justinbaeder, Author at The Principal Center

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Dr. Victoria Bernhardt—Measuring What We Do in Schools: How to Know If What We Are Doing Is Making a Difference

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Get the book, Measuring What We Do in Schools: How to Know If What We Are Doing Is Making a Difference

Visit the Education for the Future website

About Dr. Victoria Bernhardt

Victoria Bernhardt, PhD is Executive Director of Education for the Future, and professor emeritus at California State University—Chico. She's passionate about her mission of helping educators improve teaching and learning by gathering, analyzing, and using data. She is the author of 20+ books.

Yong Zhao—Reach for Greatness: Personalizable Education for All Children

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Get the book, Reach for Greatness: Personalizable Education for All Children

Visit Dr. Zhao's website

Follow Dr. Zhao on twitter @YongZhaoEd

About Dr. Yong Zhao

Dr. Yong Zhao is a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas. He is also a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University in Australia as well as a Global Chair at the University of Bath, UK. He previously served as the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he was also a Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. Prior to his work at the University of Oregon, Yong Zhao was University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, where he also served as the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology, executive director of the Confucius Institute, as well as the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He has published over 100 articles and 30 books.

Cassandra Erkens—Instructional Agility: Responding to Assessment with Real-Time Decisions

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About Cassandra Erkens

Cassandra Erkens is president of Anam Cara Consulting and is an internationally renowned expert in professional development and teacher training. The author of more than half a dozen books on assessment and leadership, she designs and provides training through the Solution Tree Assessment Center, and is a Solution Tree PLC Associate.

6 John Hattie—Ten Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Visit the Visible Learning website

About Dr. John Hattie

John Hattie is the researcher and author behind the enormously influential Visible Learning series, including his synthesis of more than 800 meta-analysis studies related to achievement. Dr. Hattie is Professor, Deputy Dean, and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is Chair of the Board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, and Associate Director of the ARC-Science of Learning Research Centre.
Show Transcript

Announcer:  [00:01] Welcome to “Principal Center Radio,” bringing you the best in professional practice. Here's your host, Director of the Principal Center and champion of high‑performance instructional leadership, Justin Baeder.

Justin Baeder:  [00:12] Welcome everyone to Principal Center Radio. I'm your host, Justin Baeder, and I'm honored to be joined today by Dr. John Hattie. Dr. Hattie is the researcher and author behind the enormously influential “Visible Learning” series, including his synthesis of more than 800 meta‑analysis studies related to achievement.

[00:31] Dr. Hattie is also professor, deputy dean, and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is chair of the board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and associate director of the ARC Science of Learning Research Center.

[00:48] Most of our Principal Center Radio listeners know Dr. Hattie primarily as a researcher and author. We're here today to talk about his new book, “10 Mindframes for Visible Learning ‑‑ Teaching for Success.”

Announcer:  [01:00] And now, our feature presentation.

Justin:  [01:03] Dr. Hattie, welcome to Principal Center Radio.

John Hattie:  [01:05] It's great to be here talking to you, Justin, and to the listeners.

Justin:  [01:09] Thanks so much. Let's talk first about what you saw happening in the profession, perhaps in reaction to some of your previous work. How did you arrive at the conclusion that teachers' mindframes are so important? What was it that led up to this particular book?

John:  [01:25] Since I started on the whole visible learning notion, which actually I started in your old state, Washington, way back in the early 1990s, was trying to answer the question about how everything in our business seems to work. How come every teacher says they're above average and every school has evidence that they're doing a good job? Yet from the perspective of a student, that doesn't always make sense.

[01:48] What I've tried to do is change the conversation from what works ‑‑ because almost everything works ‑‑ to what works best. As I've done in the book, trying to take the many, many thousands ‑‑ tens of thousands ‑‑ of research articles that are done in everyday classrooms and trying to answer the question about what does work best.

[02:07] In the early books, I was grappling with 150, now 250 different influences. I published the book and I take the responsibility here. Sometimes that lead table, that list of factors, gets in the way of the story. It took me 20 years to write that first book to understand what that story is.

[02:26] What this current book is about is it concentrates entirely on that story. What it turns out is it's not really what teachers do. We could have two teachers, Justin, using exactly the same strategy and one of them implements it well. One of them has got good diagnosis and [inaudible] for their class. One of them modifies it on the fly, and one of them doesn't.

[02:51] It's not the strategy. It's their thinking in the moment‑to‑moment, day‑by‑day process that teachers use. It really was not so much what they did. It wasn't really who they are in terms of whether what kind of training they have, how many years' experience, whether in Arkansas, whether in Washington, whether in Melbourne. What matters is how they think.

[03:10] What I tried to distill in this book is the 10 most important ways about how teachers think. My argument in the book is that's what we need to worry about with our profession, that expertise that relates to how teachers think. It's very profound. It's very dramatic. It's incredibly powerful when you see it happening. It's not uncommon at all.

Justin:  [03:29] I couldn't agree more that teacher thinking, teacher cognition is so critical and so powerful. I wonder if you've seen what I'm picking up from a lot of our profession, this focus on teacher behavior.

[03:45] People will take a list like your book, “Visible Learning”, the big study, and say, “I want to see teachers doing this, that, or the other thing.” We go around to classrooms. We bring the clipboard, and we say, “Well, you're doing this. I think you should be doing that instead.” We focus very heavily on teacher behavior.

[04:03] I've seen very, very little focus in our profession on teacher thinking, and the decision making that teachers do, and the ways that teachers think about their work and think about their students. I'm very excited to see you direct the attention of educators to thinking, to those things that happen behind the scenes.

[04:23] We have a frustration as administrators ‑‑ I work primarily with administrators ‑‑ that thinking is not very visible. Of all the things that we can influence, thinking is one of those that happens beneath the surface or behind the scenes.

