Friday, November 17, 2017

Leadership and Instruction

The US Army, with 242 year years of leadership development, says that leadership development starts with the raw materials - Rule number one: Choose leaders well.        

Effective leadership constantly monitors the institution's core mission, establishes institutional mores and high standards, is decisive, communicates frequently, is confident in execution, and uses those traits to intervene  when evidence indicates the institution is off-mission.

A foundational trait of highly effective leaders is the ability to influence others to have ownership in the institutional mission, and staying “on-mission” even in the absence of the leader. The essential after-action question in the Army is always, “Did we accomplish the mission?” If the answer is “no” there is a leadership problem. There is a deficit of influence. And influence is the key teacher trait, too. As Steve Jobs said, “Be a yardstick of quality.” Do things right.

But influence is not  not the only trait that leaders and teachers share.

Leaders Teachers
Mission-focus Mission-focus
Influence Influence
High standards High Standards
Decisive Decisive
Communicative Communicative
Confident Confident

 A foundational trait of highly effective corporation leadership is to choose the right building leaders, who will develop quality building-level teacher teams, who will work to accomplish its mission.  Highly effective leaders also identify and develop subordinate leaders, provide directives that are clear, “well-defined, and precisely communicated” (Buckingham), and consistent in format, voice and application.

Leaders should lead by example, teach and train constantly, and create an environment where things get done and done right.  They challenge others to be good stewards of the profession, and to get results. There must always be a mission focus, always bringing all stakeholders back to asking: what is our purpose, and how do we do it in the best way?


An essential question then becomes, What is the school’s mission?

And more to the point, what is the vision? A vision is a detailed description of what the school will look like when we are fully accomplishing our mission. The leadership should be able to describe this backwards and forwards.

The vision that the board and I share is that Blue River Valley Schools become the singular top-tier school choice in the area. The premier school. This vision is currently unrealized, but that is okay, we are in motion, moving.

To use a sports analogy, winning the game is the vision, the unrealized objective. The mission is playing the game as best you can. Like in games, a vision is completed by accumulating, meeting or scoring, “goals”

Our mission then, is to move forward and meet each of those goals that will make us that premier school. To put our best out there. And when one goal is met, we put our resources into the next one.

Teachers are Leaders

Tom Rath (co-author of Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow) writes that, “We all lead in very different ways, based on our talents and our limitations.”
And since the traits of leaders and teachers are the same, you can train teachers to be better leaders and they will become more effective teachers at the same time.
“The fundamental purpose of school is learning, not teaching.” (DuFour)
Effective leadership constantly monitors the core business of schools – instruction, which enables learning. A foundational trait of highly effective leaders is the ability to influence others to have ownership in the institutional mission. Since this is leadership, then all teachers should be selected based upon a preference for leadership traits and participate in systematic leadership development, which is much the same as teacher development.

In very high-performing schools, every teacher is a leader.

Leaders Focus on Outcomes
If the data doesn’t say it “is”… then it “isn’t.” Teachers, as leaders, must define and then measure learning outcomes. But they must also keep a focus on the outcomes of the school as a whole - each part supports every other part. There are no master teachers who do not mentor, share and model mastery in instruction every single day.  Who are not servant-leaders.

Likewise, teachers who do not do these things will never be master teachers, even if they teach very well.
Marcus Buckingham (The One Thing You Need to Know) writes that leaders should Define excellence vividly, quantitatively. Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like.”

And remember, most people rate teachers very high as professionals and people associate them with both interpersonal warmth and competence. Despite the politics here in Indiana, people do respect teachers and trust their professionalism.

Educators are leaders. It’s worth repeating: You can train teachers to be better leaders and they will become more effective teachers.


Professionals Sorted By Perceptions Of Warmth (Vertical) And Competence (Horizontal)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran's Day 2017

Veterans Day 2017

99 years ago, in the absolute last minute of the last hour of the last day of the First World War, US Army SGT Henry Gunther was killed in action. He was from Maryland and was 23 years old - the same age I was in Desert Storm, and which itself now seems like a very long time ago.

