by Julie Brock
Shrouded in blame and punishment, accountability has been twisted into a punitive action versus the rich conversation it actually is intended to spur. To account is to reconcile, balance, see the full picture so future decisions are better informed.
In his Fast Company article, Four Ways You’re Getting Accountability Wrong, Mark Lukens explains why a culture of accountability is vital to the success of any organization. The principles Luken presents ask leaders to:
“Whether you’re looking to fix a problem or to replicate a success, don’t act until you’ve understood why you got the results you did,” says Lukens.
Depending on how many classes of students move through a classroom in a day, it is possible to have three to six ‘micro-organizations’ that look to an educator as the ‘CEO’ responsible for setting the tone and expectations of their collective work.
How, then, do we function as a leader cultivating a collective culture of accountability as well as one of individual progress?
Mark Friedman, author of Trying Hard isn’t Good Enough, created a data framework that helps communities work toward big, shared goals. The crux of his argument is that no one organization can own the results of an entire community. It takes many organizations contributing to get sustainable solutions. Within each contributing organization are departments or programs that contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization. For example, a large school district may think that they do own the graduation rate for their community, but they do not—they do not have every student who lives in their boundaries attending their school, so they share that result with other education settings.
Each educational setting can contribute to the overall graduation rate; yet, it does not have to look exactly the same. It is why school choice exists. Imagine each of those settings creating a culture of accountability in which students understand the systems serving them and also understand their role within the overall culture. It creates collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
The conversation that data inspires what leads to actionable change. Our educational systems are limping along. The last blow of COVID damaged our barge and we cannot bail the water out faster than it is coming in . And it is all levels. No educational setting is immune. We are a fleet of zero—grad school education settings taking on water and pivoting to figure out if the bucket brigade will work from a different angle.
That’s the thing with pivoting. I think about basketball. Once that pivot foot is set, it cannot move before a dribble. Players are stuck in one place until a pass or a path opens up for them to move. It is stationary, but all the while we keep spinning…thinking something will change.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, I ask…
The state of education can be overwhelming, stifling, and feel futile. But a classroom’s contribution matters. A department’s contribution matters. A building’s contribution matters. An afterschool program’s contribution matters. They matter when we hold ourselves accountable to a shared result. Students want to learn. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student survey, 97.8% of Olmsted County 9th graders (current 11th graders) said “if something interests me, I’ll learn more about it.” In that same survey, 99.2% of 11th graders said they will learn more about something that interests them.
Maybe we need to co-design around standards with students. Ask them how they want to learn the standards, what will resonate, and what will ultimately spur them to learn more within the content area . Results Based Accountability™ (RBA), Friedman’s framework, asks for a community of people to solve community problems together. It isn’t a framework that leaves people behind. If we adopt this framework within communities, new partnerships start to blossom. Youth who move between organizations are more likely to be supported when there is a framework holding us together around the success of youth. Pair RBA and the co-design process with students, and now we have created partnership, collaboration, and ownership for youth over their own education, potentially fueling that 97-99% curiosity students reported in 2019.
The nice thing about RBA is that we can start right now, today, using it in classrooms. We don’t have to wait for the community to get on board: it can start a ripple effect. In fact, we may already live in a community that is using RBA to effect systemic change. Strive Together is a national nonprofit that has seventy communities across the nation doing this kind of work. If you live in Minnesota, there are seven cradle-to-career communities and two promise neighborhoods working for systemic change.
Accountability isn’t about shame and blame. It has to be reclaimed and untwisted from its negative connotation to create space for creativity, for innovation, and a way to get those on the shore to help get those on the sinking barge off and together—find our way into the next wave of education.
Interested in learning more about RBA and using it in your classroom / department / building / feeder system / district? Let me know and we’ll collaborate!
We Are the Leaders We Seek
by Stefanie Whitney
It is Friday morning—5:07 a.m. Coffee is brewing. It’s just me on the couch and a few books close by for inspiration. Sounds kind of delightful—except I have already been generously granted an extension on this article; this article that is still five pages of disconnected thoughts. The seed of doubt that usually precedes my “process” (**snort**)—a flurry of typing and accidental connections—is now growing into a grapefruit of trepidation just chilling in my esophagus.
