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Your Leadership Team sets the tone for how the entire school functions.  The way in which your LT members openly and honestly share their views and make decisions with every member actively engaged becomes a model for how everyone else in the school interacts. This artcile, 5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in Meetings ... and Why it Matters provides a rationale and specific suggestions for maximizing participation. It may be as simple as just asking what a person thinks!

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By Maureen M. Mirabito


Note: This is the first of a multi-part story about Wichita Public Schools work to establish system coherence, initiative alignment, and the explicit connection to improved teaching and learning. This series will track their implementation of Indistar (KansaStar) in an effort to pull all of this work together and into a continuous school improvement process.


Wichita Public Schools is receiving national attention for its system coherence, initiative alignment, and their explicit connection to improved teaching and learning. The work that they have done (and continue to do) is impressive--integrated and well-executed systems and processes that would make Apple executives swoon. And in a smart next step to their strategy, they are expanding the use of Indistar (KansaStar) from its 28 priority and focus schools to all 90 of its school sites.

 But there is something else happening in Wichita Public Schools that is driving their strategy and their success—and for a district that has figured out how to measure pretty much everything, it’s one thing they can’t measure: removing the fear around data and performance and replacing it with belief and support in achieving real continuous improvement.

The work began five years ago when Superintendent John Allison shared his vision for the district as a new Superintendent. It emphasized a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and was communicated as the work that the district and its schools must focus on to improve learning outcomes for all students, one by one. The work began with an intense focus on literacy and expanded to include numeracy, behavior, instruction, and data based problem solving, all referred to as protocols. I wanted to call them areas, or categories. But the more I learned, the more I understood the distinction: in Wichita Public Schools protocol means something very different than say, category, or area. Protocol implies agreement, or code. It conveys: pursuing this work at an optimal level is our promise to our students, their families, to each other and our selves. There is a role for everyone in this work—and a role of the district staff was to help principals and school leadership teams get and use data from each of those five protocols to make the best decisions to improve teaching and learning, to achieve optimization.

So often, it’s not the knowing that impedes us; it’s the fear of what we might find or how we could be judged. In the case of Wichita Public Schools, using and talking about data was their counter to fear and inaction. Once educators began to consistently and deeply use data, they discovered that most fears were exaggerated: what they thought they’d find wasn’t as bad as what they did find and even if it was, at least they found it—a necessary first step toward change and improvement.

Over the past five years, knowledge of and discussions about data have become a steady drumbeat within and around every conversation about literacy and numeracy, behavior and instruction, leadership and learning in Wichita’s 90 school sites. It goes like this: What data are we collecting? What do the data say about our district, our school, and this student? What do the data tell us about our leadership, our structures, and our instruction? What will we do so that the data look different next time?

Leading the data integration and now improvement work is Dr. Lisa Lutz, Executive Director of Innovation and Evaluation, along with her “phenomenal team of three.” Through their consistency in providing meaningful data, their promise and follow-through in providing judgment-free support, and their tireless work in making connections and creating alignment to ease the confusion and even workload of schools, they have established a culture that thrives on data as a way of deciding, learning, and connecting.  

But again, it wasn’t always that way.

 “We work with all types of data sets that provide leverage to principals and their leadership teams within the MTSS protocols. We put the data into a district and school profile, similar to a dashboard, and we train the principals on how to talk about, process, and use the data to improve their instruction. Regardless of the data, we always tie it back to instruction and how teachers can use it.”

The data profiles are updated regularly with formative and summative data; they include district level, school level, grade level, and some district comparisons. Individual student data are provided to schools separate from their profile data. The training is referred to as a STAT session, which occur monthly in Wichita Public Schools.

 “When we started the STAT sessions, principals didn’t say much. Partly because they didn’t know what to say, but it was also difficult for them to see their data up there and then have to speak to it. They felt they were on the spot. But now, it has become better than okay to talk about data. It’s really and truly the way we work now.”

This shift didn’t happen by chance. It happened because Dr. Lisa Lutz and her team provided the structure, the processes, and the timely delivery of data and training through the STAT sessions. She and her district colleagues engaged in close collaboration to identify and provide the right support and resources to school staff in the areas they required it without judgment.

“Our conversation is not personal. Our conversation is what do we need to do so that the data look differently next time we look at it,” says. Dr. Lutz.

There are two types of STAT sessions: Principal STAT, occurring monthly and including a cohort of approximately three to six principals depending on level (elementary, middle, high) with a focus on school-level data; and School STAT, occurring approximately six times per school with the principal and his/her leadership and including both school and student level data. Dr. Lutz and her small team provide Principal STAT to all principals at a district location; School STAT was offered to the 28 priority and focus schools at their school site.

This year, Dr. Lutz and her team will expand what they provided for the 28 priority and focus schools to all 90 school sites. They can do this because of the capacity they’ve been building in their principals to serve as strong instructional leaders.

“All along, the goal has been to build the leadership capacity of principals to lead this work, to know their data and be able to speak to it and help teachers to process around it to improve instruction. We have been at this for five years. So this year, when principals of all 90 sites come in with their cohorts, the sessions will be called Principals’ School STAT. Each principal will receive their data down to the student level, we will discuss it in our cohorts, and they will return to their schools to process it with their leadership and instructional teams.”


Real, Continuous Improvement  

Recently, Dr. Lutz was told that she would lead the district’s school improvement work, a likely outgrowth of the success and impact of the STAT sessions and its connection to improved teaching and learning. Dr. Lutz has both the vision for and the specific knowledge of improvement to see how Indistar (KansaStar) can provide yet another opportunity for alignment, coherence, and capacity building for the work that happens in the district and schools.

“This responsibility gave me an opportunity to think about school improvement differently. I didn’t think that the school improvement process we had been using was successful—establish some goals, describe how you’ll meet them, maybe review it all at the end of the year to see how you did,” says Dr. Lutz.

But it wasn’t just the ineffectiveness of the traditional process that got her thinking differently, it was the diversity in size, scope, needs, and pursuits of each individual school.

“There are so many different school sites doing so many different things—national accreditation processes in the high schools, title one school requirements, priority school and focus school requirements. It just made sense to have something that was common with ALL schools—a common way to monitor and continuously improve all of the different things they are doing to address their individual school community needs and optimize their Multi-Tiered System of Support every step of the way.”

Once Dr. Lutz cleared the possibility of using Indistar (KansaStar) district-wide with the State (absolutely, was the response from Ms. Sandy Guidry, school improvement coach), she took a proposal to the district’s Academic Leadership Team (assistant superintendents and executive directors) and asked them for their feedback and support. They were all in agreement to proceed.

The next step was to figure out how to integrate the MTSS work into Indistar (KansaStar). Dr. Lutz began with teams.


Building Capacity of People in the Schools

At the time of the decision to take Indistar (KansaStar) district-wide, the district had just begun to assemble District Support Teams, a structure designed to provide support and guidance to all 90-school sites in sustaining their multi-tiered system of support. Indistar (KansaStar) provided an ideal platform through which to provide a common and consistent approach for continuously assessing, planning, implementing, and supporting its very diverse schools and their communities.

There are a total of eleven District Support Teams, each comprised of three to four district level staff, including an Assistant Superintendent or Executive Director who also serves as the Team Lead.  Dr. Lutz’ team, for example, includes a special education coordinator, an English as a second or other language coach, and a director of equity and diversity. Each team is similar in composition.