He was killed in action at 10:59, on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 - one minute before the Armistice (which had been signed at 5:am that very morning) was to go into effect - precisely at the 11th hour of that day. Allied commanders were pushing units forward to gain as much ground as possible in those six hours between 5:am and 11:am  in case the cease-fire would not work. It was a tragic, but sound, military strategy.

Tragic because there were an additional 10,944 total Allied casualties (dead and wounded) in those last 6 hours of the war.,  Of these,  2,738 American and Allied soldiers were killed in action.  Knowing that it was the last day.

In those final 60 seconds of war, PVT Gunther (he had been demoted from SGT because he encouraged a friend from home to avoid enlisting in the Army) charged a roadblock with a rifle and  bayonet, and then fired at the two German soldiers there, who then fired back and killed him. It was suggested he was motivated to prove he was brave and American due to his German heritage, or to regain his Sergeant stripes. He was restored to that rank upon his death.

And all of this was only 10 miles from Verdun, the site of the longest and largest battle of WWI, which had been fought in 1916. At the insanity of Verdun, the combined French and German losses were 714,231 casualties - of which 262,308 dead or missing.

In our recent history, we have seen 4,500 Americans killed in the Iraq War and 2,400 in Afghanistan, where combatant operations have been going on now for over 16 years.

Sgt.Henry Gunther is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, in Baltimore.

Sadly, only the dead have seen the end of war.

Friday, November 3, 2017


Infrastruction, Rivers, and Deep Learning

In 2016 64% of graduating seniors took the ACT. Only 38% met the readiness benchmarks in at least 3 of the 4 core subject areas. In 2015, 40% of graduating seniors met 3 of the 4 benchmarks. The trend is declining.
In 2016 34% of graduating seniors did not meet any of the 4 benchmarks.*

I think we need a new term and I’m borrowing the word “Infrastruction.” A portmanteau combining infrastructure and instruction.

Effective and rigorous instruction is much more than presenting and reviewing facts. All subjects are very deep in theory which is revealed sequentially across the state standards, and the deeper you go, even more is revealed, and connected.   Infrastruction, then is the practice of exploring underlying structures and principles; of integrating facts (sciences) and emotional responses (arts) with previously acquired knowledge, specifically “under the surface” connections between disciplines.  

It is a push to post-mastery-level understanding about what is an internal and underlying and often under-emphasized reality: All knowledge in all disciplines hangs upon the same basic foundational and internal structures.

Infra means under, below, deeper. The National Research Council promotes deeper learning as “the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. And the key to transferring knowledge is to know when to apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems

It’s an analytical search for connectivity and the subsequent discovery of how deeply connected all things are.

As infrastructure is the common systems and facilities and services which service a community, infrastruction is the totality of foundational definitions, rules, or laws which govern and connect the disciplines which we teach. Infrastruction asks the essential questions and tells the fundamental stories of the topic at hand.

It is called deep knowledge because it is specifically not only the surface or obvious descriptors which are presented in introductory or first-time instruction on a topic but rather it is the key principles of a thing that are the truest account of what it is.  

It is not, “What color is an orange?”  Answer: “An orange is orange.”


Rivers are an easy metaphor for learning and knowledge.  They move through their path and grow as they get closer to their destination, and other rivers come into them and bring new waters, water from different places and that has different stories to tell.  Rivers can be long or short, or fast or slow. Rivers can be deep, or wide, or deep and wide.  

But examining the surface of a river from a single surface point of view will not expose the greatest amount of information about much except what it looks like at that particular place. Observing the surface doesn’t explain it or any other rivers, but infrastructurally, every single river contains all of the information needed to understand the concepts common to all rivers. We can create shortcuts to mastery in other areas.

The Missouri River has about 1050 cubic meters of water moving through it every single second when drains into the Mississippi at St. Charles. The Mississippi then flows southward for about 150 miles and at Cairo, Illinois, it has a volume of about 6000 cubic meters of water per second when the Ohio River then drains into it. The Ohio River at that point has about 8000 cubic meters of water per second flowing through it. It more than doubles the volume of the river.