The blinking image in my mind: “tl;dr.” (In case you too are late to this party, “tl;dr” is an abbreviation for “Too Long; Didn’t Read,” which I feel summarizes every email I have ever sent.)
My internal struggle for this article vacillates between two contradictory thoughts:
The latter is winning out; so, today I aim for brevity—windy introduction notwithstanding.
**This is where I introduce some thoughts and then weave them together. Fasten your seatbelts.**
In April 2015, I set out on a program with the goal of better understanding the bigger picture of educational leadership and the intersection of leadership and teacher professional development. More comfortable with even the remotest semblance of a plan, I was filled with hope, believing the next few years would be spent learning about leadership and intricately studying feedback and its impact on professional development.
The pursuit of a degree required me to delve into existing research before developing my own theories, which is a process that I understand and, frankly, enjoy. I’ve always believed that answers can be found through enough digging. That we can lean on the expertise of others to help us find our way. Namely, that someone else has been there, done that, and drawn a map with coffee shops clearly marked.
As a cumulative effect of the past 2.5 years (and quite possibly the previous 42), I am beginning to sense disruption to that which has always given me great comfort. I’m drawn to Brene Brown’s explanation of another form of research—grounded theory:
“I develop theories based on lived experiences, not existing theories. Only after I capture the participants' experiences do I try to place my theories in the existing research. Grounded theory researchers do it in that order so that our conclusions about the data aren’t skewed by existing theories that may or may not reflect real experiences by diverse populations.”
Through my own research, I did mosey into areas that align with Brown’s explanation of grounded theory. In short: educators have a great deal of power. When I researched how administrators can build cultures of trust, what I found through talking with teachers is that, ultimately, teachers choose whether or not they trust their administrators
When I researched the effectiveness of instructional feedback as a driver of professional growth, I found out how often teachers ultimately choose whether to accept feedback as valid and actionable. These points are incredibly simplified; I offer them because what is perhaps more noteworthy is the frequency of conversations with teachers who seem to feel powerless within the system of education. To be fair, I also often feel this way. This bears a need for much more research, but I posit that this research needs to begin grounded in personal experience rather than existing research. I’ll get to why in a moment. But first—a confession:
This bold proclamation, coming from someone who holds no positional power, put an exclamation mark on a conversation centered around key contributors to the current teaching climate in this space--fraught with all the complexities anyone reading this surely knows well. I suppose I feel disclosing this information is necessary based on the “no positional power” reality.
Who am I to suggest such a thing? I have been assured by this group of colleagues that “save yourself” was sound advice, perhaps in the vein of Brene Brown’s “clear is kind” approach; however, I did find my confidence waning as I stepped cautiously into the hallway. How loud was my voice moments ago? Who heard me?
Initially, the meaning behind my words came from a place of compassion; I want my colleagues to be okay. I hear you; I see you; I know this year is incredibly challenging for reasons beyond our control. The oxygen mask version of saving yourself first. I meant this then and I still mean it now.
However, in the passing days since that initial statement, I am more and more convinced of another, perhaps more important, meaning to “save yourself.”
Enter grounded theory: If we know these are indeed unprecedented times. And that no one alive today has dealt with a global pandemic, a divided nation, an assault on critical thinking, social inequities and the long overdue need for justice, an ongoing climate crisis… then why are we looking around to someone else for answers? Why am I delving into books and “experts” and looking to leaders who also have not lived through this before?
We are the leaders we seek. In our families and classrooms and schools and districts. And if we aren’t sure where to begin, let’s do what grounded theory researchers do: listen. We need to ask—and not just the loudest voices, those who expect to be asked and who find it comfortable sharing their opinions. Ask those who are quietly watching, observing the chaos and experiencing its impact. Ask. Ask students who are sitting in class—avoiding eye contact. Ask those who went to the bathroom 30 minutes ago—when they return, of course. And then settle in to listen to their answers. Share power.
Let’s ask students, in the same way we hope our leaders ask us, what they need in order to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of agency.
