Rene Molina joins Justin Baeder to discuss discuss The High Performance Triangle and how the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge helped him. .
Interview Notes, Resources, & Links
About Rene Molina
A former high school math coach, Rene is an administrator in Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Arizona.
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Justin Baeder: Welcome Everyone to Principal Center Radio I’m your host Justin Baeder, and I’m thrilled to be joined today by my guest Rene Molina. Rene is an administrator in the Saddle Mountain Unified School district in Arizona, and a participant in the instructional leadership challenge.
When I saw some of Rene’s comments on the instructional leadership challenge website I knew that we had to talk, and I had to have him on Principal Center Radio.
Announcer: Now our feature presentation.
Justin: So Rene, Welcome to the show.
Rene Molina: Uh, Pleasure Justin, it’s indeed an honor. Thank you.
Justin: Rene, in your comments on the instructional leadership challenge, one thing that really stood out to me was the way you’ve applied one of the big ideas from the challenge, which is the High Performance Triangle.
The High Performance Triangle, as I know you know, combines three factors that lead to high performance. Those three factors are strategy which is what makes us effective, tools which are what allow us to be efficient, and habits which would allow us to be consistent.
Could you talk a little bit about how you apply that to your work, and then how you’ve extended that even beyond what we covered in the challenge?
Rene: Absolutely. As you’ve kind of touched on these three [inaudible 01:25] , that High Performance Triangle come together, that was something in my practice here as an Assistant Principal. I guess a good example is our new electronic walk through form that we’ve just adopted here in our district.
That was the tool that I was using. Through taking this 21 day challenge, I learned to develop those habits mine, habits of practice by getting in the classrooms 10 percent of the teachers every day. Then that strategy that I was employing was really leading that substantive feedback that was going to get teachers engaged in a dialog with me or with each other about their practice.
That was how the three, how I applied it to my work. It was interesting one day, probably about three weeks ago, I was in a particular teacher’s classroom. This teacher, she’s a super star. Her kids typically get high marks on standardized assessments. She just really an all around solid teacher.
I was watching this particular lesson on, I believe it’s syllabication. I noticed that was the tool, as I saw it at that time that she was utilizing, and then habit of the way in which she wrote it. Then, she broke it apart. Then, she placed a hand underneath the chin as the students would see, hear, and feel the syllables as they’re spoken. Then, the strategy which she employed was really the sequencing of all those together kind of addressing different points of the room, the word wall, the dock hammer, the going to the whiteboard is very strategic in that sequencing.
It kind of struck me. I’m actually seeing that High Performance Triangle in action an effective instruction. As I was speaking with her later in the same day, I asked her if she was aware that she was utilizing this High Performance Triangle. She didn’t. She wasn’t familiar with it. I kind of walked her through just I did with you. I asked her if she be interested in sharing that with other staff members.
Over the course of the next couple of days, I spoke with the couple of other teachers, and kind of got their take on that High Performance Triangle as well. I really want to take that into a different direction here on our campus.
One of the things that struck me as odd is how frequently with those electronic walk through forms that I would leave the comments on. Unfortunately, much of this electronic format, it kind of has many of the checks. Basically, everything you advised against in the leadership challenge which is really good information. In those indicators, we may have objectives, [inaudible 04:02] to check, and for understanding what the cooperative learning structures all these.
Teachers rather focusing on the feedback, some of them will look at that, and ask about specific indicators. “Did I see this?” Or “Did I see that?” Or “If I’d stay longer, I might have seen the other thing.” I try to steer the conversation away from that, and gear it more towards, “Let’s start a dialogue rather about the feedback. What is it that the students were doing in the classroom?” Or some of the things that I’m thinking about how this might be applied or that might be applied.
It resonate with me that we maybe conditioning the teachers to kind of think more about just a specific tool, and that’s what I’m kind of referring to as the indicators on our walk through form. We maybe conditioning them to just think about those in terms of, “Am I going to hit all those indicators so that I can be deemed effective, efficient or what have you?”