By the time it gets through New Orleans and discharges into the Gulf of Mexico, it is over 7000 feet wide and it empties the North American continent of nearly 17,000 cubic meters of water per second. (For comparison, that rate of flow would fill an Olympic sized pool in less than 3/1000 of one second. That is 100 times faster than you blink your eye.)  Some of that water had traveled 3,710 miles. Water from Lake Itasca in Minnesota took 90 days to make the trip. As we’ve said before: Rivers can be deep, wide, or deep and wide.

But rivers have other stories to tell, too.  I could keep going on with statistics that this river is big, but a master teacher would start telling those other stories at this point. A master teacher would start making connections between them by going about using the river to teach rather than simply teaching about the river. The stories have a different kind of depth because it is the story which creates the depth. The master teacher creates the lesson that tells the story about this particular big, deep river. And if done well, the students will understand something about all rivers. And they can understand even other unrelated things when rivers become metaphors. And when they understand other things, they will begin to create these connections on their own. So much is below the surface, but this is where mastery lives - in the integration of learning, and underlying commonality.

Deep Knowledge

Knowledge is deep when its depths contains the central ideas and underlying concepts of any one subject.  It is wide when it contains important descriptors and other surface information about many diverse subjects.  Both kinds of knowledge are important and essential. But the difference between the two is that wide is often too shallow.  The fact is that we need to do both, and most American schools don’t always do that very well. We tend to have more width than depth in how we teach because we tend to teach to a schedule rather than to mastery - it is, unfortunately, how “school” is designed.

That means a calendar is the master of our teaching . Reality, yes, but unfortunate - because this model is almost always shallow, and we must change that paradigm.

But accumulating deep knowledge - separated from a schedule of learning -  is evidenced when students are able to provide information, reasoning or arguments that address the centrality or complexity of a key concept or idea, or when relatively complex relations are established to other central concepts through connections or applications. Deep knowledge is evidenced from eureka statements from students in expressions of analogy - “Hey! This is like when….”

Baseline knowledge is often simply remembered knowledge, recall, Bloom’s lowest level. But knowledge is shallow when it is absent significant concepts, connections, or fails to preview more sophisticated characteristics or existential properties that will be learned later. It is tragically shallow when it is remembered only because the test will ask that it be remembered, and then forgotten and never recovered.

And remember that life makes more sense if you have a rich depth of knowledge in even one thing.  It does not have to be in everything.

*FYI - the ACT may become a graduation test in Indiana.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Growth Mindset and Trophies for All

The Growth Mindset and Trophies for All

Genius is not enough; we need to get the job done.
― Carol S. Dweck

Dr. Vince Bertram, BRV grad and state school board member, came to our school last month and told our students that it’s not enough to say that you should follow your dreams - or that dreams come true - but rather to “dream differently.”  At the heart of it he told our students to do their homework on what talent and skills that the future will value, find those things that have value and that they like to do...and then go and do those things. To presume that you can, not that you cannot.  He told our students his story, and then told them how to have their own. Don’t just follow dreams - Make things happen.

It was a message that nobody lives a life which has a predetermined path. But you must control your journey, or you will have no more control over it than if it were predetermined, or even random. And as educators, we notice that many students who do not succeed often enter into a task with the outcome of “failure” already fixed in their own minds, which then leads barriers for many of them to even attempt a new task or learn something new. And other students are relentless in attaining mastery in almost every task.
Carol Dweck, at Stanford University, is the person behind the concepts of “Mindset” - Mindset: The New Psychology of Success - which about 10 years old but still shows up in a lot of educational literature. She proposes two dichotomous mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset

Dweck shows that students who fail frequently already believe that they will fail, so they don’t attempt many tasks with rigor and they fail at them - frequently. Most have already decided that this cycle is just the “way they are” - the outcomes are ‘fixed” and therefore they are destined to fail and have no control over most of their life and choices. That their talents were predetermined and can not change. This is the fixed mindset. It is the barrier between moving from simplicity to complexity.

But most students who are successful believe that talent, knowledge and skill can be learned, improved, and mastered, and that they have the ability to do new things and learn and improve their life and have the freedom to make choices. They can choose to do the hard work to adapt. This is the growth mindset.  Many of these students even become fixated upon acquiring mastery.