[04:36] As you have probed this topic to think about how we can get at teacher thinking, what have been some of the main indicators to you of how teachers think and how that matters in the classroom, how that matters for students?

John:  [04:51] The theme is absolutely correct. This is too strong, but I almost don't care how teachers teach. The whole debate we have about best ways to teach, about best practice, about resources, apps, all that kind of stuff is killing us as a profession. It's not how they teach. It's the impact of that teaching on the kids.

[05:11] In the same way as you said, when you go into classroom with those clipboards, you take the Danielson and the Marzano's, and you sit in the back, and you record them all. It doesn't really matter. I've struggled to find any evidence that doing that makes a difference. Only a fifth of the items in the Danielson relate to the impact of the teacher on the kid.

[05:30] Now if you talk do Danielson, she'll say that your instrument wasn't invented to use it in the kind of accountability way your country's obsessed with. I care about that impact on the kids.

[05:40] When you go into a classroom, it's a sin to watch another teacher teach. All you do is tell that teacher how to teach better like you. What you should do is watch the impact on the kids.

[05:50] We know from [inaudible] work that 80 percent of what happens in the classroom, a teacher doesn't see or hear. Why would we care about the teacher reflection on that 20 percent? Help the teacher understand that 80 percent. A lot of our work at the moment is trying to help teachers see what's happening in that other percent.

[06:06] I take the private lives that kids talk about in the classrooms as teachers are talking. Teachers talk an incredible amount of the time. It's not as if kids are sitting there passive. They have a whole private world that goes on in that classroom. How do we help the teachers understand and use that to the beneficiary?

[06:21] Then it comes to your point, Justin, about…You're right, it's hard to see the thinking, but it's not impossible. If you can get teachers talking to each other about the decisions they're making, if you can get kids talking to each other about the ways they're thinking, and in great classrooms, this happens.

[06:39] Hearing kids think aloud is really powerful, in the same way, hearing teachers think aloud in the staff room. Close to 80 to 90 percent of the time, kids and teachers are sitting there quietly absorbing the material. The only way, and you can imagine ‑‑ this is hard for me ‑‑ the only way you can do this is learn to shut up.

Justin:  [06:58] I'm very excited to hear you say that conversation is the way we get at that thinking. That's an idea that has captured my attention for the last couple of months, this idea that so much of teacher practice is hidden beneath the surface.

[07:12] If we go in and observe, and take notes, and then just talk at the teacher, we're going to have a very limited ability to actually impact their practice because, again, most of their practice is that thinking that if we're doing all the talking as administrators, we're not even beginning to get at.

[07:30] In the book, you give a number of different mindframes, 10 different mindframes for looking at how teachers think and for teachers to reflect on their own thinking. One of the first that you have in chapter one of the book is “I am an evaluator of my impact on student learning.”

[07:49] I wonder if you could talk for just a moment about why that rose to the top as one of the key mindframes for teacher thinking.

John:  [07:56] Justin, it's easier than that. If you want to save yourself time reading the book, just read that one chapter because the other lines are variants of that same theme.

[08:04] It all comes back to when you walk into a classroom, and you say, “My job here today is to evaluate my impact,” then all the good things follow. If you walk into a staff room and say as a school leader, “My job here today is to evaluate my impact,” now of course that's going to mean you have to have a discussion, an agreement, an understanding of what impact means. That's probably the most important thing that happens.

[08:29] Why should it be that every time a kid hits a teacher, if their teacher's conception of what a year's growth looks like is very small compared to one down the corridor where that year's growth is very large, that's going to have a profound impact on your learning that year.

[08:43] How do we get that discussion of what does a year's growth look like? What does it need to be good at, year 5 English, year's 10 panel meeting? Those are the kinds of discussions we have to have, not why are you teaching and how do you teach it, but what do you mean by growth?

[08:56] Bring along two pieces of kid's work three months apart and have a discussion. Do you agree this shows three‑months growth?

[09:02] It's all this notion about what do you mean by impact. It means that you're going to have to have an understanding of how you go about assessing them. You do it through listening to student voice. What does it mean to learn on this class? Ask the kids that. What does it mean to have growth?

[09:17] We're working on another book now looking at student assessment capabilities where we're trying to point out that students are actually very, very smart about whether they're learning or not, or whether they're growing or not. How do we use them in the conversation?

[09:30] This whole notion about as an evaluator, I evaluate my impact. I go in there to see who I have impact on, what I have impact about, and what my magnitude is. Quite frankly, that's the whole theme of the other nine. We thought just having one is probably risky, so we'll have nine of them saying the same thing.

Justin:  [09:50] For so long in our profession, we've been asking the question am I using best practices. I know that one of the reactions to your work sometimes has been that we don't really read the whole book. We just look at the list and say, “Well, I should be using these top practices,” and as you said, ignoring all the rest.

[10:09] You also say in the introduction to this book that it's almost as if students learn despite us sometimes. Students learn no matter what. Everything works. This question of what is my impact that I'm having, I think often we ignore that question. We just look at whether students are learning.

[10:29] We've had a big obsession with data and with measuring student progress. That's an incredibly important question to layer on top of that is what is the impact that I am having.

[10:42] Let's talk a little bit more about assessment. What are some of the mindframes or some of the strategies that teachers can use to look at student work, to look at some of the results that they're getting from perhaps more standardized assessments, and really get a sense of that?

[10:59] I think we all have this sense as educators that we're doing the very best we can day‑to‑day. We're trying to implement the latest and greatest strategies, and yet, we always have students who are not doing as well as we would like them to be doing. We want every student to be at 100 percent proficiency on everything we teach, but the reality is we never quite get there.

[11:20] What are some points where we can gain some traction on that question of how to evaluate our own impact?

John:  [11:25] Don't get me wrong. There are higher‑probability interventions. The law of probability interventions. Yes, I would want teachers to use higher‑probability interventions. It's all looking backwards. It's all rear‑vision mirror stuff. I look at the research of what's happened in classrooms.

