform future instruction?" As the year progressed,
administrators repeatedly asked, "How can we better serve our black
Paradoxically, even though the teachers at Liberty had autonomy
for designing their collaboration time, their work together produced uniform outcomes
in the form of CST-like end-of-unit assessments. In contrast, the teacher teams
at Cedar Bridge created unique formative assessments (essays, outlines, and
analytic arguments supported by textual evidence) customized to their
particular grade-level and subject-matter learning goals.
Consequently, we see that how workplace learning is
designed for teachers affects what teachers focus on and are likely to learn,
which, in turn, has consequences for how teachers design instruction. The two
school vignettes provide an image of principals as important architects of
teachers' learning and reveal how principals' actions can stimulate (or thwart)
the creation of instructional capacity in schools.
the Right Conditions
School leaders must create conditions that enable teachers to
learn from others and incorporate others' expertise into their own
instructional repertoire. For instance, at Cedar Bridge, it was easier for
teachers and administrators to observe and learn from one another because all
teacher teams met in the same space.
Administrators also structured opportunities to share work across
teams. It quickly became a norm for teachers to bring student work samples and
assessment criteria to these meetings and to look at one another's samples. As a
result, good learning practices spread among teacher teams. Moreover, everyone
saw that the principal sat with teacher teams, looked at student work, and
asked questions about evidence of student learning. In so doing, he modeled a
way of engaging in professional learning.
In the two school vignettes, we see several moves that principals
can make to stimulate instructional capacity—for example, to expect and support
the use of specific instructional strategies and provide feedback to teams on
their work. We also see the limitations of merely creating organizational
structures that enable teacher collaboration. Establishing time for teacher
collaboration can be, in itself, a challenging undertaking if districts don't
work with teachers unions to bargain for teacher collaboration time. Also, as
these examples show, organizational structures alone are insufficient to
promote change in teachers' instructional practice. Simply having time together
doesn't guarantee that teacher conversations will focus on instruction or
the Right Expectations
Principals can create the expectation that teachers will engage in
work that requires collaboration and learning. Although the principal at
Liberty set the conditions for interdependent work by having teachers create
and use a common assessment for their curricular units, she didn't structure or
guide teachers' interactions.
Cedar Bridge created conditions that fostered learning and
teamwork by expecting teachers to look collaboratively at student work products
and analyze student learning to jointly develop lessons. In addition, Cedar
Bridge strengthened shared responsibility for both adult and student learning
by convening a team, composed of administrators and an instructional coach, to
reflect on teachers' learning and provide feedback on their work.
the Right Kind of Teams
Assembling teams with distributed expertise and relevant knowledge
goes a long way toward building an instructional improvement culture. Leaders
need to make sure that the requisite expertise is represented on a team and
make adjustments if it isn't.
Principals can include knowledgeable staff, such as administrators
or coaches, on teacher teams; or they can expand the focus of teachers' work to
include teachers from other grade levels who possess needed expertise.
Principals can also broaden a team's collective knowledge base by working
strategically with external partners who have this requisite knowledge. For
example, principals at both Cedar Bridge and Liberty partnered with a
professional development organization that focused on providing language and
literacy instruction to black and Latino students. For principals, particularly
those who work in schools with large proportions of inexperienced teachers,
paying attention to team composition is important in designing teams that have
the capacity to learn together.
a Learning Focus
At Cedar Bridge, teachers were expected to look at student work
for evidence of learning and coplan lessons and formative assessments from
their collaborative analysis of student work. Administrators participated in
and modeled this process. As a result, Cedar Bridge teachers made intentional
and incremental changes to their instructional practice with each lesson they
planned together. Teachers began to use particular instructional strategies,
like talking-to-the-text; over time they honed their use of these strategies
and developed a shared instructional repertoire.
This was not the case at Liberty. Although teachers discussed what
they wanted students to learn, no team examined student work, discussed student
learning on the basis of assessment results, or shared instructional approaches
as they constructed common assessments. The absence of instructional
conversations at Liberty led one teacher to say, "There are pockets of
people who are dedicated to collaboration [but] not a lot of people" act
collaboratively. For this teacher, Liberty espoused collaboration
"orally," with most teachers just feeling as though they didn't have
time for it.
Need Help with Processes? Assemble a Team
To help leaders think more strategically about how to organize
effective learning processes for their teachers, leaders can assemble an
instructional leadership team composed of administrators and teachers. The size
of the team will vary depending on the school, but members should have
expertise relevant to the team's purpose, including knowledge of instruction
and knowledge of students—and team members should be recognized by colleagues
for this expertise.
The principal and team members may find it helpful to consider
where on the process knowledge spectrum a school's particular
instructional problem is situated. Developed by organizational scholar Amy
Edmondson,2 the process knowledge spectrum defines three
types of work processes: routine operations, complex operations, and innovation
operations. Edmondson places routine operations that require highly repetitive
work, such as the work of call centers or the workflows in fast-food
restaurants, at one end of the spectrum. At the other end are innovative
operations that require research and discovery, such as curing a rare form of
cancer. In between routine and innovative operations are what Edmondson calls complex
Operations are complex when some of the process knowledge (such as
effective classroom management techniques or teaching phonemic awareness) is
known but much of the knowledge about what to do to achieve a desired
result (for example, promoting deep understanding of disciplinary concepts or
perceptive and critical reading skills) is still unknown or changes depending
on a dynamic set of variables, like who the students are and what their
background knowledge is. Under such circumstances, working in teams becomes an
invaluable approach to making better decisions and improving
performance—provided that teams are designed for learning. I saw such teams at
Principals Need Support, Too
Creating the conditions in schools to ensure that ambitious and
engaging teaching occurs in every classroom every day is its own complex
process. Principals need to know how to build, lead, and support teams of
instructional experts who can combine their expertise, conduct teaching
experiments, learn together from these experiments, and continually improve
instruction. Given the dynamic context of schools, central offices have an
important role to play. They must create district learning conditions that
support school leaders as they work with teams to generate the instructional
capacity our schools need.
School names are pseudonyms.
1 These vignettes are a composite
of observation and interview data collected as part of a qualitative study I
conducted during the 2007–08 school year. Data collection and analysis included
observations of 43 teacher meetings, 23 classroom observations, 22 interviews,
and 108 hours of professional development observations in which teachers from
both schools participated. I analyzed this data in my 2009 doctoral
dissertation, The Creation and Use of Instructional Resources: The Puzzle of
Professional Development, Stanford University, California.
2 For more information on creating
effective teams and on the process knowledge spectrum, see Edmondson, A.,
(2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the
Knowledge Economy (San Francisco: Wiley & Sons).
Ann Jaquith is a
senior researcher and director of Linked Learning at Stanford Center for
Opportunity Policy in Education, Stanford University, Stanford, California.