IQ and Mindset

To be honest, most research indicates that IQ actually is basically “fixed” and does not change over a person’s lifetime - the data still tends to confirm that. But studies in brain plasticity demonstrate that there are things we can do to make growing brains learn more effectively: Repetition, connection, reinforcement, context, relevance and repetition. (yes I did that on purpose).

It matters to have a healthy diet, to get enough sleep, to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs and harmful relationships. But being curious, inquisitive, exploratory and adventurous matters a lot, too. It’s all about stimulating neural growth through the school years.

There are parts that are genetic (There is a very high correlation between father’s and children’s IQ, for example) but there are parts that are not - fetal alcohol and drug syndrome, exposure to tobacco, malnutrition, illness, poverty, violence and unhealthy environments can also significantly impact how the brain works.

Can Mindset Change? Focusing on Fluency, Mastery, Endurance and Complexity

In the course of Dr. Dweck’s work she studied how to change a person’s mindset from fixed to growth. One of her conclusions was that the quality of the teacher matters - and that master teachers can influence a change in students from a fixed to a growth mindset. We know that master teachers provide high-quality first-time instruction, with lots of fluency- and mastery-focused feedback, with repetition and correction and most of all: a relationship wherein confidence can grow. And it is mastery of the task that matters -  the research showed that a relationship that is honest works the best - telling a student that she IS (“being”) smart reinforces a fixed mindset. Telling a student that she MASTERED (“doing”) a difficult task reinforces a growth mindset. We live in a “doing” world even though we think it is a “being” world. The more the students do, the more they learn. The more often they do something with fluency, the more they master.

Likewise, nobody grows on a diet of empty affirmation, feeling good, or rote praise. What matters from having a master teacher is that master teachers make students work.  Dweck also strongly believes (as does this corporation…) that no student of any type is totally responsible for their own learning. In some schools it is acceptable for adults to blame a lack of educational rigor, genuine learning and a failure to maintain an orderly learning environment on the circumstances of our students and their parents - specifically at-risk students. Needless to say, these are not master teachers, and did not have genuine relationships with their students. No master teachers ever put the full blame for a lack of learning on the student.  We sometimes just need to teach in exotically different ways.

Credé, Tynan, and Harms (2016) brought mindset all the way back to defining grit as a component of a growth mindset - and that grit is always be appropriate when the task was “difficult but well-defined” but that a “growth mindset may not be needed for easy tasks or those that are “novel” or are “ill-defined.” High performing students need clarity because they need the blueprints for accomplishment. It is a reward in itself. But... not everyone a high-performing student.

Everyone Gets a Trophy

There is another, philosophically opposite, approach to both grit and mindset - one which is driven by the generation-old focus that feelings of personal esteem and self-worth are the most important foundation upon growth and success. Particularly if the student is otherwise unable or unwilling (fixed mindset) to do the work or learn the skill to earn any recognition on merit. This is called the “everyone gets a trophy” approach. The idea is that the major goal of education is to ensure a generated feeling of accomplishment rather than to generate a school-wide culture of genuine accomplishment.

The approach that it is the awarding of the trophy rather than the mastery of the task which builds students into self-sustaining adults. Education is often guilty of this, all of us have seen it. And there are advocates for this approach who believe in it, deeply. If a student is already ill-disposed to put the work into something and knows they will be rewarded nonetheless, there will be no work put in towards mastery. And fluency and mastery is our mission.

Bob Cook, writing for Forbes, comments on the trophy debate: “...there is an all-or-nothing, life-as-a-zero-sum-game mentality in the statement about there's room for only a select few....”  But although sports are, by definition, zero-sum games, they are also rarely all-or-nothing. Second place at the Olympics is a substantial accomplishment. The same applies to learning and growing.

“Winning” anything of value takes grit, it takes courage for our students to access their full talent and their full level of endurance -  to win big things though, they must dream differently.   And to do that requires a growth mindset for them to find their way. Nurture and encourage that mindset with our students.