I spent five years researching the intricacies of professional growth. I started with feedback and found myself reading about the need for effective evaluation systems. I researched leadership and spent a great deal of time reading about teacher agency. I researched relationships and emerged weeks (months) later with a better understanding of trust. I started by researching those in positions of power, and ended up discovering how much power is possessed by educators.
In a time when ‘powerlessness’ is the pervasive feeling:
True to form, when trying to determine how we can manifest power, I’m struck by how ready we are to give it up. We are living through a time where nothing feels familiar, known. Our past touchstones now look and feel different in our hands and in our minds. That which comforted us and made us feel successful in the past no longer carries reassurances that we know what we are doing. Unsettled is an understatement.
But we are not powerless. The rally cry six months ago was that we cannot return to the way things were. Yet, it feels like we returned to school, dusted off our old talisman, and are using standards previously deemed ineffective to measure our current success and the success of everyone around us. And we look to others to be the change we hoped to see.
We have power. Don’t hand it over to someone you may not trust with it in the first place.
“If what’s under cynicism and sarcasm is despair, the antidote is cultivating hope. According to the research of C. R. Snyder, hope isn’t a warm and fuzzy feeling; he actually defines it as a cognitive emotional process that has three parts. The three parts are goal, pathway, and agency. We can identify a realistic goal (I know where I want to go), and then we can figure out the pathway to get there, even if it’s not a straight line…. Agency is belief in our ability to stay on that path until we’ve arrived….”
So, what does this mean?
I do not have this mastered, nor am I an authority. Today, I’m simply following Brown’s advice: “Write the book you need to read.”
I needed to read this—this article—to reclaim some of my hope, my action. If you are feeling this way, too: save yourself.
By Gina Meinertz
As a leader, I have always avoided data. I know that sounds crazy.
We all know that we can’t make decisions without data, but every time I heard data analysis, goal setting, or SMART goal, I thought about someone else’s accountability for objectives and goals in someone else’s dream (or mission and vision if you want to use the 'correct' terminology). I would go into these meetings and learning opportunities knowing I would spend the time complying to the process without much excitement, action, or vision for how I would implement changes in connection to the data we were reviewing.
Then, along came an opportunity for me to help guide a data collection, reflection, and action-planning process for an area organization. It would be a way to give back and guide other districts in our region with their own MTSS structures.
My first response, internally, was the same as always, a little gag reflex and a deep breath, but then a "yes, I can do that."
I went to work learning about the Tiered Fidelity Inventory that the Minnesota Department of Education recommends. I learned how to give this inventory to other school districts and how to help these districts create an action plan from their data.
As I worked through this inventory in a few different systems, I started to appreciate how the data from this inventory was bringing each district’s story of collaboration alive. We were not just analyzing student growth, but discussing what processes and structures supported a productive team. The inventory used such depth and clarity, people who used to shrug their shoulders and say, “We do that,” started to question their system, their teams, and their data in new ways. They started to look at the patterns of their system to find specific ways to shift their system for the better. Finally, I was seeing data for the possibilities that it holds.
Many of you may already see it, but for those of you who don’t. Keep searching. You just have found the right data, reflection process, or personal connection to the data yet.
Here are a couple of things that I have learned about data once my fear decreased and my curiosity increased.
I am not in a place to call myself a data geek quite yet. But I am ready to share how I think you could find more meaning in the data you use. Here are three directions to explore:
| 1 |
Know your strengths and interests. Then, find data that tells you the story that relates to your strengths and interests. For instance, I am a big picture and systematic thinker. By looking at data that was drilling down into specifics, I was missing the view that serves me the best. I need data that gave me a view of where we needed to be as a system and what we needed to do and change to get to our desired point.
| 2 |
Data takes many forms. Many times, we feel like we only have one option, standardized assessment data, to guide our decisions. This is a great starting point, but we also need to be able to use other points of data to guide our decision making.
| 3 |
I hope this quick read has convinced you to look at data with a new perspective, a curious one.
The Pedagogy of 'The Great British Bake Off'
by Nick Truxal
The time has come. When Third Eye Education was launched, we made sure to include a link to make suggestions for future articles. At the time, we needed to test if the system would work appropriately, and someone on the team posted this anonymous suggestion.