I think they cannot operate in isolation. It really takes that habit of mind to be persistent. Like for instance, if I’m talking about the cooperative learning structures just the teacher employing a Kagan structure in their lesson does not effective instruction make.
If they employ a Kagan structure along with that habit of mind of I’m going to employ two of this every day or one per lesson depending on if I’m teaching multiple subjects throughout the day or the same subject several times a day.
I’m going to make that habit of really employing one of this cooperate learning structures every day, and then that strategy of knowing which one to employ, and at what time. Is this lesson more conducive to number heads together or is it more conducive to roundtable or just … all those tools that Spencer Kagan gives us? Are we going to employ them with right strategy, and with that habit of mind as well? This is one of the things I think it takes all three for us to …we can’t just be talking of a specific tool or indicator it really takes all three to connect this High Performance Triangle to instruction.
Justin: Rene, that reminds me of a lot of professional development that I had earlier on as a teacher. In my district we focused on thinking maps that were for things like compare, and contrast, properties of something. It had all these mind maps that were really useful for teaching students a lot of different analytical thinking, and analytical writing practices.
The way I initially used them in my classroom, because I was a new teacher going to a Saturday workshop, and trying it on Monday, was to just pop them in as activities, “some point the lesson today we are going to do one of these mind maps I know we are going to, because I need to practice it, and it’s good for something.”
What I didn’t have was that overall perspective of how they fit together. I really appreciate how you’ve applied the triangle to the daily work of teachers. Figuring out what’s the strategy for this lesson that I want students to master? What are the tools that I’m using to help them develop the knowledge, and skills that they need? The really neat piece can come in with a habit when students start to use those things independently. When you ask students to, say, compare, and contrast, and you see them making their mind map that’s for comparing, and contrasting. That’s exciting to look at.
Rene: In deed. I touched on this previously, but frequent is the case we may be conditioning teachers to think about just this specific tool that I’m going to hit, because in our state I’m sure maybe in your state, and others we are compelled by law. We have to evaluate teachers, and in our case 50% of the teachers’ evaluation comes from those observations that administrators perform.
Teachers may be looking at this as a check list point. “I want to be deemed as effective or highly effective so I want to make sure I hit all these indicators, and at least show the presence of them.” As you refer to that habit of getting the students to be able to function with this particular tool, that’s the ultimate goal.
That’s something that can only be created through this habit of mind that we are going to purposefully insert this specific tool here, and this specific tool there. It’s really got to be that habit that’s formed in order to get the workers working, and with their efficiency, and effeteness that we want. I can truly appreciate where teachers are coming from.
This is their livelihood they want to make sure if they are putting all this work in their profession they want to make sure that they are deemed as a highly effective category. I think if we look in terms of hitting these check list down the line we may be passing it too far rather than bringing it together. These informal observations, these walk throughs they are informative in nature.
We should be highlighting some of these points, but thinking about how we are going to bring them back together. I keep bringing it back to this High Performance Triangle, because it’s something that really resonates with me. How can I bring these together so i can create if I’m being observed as I don’t … Observer does not check in for understanding on a regular basis? How I’m I going to develop that habit of mind that compels me to frequently check for understanding, do those spot checks throughout the lesson, and then what I’m I going to do at the end of the lesson kind of tie all of this together.
It’s got to be a habit of mind, created if not something that’s not innate in us it is something we have to plan for something that we have to purposeful in inserting in, and of course the last piece is that strategy of tying it all together with that effect, and a similar efficiency.
I can appreciate where teachers are coming from, and that I think that we as the Instructional Leaders, we need to bring that together, and say, this is formative of nature. This information, this feedback that we’re giving you, don’t look at it so much in terms of trying to hit every one of these indicators.