[11:40] When you look at what happens, these things tend to work better than those things so they're high‑probability ones. What really matters is when you implement it, the fidelity of your implementation, the ability of you to make those adaptive expertise comments and changes as you go through, the ability you have of great diagnosis.

[11:59] Then coming to the last part of your question, again, the mindframe that we want you to have, particularly around assessment, is assessment is feedback to you about your impact.

[12:10] So often we think of assessment as feedback to students about their learning. I challenge every teacher out there to give a kid a piece of work, give them an assignment, give them a task, and ask them before they start, “What grade do you think you're going to get?” They are stunningly accurate.

[12:30] You got to seriously ask what do they learn from assessment. They just confirmed what they already know. Surely, our job's to mess that up. Our job is to find attributes and expertise in the kids that they don't think they have, not just to confirm that you're a C student, you're a B student, you're an A student.

[12:44] By age eight, most kids know where they fit in that distribution. As I say, our job's to mess it up.

[12:49] The mindframe we get across in the book is that I interpret an act of feedback given to me. Every time you give an assessment, at the end of it, or an assignment, say, “What did I learn about my impact? What did I learn about what the kids think my concept of impact is, my magnitude of impact?”

[13:07] That's how you learn what your impact is, is by looking at the kind of tasks kids do, the assignments they do. Assessment has an incredible, powerful value if you can learn from that to then decide what the next steps are.

[13:21] In the same way, if we could teach kids to be assessment‑capable so that they learn from their assessments so they know what to do next, not waiting for us always to tell them and see what the grade is.

[13:29] Sometimes the grade is just an indication the work's over. Sometimes teachers think and confuse marking and think sometimes it has something to do with feedback. Not necessarily.

[13:39] We have to be, again, active thinkers about the impact that we're having. Assessment is an incredibly powerful way to do it if we see it as about us, not so much about the kids.

Justin:  [13:50] I wonder what you think about the issue of teacher evaluation when it comes to mindframes. This has probably happened to you over and over again in your career as an author and researcher that you will share something, share a new idea or share a new finding in a book, and then as practicing educators, we immediately misinterpret and misapply that.

[14:12] I heard Charlotte Danielson when she worked with us in Seattle public schools, express frustration at the way that many teacher evaluation systems that were based on her framework were developed with a lot of just punitive and unsound measures, and processes, and procedures built into them.

[14:29] She said, “That's absolutely not the intent, but if you bring that kind of punitive and negative kind of approach to my framework, you will end up with a system that's punitive and negative.”

[14:40] I wonder what kind of cautions you have for us in applying this idea of mindframes. If we know teacher thinking is so critical, if we know getting teachers to reflect on their impact and assess their impact is so critical, what do you think are the most likely ways that we're going to mess that up?

[14:58] I'm sure, again, this has happened over and over again with your work where we don't actually read your work closely enough. We play a telephone game with it. I know somebody who knew somebody who read your book, therefore, I think what we'll do is we will start evaluating our teachers based on their mindframe.

[15:14] Give us some kind of words of caution on the teacher‑evaluation side.

John:  [15:18] You're absolutely right. I've talked to Charlotte, and Bob Bazalo, and many of the people who develop these instruments, and they're horrified at how they're misused because it's all about the use and interpretation.

[15:29] Certainly, my background as a researcher, I'm a measurement statistician so I see this all the time in the measurement community.

[15:37] I would be horrified if we now developed a measurement mindframes to come up with some kind of punitive measure. [inaudible] , we have developed measures of mindframes. We have in our own work, trying to find out better ways to understand how teachers talk or think to each other.

[15:54] I want to go back a step, Justin. I want to go back to one of the things I've said in each book that sometimes is often missed that if you look at the research both in invisible learning work, and if you look at the work as I've done when you had No Child Left Behind, when you look at Nate, I think I can say with some confidence that probably 60‑plus percent of schools and teachers in your country are already [inaudible] those kids to gain a year's growth or year's input.

[16:20] That's impressive. Excellence is all around us. One of the major themes in “Invisible Learning” is have we got the courage to recognize the excellence that's there now. It's not a matter of running around with clipboards to drum up change and say that you've got to change. You got to change. Why would you change the excellence that's there?

[16:38] One of the things I would argue right upfront is are we prepared to acknowledge excellence? It may not be with our 30‑year veteran. It may be with our five‑year‑out teacher. Are we prepared to build a coalition of success around the excellence that's already in our school? Are we prepared to privilege that way of thinking and to get that kind of thinking out there?

[16:56] If we're not prepared to do that, no system of evaluation is going to make one iota of a difference. That's the first one.

[17:05] The second is yes, there are ways that you can look at teachers' mindframes, but it's very, very dependent on the particular kids, particular subject, particular year group, particular age group. It's all about that kind of detail. All education is local.

[17:19] Try and see how teachers think about diagnosing where their kids are at, how they go about making decisions about where to go next, how they understand what the concept of impact is. These are incredibly difficult things to evaluate.

[17:34] Here in Australia, I have a political job. I'm employed by the federal government so I oversee a Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. One of its roles is to provide resources for the teachers in schools to do this.

[17:47] We provide it, and it's free, available to all your users at the actual website. We provide them with an incredible amount of apps and resources for them to understand how they're doing. A lot of it is self‑reflection, relative to standards. We know it's incredibly used. We know we have a million hits from Australian teachers and principals to our site a month.

[18:07] Creating that conversation in the school is really critical. Step ‑‑ this is the one you're worried about ‑‑ is when you then start to say, “We're going to measure it, some kind of performance review.” Let's for us pause and say, “You tell me any other sector that doesn't.”

[18:23] This is the job of school leaders, to make those decisions, to make those decisions that are much more nuanced, use a balance of judgment across the different kinds of measures. No one measure's ever going to do it. I'm not resigning from the fact that it can be done. It can be done.