“Like, what if you wrote an article about how good the Great British Bake Off was for educators?
We thought it was a fun joke, but as with many jokes, the more we thought about it the more the suggestion became an inevitable future article. With the launch of a new season of The Great British Bake Off (sometimes known as “The Great British Baking Show”), the time is now!
So, why is The Great British Bake Off great for educators? Here are three rounds of reasons!
The Signature Round
It Fixes You Up (“Solves” Burnout)
What can we say? High stakes relaxation doesn’t bring the heart rate down in quite the same way.
Repeatable at Home
Because Bake Off is something every single viewer can feasibly do on their own, it can build confidence to try out new skills in the realm of baking. Further, there is research to suggest that hands-on projects can boost mood for days to come after a successful outcome.
Speaking of successful outcomes, if baking does become a home enterprise, we can gain quick and easy wins in the form of cupcakes, breads, and eclairs. Once again, research shows that one of the very best ways to overcome burnout is through a series of quick, small wins. This can even happen just by watching the show and seeing the person you are rooting for progressing on to the next stage. Do keep in mind that students are also burned out right now, and finding quick wins for the classroom can be very useful for the culture of the class and the mental health of all involved.
The Technical Round
Represents Great Teaching
Clarity and Progression of Goals
The Great British Bake Off breaks each show into three parts: the “Signature Challenge,” the “Technical Challenge,” and the “Showstopper Challenge.” Each is clear in its expectations from long before the season begins. Furthermore, they build upon one another. The Signature Challenge can be practiced long in advance of the show. Contestants know what all Signature Challenges will be as the show begins, and they speak about how they practiced at home to get comfortable with their particular approach. The “Technical Challenge” is the “productive struggle” of the show. A chance to push the contestants outside of their comfort zones and force them to make connections between skills they’ve learned previously. The “Showstopper” is the final display - the representation of learning to the wider community.
As each of these challenges takes place, contestants get feedback in a variety of ways. During the signature challenge in particular, the judges will walk from contestant to contestant to give feedback about their planned projects. As soon as each bake is completed, the judges instantly give feedback. Study after study has shown that the most growth happens when feedback is done live or, at minimum, immediately after a skill has been practiced.
Choice & Community
Not only does each contestant get the structured choice of what they will bake each episode, they also have the opportunity on how to engage with their community of bakers. In the COVID era of Bake Off, contestants are put into a baking bubble where they can only interact with each other. This results in practice sessions being done with each other, advice being given, and bonds being quickly formed through this shared experience.
Models How to Adapt to Challenges
The Great British Bake Off has gone through judges, hosts, formats, and channels in its life on television. With each change, the audience is quick to point out that the show is doomed and life will never be the same. However, with each change, there returns a cast of people that clearly care about the direction things will take. There is an optimism that is infectious. There are, again, small wins in seeing favorite elements of the show continue on. In a world so full of change, it is great to see a show model how to successfully adapt.
So, thank you to whoever it was that jokingly suggested The Great British Bake Off for an article. It was a lovely exercise, and we look forward to the next article suggestion!
by Phil Olson
I am only eight days into the new school year, but I have already experienced several unpleasant moments in which my vision has shifted and forced me to recognize “blind spots.”
One day, after several spirited classes, in which school was starting to feel pre-pandemic normal, in part because I could see smiles in student’s eyes above their masks. I was congratulating myself for a great morning as I headed to the restroom where a quick check in the mirror necessitated a double take: right in the back of my carefully parted hair there was a Alfalfa spike, and it took some water to tame, so it had been there advertising my silliness all day, like the inflatable “air dancers” at car lots. I swallowed my pride and obsessively checked to be sure my buttons and zippers held the rest of me in place.
Another blindspot! I’ve taught that story a dozen times, and I still missed something, not because I hadn't looked, but because I had--again and again; I’d looked so often that my view had become fixed, despite the fact that it was incomplete.
I continue to discover blinds spots in many areas of my teaching, but none more important than my assessment practices. A powerful, timely driver of my work is Myron Dueck’s new book, Giving Students a Say: Smarter Assessment Practices to Empower and Engage.
