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Two Steps for Turning Your Vision Into Instructional Framework

How can you turn your vision into a specific, actionable framework? Continuing our series:

Now, you've probably seen the Danielson Framework, which maps the key responsibilities of teaching, K-12. 

I consider it the “gold standard” for frameworks, but it's usually not detailed enough to help teachers improve in specific practices… 

  • For example, if you're a middle school principal, might notice that nothing on the Danielson Framework is specific to middle school
  • If you're an elementary science specialist, you might notice that nothing is specific to science (or elementary, for that matter)
  • If you're an Algebra II teacher, you might notice there's no algebra-specific pedagogy in the Danielson Framework

This is all by design: it's designed to cover everything, so we can all work from a common framework—a common set of shared expectations and vocabulary. 

But I believe there's power in specificity—in zooming in to the finer details of teaching practice.

So think about your vision for instructional improvement

What, specifically, do you want people to improve? 

Visions tend to be worded in big-picture terms, so we can convey them concisely. 

But that's not enough—we also need to be specific, so people know how to improve. 

When we zoom into specific practices, in particular subject areas and grade levels, we can get much more specific about what it means to improve practice. 

There are two major steps, after choosing a practice:

  • Identify the key components
  • Describe levels of performance for each component

Let's look at a few examples that our members shared

“High expectations for students”

Let's say you notice a problem: teachers don't have high expectations for all students.

Perhaps they have high expectations for some students, but not all; some groups of students don't seem to be expected to achieve at high levels, so they aren't supported in achieving at high levels…so they don't.

A big problem, which makes it an ideal focus for your vision and your instructional framework.

So how can we make vision of “high expectations” much more specific? 

We can make a framework out of it, with key components and levels of performance.

Now, ultimately you'll want to do this collaboratively with your staff, but it's helpful to first brainstorm a bit on your own, just to get a sense of where you might be headed. 

My first-draft key components of high expectations:

  • Fixed standard of quality—students are all expected to reach a certain bar (i.e. meet a standard), rather than merely compared to one another and ranked
  • Expectations are communicated to students—with the message “this is challenging, but you can do it, and we're here to support you”
  • Milestones—the teacher has broken down the expectation into specific steps or milestones, so it's not a surprise at the end whether the student has met the expectation
  • Scaffolding—the teacher knows what supports students will need to reach the standard, and provides them as needed for each student, without undermining the rigor of the expectation
  • All means all—while some students might receive dramatically different scaffolds, the high expectation really is for all students, not just students with no learning challenges
  • Rigor—the high expectation really is a high standard of quality

Typically you'll want to have between 3 and 8 key components.

Then, it's time to organize them into a table, so you can start identifying the levels of performance:

High expectations framework key components

In table format, the key components each get a row—as in a traditional rubric.

Then, there are 4 columns, each describing a level of performance:

  1. Unsatisfactory/below basic
  2. Basic/approaching standard
  3. Satisfactory/meets standard
  4. Distinguished/exemplary/above standard

Now, here's where the magic happens. (This is the tricky part, too, as you might expect.)

We have fo map out a continuum of practice, from Level 1 to Level 4, for each component. 

This will make it clear what improvement entails. 

I'll start with the 2nd component, Communication.

Now, we have to avoid making an oversimplified checklist or list of steps. 

Here's now NOT to make your levels of performance—BAD EXAMPLE:

  1. Expectations are not communicated at all
  2. Expectations are communicated, but they're not high, and not accompanied by the message that students can reach them
  3. Expectations are communicated, and they're high, but they're not accompanied by the message that students can reach them
  4. Expectations are communicated, they're high, and they're accompanied by the message that all students can reach them

This is basically just a long-winded checklist—BAD EXAMPLE for Communicating High Expectations:

Checklist - bad example

It tells the teacher “the way to do better is to do more.” 

It doesn't tell the teacher what to do differently to do better. 

So what would better leveled performance descriptors look like for “Communicating High Expectations”? 

There needs to be a clear, qualitative difference between the levels of performance. For example:

  • Level 1: Students are informed of high expectations, but as a warning to expect difficulties, rather than a reassurance that they'll be able to succeed.

Now, so far, this isn't very different from the bad example. But the difference becomes clearer as we specify the higher levels:

  • Level 2: The teacher clearly communicates what students will be expected to do, and personally conveys confidence in all students and a willingness to support them in reaching the standard.

Now, this might feel like it should be level 3 or 4, but it's really just basic. Let's push further. 

  • Level 3: The teacher clearly communicates a specific standard, accompanied by the clear message that the teacher understands that it's a high standard, and has confidence in each student to meet it. The teacher shares exemplars of work that meets the standard, and indicates specific ways in which students will be supported. 
  • Level 4: The teacher clearly communicates a specific standard, identifying ways in which it builds upon students' past learning and accomplishments, giving students both a verbal commitment and specific evidence that they are cable of reaching this standard. The teacher identifies specific ways in which students will be supported, and provides before-and-after exemplars of student work illustrating the impact of these supports.

Now, is there “more” in the higher levels? Yes, of course. But it's not just a longer checklist.

At higher levels of performance, the teacher's practice is qualitatively different

Because there's a rich description of what the practice looks like, at each level, I can do two things:

  • I can recognize my present level
  • I can figure out what to do to move to the next level. 

Now, imagine what that would be like for your vision.

If your vision is huge, just pick one small part. What if people were this clear? 


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