[18:37] I'm being a little resistant to a simplistic way of coming up with a checklist, coming up with a tick box, having someone sit in the back of the room. It's not going to work. Yes, I think it can be done, and we should do it. We have to project expertise, or else we're going to lose it. The expertise is how we think.

[18:54] If you look at the book, you look at the 10 of them, you'll see they're quite varied. Most of them, you can't see them. You have to shut up. You have to listen. You have to create scenarios. You have to look at what expertise means. You have to go back to the work that David Berliner did in your country in the 1990s looking at expertise and say, “That's the kind of work we need to do.”

Justin:  [19:12] I love a comment that you made earlier about shifting our focus from the question of “what works?” to the question of “what works best?” I've been thinking a lot lately about this idea of a competency trap.

[19:28] As administrators, we often have a preferred strategy, a new strategy, a new curriculum that we have heard or we know through our connections in the field and our professional reading that this approach would be better than what our teachers are currently doing.

[19:43] I hear from a lot of administrators who want to help teachers change from maybe a more outdated way of doing something ‑‑ say, teaching reading ‑‑ to a more up‑to‑date, more cutting edge, and more research‑based or well‑established, cutting‑edge approach.

[19:59] What I heard in terms of resistance from teachers often centers around this idea of the fact that they're good at what they're currently doing. They're not yet good at what they're being asked to do, what they're being asked to switch to. I think of that as a competency trap, where people feel stuck in their desire to do the absolute best they can, knowing that they will do a better job with the old way than with the new way.

[20:31] When we're thinking about change and thinking about stopping one practice, or switching from one practice to another that's not as familiar yet, that we don't have that same level of skill, experience, and proficiency with yet, what are some of the mindframes that can help teachers navigate those changes?

[20:48] And figure out, “How am I going to handle this change in a way that I feel good about, that I can pursue with integrity, and pursue with confidence that, ultimately, it is going to get better for my students?”

John:  [21:01] Justin, let me start by saying you've got to beware of educators who have solutions. We have a tendency in our business to look for the latest bauble on the Christmas tree and say, “We've got to introduce this in our school,” whether it be a new curriculum, a new teaching method, a new whatever.

[21:17] That's one of my frustrations in the business. Why don't we start with acknowledging and recognizing that we do have excellence all around us? Why would you take a teacher who uses a method that you may not like, who uses a method perhaps out of the 1970s, but they're having an impact on their kids, why would you change that?

[21:36] When I was living in North Carolina, I worked for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. One of my jobs was to look at the thousand videos at the time of the best teachers across your country. One of the things that's remarkable when you look at videos of a thousand‑plus superb teachers is you find very little in common about how they teach.

[21:56] It's the whole theme of the book. It's their thinking that's behind it. When I heard school leaders who come up with this latest “gee whiz” thing they want to do, and all their teachers in their schools have to adopt this new whatever, whatever, whatever, it drives me crazy.

[22:12] Sometimes you are destroying the very excellence that are there. No wonder some of our teachers sit there with their arms crossed saying, “No, I'm not going to do it.” I'm not defending incompetence. I'm not defending those who have low impact. I'm saying start by acknowledging whether you have teachers already doing good things. Why would you change them?

[22:31] In fact, I think the biggest problem we have in our profession is we have no debate. We have no literature on how we scale up success. In fact, I'm not bad at literature searching, Justin, and I could only find six articles that have ever been written on how you scale up success. All the time, we want to change.

[22:47] The first thing I want to do is say, “Let's be careful about this new thing. Let's have a look and see what's working well, first.” The second part of it is that sometimes you do need to change. If you're not getting that year's growth, absolutely you must change.

[23:00] I look at our business again and say, “How good are we at implementation?” We work on the assumption that if the principal comes up with idea, they're going to implement it. We don't have a lot of implementation science, a tiny bracket at the Carnegie Corporation, one that's been in South Carolina. They've got some study models of how you do change and how you do fidelity of change.

[23:24] Certainly, if I was running a course in your country on principals, I would be worried in talking to them about, “What does program logic look like? What does getting to outcomes look like? How do we go about the implementation?”

[23:35] Sometimes, it's implemented so badly, with the principal standing up front saying, “We are going to do this. Here's the script. Here's the resources. Go and do it.” No wonder it fails. You wouldn't do that in any other profession. You would be continually worried about the fidelity of our implementation.

[23:49] I start from the work of Hess. Acknowledge the excellence there. Some of those teachers with their arms crossed in the back of the room don't need to change. Some of them do. Your first job is to work out which camp are they on.

[24:02] Second thing is what I want principals to be very, very good at is evaluating their own implementation, how they go about, when they introduce something to the schools, to know where it's working, when it's working, how it's working, the magnitude that it's working.

[24:16] I make a very strong argument that it's about principals and teachers as evaluators of what they do. That's the major theme that I want to worry about there. How do you get that implementation? How do you get that good diagnosis? How do you get principals helping teachers where to go next in [inaudible] ? That's what all the visible learning work look like.

Justin:  [24:38] I think a lot about implementation, I think a lot about fidelity of implementation, and I think you're absolutely right. So often, we focus on a shallow teacher‑behavior level of fidelity. Honestly, as instructional leaders, we're often afraid to get into the thinking.

[24:56] We're afraid to say, “Well, this could look different in different classrooms,” and, “I don't know exactly what it should look like in every classroom, but this is what the model is about. This is how we can talk about practice.”

[25:09] I keep coming back to the idea of conversation as so critical for leadership, critical for understanding where teachers are in their thinking, critical for making decisions at the school level about how to proceed, about where we are, and what we need to do next.

[25:27] I really appreciate your take on that. It is not a simple task to say, “I have my clipboard, I have my rubric, and I'm going to see you implement this strategy or this approach.” I appreciate your comments about noticing the good that's already there.