Dueck’s new book, like Grading Smarter, Not Harder before it, offers a wealth of research and classroom tested strategies for engaging students where they’re at and honoring their perspectives. Here are a few quotes from the book to chew on before we get into specifics:
Each of these quotes points to common blindspots in the arena of assessment, and collectively they shape Dueck’s thesis: assessment is an essential element of the learning process, so students should be invited into an ongoing discussion about their own learning.
Dueck persuasively argues that the first step in giving students a say is to empower them with learning targets that are clear and understandable, which is often not true of local, state, or national standards. He suggests teachers break their courses down into understandable units and then share with students concise overviews of the knowledge and skills they will be held accountable for. Here’s an example from Giving Students a Say (also available for download on Dueck’s website):
And here is a version of a similarly-styled unit plan I am using with my Grade 9 English classes this fall. When I implemented the tool last week, I immediately received positive feedback. Freshpeople are anxious about their school--the fact that, in high school, grades and transcripts really matter is not lost on them. So they find it comforting to preview expectations and to discover that the learning targets are extensions of previous work they’ve done. They also find it meaningful to identify their own goals and to anticipate checking the boxes when the targets are satisfied.
For teachers, these targets ensure we don’t make assumptions about what students know; instead they establish clear pictures of success in our classes.
For students, these communication tools proactively circumvent embarrassing and deflating blind spots, and they provide empowering information to help students track their progress toward targets.
Dueck explains how, once learning goals are clearly established and reinforced, student engagement in assessment builds with continuity; it benefits from practices that track learning over time like a live-action reel of information, as opposed to drawing conclusions from snapshots of episodic performance . Along the way, he arrives at several provocative conclusions--provocative because they evidence blind spots in our practice.
Some of his findings, summarized:
Yes, there are challenges there, and Dueck backs them with logic, personal experience, and recent, compelling research. Most importantly, he explains how to improve assessment practices: he includes classroom-ready materials for both elementary and secondary settings; he offers a detailed amplification of how to create and employ rubrics that function as learning tools by focusing on communication, as opposed to evaluation; and he makes and a persuasive argument for why and how we must revise grading practices to include student self-reporting and to escape from the imprecision. The tools he offers are substantial, timely, and actionable.
At points in the book, Dueck (and I, by extension) take a hard, not-very-flattering look at our earlier assessment practices, which included ill-defined learning goals, performative tasks that didn’t necessarily align with course objectives, and worse: sometimes our practices were inflexible and punitive. There is no joy for teachers or students in this dynamic. But change is happening, and Giving Students a Say offers a clear prescription for improvement: we need to meet students where they are, sit beside them as they learn, and make feedback a two-way conversation that empowers them to move confidently toward their futures.
Giving Students a Say
with Myron Dueck & Phil Olson | 9.14.21
Dueck triumphantly returns to Third Eye, this time joined by teacher Phil Olson, to discuss his new book and giving students voice.
by James (Jim) Thompson, consolidated by Stefanie Whitney
Towards the end of my 20th and final year of being an elementary principal, my Superintendent of Schools, Dave DeLoria, was also the guy with whom I played in a rock band in the mid ‘60s (our band was The Morticians). Dave was the lead guitar player and would often say something after a certain song: “Our plan for that song was good in theory but somehow didn’t work out when we played it... Somethin’ ain’t right...”
It was also during that 20th year of my career that Dave would say, “Jimmy, how come we don’t have more state funding for teachers coaching teachers? That would really make an impact… somethin’ ain’t right that we can’t make that happen more.”
Dave’s question touched on a topic I had been thinking about for quite some time.
In my humble opinion, I believe there are two essential questions that require our responsiveness as educators:
This article takes a deep dive into this second question. I channel Dave DeLoria in my candid response to how we’re doing:
“Somethin’ ain’t right…Somethin’ ain’t right.”
First, let’s take a look at the current reality of responding to the question:
How are we improving our practice to more significantly impact learning for each and every child?
The following include current common approaches to improving our practice:
Let’s talk more about each approach to professional development.
