What’s the deal with Learning Targets?

“They (Learning Targets) clarify for students what students are learning—what they should know and be able to do—in language students can understand. They enable students to monitor and assume major responsibility for their own learning, a practice associated with a 32 percentile point gain in student achievement (Marzano, 2010).“


Collective Teacher Efficacy

Collective teacher efficacy continues to be either number one or two in terms of impact size on student performance, according to John Hattie.

If you’re looking for a great read, check this out.  Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning by Jenni Anne Marie Donohoo.  Might also be a great book for a staff book study.  Or a summer read.  The cool thing about teacher efficacy is that it’s not about any specific program.  It’s simply a strong and pervasive belief that working as a team, teachers can do great things with kids.  

Obviously Hattie continues to rank all kinds of stuff.  If I remember correctly, anything with a .40 effect size and above is considered impactful.  Collective teacher efficacy has an effect size of 1.57. Student mental health, specifically depression, continues to be dead bang last, with an actual negative effect size of -.42.  By the way, RTI is considered a ‘Super Factor’, just like Collective Teacher Efficacy.  It has an effect size of 1.07. And we have good RTI work going on all over the place.  Coupling that with collective teacher efficacy, for example, can really have a powerful and positive effect on kids.

“When a school staff shares the belief that through their collective actions they can positively influence student outcomes, student achievement increases. Collective teacher efficacy deserves the attention of every educator because it was recently ranked as the number one factor influencing student achievement (Hattie, 2016). Educators with high efficacy show greater effort and persistence, a willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to the needs of students who are not progressing well. They also convey high expectations, foster learner autonomy, and welcome increased parental involvement. In addition, educators who share a sense of collective efficacy get students to believe they can excel in school.”

“Collective teacher efficacy (d = 1.57). This is a factor that can be manipulated at a whole school level. It involves helping all teachers on the staff to understand that the way they go about their work has a significant impact on student results – for better or worse. Simultaneously, it involves stopping them from using other factors (e.g. home life, socio-economic status, motivation) as an excuse for poor progress. Yes, these factors hinder learning, but a great teacher will always try to make a difference despite this, and they often succeed.”

I suppose one good question to ask ourselves as leaders is, “Do the educators at our place believe that our collective actions can positively influence student outcomes and increase student achievement?”

Heroism of the incremental.

Following up a bit on the last blog post.  One of the learners by whom I am most challenged is George Couros.  Today he sent out a blog post called 5 Arguments Against “Innovation in Education” and How You Might Respond. It’s excellent.  One of the arguments he addresses is the one I hear a lot.  The issue of time.  He discusses prioritization and taking a hard look at what one does with one’s time.  This got me thinking.  Here’s my response to this blog post.

“A suggestion to address the issue of time. I think the theory is just like getting physical exercise. If I want to be in better physical shape, I prioritize the time. I get up earlier, I hit the treadmill right after work, I walk around more, I stand up more. Same drill for professional learning. If I were to return to a building as a principal, I would arrive a half hour earlier each day. Close my door. Ignore email. I would read, think, and write. Especially write. A half hour a day would create 2.5 hours a week. 10 hours a month in self-directed professional learning. Over the course of a school year, 80-90 hours of professional learning. I read a great quote yesterday, “We have the chance to transform the course of our lives. Doing so will mean discovering the heroism of the incremental.” –Atul Gawande. Incremental professional transformation and growth. Works for me!”

I can’t get that line, ‘heroism of the incremental’, out of my head.  It reminds me of what my late friend, John McCrossin, always said, “Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.”  I believe both of these ideas are absolutely correct.  We just have to make what we want to have happen a priority.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  It’s what we do with them that makes all the difference.  Inch by inch.

The thing isn’t about the thing.

“The impact of innovation on education isn’t in using technology to deliver obsolete education experiences. It lies in understanding what skills students need in the innovation era, and constructing classroom experiences that promote skills that matter.”  -Tony Wagner, Ted Dintersmith

As we continue to fine tune our ‘1:1 project’, called Fife Forward, our reading and study continually drives home the point that the ‘thing isn’t about the thing.’