[25:45] I think about the idea of appreciative inquiry, this approach to research that says, “Let's find what's working. Let's find the good and build on that.” I think the Hippocratic Oath for instructional leadership would be something along the lines of, “Don't break something that's working and replace it with something that's not going to work as well.”

[26:10] I appreciate that medicine has that philosophy or that value. It just struck me, as you're speaking, that we need the same thing ‑‑ to appreciate, first, the value of what's working and to be careful to protect that. Thank you so much for those comments.

Justin:  [26:25] Just to make a comment on that, Justin, the biggest power of a school leader is they can have a major decision of what the narrative in the school is. I just want the narrative to be about impact, not about what we do.

[26:39] In the same way, we're doing a lot of work here in Australia of networking principals, getting principals to work across schools. It's very, very hard, but it can be done, because we're doing it, is to relentlessly make sure that the conversation when principals come out of schools and talk to each other is also about the impact their teachers are having on kids.

[26:57] They do want to talk about the resources in the school, about the wonderful things they're doing, about the policy, about the curriculum. But it's sometimes very hard to get them to talk about that impact. It means you have to create a pretty safe, trusting environment. In our work, sometimes that takes six months to eight months to even get that environment before you can get principals talking about impact.

[27:17] I don't want make it that simple, but it is that simple. You have the power to tap the narrative about impact. Do it.

Justin:  [27:27] That gets to my last question here. If you could wave a magic wand and get all of us in the instructional leadership business, if you could get all school leaders everywhere to do one thing, just by a wave of the magic wand, what would it be?

John:  [27:41] That's easy. Stop talking about what you do. Stop talking about how you do it. Stop talking about the students. Stop talking about what you do. Stop talking about your curriculum. All I want you to talk about, all I want you to privilege is the notion of expertise.

[27:59] As a professional, sometimes we deny our expertise when we say, “Ah, the kids did the work. The parents did the support. I had the right resources. I had the right curriculum.” We have to stand up, as a profession, and say, “No, kids learn because we are very, very good at what we do. We are brilliant change agents,” and we are.

[28:17] I look at your country and my country and I see the demands of expertise. I see all the amateurism coming in. I see everyone say, “Oh, anyone can be a teacher.” It requires an incredible set of skills and mindframes to do it.

[28:29] I'd challenge any parent that's listening, probably not to your program, to imagine taking a group, 20 to 30 five‑year‑olds, and teaching them every day, four or five to six hours a day, every day of the year. That requires skill and expertise.

[28:43] Can we, as a profession, please acknowledge kids improve? Our educational system is very good because of our thinking, of our expertise.

Justin:  [28:55] The book is 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning ‑‑ Teaching for Success. Dr. Hattie, thank you so much for joining me on Principal Center Radio.

John:  [29:02] Pleasure. Thank you, Justin.

[29:04] [background music]

Announcer:  [29:04] And now, Justin Baeder on high‑performance instructional leadership.

Justin:  [29:09] High‑performance instructional leaders, what did you take away from my conversation with John Hattie? I think there is so much that we are doing, as a profession, that diminishes teacher thinking, that diminishes the importance of teachers' own cognition, reflection, and judgments about their practice and judgments about what their students need.

[29:30] As I said to Dr. Hattie, I think we've done a tremendous disservice to our students by focusing so much on teacher behavior and on the observable aspects. I want to encourage you to commit to yourself that you will get at teacher thinking.

[29:47] The best way to get at teacher thinking is simply to talk with teachers and, as Dr. Hattie said, to have a conversation. In those conversations, I really appreciated the fact that Dr. Hattie emphasized the importance of teacher expertise and highlighted that teacher expertise is not a rare thing.

[30:07] We have enormously talented, experienced, knowledgeable, expert teachers in our profession. I think it's been a terrible thing in the last couple of decades that through accountability, through data, we have made all these attempts to reduce the importance of teacher expertise and to treat teachers as if they're the bottom of the totem pole in our profession.

[30:28] Teachers are the front lines and they are the primary decision‑makers. I want to encourage you to have conversations with teachers that get the teacher to do the talking. As Dr. Hattie said for us, as leaders, to zip it and to just listen, and get teachers talking about their thinking, talking about their impact, and reflecting on their practice.

[30:49] I want to let you know about our flagship, free program for helping you get into classrooms and talk with teachers. That program is called the Instructional Leadership Challenge.

[31:02] We are giving it a complete overhaul. We've had more than 10,000 people go through the Instructional Leadership Challenge from about 50 different countries around the world over the past three or four years. We are doing a total reboot to help you get in the classrooms on a consistent basis and have those conversations with teachers. You can check that out at instructionalleadershipchallenge.com.

[31:24] I also want to let you know about our in‑depth training program called the High‑Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program. This is available both to individuals and to districts to help administrators get in the classrooms and have evidence‑based, framework‑linked conversations with teachers that actually lead to improvements in practice.

[31:47] One of the reasons I was so excited to talk with Dr. Hattie today is because he kept saying things…

[31:52] [background music]

Justin:  [31:52] that have been resonating with me for the past year or so as I've been developing this program, developing the certification program.

[32:00] So much of what we talked about today, you will find in that program because that approach to conversation and getting at those invisible aspects of teacher thinking and teacher decision making really designed into the high‑performance instructional leadership model.

[32:16] You can check that out at principalcenter.com/district if you're interested in learning more about bringing the High‑Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program to your district. You can also read about the model in my book, “Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High‑Performance Instructional Leadership”.

Announcer:  [32:32] Thanks for listening to Principal Center Radio. For more great episodes, subscribe on our website at principalcenter.com/radio.

Transcription by CastingWords

S. Dallas Dance—Deliberate Excellence Three Fundamental Strategies That Drive Educational Leadership

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, Deliberate Excellence: 3 Fundamental Strategies That Drive Educational Leadership »

Visit the DDance Group website »

About S. Dallas Dance

Dr. Dallas Dance is a leadership consultant and former school superintendent known for his educational technology and leadership development initiatives. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University, and he's the author of Deliberate Excellence: Three Fundamental Strategies that Drive Educational Leadership.