Traditional Teacher Evaluation Systems
[Disclaimer: I was an elementary principal for 20 years.]
In my first year as principal, I had to conduct over 80 ‘observations’; plus, address all disciplinary issues, coordinate all curriculum implementation, and facilitate all staff development for a school with over 700 students and over 100 staff reporting ‘directly to me.’ (This experience is akin to being a secondary educator, often responsible for building relationships with, facilitating differentiated learning for, and providing feedback and assessment on work from over 150 students. In all directions, educators are overwhelmed with responsibility regarding continuous, impactful learning.)
I really loved my kids and really loved my staff. So much so that when it was time to do a post- observation conference with a teacher, I made coffee or tea for them, I gave them a warm welcome and thanks, I worked hard to affirm their great work with kids and offer some ‘stretchers’ to advance learning. And regardless of the care with which I took in providing post-observation feedback, inevitably, at the end of most of those post-observation conferences, the teacher smiled, shook my hand, and said something like: “Whew, glad that’s over until next year.” (Leaving me with a Neil Simon “Same Time, Next Year” feel.) Darn if I never heard a teacher say, “Gee, this was so beneficial I’d like to do a few more of these this year.”
I knew then, as I know now…that somethin’ ain’t right with this process. In fact, in 1998, I wrote an article for the School Administrators Association of NY Schools’ Journal (SAANYS) entitled “Supervision of Instruction: The Long and Winding Road from the ‘Kodak Moment’ to Collegiality.”
I began that article with a report card asking such questions as:
Twenty-three years ago, I gave myself failing grades in all three categories.
In New York State, the process to supervise instruction done by principals and administrators is called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Several years ago, superintendents from Monroe County, NY were asked: “What was the one state mandate they would like to repeal?” Their unanimous response: “Repeal APPR.” A sign that perhaps the answers to these 3 important questions indicate no real improvement.
Doug Reeves, in an article in the February issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership acknowledges this:
“I have never seen anyone evaluated into better performance.”
A Closer Look at Professional Development with Little or No Follow-Up Coaching
Often, professional development occurs through ‘one and done’ workshops.
Back in the winter of 2003, I taught a graduate course on Staff Development. In this class of 30, the majority of participants were directors of staff development. I asked each participant to make a list of all professional development they have endeavored in the last decade and then to put three stars next to each professional development event that included follow-up coaching, two stars for each event that did not include follow-up coaching but did include time to share practice with other colleagues in the days and weeks after the event, and zero stars if there was essentially no follow up coaching nor support with collaboration after the initial event.
In this activity, well beyond 90% of the events had NO STARS, indicating no follow up coaching, and little or no chance for reflection or sharing afterwards among staff members. Further, participants acknowledged that much of the actual professional development was in the form of a workshop. This was true in the 1990s and remains true today.
Jim Knight writes in the February 2021 issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership,
“In my experience, it takes about three days to forget most of what we learned in a workshop.”
A Closer Look at Professional Development by Way of "Insert Big Name Speaker Here"
During my many years in education, I have experienced a lot of “big names” giving an opening day address. Folks were flown in from the West Coast, some were even flown in from abroad, some were funny, some were serious, and some looked like the cast of Baywatch (I specifically remember folks asking how the presenter ‘got such a great tan’) .
And a few—a few—were inspiring.
Doug Reeves addresses this approach to professional development:
“...it would be impossible to find evidence that three-hour workshops or 90 minute keynotes, on their own, however popular and entertaining, result in learning or changes in professional practice.”
One year a speaker from the Midwest was brought into my district as a keynote speaker. He spoke for three hours in the morning and several hours in the afternoon. I saw the invoice for the presentation: $8000, plus expenses.
Folks kept asking me during his presentation, “Who is this guy and who made the decision to bring him in?”
In a 2013 synthesis of research on professional learning, Allison Gulamhussein concluded that,
“most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning” (p. 3).
When we look at how we are still conducting most professional development in 2021, it is hard to deny that, “Somethin’ ain’t right…Somethin’ ain’t right.”
Watch for future articles on these topics in the coming months!
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.