Putting a device in the hands of kids means nothing, if nothing different is done with the device from a teaching and learning standpoint.  Without an examination and commitment to the possibilities of increased collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking…we might as well distribute $200 pencils.

Our good fortune in our district is that we have excellent educators in our schools. Educators willing to do all they can for all of our students.  We see their work every single day with kids. They literally recommit each day to find additional ways to support and engage more and more kids.

We are reading a book called The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education by Valerie Greenhill and Ken Kay.  The ask us to consider two important questions as we work.

“How is your district/school preparing its children for the demands of the 21st century?”

“Have you adopted a 21st century model of education? If not, do you need to?”

These two authors continue the urging of other educational thinkers to strongly bear mind the ‘4Cs’.  Collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  So we will. With support, professional learning, and time. Our job is to prepare our kids for their tomorrow, not our past.

A final thought.  Can we do this?  Yes.  “We have the chance to transform the course of our lives. Doing so will mean discovering the heroism of the incremental.” –Atul Gawande

Fife Forward.

“Who dares to teach, must never cease to learn.”

A common thought from the trenches is, “What the heck do you guys at the district office do all day?”  I know, when I was in the trenches, this thought would occur on occasion.

In our district, we have the great opportunity to write monthly columns for our local newspaper.  Here’s my latest column, describing some of what the heck we do all day.

“One of the major roles of our Teaching-Learning-Innovation (TLI) department is providing quality professional learning opportunities for a variety of our educators. Here are three recent examples. First, Elaine Smith, Assistant Director of TLI, at the request of the educators at SLMS, developed and shared learning about differentiated instruction for students.  This is an example of learning the educators wanted at their school.

slms (Educators at SLMS)

Second, Elaine and I have designed a series of induction learning sessions for all of our ‘New to Fife’ teachers.  We have focused the learning and work on our district’s adopted instructional framework.  We use the Center For Educational Leadership’s framework, from the University of Washington.  Its acronym is CEL.  It focuses on 5 dimensions of teaching and learning: Purpose, Student Engagement, Curriculum/Pedagogy, Assessment for Student Learning, and Classroom Environment/Culture. Our last session was on assessment for student learning, specifically formative assessment. Checking kids’ understanding in the middle of the learning to ascertain where they are in relationship to what teachers need them to be learning, and making in the moment instructional adjustments.  

induction (Induction session)

Third, we conducted a book study with all of our building administrators, using the book Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros.  This book has had the most profound impact on my professional learning in my 33 year career in Fife.   For our leaders, we utilized a learning strategy called ‘The World Cafe’.  With this strategy, we create 3 ‘courses’ for the learners.  Each course has a variety of discussion questions on the ‘menu’ from which our learners can choose.  It was a spectacular success.


(Book study)

The most important point of all this work is that our learning is ongoing.  As educators, we don’t shut down our learning the minute we graduate from college.  We believe in the idea that, “Who dares to teach, must never cease to learn.” -John Cotton Dana”


A well tossed around stat says, “Around 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.”

Some argue this point.  That’s fine.  However, it’s certainly not too difficult to imagine that is close to reality.  Here are 3 jobs that didn’t exist just 10 years ago.  App developer, social media director, and Uber driver.  

Here are a few of the types of jobs that might exist in our kids’ lifetimes.  And here’s the source with the descriptions of most of these jobs.

  1. Chief productivity officer
  2. Excess capacity broker
  3. Drone manager
  4. Private industry air traffic control
  5. Medical mentor
  6. Self-driving car mechanic
  7. Autonomous transportation specialist
  8. Personal medical interpreter
  9. Human-technology integration specialist
  10. Wholeness mentor
  11. Cyber Security Specialist

We’ve seen other titles like ‘Medical Roboticist, Custom Implant Organ Designer, Space Tour Guide, Space Pilot, Virtual Reality Simulation Engineer, and Genetic Counselor.  Wow!