David Hehman—Creation Crate

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

IndieGoGo Campaign; save $500 on $5K kit for 20 students x 12 projects »

About David Hehman

David Hehman is the STEM Engineering Teacher at Phenix City Intermediate School, and he's the co-founder Creation Crate, where he oversees project and curriculum development.

Dr. Amy Klinger & Amanda Klinger, Esq—The Educator’s School Safety Network

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Listen to the School Safety Free Period Podcast »

About Dr. Amy Klinger

Dr. Amy Klinger is nationally recognized as an expert in school safety and crisis management. Her past experience includes 28 years of service as a teacher, central office administrator, building principal, and college professor. Dr. Klinger is a certified Department of Homeland Security Instructor.

About Amanda Klinger, Esq.

Amanda Klinger, Esq. is nationally recognized as an expert in cyberbullying, school safety, and the law. Her expertise in active shooter response, crisis management, vulnerability assessment and mitigation, as well as lockdown enhancements is derived from her work with Dr. Klinger in developing training courses for the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

How Instructional Leaders Change Teacher Practice

What can instructional leaders do to actually change teacher practice?

I believe changing practice starts with getting into classrooms and having conversations with teachers.

Office-based activities like analyzing data and planning professional development are important, but they're no substitute for actually seeing teachers at work, and talking with them about their work.

My book Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership is all about making a daily habit of classroom visits.

But what do we do when we get there?

For most school leaders, the answer is feedback.

We know we're supposed to provide feedback…but how is feedback actually supposed to work? And what kinds of feedback should we provide?

When we talk about feedback, we're usually thinking of directive feedback and reflective feedback.

In any given conversation, we want to either change the teacher's behavior, or help them change their thinking.

With a teacher who is struggling, we might take a more directive stance and play the boss:

“You must not raise your voice or yell at students. Instead of yelling, use a consistent signal to get everyone's attention, then give directions in a normal speaking voice.”

It would be a waste of time to ask reflective questions when you already know what you want the teacher to do.

But often, the teacher's behavior is fine. It's their thinking—the cognition and decision-making behind their actions—that you want to help improve.

So you might play the coach ask a reflective question:

“I noticed that you asked a series of questions during the discussion that gradually moved to the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. What are some ways you could get students to start asking these higher-order questions, so they can take more leadership in directing class discussions?”

Because teaching is complex professional work, we can't make teachers' decisions for them. Relying on directive feedback with highly skilled teachers is a recipe for disaster.

But by asking the right questions at the right time, we can prompt the kinds of thinking that can help teachers improve their practice.

So these two roles are a core part of most instructional leaders' practice:

  1. The “boss” who uses directive feedback to improve teacher behavior, and
  2. The “coach” who uses reflective feedback to change teacher thinking

But I've noticed a problem with these two roles: they aren't enough.

A brief observation usually doesn't provide enough information to have a high-quality directive or reflective feedback conversation.

When we try to jump into directive or reflective feedback without enough information, something feels “off.”

We trigger the teacher's resistance, or our own. The higher the level of resistance, the more we hesitate to get into classrooms.

So we know we need to be doing something differently…but we're not sure quite what it is.

Too often, this confusion about our precise role as instructional leaders—how we change teacher practice—keeps us from taking any action at all.

So the norm in our profession is for administrators to spend very little time in classrooms—at least, very little substantive time, beyond the required formal observations.

I believe we can do much better, but first, we must understand precisely how the “boss” and “coach” roles function, so we can fill in the gaps.

The Boss Role: Changing Teacher Behavior with Directive Feedback

To help us think about the way teachers respond to directive feedback, let's consider the way we view advice from our doctors.

When you go to the doctor and get medical advice…why do you trust that advice?

Trust is essential, because if you go to the doctor but don't do what your doctor prescribes, your health won't improve.

All the prescriptions in the world won't help if you don't take your medicine…and often we feel like our struggling teachers just aren't taking their medicine.

We know what they need to do…so why won't they do it? Why do teachers resist directive feedback, and how can we increase our odds of success?

When your doctor prescribes a medication, or recommends a procedure…why do you take their recommendations seriously?

Three main reasons come to mind.

First, there's expertise. You expect that your doctor has been to medical school and developed a deep knowledge of:

  • The various types of injuries, illnesses and diseases
  • How to make a proper diagnosis
  • The various treatment and medication options
  • How to decide what kind of care is best for a given patient

But you also want your doctor to know you. So in addition to expertise, firsthand knowledge matters.

It's not enough to know about medicine in general—you also want your doctor to know about YOUR personal medical history. A medication that's perfect for one patient may be harmful to another patient, even if they have the same symptoms. The details of each individual case matter.

Third, you expect your doctor to listen to your complaint, and to ask questions that will help you describe the situation more clearly, so you can get an accurate diagnosis and prescription.

Listening is at the heart of strong relationships. According to the New York Times, the biggest cause of malpractice lawsuits against doctors is poor communication.

I would argue that similarly, the biggest reason we fail to change teacher behavior—even when we know exactly what needs to change—is a failure to listen.

These are the conditions for getting the professional treatment one needs to get better—and the same conditions hold whether we're at the doctor or in the classroom. We need:

  • Expertise
  • Firsthand knowledge
  • Listening

As leaders, if we're going to tell teachers how to improve, we first need to have expertise.

But instructional expertise isn't enough. We also need to know the person we're working with—their strengths, weaknesses, and current situation.

In order to make an accurate diagnosis and give an accurate prescription of what needs to happen next, we need to know the individual case in detail, and that means we need to listen.

Even when we're working with teachers who are making serious and obvious mistakes—like failing to plan lessons, or screaming at students—we need to have expertise, gain firsthand knowledge, and listen.