Driving the work of the District Support Teams—as well as the selection of indicators that Wichita will use in its Indistar (KansaStar) system, is a very detailed Implementation Rubric.

“To support sustainability of the MTSS that has taken us five years to build, we developed a comprehensive document that describes four growth stages of implementation—emerging, developing, operationalizing, optimizing— for each of the five protocols—literacy, numeracy, instruction, behavior, and data-based problem solving. Assessments are integrated into each protocol,” explains Dr. Lutz.

Using this Implementation Rubric, Dr. Lutz and her team examined the indicators of effective practice within Indistar (KansaStar) to determine which best aligned with each of the five protocols and assigned them accordingly.

“When our priority and focus schools started with KansaStar, there were more than 150 indicators and it was really hard to know where to start or which ones to select. With our district-wide rollout, we have revised the process entirely to align the indicators to our Implementation Rubric, narrow the focus (at least to start), and take full advantage of our District Support Teams with the goal of achieving optimization in each protocol,” explains Dr. Lutz.

Wichita Public Schools does not underestimate the value and importance of continuous communication in the work of continuous improvement. In addition to the regular, ongoing support schools will receive from their District Support Teams, principals will continue their monthly training in STAT sessions: thirty minutes of data, thirty minutes processing what it means for improving teaching and learning. As already mentioned, principals will now lead their own staff through a similar approach. In this first year, however, Dr. Lutz expects a lot of time and attention spent on getting good at the process and in using KansaStar really well.

The first few steps of the first year of this new school improvement process look like this (keep in mind, principals and leadership teams have and will continue to receive training and coaching every step of the way):

  1. The school Leadership Team rank orders each of the five protocols against the four growth stages described in the Implementation Rubric.
  2. For each protocol, the school leadership team makes a warm statement and a cool statement, for example: we know we’re doing well in this area based on this evidence; we know we have work to do in this area based on this evidence. It is not enough to say, “We think.” Evidence is required.
  3. When the rank ordering is complete, the protocol receiving the lowest ranking becomes the school Leadership Team’s focus for improvement.
  4. Principals and leadership teams review the Indistar (KansaStar) indicators of effective practice that align with their lowest ranked protocol only (the alignment of these indicators with each protocol is outlined in the Implementation Rubric).
  5. In their initial plan, school Leadership Teams assess three to five indicators of effective practice and develop implementation plans for a minimum of two.
  6. Implementation Plans will be monitored through monthly Principal’s School STAT meetings, through prescribed School Reviews, and in regular monitoring and coaching in KansaStar.

“I think it is really important for us to take this slow. At our STAT session this month, we spent 30 minutes on data and 30 minutes setting the stage for how the school improvement process will work and how it aligns to the work we’ve been doing for the past five years to improve teaching and learning,” explains Dr. Lutz. “The principals’ homework for this month was to go back and share the process and how everything we are doing—the protocols, the district support team, and the school improvement process—ties together.”

At next month’s STAT session, principals will login to Indistar (KansaStar) and go through the process of how to assess an indicator. Their homework after that session will be to lead their own leadership team through the assessment of their selected three to five indicators and determine which two will be developed for implementation.

“Principals and leadership teams have been very receptive to this approach and the use of KansaStar because it pulls everything together. They knew they were responsible for implementing these five protocols with support from the newly established District Support Teams so they were like, ‘finally, we’ve been waiting for this—something that guides the work, aligns the work, and lets everyone know where we are in the process as we go,’” says Dr. Lutz.

And the priority and focus schools that were already using KansaStar?

“They were so thankful to see the alignment of indicators to protocols. To them, KansaStar felt like one more thing they had to do because they were priority and focus schools. But now, everything is integrated and aligned so they see it as a complement to their work rather than an addition to it. They were relieved to see it all come together.



District Support Structures and Processes

 The pursuit of alignment and change to the school improvement process hasn’t only impacted the work at the school level; it has changed conversations and ways of working at the district level as well.

“We’ve started to put together our own protocols for the conversations and reviews that we will conduct in the schools as District Support Teams to ensure consistency in how we approach our work and in the support, feedback, and services we provide,” explains Dr. Lutz.

The mechanism through which progress monitoring and needs identification will occur is through School Reviews. At the start of this year, the District Support Team met with the principals of their assigned schools to talk about what a school review would entail, including the agreement that before a formal school review took place, the District Support Teams would conduct informal school reviews and a minimum of ten classroom walkthroughs.  Some schools will receive quarterly formal reviews; some will receive semester formal reviews; others will receive annual formal reviews.

“The frequency of the formal reviews was determined based on the alignment of the school’s self-assessment of the protocols (using the Implementation Rubric) with their data. For example, if a school says they are at optimizing in a particular protocol but their data indicate that 50 percent of students are below the 25 percentile on screeners, there is a misalignment and they will receive a quarterly review.”

The School Reviews include three parts: the first part entails 45 to 50 minutes with the Leadership Team presenting their rank ordered outcomes (with supporting evidence) and rationale to the District Support Team; the second part involves one hour of classroom walkthroughs and a debrief of what was observed; the third part is 30 minutes with the principal to make recommendations for professional development and provide warm and cool feedback about what was observed throughout the review.

“Within three days, the District Support Team Leader must go into KansaStar and write up the report in the coaching comments—overall, what was the discussion, what recommendations were made, and what follow-up is needed by District Support Team to provide further support,” explains Dr. Lutz.

            Every quarter, the Team Leaders from each District Support Team will meet to pull up KansaStar, review the reports that were completed for that quarter, and see where the school is in assessing indicators, developing tasks, and progressing through their level of implementation of indicators.

            “We explained to schools that we were looking for alignment. If you’ve said this is your lowest protocol and highest need, are you selecting indicators and developing plans that align with that?” explains Dr. Lutz, “Additionally, our Superintendent has requested that at least one member from the District Support Team be present at the STAT session that principals are leading with their Leadership Teams to ensure both that the alignment is carrying through and that they are receiving the support that they need.”

            As superhuman as all this work and alignment seems, Dr. Lutz reminds me that they are all very much human.

            “We have the set up, now we have to execute,” she shares. “I think it is important that we take this slow enough to ensure the process works. I know it will be too slow for some people who want those plans in KansaStar now. I certainly understand that. I assure them we will get there but that it is going to take time. By the start of next year we will hit the ground running with the continuous improvement process we’ve been after.”

I don’t think there is anyone who believes otherwise.


Ensuring Continuous Improvement of the Process

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but when I ask about the feedback loop from principals on the process, she tells me about the District Workgroups that exist for each protocol. Dr. Lutz is in charge of the Data-based Problem Solving workgroup which has already outlined one of its tasks for the year: to create a taskforce of principals who have used KansaStar those who have not.

“We’re going to examine the process we’re using, including within KansaStar, for the purpose of improving the process as the year goes along. Their feedback and our response to it are critical to making it a process that works for everyone.”

I ask Dr. Lutz what else she’d like us to know about this effort and the people involved, which is clearly a testament to the relationships that she, her Superintendent, and her colleagues have built with their school principals, leadership teams, and staff.