Our part of the equation, as professional educators, is to understand that the rate of change is accelerating.  We do well when we know we are helping to prepare our students for their tomorrows and we give kids opportunities to learn how to learn, collaborate, communicate, create, and critically think.


Restarting the ol’ engine.

One of the best parts about being a teacher is the opportunity to restart your class(es) at any point, in any regard.

You weren’t satisfied with how things were unfolding in 2016 with your students or colleagues?  Fix it.  Attack it. Change something.  Teachers have so much control over what happens in their own classrooms.  Try something new.  Welcome the kids to 2017 with renewed enthusiasm!  One of our veteran administrators shared this resource on twitter. It’s a great one!

Very few jobs have the autonomy to repurpose without permission.  We work in such jobs.

Welcome 2017!


Celebrate Mistakes. Please.

A bunch of our secondary math teachers are reading Jo Boaler’s (@joboaler) great book Mathematical Mindsets.  As a former math teacher, I really wish I had read it as a working math teacher with students.  Dr. Boaler discusses the research behind the power of mistakes.  For example, ‘When we make mistakes, our brains spark and grow.  Mistakes are not only opportunities for learning….but also times when our brains grow…”

We do a shockingly good job teaching kids the opposite.  The importance of getting THE RIGHT ANSWER.  Zero brain growth occurs when getting the RIGHT ANSWER.  We focus on limited algorithms, and lots of low level problems, to get the RIGHT ANSWER.  No beauty. No creativity.  No mistakes. No brain growth.

One of our teachers, after this week’s session of our book study, grabbed the Four 4’s activity and threw it out to his students.  They jumped all over it. Conversations. Mistakes. Trial. Error.  More conversations.  Argument.  Mistakes.  Learning.  Collaboration. Communication.  Creativity.  Brain growth.  Love of math.  Fun.


Mistakes are valuable.  Our brains grow.  Celebrate mistakes.  Have ‘The Big Glorious Mistake of the Week’ contests.

It’s ok to make mistakes.  They’re good for you.

Thank you Jo Boaler.  All people who love or value math should read her book.

New and better. Some more.

Oh you know, just sitting here learning stuff, using Tweetdeck.  Happened to be following an event at the White House focused on #nextgenpl and caught, out of the corner of my eye, a worldwide professional learning event called Education on Air: It Takes a Teacher.  Well, thinking in terms of old style professional development…this ain’t it.  No ‘expert’ person is winging into develop us.  We aren’t paying for airfare and hotels somewhere.  We are joining in a conversation and learning based upon our interests and our choices from the comfort of our homes.  On a Saturday, at our convenience.

If innovation means making something that is ‘new and better’, I believe this is a powerful example of an innovative mode of professional learning.  I also believe there will continue to be more and more professional learning just like this.

I can’t wait!

Brave teachers.

Just have to throw a lot respect and admiration to some colleagues this morning. A dedicated group of math teachers is reading Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets.  It is definitely challenging our math thinking.  As teachers, we, ourselves,  are products of old style math learning. Cemetery learning.  Rows of kids, sitting in silence, doing worksheets.  Very few collaboration opportunities.  Very few opportunities for creativity, critical thinking, or communication.  These 4 Cs, are of course, critical skills for our students.  Creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  The cool thing is that our teachers are already destroying that type of learning because they know it’s terrible for kids.

We get help from Jo Boaler.  Dr. Boaler flat takes on that old style of learning for kids.  In fact, she likely wouldn’t call it learning.  It’s the study of algorithms for their own sake. No understanding of why one is learning the algorithms or how one might ever use them.

Anyway.  Thank you colleagues.  I know it’s hard to bust through old ways of thinking and doing things, when we come from those very things.  But if we believe we can do better for kids, and research is on our side, we probably should try to better.  Your bravery and willingness to engage in a challenging study of a book is fantastic.  Your students will thank you!

Check out Jo Boaler’s website for more information.