The best way to accomplish all three of these requirements is to spend time observing and talking with the teacher.

Once- or twice-annual formal observations aren't enough. The more time you spend in each teacher's classroom, the more you'll be able to provide accurate and helpful directive feedback to teachers who are struggling.

But what if teachers resist directive feedback? What if a teacher needs to make obvious and immediate changes to their practice, but refuses?

Overcoming Direct Resistance to Directive Feedback

I once supervised a teacher who wasn't planning his math lessons in advance—he'd just wing it, every single day.

When I discovered what was happening, I was fairly direct:

“This is not working. You need to plan in advance. You cannot read out of the teacher's guide during class without any planning ahead of time. You need to plan and prepare in advance so your students can learn.”

I was 100% right in diagnosing the problem and prescribing the solution. But accurate information wasn't enough to change his practice, because he resisted, head-on. He said:

“Actually, I don't really think I need to change the way I plan. So, no—I'm not doing that. In fact, I don't really want you to come in my classroom. I've got this under control. Just leave me alone—you do your job, and I'll do mine.”

He called the teacher's union, and just as quickly, I called my supervisor. Both the union rep and my boss backed me immediately—which, as a young principal, I greatly appreciated.

Direct resistance is usually best handled directly—with clear expectations, and clear role definitions.

Once he understood my expectations, and that they weren't optional, he made the necessary changes.

Positional power isn't the only way to overcome direct resistance, but sometimes it's the right approach.

In other cases, though, resistance comes not from a bad attitude on the teacher's part, but from a mistake we make as leaders: giving directive feedback to professional teachers who can only grow if we take more of a coaching stance.

And sometimes, we need to play both roles at different times for the same teacher. Once the teacher above accepted the fact that he needed to do lesson plans, I could play a coaching role in helping him develop effective lesson plans.

It wouldn't have worked for me to write his lesson plans. That was his job as a professional—and my job as an instructional leader was to help him get better at it.

The more frequently you observe and talk with each teacher, the more clearly you'll know when it's time to set the “boss” role aside, and start to take a coaching stance.

The Coach Role: Changing Teacher Thinking with Reflective Feedback

When I became a principal, I didn't have great expertise in elementary instruction, because I had been a middle school science teacher. I had never taught primary reading or math.

I could give directive feedback if a teacher was struggling with the basics, but what about stronger teachers? What if they needed ultra-specific feedback in an area I knew nothing about? How could I help a 25-year veteran Kindergarten teacher improve her 1:1 reading conferences?

Because I didn't have expertise, I couldn't diagnose and prescribe appropriate next steps for teachers who were already doing well.

So what did I do?

I didn't try to tell teachers what they did right and what they did wrong. Instead, I asked open-ended softball questions like:

  • “Tell me more about when you did ___…”
  • “What were your goals for the lesson?”
  • “What are you thinking you'll do next?”

I was worried that this would undermine my credibility. After all, what kind of doctor asks the patient

“So…what medication do you think I should prescribe for you?”

And sure enough, teachers did start to catch on. They realized that they could end the conversation quickly if they played the game.

Overcoming Indirect Resistance to Reflective Feedback

Indirect resistance often takes the form of what I call the Fake Feedback Game.

In this game, there are two players: the administrator, and the teacher. The rules are simple:

  • The administrator must pretend to provide feedback, and
  • The teacher must pretend to appreciate it,
  • They both must pretend teacher practice has changed as a result of the conversation

I was pretending to “provide feedback” with my softball questions, because I didn't really know what else to say:

“Oh, so you were trying to use higher-order questions in your discussion today? Great! I wonder if… you might use more analysis and synthesis questions with ELL students? Maybe…?”

I'd hope and pray the teacher wouldn't disagree or call me out on my softball questions.

Teachers knew the fastest way to get rid of me was to smile and nod and play along:

“Oh yeah, great point, Justin! I will definitely work on that and let you know how it goes, OK? Bye!”

When we play the game, the teacher's practice doesn't change.

But there's a bigger problem—I don't know any more than I did before I walked into the classroom:

  • I don't know if my feedback was helpful
  • I don't know if the teacher will act on it
  • I didn't learn anything I can use to help other teachers improve
  • I didn't learn anything I can use to improve my school overall

When it comes to improving our schools overall, we need good information to make good decisions.

If all we're seeing is teachers who are doing OK and enthusiastically agreeing with all of our feedback, we won't discover our best opportunities for improving teaching and learning.

Fortunately, I had a great staff, and we developed great relationships pretty quickly, so I ended up not playing the Fake Feedback Game very much.

I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers who trusted me enough to be completely honest about what they were working on, how it was going, and what they thought they—and the school—needed to do next to improve.

It was through these conversations that I discovered the true reason it's so hard to change teacher practice.

And I discovered that neither the “boss” nor the “coach” roles would take us where we needed to go.

Seeing the Whole Iceberg of Teacher Practice

When we get into classrooms, it's essential to recognize that we're not seeing everything.

Like an iceberg, most of teachers' practice is hidden beneath the surface.

I would suggest that the ratio is about 90/10—that is, only about 10% of teaching and teacher practice can be seen when we visit a classroom.

We're not seeing:

  • The training and experience that shapes the teacher's judgment
  • What happened yesterday, and what's in the rest of the unit plan
  • The teacher's knowledge of, and relationship with, each individual student
  • Connections between concepts in the curriculum that we may not know about

We absolutely need to get into classrooms, but we shouldn't deceive ourselves into thinking that we're seeing the whole of teacher practice.

When we get into a classroom, we can see what the teacher is doing and saying. We can see how they're acting. We can see what students are doing and saying.

We can take note of the resources they're using, we can get a feel for the learning environment, but we must never forget that there's also much that we can't see.

When we fail to see “the whole iceberg” of teacher practice, we tend to focus on just the parts we can see—the easily observable behaviors, such as whether the teacher is writing the objective on the board every day.