“All along, we have honored our commitment to look hard at the data, provide real support, including alignment of initiatives and their connection to teaching and learning, and to avoid judgment. We have invested a lot of time and effort in relationships—consistency and follow-through are critical—and that has paid off for us time and time again. If you say, ‘this is what we need to do and why’ there isn’t anyone who would say no, no we’re not doing it.’

In a district of 92 schools with varying needs and pursuits, KansaStar will serve as a common denominator for sustaining and tracking improvement. It will replace a static school improvement process with responsive continuous improvement one. And it will stretch the reach of district staff without expanding them. It is the next step in the methodical and courageous work that has been growing (sometimes up, sometimes out) for years in Wichita Public Schools.

We have a lot more to learn from them and we’ll be sure to share it when we do.


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When Amanda Smillie (pronounced Smiley) was promoted from lead teacher at Williams-Sullivan Elementary School to principal, the school was the sixth worst performing school in the state. “We were under tremendous pressure to improve or else the state would take over and replace the staff and the principal,” explained Ms. Smillie. Five years later, Ms. Smillie is still in charge. In fact, during her first year as principal at Williams-Sullivan Elementary, the school increased its Quality of Distribution Index (the growth model used by the state to measure achievement and academic growth) from 81, which is considered failing, to 132, which moved the school directly into the achieving/successful column.

To complete the story, click Success at Williams-Durant

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Larry Kugler is volunteering in a South African school this month.  This is a reposting of a previously published blog.

If research is so clear about the things we need to do in schools to improve teaching and learning, why is this work so difficult?  Perhaps the reason is because it’s hard to know where to start. Everything seems important, but we can’t accomplish everything at once.  But we have to start somewhere.  So which issue is most important and needs to be addressed first? How do we decide? Do we deal with the behavior problems and school culture first?  Or do we reorganize the master schedule to provide more time for collaboration?  We probably need to do both (and other things), but each one requires a huge investment of time and energy. Where to start!

 This is the dilemma Karin Chenoweth alludes to in her article “How Do We Get There From Here?” in the February edition of Educational Leadership (VOL. 72 NO. 5, pp. 17-20). She begins with a listing of five practices that research says lead to improvement:

  • Focus on what students need to learn (standards)
  • Collaborate to coordinate standards, curriculum, unit development, and assessments to measure student learning
  • Use classroom and district formative assessments to determine student progress and the needs for remediation and enrichment
  • Find patterns in data to improve instruction
  • Develop trust between students, teachers, parents, and administrators

 I hope you see a link here to the organization of the indicators within Indistar. We’ve organized them by Categories, Sections, and Subsections that roughly correspond to these five areas. But Indistar does more than that. It helps break down broad areas into more manageable and achievable chunks.  In addition, Indistar assists in prioritizing the indicators so that you can achieve some quick wins and build momentum.  However, even with this assistance, there are strategic decisions to be made based on realities and the unique strengths and needs within your building. Now back to the article.

 Although Ms Chenoweth thinks each of these five practices is simple in itself, she suggests that it’s the organizational and intellectual challenges that stand in the way of successful implementation.  The organizational challenges include aligning the master schedule, curriculum, materials, routines and traditions, and the physical space to support teaching and learning.  On top of that, finding the time to collaborate is an additional organizational challenge and knowing how to effectively collaborate is an intellectual challenge.

 Ms Chenoweth provides two examples of principals entering dysfunctional elementary schools and how they approached improving their schools. Both had large percentages of students struggling to learn and high percentages of students that qualified for free- and reduced lunch. 

 In school #1 behavior was a significant problem and “The school was notorious for angry parents and difficult staff.” The principal identified another significant problem- students were bored because teachers were overlying on worksheets and the curriculum was not aligned to the standards. I’m guessing that the district assessments also were not aligned to the curriculum being taught.  

 In school #2, the demographics of the population had shifted from a white middle-class school to a predominantly Spanish-speaking population. In this school the reading and mathematics achievement gap grew the longer these students attended the school. Staff complained that the positive results they had achieved with their white middle-class students showed they were doing their jobs properly and they blamed the lack of success on the families of the students.

 Which again brings me back to the question, “Where do we start when confronted with so many issues that need to be addressed?”  It seems like an overwhelming task, yet these principals immediately addressed some of the issues while deferring others.

 Ms Chenoweth reports that the principal of school #1 recognized that she needed to address the instructional issue of what the students needed to know. Interestingly, the author did not report that the first thing the principal did was address the behavior issue.  This is often the approach taken when discipline is a major problem. I think the belief is that by clamping down on students and enforcing strict rules, behavior will improve and then teaching and learning can take place.  My experience tells me that too often behavior may improve, but unless teaching improves learning does not. 

 So this principal assessed the situation and determined that improving teacher collaboration was an organizational task that needed to be addressed.  She reorganized the master schedule to provide grade-level common planning time and moved classes around so grade-level teachers were clustered together.  Ah, the grumbling that took place!  But she believed that these changes would ultimately lead to better relationships between teachers and improved collaboration.  Which it did, to some degree, in time.  However, the principal also dealt with the discipline issue by roaming the halls to maintain order. And she utilized the new opportunities for team collaboration to engage everyone in the development of schoolwide expectations for behavior.

 This principal also addressed the discipline problem in another way.  She concluded that students were bored during reading instruction, which relied too heavily on textbooks and worksheets, and this created discipline problems.  So she sent some staff to district training and had them share what they learned.  In addition, they used their teacher collaboration meetings to develop supplementary or substitute curriculum that matched the standards.  When teachers expressed concerns that their students couldn’t achieve these higher standards, she took them to other similar schools where students were succeeding.  And finally she encouraged them to use other books to teach reading, include writing in their instruction, and substitute math games for worksheets in math.

 If you wish to read about how the principal in school #2 addressed his challenges, check out the February edition of Educational Leadership.

 Now that you’ve had a chance to consider ways in which these two principals dealt with making significant changes in their buildings, we, the IndistarConnect community of learners, would like to know what were your first steps improving teaching and learning in your building.

      What changes needed to be made?  How did you assess the current condition?  How did you decide which issue(s) to address first?

      Were they organizational – master schedule, classroom assignments, space utilization, routines, etc.?

      Were they intellectual, like knowing how to collaborate and how to work as a team?

      And finally, how did the use of Indistar help you achieve your goals and make the necessary changes?

 Click here to go to the Share Your Stuff section of IndistarConnect, and let us know about how you began the journey toward improved teaching and learning.   

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Below is an excerpt from a story that I wrote about Westlawn Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama. On paper, this school struggled with the same challenges many low achieving schools face: high poverty, high teacher turnover, neighborhood crime, below-grade level learners, limited parent involvement. In practice though, this school is showing the world that their staff, their students, and their families are more than the data points used to sort them. 

But truthfully, what is happening at Westlawn is just great practice. It's what should be happening everywhere. Whether you are a struggling school, a getting by school, a staying the course school, or a high-flying one: there is something for you in this.

If you want to learn how a school changed minds to change results (and change lives), read the full story here. Below, you'll find a brief excerpt along with brief descriptions of what the leadership in this school did first, did always, and does really well.

Excerpt: Westlawn Middle School, Huntsville, Alabama

Some stories you hear and think, there are neither the right words nor enough pages to tell this story right; to tell it the way that covers bare arms in goose bumps, that fills tired eyes with tears of triumph, that causes a pound in your chest that sounds like hope and admiration and belief; to tell it the way it feels when the people living the story tell it.