Do some of these well, and employ that High Performance Triangle, and as a lot of flicking you’ll take all the nickels of the dimes, and the dollars are going to take care of themselves, you know that. Then the instructors are going to turn it down, and if you’ll are purpose full during employing this High Performance Triangle, really in my opinion. It’s just about everything that we do in this profession. If we employ this High Performance Triangle, I think that the connection can absolutely be made that will make for effective, and efficient instruction or leadership or whatever.
Rene: Sure, I’m really in any areas of school operations, and I appreciate the way that you positioned that kind of checklist, thinking as more of a planning tool. As you were describing kind of what most effective teachers do, they’re not necessarily going to do everything that’s on along evaluation checklist, during a lesson, but it’s something they’ve thought about. As I think about the best book that I’ve read on Making Useful Checklist which is the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
It talks about how they’ve developed checklist in aviation, and in surgery to reduce errors, to increase reliability, and very rarely are they used in terms of kind of a spot check observation. You wouldn’t walk into surgery, and expect to see hand washing going on during surgery. The hand washing is supposed to have been before the surgery, and the way that the checklist is used is to make sure that you’ve thought of everything, you’ve gone through the steps that you need to, not so that you can be kind of spot checked.
I think we’ve actually trained teachers into some of these bad habits as we’ve been discussing. With are worked with these really long evaluations instruments, and what we saw happening in my district, we go through, and do a learning walk, there would be an assistant superintendent, and several principals walking in to classrooms.
Immediately within 10 seconds, you’d hear the teachers say “OK, turn to your able partner, and talk about what we’ve just discussed.” Then they do a turn, and talk, and then there will be some additional kind of elements to that strategy. That was strategy that’d been taught in District Professional Development. It has been emphasized quite a bit, and people knew, OK if people are going to come in my room, and observe, they better see a turn, and talk.
As we say that happening we realized OK, this is silly. We’ve actually pushed people into doing something that’s not part of their lesson plan, that maybe they thought about it, and decided not to include it. Then when we showed up, and surprised them, they shoved it back in, because they knew we wanted to see it. That’s not what we want to do as Instructional Leaders, that’s not the kind of influence we want to have.
It’s at that planning stage, it’s at that kind of a purposeful decision making stage, but we want to help people think about these things. I really appreciate the way that you put that in describing the work that you do with teachers.
Rene: Indeed, indeed, and I think that was a…I like the way that you put that, in fact I just wrote down the…some of the notes as you were speaking. Again I’m learning like you, but about the checklist manifesto that’s a fantastic point about the analogy of the surgeon, and the hand washing. We cannot see everything all the time, it just what should we see at that time. I think as I reflected during this Training Monday Challenge on my practice as I started as an Instructional Coach back at high school.
It was frequent, it was the case that I’d provide to teachers, that feedback which was really nothing more than that checklist. Just out of my own ignorance or inexperience. Those things that I’d point to would be that kind of low hanging, through those easy indicators that I can point out, and are easy to see if checking from the center is going on. It’s easy to see if the objective is faster referred to, so you put that subject down, because it was convenient for me as an observer, well, and trying to be a little bit more prescriptive, and what I’m thinking about or what the students were doing.
This is where I think is where I’ve learned to connect. Again may of the tools that you provided in this challenge, but specifically this High Performance Triangle, to really make my feedback more beneficial to the teacher. At least I’d hope that someone else can get the student to engage with the content at a higher level.
Justin: One thing I heard you say earlier that I really appreciate, is the idea that our feedback needs to be the beginning of a conversation. I think we both moved from the secondary classroom to being elementary administrators. I know one thing that was a big shift for me was, going in to a primary classroom, and needing to provide feedback on literacy instruction to a teacher who has been teaching literacy for 20 years. If I just went in with a checklist, and say, you did this, this, and this. You missed this, this, and this, and that was kind of it.