Trying to change your school by focusing only on observable teacher behaviors is exhausting and futile.

You can solve blatantly obvious problems by focusing on teacher behavior, but to take teachers from good to great, consistently and at scale, you must focus on teacher thinking.

Teacher behavior is like the tip of the iceberg, and teacher thinking is what's beneath the surface.

Thinking is largely invisible…until we make it visible through conversation.

There's no way to see what happened yesterday or five minutes ago. We can't see what will happen tomorrow, or even five minutes after we leave.

But we can ask—and it turns out that asking is remarkably simple, and remarkably effective.

If you want to understand teacher thinking and decision-making, just ask.

But here's a lesson I learned the hard way: don't ask “Why?” questions.

When you ask “Why” questions, you get justifications.

And using evidence to ask “why” questions only triggers more defensiveness, which doesn't lead to growth.

If—like me—you've spent countless hours in conversations that seem to go nowhere, you know just how unproductive these conversations become when we trigger teachers' defensiveness.

When you instead ask “how?” questions, you'll discover what you need to learn to lead effectively.

The more I asked “how?” questions—out of genuine ignorance at first—the more I learned that I needed an entirely new approach to feedback if I really wanted to change teacher practice.

The Leader Role: Shifting the Iceberg with Reflexive Feedback

Why does our feedback so often fail to change teacher practice?

When we take responsibility as instructional leaders, we can't just say “Well, I gave them feedback, but they aren't changing.

That's like the teacher who says “Well, I taught them, but they didn't learn.

If we're leading, but no one is following…we're not leading!

Our leadership must be differentiated if we truly want to change teacher practice:

  • To deal with direct resistance, and change teacher behavior, we must play the boss and use directive feedback
  • To deal with indirect resistance, and change teacher thinking, we must play the coach and use reflective feedback

But teachers don't change their practice in a vacuum. So if we truly want to take responsibility, we must address the system within which teachers work.

Too often, when we try to change teacher practice, we focus only on the individual teacher. We try to change either the teachers’ actions or their thinking, but all of that occurs in a system—in a context that can't be ignored.

We must see the whole iceberg of practice—what's above and below the surface—but the current the iceberg is floating in matters even more.

W. Edwards Deming, who’s known as the father of the Quality Management movement, put it this way:

“In my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belong to the system.”

So there's a third kind of feedback, which I call reflexive feedback, that gives us the greatest opportunity for improving our schools, because it gives us the feedback we need to improve the system.

  • To improve the system teachers work within, we must play the leader and use reflexive feedback.

Reflexive feedback conversations involve both parties in talking, listening, reflecting, and taking action. The idea of reflexivity, which comes from the social sciences, suggests a two-way street—a feedback relationship that runs in both directions.

Leaders who use reflexive feedback are more effective at changing teacher practice because they're willing and able change things other than the teacher, in order to support positive changes in the teacher’s practice.

Teachers who are engaged in reflexive feedback know they have a voice, and that their feedback to leaders will be taken seriously. As a result, they're more willing to invest effort in making changes to their practice—because they believe they'll get the support they need.

Reflexive feedback is what distinguishes leaders from coaches.

When I was a principal, I had a supervisor, and I also had a coach, and I had many great conversations with both of them. My coach was extremely helpful in getting me to reflect, and I know I got better as a result.

My supervisors did that too, but also did something else: they listened, and brought about changes in the district that would make me a more effective leader. So when we talked about a problem, I knew I’d have to do my part, but I also knew my boss would go to bat for me at the district office and get things done.

And that’s what we need to do, almost all of the time, when we’re working with teachers. There’s part they need to do to get better, but there’s also part we need to do as leaders.

Deming realized that, for too long, American companies tried to improve manufacturing by basically yelling at their workers and telling them to try harder.

Work faster! Produce more! Be safer! Have fewer accidents!

How did it work? Not very well. Blaming the front-line employee for factors beyond his or her control doesn't get us very far.

Deming realized that the next level of productivity wasn't about fixing the individual worker.

It wasn't that American workers were lazier or less careful than workers in other countries. The difference was that, in organizations that were improving rapidly, the focus was on improving their systems—not on individuals.

I believe it's time for us to learn the same lesson in education.

Teachers don't teach in a vacuum—they teach in a specific organization. The system they're working within determines the majority of the results that they get.

So if you want to take your school from good to great, it's not enough to address each individual “iceberg” of teacher practice. You're responsible for the current that moves the entire ocean.

As a new principal, when I got into classrooms, I often didn't know what to say, so I just listened and asked questions that would to tell me what I needed to know.

When I talked with teachers and learned what was going on beneath the surface of their practice—and what was going on within our school that might be hidden to me—I started to see my school as a system.

Once I saw the whole system, I was able to make better decisions:

  • Decisions about what to address in professional development
  • Decisions about who to hire to add to our team
  • Decisions about how to allocate our budget
  • Decisions about where to spend my time and attention

Having these conversations isn't difficult—and in any conversation, you can shift between directive, reflective, and reflexive feedback as needed.

To summarize:

Three Roles Leaders Play in Changing Teacher Practice

The boss role helps you deal effectively with direct resistance and change teacher behavior through directive feedback.

As I explain in Chapter 2 of Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership, the best classroom visits have seven key features:

  • Frequent—Approximately once every two weeks
  • Brief—Five to ten minutes of observation, followed by a brief conversation
  • Substantive—More than just making an appearance
  • Open ended—Focused on the teacher’s thinking, not filling out a form
  • Evidence based—Centered on what actually happened during the observation
  • Criterion referenced—Linked to a shared instructional framework
  • Conversation oriented—Designed to lead to reflexive feedback conversations between teachers and instructional leaders

For ten evidence-based questions to structure your conversations with teachers, download the free PDF guide, 10 Questions For Better Feedback On Teaching

Free PDF Download

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