This is one of those stories. This is the story of the people at Westlawn Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama, which sits in the center of the city serving the five surrounding housing projects, the homeless shelter, and is situated on a street lined with apartment complexes where families live but don’t often stay. This is the story of educators, students, families, community members, and educational partners—and how they have built capacity, commitment, and relationships with minds and hearts and hands in a school that once had a reputation as “the place no one else wanted to be” but today stands proud with t-shirts and megaphones and achievement scores shouting publicly at pep rally’s and privately in their meetings, “We’re going to show the world.”

In 2012, Westlawn was placed on the state's failure list. It was approved for a School Improvement Grant and selected the turnaround model that replaced 80 percent of staff and the principal. That's when Ms. Alexander was brought in to lead the charge.

1. Give hope. People wanted to tell Ms. Alexander all kinds of stories and rumors about how bad the school was. She heard none of it. She tells her teachers and their students, "We write our own story, we get our own messages out. We don't let rumors or misconceptions do it for us."

2. Get out into the communities you serve. Because of high turnover, Westlawn sees new crops of teachers every year and many have never worked in high poverty, high need areas before. Every year, Ms. Alexander and her teachers do Warrior Walks in the neighborhoods where her students and their families live. They pass out information about the school that they want the families to know and have. They also do it so that teachers understand that when a student comes to school with dirty clothes, or tired, or hungry, maybe there is a reason for that. "We don't make excuses...but we do need to understand."

3. Bring the community in. Ms. Alexander invites churches and nurses and doctors and community members into the school for performances and information sessions. "We do it to get the word out about our school but we also do it to make connections for our families."

4. Build structures that support teaming and improved teaching. Right away Ms. Alexander established a strong leadership team, created times and structures for teachers to collaborate on instruction, and engaged partners to implement a student discipline program. 

5. Align everything: standards, curriculum, assessments, instruction, and professional development. To personalize learning for every student, you must be able to assess their level of mastery, adjust instruction accordingly, and support teachers in their professional growth as well. "Teachers must grow before our students can grow." 

6. Build collective commitment with the entire staff. To Ms. Alexander, this meant identifying the areas the entire faculty and staff felt were critical to turning around the school. For each area (read more about them in the full article) the team identified what the school should look like and what they would do to achieve it (Indistar was integral to this step). This collective commitment was discussed at every meeting, every week. It kept the team on task and focused on their work and achieving their goals.

The improvement at Westlawn was not without snags; Ms. Alexander was very candid about what they were and how they helped her and the school to grow even stronger. Humility, belief, persistence, and growth: it's all there.  Read the full story here.


You have a story and we'd all love to hear it. Those who have already worked with me have shared that they were not prepared for the impact that reading their story in writing would have: pride, accomplishment, joy, triumph. No matter how small or how big a story or success or experience--those sharing them and then reading them say that it amplified the resolve and commitment of their teams, of their school, at just the right moment.  To get started, email me here (write in Maureen Mirabito) or at I can't wait to work with you! 

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What Works - Collaboration Works!

Larry Kugler is volunteering in a South African school this month.  This is a reposting of a previously published blog.

The February 2015 issue of Educational Leadership is titled Improving Schools; What Works?” It is chock full of really good stuff. Last week I wrote about Karin Chenoweth’s article that highlighted practices that research says lead to improvement.  This week I want to continue this thread by highlighting another article in this issue by Greg Anrig, “How We Know Collaboration Works.”  Both articles refer to practices that link to effective schools. 

Anrig, in addition to referring to his own set of documented practices, cites two large studies that support the same basic set of practices. The table below summarizes the findings in both articles.  In some cases I’ve quoted from the articles; in others I’ve summarized the findings.  I have not reported all factors cited in each article or study but have included those mentioned multiple times.

What is particularly striking is the similarity in these findings. Four basic sets of practices are noted across these articles:

  • Collaboration
  • Assessment
  • Trust
  • Leadership

 Anrig goes on to provide examples in three diverse school systems that have a history of embracing these practices.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio, a large urban school system, has employed a collaborative model dating back to the 1980s.  They utilize a team-based instructional program and use their most effective teachers to coach their peers.
  • The Springfield, Massachusetts, schools were in such disarray that they were taken over by a board appointed by the state.  From there, a joint labor-management group comprised of union, district and school-board members surveyed administrators and teachers and identified a key area of agreement – teachers needed to be involved in the decision-making process. Simultaneously, collaborative school leadership teams were established to increase parental and community engagement and school-based coaches provided support for the teaching staff.
  • Hillsborough County, Florida, the eighth largest school district in the United States, has embraced collaboration for decades.  This shared decision-making model spans curriculum alignment, test writing, textbook selection, and professional development. With about 57% of its diverse student population eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, Hillsborough has exceeded expectations and outperformed many other wealthier districts in Florida on the state assessments.

 A telling observation that Anrig makes is that these practices reinforce one another. Schools strong in all five areas he identifies were 10 times more likely to improve than schools weak in most areas.  Conversely, a school’s weakness in even one area could jeopardize progress. The five areas cited by Anrig were:

  • an aligned curriculum and assessment with meaningful teacher involvement,
  • effective professional development,
  • strong relationships among administrators, teachers, parents, and community members,
  • a student-centered approach to teaching and learning, and
  • strong leadership that engaged all stakeholders who became invested in the school improving.

 The thread running through all of this is the importance of collaboration. And providing the bedrock for effective collaboration is trust, mentioned throughout both articles and both studies. 

 OK. I’ll admit right here that Maureen's blog from Tuesday is stuck in my head.  One of her obsessions is “questions.” 

  I guess I’m afflicted with the same obsession, because this emphasis on “trust” has me wondering how do you build trust? Is it simply an outgrowth of collaboration? Are there ways to enhance the building of trust? I can imagine schools where the Culture of Candor flourishes and trust is built and can also imagine schools where it does not thrive. 

 I know this first hand, from both a positive and negative perspective.  On one end of the spectrum, was the director of my division when I moved to the central office.  She would begin a discussion with the words, “We are going to brainstorm so let’s hear your ideas.” Now we know that during brainstorming ideas are just thrown out and not evaluated at that time.  The evaluation of the ideas comes later. However, within moments we’d hear these words from her mouth, “That’s not workable.” I remember one time she replied to the high school ESOL staff member when he suggested an idea, “ You teach high school so you don’t know about elementary instruction.”  Well you can imagine how such comments were received.  They certainly did not build trust. They actually accomplished the opposite, closing down thinking and limiting our ability to solve problems.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve written before about my experience as a team leader in the elementary school where I got my first job.  The principal would often bring issues to the LT to be discussed, brought back to our teams for feedback and input, and then decided at the next LT meeting.  And these were substantive issues that built trust because everyone knew that his or her voice was being heard.  Our principal also built trust between the administration and the teachers by placing the responsibility in the teams for purchasing materials and deciding on teaching strategies that supported the standards and the curriculum. He was available to give us guidance and he also made clear at staff meetings and in informal conversation what his beliefs were and knowing this guided our work.


So my questions are:

 How do you build trust with your teachers, parents, and community?

What specific approaches do you use that help create this trust?

 What do you do that helps your teachers build trust with their students and their parents?