I knew I was missing out on a huge opportunity to grow as an instructional leader, to learn what good instructions looks like from the best teachers, and have those big conversations, and actually be much more helpful in prompting people’s thinking than if I just went in with a checklist. I appreciate what you said about that, and I’m curious, what has been your experience as kind of a lead learner, making that same transition from being a secondary instructional coach, and teacher to being an elementary administrator?
Rene: Boy, that’s been a real learning curve in deed. I recall back when I was first notified that I got this appointment here in our district. I reached out to an administrator friend of mine that he too went from a high school math’s teacher to be an elementary administrator, and he said, “You know Rene, the adage is true, high school teachers care about content, and elementary teachers care about kids.”
So, I chuckled at that, but it was really enlightening, but it’s kind of an inside, it was one of the first eye opening comments that I heard, and experience here, but that said. The connecting back to conversation about providing feedback, and like in getting that dialogue started, that’s frequently in my conversations with staff members. That’s why I’m trying to take it, because as I tell them, you’ve got the…I don’t care if you’re a first year teacher, you’ve got more experience teaching elementary math, and reading, then I will ever have.
I’ll probably never be an elementary teacher. I can’t give you necessarily specific strategies of about how to, what direction you should take in that lesson. What I want to do, rather is chat you thinking about what was you that you did well. What was it you, if you’ve to do over again. What would you do differently?”, because that’s where the professional learning is going to take place.
You’re reflecting on it, and you kind of just adding in it, if you’re internal debate with yourself, you know what would you do differently. If it’s something you want to share with another teacher or with me, that’s where ultimate I’d like our conversation to go. Again, you’re your best coach, you can do a lot more for yourself, reflecting on it than I can.
Again as you say in this challenge, me giving a teacher something in that they already know or don’t care about, that does nothing for them. I think that’s why ultimately I want to go with that feedback that I provide to teachers.
Justin: That’s powerful. I think it takes a lot of self confidence, and humility to say as a leader, “Hey, you know more about this than I do. You have more experience teaching this subject to these students than I ever will. I’m still going to take very seriously my responsibility to help you grow. Just as a track coach is not necessarily the fastest runner in the world. Their runners are almost always faster than they are, but I’m still going to develop my expertise.
I’m going to take you through a process that will help you be the best you can be. Rene, it has been a true privilege to speak with you today. I have just had a blast. If people want to get in touch with you, I know they can see your comments on the instructional leadership challenge, and dialogue with you there, but if people want to get in touch with you directly where can they reach you?
Rene: First, of all Justin, thank you, it has been more of a pleasure for me than I’m sure it’s been for you. That said, my email is the best method to reach me. That is [email protected] That’s Rene with one e at the end, R E N E dot M O L I N [email protected] Either that, or post a comment on the leadership challenge. I periodically go back, and look at other peoples’ posts. It’s really educational for me to pick up on that.
Justin: Fantastic. Again, thank you so much for joining us on principal centre radio, Rene. Have a great day.
Rene: Justin, pleasure. Thank you again.
Announcer: And now, Justin Baeder on high performance instructional leadership.
Justin: High performance instructional leaders. What were your take aways from my conversation with Rene Molina? I really enjoyed chatting about the instructional leadership challenge, and about how he’s going well beyond what we originally envisioned for the high performance triangle, and applying it to all aspects of teaching, and learning, and what’s going on in the school.
If you are interested in going through the instructional leadership challenge, I want to encourage you to sign up at instructionalleadershipchallenge.com, and you can read the comments of our thousands of participants who have gone through the challenge. You can see what other people have posted, you can engage in dialogue there, and you can just go through the process.
It is a 21 day self paced challenge, and best of all, it is completely free. Sign up at instructionalleadershipchallenge.com.
[Interlude music begins]
Justin: You can also access the instructional leadership challenge daily videos through the principal centre app, which you can find in the app store for your iPad or iPhone, as well as the windows phone store, and Google play for your android device. I hope to see you in the instructional leadership challenge, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to principal centre radio. For more great episodes, subscribe to our website at principalcentre.com/radio