 Please go to Share Your Stuff and help all IndistarConnect users build more collaborative and trusting Leadership Teams by sharing you practices and challenges.

 Attached is a link to a very interesting YouTube video about collaboration.  It is found in the Teacher Union Reform Network.  Click the Turn Talk page below and scroll down to Turn Talk #7 – Learning To Live Together: Building a Culture of Collaboration Focused On Improving Teaching And Learning.  Particularly interesting is the second half of the Talk ( at about the 21 minute mark) when Dr. W. Patrick Dolan suggests a framework for collaboration that has the potential for building trust in a Culture of Candor. The first half is also worth watching. 

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How A Task Can Change Everything

Cedarville High School is located in Crawford County, Arkansas, the southern edge of the Ozark National Forest. 

When I talked with Claire Pence, Site-based School Improvement Specialist, about her school's successful efforts to improve teaching and student learning outcomes (and how Indistar helped), every word she spoke mattered. This quote sums up how the high school understands and approaches improvement. 

"There is no scolding, no scoffing. When someone doesn't know something, there is only encouragement and opportunity to lift up experts who can help."

You can read the full story here. And you will want to. It is full of ideas, practices and even questions that you can implement and ask today.

Here is a sneak peek of what unfolded in our conversation and what you will discover in detail when you read the story.

1. Indicator Selection was Informed by Research + Data.

Upon their designation as a Focus School, the Leadership Team conducted a comprehensive needs assessment of their school. An external auditor examined practices related to curriculum, instruction, culture, climate, and leadership. The results informed the selection of indicators of effective practice, which they would use to assess, create, and monitor tasks within Indistar.

2. Indistar is More than a Tool For Planning + Tracking Indicator Implementation.

While they believed Indistar was intended to manage their improvment efforts, it wasn't long before the leadership and instructional teams discovered that Indistar provided them with much more, including the language, the research, and the space to examine and discuss their own individual practices and understandings, their effectiveness in working together as an entire community, and the expertise and knowledge that each one of them could contribute to the growth and improvement of another. 

3. Tasks Should Be Written in the Form of Smart-Goals. 

Tasks are actions to achieve and complete, it's where the change happens, as you will read below. Therefore, urges Claire, make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Relevant, and Time-sensitive.

4. The Tasks is Where Change Happens: Find A Way to Involve Everyone In Their Creation and Execution.

The teaming structure at the high school includes weekly Leadership and Content Team meetings; every other week Grade-level Teams meet. While the Leadership Team took on the responsibility of assessing indicators and creating tasks, they built in a process to receive feedback from the Content Teams whenever a task was created. Find out the impact this practice had on the quality and sustainability of their improvement and the culture of their school.

To learn more about this school and their specific practices to improve, read the full story here.


We all have a story and we'd love to hear yours. Those who have already worked with me have shared that they were not prepared for the impact that reading their story in writing would have: pride, accomplishment, joy, triumph. No matter how small or how big a story or success or experience--those sharing them and then reading them say that it amplified the resolve and commitment of their teams, of their school, at just the right moment.  To get started, email me here (write in Maureen Mirabito) or at I can't wait to work with you! 

Thank you.

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Metacognition - A View From The Classroom

Last week I wrote about metacognition, or the ability to think about your thinking. But, as I suggested, it means more than that.  It means, “ … there is an active component that you have control over your thinking and can adjust your behavior.” In other words, you have the ability to:

  • plan how to approach a learning task
  • know what works and what doesn’t work for you and select the most appropriate strategy for a particular task
  • monitor your own comprehension while reading
  • have a strategy to fix errors when comprehension breaks down
  • evaluate your progress on a task

 This week I’d like to explore what this looks like in real classrooms.  Of course, I expect you will have other examples from your schools and classrooms, and my hope is that you will share them on IndistarConnect so other members will benefit from your experience and good practices.

 As I stated last week, supporting the development of metacognitive skills begins at the earliest ages.  I’m going to begin in grade one and give credit to two outstanding educators, Mary Browning Schulman and Carleen DaCruz Payne, who are the authors of an excellent resource, Guided Reading: Making It Work (Scholastic, 2000).  The authors present classroom conversations between teachers and students in small guided-reading groups. 

One example from the book that addresses the first bullet above - plan how to approach a learning task - highlights the importance of young readers using pictures to support their emergent reading skills. The teacher begins by reminding the students that they should look at and talk about the pictures before reading the story.  The teacher has modeled this strategy numerous times and is now encouraging the students to talk about the story as they look through the book. In the example, they are reading a second version of the Little Red Hen. The teacher is asking them to look through this version and describe what they remember about the story.  In this way, the students will engage their background knowledge using vocabulary that will likely be in this version, and they will be predicting what will happen in this story. This approach provides the support necessary for a successful reading and, more importantly, helps establish a pattern of planning for reading that will be useful throughout school and life.

How might this same strategy - plan how to approach a learning task – look for upper elementary, middle, or high school students?  There are numerous teaching techniques used to accomplish the same goal for older students. A few examples include:

  • K-W-L (Ogle)
  • Survey Technique (Aukerman)
  • Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) (Raphael)

 The Survey Technique is well documented and frequently used.  It may go by different names or be embedded in other techniques (The S in SQ3R, PReP, ReQuest).  The technique provides students a strategy for previewing a textbook in preparation for a successful reading.   Typically it has six components:

  1. Analyze the title of the chapter and consider what it might be about and what you already know about the topic.
  2. Analyze the subtitles throughout the chapter to gain an understanding of what will be presented.  These subtitles can also be turned into questions to help guide the reading.
  3. Analyze any visuals.  These can include pictures, charts, graphs, etc.  Engaging in discussions about the information presented in these visuals can provide the teacher valuable information about each student’s ability to interpret this information.
  4. Read and discuss the introductory paragraph(s) to see if the ideas generated in steps 1-3 fit with this information.
  5. Read and discuss the concluding paragraph(s) to confirm what has been gleaned from the previous steps.
  6. Identify the main idea of the chapter with the whole-class, a group, or individually.

While this technique places more responsibility in the student’s hands, the teacher still has major responsibility for introducing it (and the others listed above) through direct instruction and modeling until responsibility is transferred to the student. These techniques help build the metacognitive skills necessary for successful independent learning.

Contrast these approaches with techniques for presenting information that require intensive work by the teacher but do not explicitly assist the student to become more metacognitive.  These might include the development of graphic organizers, study guides, or idea mapping.  Each of these techniques, and others like them, are valuable tools to help students understand content and should be incorporated into lesson planning.  However, these techniques require the teacher to do all the hard metacognitive work.   I am suggesting that much of the teacher’s energy and planning needs to be used to engage students in developing their metacognitive skills.

 I am sure you are familiar with the Chinese proverb:

           Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

           Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.


Likewise, if we teach our students to think about their thinking and independently plan, monitor, adjust, and evaluate their own progress, we help them develop into successful life-long learners. 


Schulman, M. B., & Payne, C. D. (2000). Guided Reading: Making It Work . New York. Scholastic Professional Books.

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If you ask the Leadership Team in Augusta, Arkansas what it takes to turn around a culture, shift a mindset, change a thought, and ACHIEVE they will tell you in one word: persistence.

So begins the story of a small district located in the Delta region of Arkansas.

"We have one stop light in Augusta, one dollar store, one grocery store. A lot of grandparents are raising children. Many teachers do not live here, some driving fifty miles to work here," explains Pam Clark, school improvement coach from the Arkansas Department of Education and who works with the Leadership Team .

The high school was placed in "Academic Distress" and the elementary school was identified as a Focus School. 

"Kids do not come form homes where there are books. They do not know about Dolly Parton's Imagination Station. They come to school and that is their first experience with learning. We do not buy into that old myth that some kids can't learn. They can learn just as well as anyone. We're proving it."

Augusta has been using Indistar for three years. They started at the same time the high school was placed in priority status. 

The Leadership Team generously spent two hours sharing the details of their growth and improvement journey with me. Read the full story HERE (it's powerful). I've extracted some pieces and highlighted them below. But FIRST, if you or your team have a story you want to tell and share with others like the one from Augusta, I would LOVE to listen (and then write). Type in Maureen Mirabito here or click:

Augusta Leadership Team On Using Indistar 

"We were in deep when we started with Indistar, hoping to get through today and maybe tomorrow and not focusing on the list of things we were supposed to be doing. We knew we were supposed to be doing them but we had no idea how," shares Jessica Stone, K-12 Literacy Coach.

Anything new feels clumsy at first. The night before my first day of teaching I lost sleep over when and how to make copies (I had made them at Staples prior to the start of school and I vaguely remembered hearing something about using a code...). It wasn't long before I was a copy-making expert, but I didn't show up that way. Copies, teaching, leading, improving...none of us show up as experts. But we get there. 

The Leadership Team in Augusta, Arkansas started with a conversation. An uninterrupted, protected, conversation that happened every week. Here is their process for figuring HOW to do it.

1. Schedule time to meet. Do not, under any circumstances, cancel.

The first step in building their process for improvement was to meet. They started with one hour every single week and worked their way up. Nothing moved this time. Protecting it demonstrated that the TEAM mattered and their time was valued. It demonstrated that the work was really really important.

It reminded me of a rule from childhood. My mother told me and my three siblings that we were not, under any circumstances, to call her at work unless we were bleeding from an artery or knocked unconscious. Some rules are definitely not meant for breaking.

2. Start with a few.

Like many schools, Augusta was required to assess, plan for, implement, and monitor several indicators of effective practice. But they weren't just tackling lots of indicators of effective practice; they were also learning how to work together differently. They were building language and common understanding about improvement, instruction and learning (and the role each of them played). They were developing a readiness to learn and change. They were practicing how to be vulnerable about their own struggles and successes without fear of judgement. They were replacing judgement (and fear of it) with genuine care and support for their colleagues and experiencing the most transformational relationships and professional growth of their careers. They were even figuring out how to project from the computer onto the screen (we've all been there).

Selecting a few indicators (rather than tackling all of them) gave the team space to do all of those things at the same time they were advancing on their improvement work. Talking candidly about what it means to assess students using a variety of methods and how well or often it was happening in their school became this team's version of trust-building games at an outdoor retreat: their trust-building was anchored in a specific practice related to teaching and learning, their fresh thinking was their fresh air, the action steps they built together for what would happen next was the sunshine filtered through green leaves on a shady tree. 

"Once we got the process moving, we were much more successful adding in indicators rather than trying to do them all at once"--Richard Greer, math coach and Leadership Team member.

"It wasn't always like this, our culture of trust and honesty. We have struggled together every week, sometimes every day, though some tough realizations and difficult decisions. But now it is always in the best interest of our students. It is not personal when someone challenge us. We know it is all about academic achievement and making sure that we are not just doing good enough--but that we are fully implementing the indicators of effective practice in every classroom in the best possible way for our kids."

3. Rely on the Research (Even conduct your own).

The Leadership Team talked about their use of the Wise Ways research within Indistar to guide their focus and discussions about the indicators of effective practice and to understand exactly what achieving schools do and to establish a common vision for what it will look like in their school. Student engagement was an area the team returned to over and over again each week. They reviewed the research in their Leadership Team, with teachers during instructional team meetings, and even sought help from an external partner on collecting and gathering evidence that would measure up with what Wise Ways expected.

They also interviewed students about what teachers did that was engaging and was not engaging. Their responses were "right on with the research." 

"Having our student voices, supported by research, gave us a solid foundation and platform for making changes to instruction and technique with teachers. We said, 'Our students are saying this, research is also saying this, so how will we make it happen? It was what we needed to get out teachers involved and hear their ideas and get their buy-in for making changes,"--Jessica Stone

To learn more about this district and its schools, how they moved off of the state identification list, and the percentage of their high school students that are graduating and have been accepted into post-secondary education, read the full story here.


We all have a story and we'd love to hear yours. Those who have already worked with me have shared that they were not prepared for the impact that reading their story in writing would have: pride, accomplishment, joy, triumph. No matter how small or how big a story or success or experience--those sharing them and then reading them say that it amplified the resolve and commitment of their teams, of their school, at just the right moment.  To get started, email me here (write in Maureen Mirabito) or at I can't wait to work with you! 

Thank you.

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The Center on Innovations in Learning is pleased to introduce a new practice guide: The Personal Competencies Through the Eyes of the Classroom Teacher, by Suzanne Carreker and Regina Boulware-Gooden. This practice guide is based on the idea that students bring attitudes, aptitudes, and behaviors to the learning experience, what other CIL practice guides have identified as the four personal competencies—cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, social/emotional. These competencies help students coordinate and manage new learning and can be enhanced by teachers, but such enhancement in the classroom cannot be assumed. It depends on how well a teacher understands and uses his or her own competencies. So, this practice guide is designed to help teachers reflect on and improve their understanding of the competencies and how they can go about enhancing the personal competencies of their students. The guide’s appendices include theories of action and logic models. This new publication and the previous four guides in the personal competencies series can be freely downloaded at

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Larry Kugler is volunteering in a South African school this month.  This is a reposting of a previously published blog.

It’s a provocative question.  In contrast to this question is the prevailing mantra, which is, particularly in high needs schools, that we need to work harder and do more for students who come from impoverished backgrounds.  For example, we need to break learning into small, manageable pieces introduced sequentially.  And for our average and gifted students need we need to create better lessons and curriculum that specifically address and provide for their needs.  Let me be clear – both these practices are beneficial for our students and I am not implying they should not be done.

 However, they place a real burden on our Leadership and Instructional Teams, and teachers, specialists, and staff in our schools. Yet, there are those who question what we are providing for all of our students and who suggest we are doing too much for our students.  Let me explain. 

Their argument centers on the concept of metacognition.  Metacognition, in its simplest form, is defined as thinking about thinking.  The online Psychology Dictionary defines metacognition as the, “… ability to become conscious of ones own cognitive processes and hence have the ability to attempt to control them.”  So it’s not just the ability to think about your thinking, but there is an active component that you have control over your thinking and can adjust your behavior.

As stated on page 13 in the book Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools, “This mental self-awareness helps students develop more effective cognitive strategies for accomplishing tasks, making decisions, and reviewing their own work.” In other words, becoming metacognitive independent learners.

 Some examples of metacognitive abilities include:

  • having a plan for how to approach a learning task
  • knowing what works and what doesn’t work for you and selecting the most appropriate strategy for a particular task
  • monitoring your own comprehension while reading
  • having a strategy to fix errors when comprehension breaks down
  • evaluating your progress on a task

 So in what way are we doing too much for our students?  Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien wrote a blog for Edutopia “Hands-off Teaching Cultivates Metacognition”in which they posit that teachers are the ones doing all the hard (and productive) thinking when they plan lessons.  Teachers work to develop lessons that will engage their students and hold their attention. They consider many aspects as they develop these lessons, including:

  • How they taught this before
  • What worked and what didn't work
  • What needs to be changed to make the lesson more engaging and effective
  • What the students know about the topic
  • How they will adjust the lesson based on what this new group of students knows and can do

These are all metacognitive tasks that the teachers engage in. The authors suggest that this makes it too easy for the students.  The message the students get is that all they need to do is become passive receivers of the knowledge.  The authors portray a year after year series of lectures from which the students internalize the message that the person in charge of their learning is someone other than themselves.  This results in a lack of metacognitive skill development for the students.  They should be doing much more of this work. 

 OK.  Timeout.  I think these authors portray a one-sided picture of teachers and classrooms where students are passive receivers of knowledge and rarely, if ever, engage in higher order thinking and the use of metacognitive strategies. Where teachers lecture to students and then expect them to regurgitate back the information without experiences where they can practice and then apply their knowledge and develop their metacognitive abilities.  I don't think they give enough credit to those teachers who work hard to develop lessons that do require students to think. Where teachers present challenging tasks that require students to consider their strategies and apply those that are most productive followed by thoughtful analysis and debriefing to determine the effectiveness of those strategies.

Having said that, I do think it is productive to analyze what we do as teachers through various lenses to determine if what we are doing is effective and productive for students.  So I’m going to use what was in the blog to suggest what we know good teachers do.  The authors reference Eric Mazur, a Harvard professor of physics who changed his practice to get his students to think more.  He made them teach each other the content.  Of course, we know this technique as Reciprocal Teaching, and it is referenced in Wise Ways (135), which states,”

  • All teachers encourage students to check their own comprehension.

In addition to the reference to Reciprocal Teaching in this Wise Ways, is a reference to John Hattie’s research, which I’ve mentioned in numerous blogs.  As I’ve stated before, Hattie compiled meta-analyses of factors affecting achievement. Of the 138 factors he ranks, metacognitive strategies rank number 13 on the list.  Reciprocal Teaching is the 9th ranked most powerful strategy. So it behooves us to consider what we do in our classrooms that support the development of our students’ metacognition (thinking about thinking) strategies.  It’s not enough that we, as teachers, are engaged in metacognitive thinking as we develop and plan our lessons. Like Eric Mazur, we need to get our students to do more of the thinking.

 So the question is what I started with – Are We Doing Too Much For Our Students?  Do we need to do less? The authors of this blog determine that we do too much for our students. As they conclude,

A great teacher doesn’t teach as much as possible. A great teacher teaches as little as possible, while modeling the behaviors of how to figure something out. Perhaps it seems too obvious to say that your goal should be for students to think as much as possible during your class.  But in this case, “thinking” really means thinking about the material plus how to dig in, break it apart, understand it, and build on that. It means thinking about how to constantly get better.”

Until next week, we’d like to hear what you think?

  • What are you doing in your classroom, school, district, or state to help students develop their metacognitive strategies?
  • Would you share your thoughts on IndistarConnect?  For directions how to do that, open any of my last few blogs and scroll to the bottom.  It really is easy, and we would love to get your “thinking about your thinking.”








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Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, presents a portrait of the 16th president that is instructive to education and business leaders alike. Lincoln came to the presidency with little political experience and even less support from those who ran against him. Yet he selected several of his competitors to serve in his cabinet. Through the brief period of his administration these “rivals” came to respect and even revere him, both privately and publicly. How did he accomplish holding the country together and ultimately abolishing slavery given these obstacles, and what does he teach us about leadership?

Surround yourself with the best people, including rivals with different views on issues, who have strong egos and are willing to challenge your opinions.

Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s treasury secretary, had ambitions to be president. He ran against Lincoln for the Republican nomination and was continually undermining the president to Lincoln’s cabinet, congress, and the rest of the country. However, as long as he was doing a good job at treasury, Lincoln respected and kept him on.

     Are there strong people on the Leadership Team who can represent their opinions with logical arguments?

Encourage debate and discussion and an airing of all perspectives on important issues.

For months Lincoln engaged his cabinet debating if and when slavery should be abolished. His cabinet represented a wide range of opinions on this topic. Ultimately he made the decision and informed his cabinet that there would no longer be debate. He then wanted suggestions about how to best implement his decision and issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The downside to encouraging debate can be that you constantly are arguing and at some point you have to cut off debate make a decision. The upside of debating is that everyone is heard.

     Is debate and discussion encouraged at LT meetings? Is everyone heard? Is debate appropriately cut off when it is no longer productive? Are decisions then made that each participant can support because their opinion was heard?

Bring in people with different temperaments.

Lincoln brought in Edwin Stanton as secretary of war. Stanton was much tougher than Lincoln, particularly with how to deal with soldiers who had run away from battle. Lincoln was much more lenient, swayed by the personal stories of these soldiers. Stanton was relentless in punishing cowardice. Together they struck a balance.

Is there a mix of temperaments ( Learning Styles, Myers-Briggs types, etc) who can offer different perspectives on the issues? Can some people see the big picture and like to talk about these issues forever, while others help focus on the details and nitty-gritty of getting the work done? Do you have people who represent this range?

• Know (or learn) how to relax to replenish your energies for the struggles that will surely come

Lincoln attended the theater about 100 times, even during the worst of the war. He also entertained people with his legendary storytelling abilities.

What do LT members (and actually all staff members) do to relax and replenish their energies? Are they encouraged to find outlets that help achieve this goal?

• Let go of wrongs done to you or mistakes of those around you.

Lincoln had the ability to be magnanimous, even toward those who had failed him or tried to undermine him (Salmon Chase). Unfortunately, because he was willing to give people second chances, he failed to act decisively sometimes. Case in point was George McClellan, who was head of the union army at the beginning of the war. According to Goodwin, McClelland was “narcissistic and insubordinate,” to the point of ignoring Lincoln’s orders. He should have been fired early on, which she says would have saved thousands of lives.

Can your LT members (including you) move on from actual or perceived hurts or failures of others to perform?

• Take time to reflect!

Lincoln and those around him had this time because they didn't have 24-7 cable news, cell phones, computers, etc. They had time to discuss the issues and reflect before making their decisions. Seward, for example, wrote daily letters to his wife sharing what had transpired that day, providing him an opportunity to reflect.

Is adequate time and opportunity provided to reflect on the discussions and debates before decisions are made?

Following is the entire Harvard Business Review interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin on this topic of Lincoln and Leadership. We hope you enjoy reading it and encourage you to read the book Team of Rivals to delve more deeply into Lincoln’s ability to lead. Maybe we can’t all be Lincolns, but perhaps we can be more Linconesque in our leadership style.

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The indicator for this week states, “All teachers encourage students to check their own comprehension. (135).”  The supporting Wise Ways describes a Think/Know/Show sequence that supports student learning by integrating many proven teaching techniques including:

Building on this indicator and Wise Ways is a blog from entitled Metacognition: The Gift That Keeps Giving by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers.

 First, a bit of context so we’re all coming at this topic from somewhat the same perspective. John Hattie defines metacognition in his book Visible Learning (2009), 

   “Meta-cognition relates to thinking about thinking.” (P.188).

Ah, but if it were that easy, we’d all be experts in metacognition.  It’s a bit more complicated than that. Hattie goes on to describe metacognition as,

   “… higher-order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Meta-cognition activities can include planning how to approach a given learning task, evaluating progress, and monitoring comprehension.” 1

Now that’s a bit more complicated, isn't it. Those behaviors sound like those employed by our successful students. Yet we all have struggled to help students who don’t plan what they will be doing, don’t have strategies to monitor their understanding along the way, and therefore can’t fix their errors or ineffective approaches to learning.

In their blog Wilson and Conyers offer some specific teaching guidelines to help students understand what metacognition is and to develop effective strategies. Among their suggestions are:

  • Be explicit in teaching what the term metacognition means.  With your younger students use metaphors that will help them understand what this word means.
  • Work with students to provide examples from their own experiences.
  • Allow students to choose what they want to read and what they want to learn about. (Although not stated, I assume allowing students to make these choices enhances the opportunities to apply metacognitive strategies because they are more engaged).
  • Require students to apply metacognitive strategies across curricular areas and in real-life situations.
  • Use the “think aloud” approach to make your thinking obvious to your students how you use metacognitive strategies.

There are two more upsides to checking out this blog. First are the links to their other blog and their article in Educational Leadership on metacognition. The other is the opportunity to engage in discussion by reading comments from other readers and sharing your ideas.  Sounds a lot like IndistarConnect, doesn’t it?  Please share you ideas, questions, and concerns at the end of this blog or start your own Discussion (just click on the + sign on the far right under the blue banner) so other Indistar users around the nation can see what you’re thinking and doing.  




[1] Hattie concludes that of 138 specific approaches, teaching metacognitive strategies is the 12th most effective approach for improving student achievement with an effect size of 0.69 (that’s really high).  Oh, and by the way, Reciprocal Teaching, which is specifically referenced in the Wise Ways has an effect size of .74 and is the 9th most effective approach in his listing.



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Fear Is Like A Bubble You Need to Pop

My children have been collecting acorns in spiderman buckets all weekend. My oldest wants to write messages of hope and inspiration on them and give them away with the lemonade they plan to sell at a stand next week. My three year old just wants to collect as many as he can and keep them all to himself. My one year is only interested in tormenting my three year old by threatening to steal the acorns for the explosive reaction it promises (it's all about cause and effect for him). My six year old isn't interested in either the acorns or the explosions. She's too busy putting on her cowgirl boots and soccer shorts and slinging a bow + arrow over her shoulder to be bothered with acorn matters. But she is paying close attention to the behaviors of her siblings and their triggers when it comes to them.

In the midst of a battle between brothers this morning I asked Peter, the three year old, what he was most afraid of when his little brother made a swipe for his acorns. I asked him what he was afraid would happen. He told me he was afraid Danny would take them. Take them where? I asked. He didn't know, just that he would take them. I asked him, Have you ever seen Danny going anywhere by himself, or even out of these two rooms? No, he said. He couldn't think of a time. Would he feel better knowing that I would help make sure his acorns stayed safe while Danny was playing with him? He nodded his head.

I explained to him that fears were normal but that we couldn't hold onto them, that we had to let them go just like the bubbles he loved to blow. Then Anna, my six year old, chimed in from the corner she was dancing (and overhearing) in. She very calmly and confidently pointed out, "Oh, riggggghht. The bubbles are our fears. They float around and we can't quite catch them but we can pop them by touching them and if we can't reach them, we can ask someone to help us."

Bingo. We can let them go, pop them. We can always ask someone to help us.

Sometimes I struggle in confidence because so much of my life involves observing and guiding the antics and development of four small children (probably not always well), yet I'm writing articles and delivering coaching to adults. But when exchanges like these unfold before my eyes, I see my own adult behaviors and fears in them too.

Rather than a living room, I'm usually in a board room or at a conference table. I'm thinking about the roles that team members fall into (me included)--those with the ideas, who want to bring hope and inspiration, those who point out the challenges, those who expand on the possibilities, those who are afraid of failure, others who are afraid of success, those ready to take action, those who want to hold on tightly to what is in place right now. We are not devising ways to fiercely protect acorns, but we could easily replace acorns with something else--budgets, projects, programs, lesson plans, instructional strategies, procedures.

And there is an important place for all of those roles and often we all take turns playing them. We need to challenge ideas and think through their implementation. We must anticipate problems and snags. I have rarely encountered a great idea that wasn't made even better by different perspectives. Discussion and disagreement should always be part of the disruption, improvement, or transformation process--whatever it is. But we have to be careful that the disagreements and discussions are driven by courage and growth and not by fear. The times I have seen teamwork and the possibility and excitement of it fall apart is when members have used their expertise to protect their fears.

When we enter a meeting or a discussion or a project where we want to make things better, especially for kids, the most incredible and productive experiences are the ones where we come to the table as humans and get comfortable sharing what we don't know, what we are afraid of but what we hope for. That kind of approach is a contagious one, it catches. And before you know it, you're a room full of people who know some things but together, you're learning a lot more things. You share ideas, you confess fears you've yet to name, and your colleagues are making it okay for you to pop them or helping you reach them if you can't. Suddenly there is a lot more space in your mind and in your life to explore and improve and create with others.

I was coaching someone recently who was preparing for an assignment that he thought was new to him, but wasn't really. The situation was different, the circumstances. But the people were no different than those he had helped in other ways and in different places before. I asked him what he was afraid of, what made him most nervous. He was concerned that he hadn't served in the same capacity as those he would be working with, hadn't walked in their shoes.

Even though he had, that wasn't even the point. The people needed someone who could help them to think clearly about what they were doing really well and what they could stand to improve, to understand exactly what excellence looked like and felt like to them, to develop actions and assignments that would move them all closer to behaving and performing in excellent ways. This friend knew how to do all of those things expertly. He knew how to make it okay for them to be an expert and have fears and demonstrate courage in overcoming them. He was modeling it for them now.

I told him what I tell a lot of people I work with: We are all 7th graders. We all try on and wear masks to shield the parts of us that might not be cool or right or smart. The parts that might be judged by others. The parts that make us human and great and full of hope and willing to learn. Why would we ever want to cover that up? As someone once pointed out, the irony is that when we take off those masks, we become less judgmental of ourselves and others; we make it okay for others to take off their masks too.

We are all 7th graders and we want nothing more than for our actual 7th graders to raise their hand when they have a question, to smile wide with their shiny braces, to speak up even if their voice might crack, to wear stonewashed denim if that's what they're most comfortable doing. We want them to be who they are and we want their peers to accept them and help them and encourage them.

It sounds a lot like what we all want for our colleagues and friends too. Our students. Our children. It sounds a lot like what we want for ourselves. 

Call to Action (share your responses in the Comments section below)

Have you ever been afraid? Did you always know what you were afraid of or did you have to think it through? Did it prevent you from enjoying your work, building relationships, growing in your learning? How did you overcome it?

Tell us about the best teaming experience you have had. What made it the best? 

Additional Resources

The Structures These Teams Use To Succeed

Five Things You Need to Know About Indistar

Read more…

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