‘6 UP’ – Leading change modelling leadership at all levels

up-graphics-002
David Jackson pointed me in the direction of this great talk from Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. In her TEDx Talk below on the ‘6 Keys of Leading Change’ there are loads of insights and gems that can be applied to a plethora of contexts.
  • Show-Up: Being visible, being involved and being able to understand every perspective and viewpoint in an organisation or project; to understand, develop empathy, make informed decisions and ultimately, ‘making oneself available’ and knowing that sometimes, just your presence and ‘being there’ makes a difference.
  • Speak-Up: The ‘Power of Voice’ is about shaping the agenda and being ‘thought leaders’. The example she gives of actively grading and giving students feedback on their participation in lessons both requires and supports each one of them to find and share their own voice. In this Key, she gives a clear definition of what ‘participation’ really means, where listening is absolutely integral to expressing your ‘voice’. She then illustrates the power this has by using the example of how a journalist’s ideas and his ability to use his voice to make suggestions about how to take action has created a ‘learning neighbourhood’ in Sao Paola and transformed the community.
  • Look-Up: To look up to a higher vision and clarify the principles that are needed to guide everybody. Leaders who do this are in a position to prevent what she refers to as ‘hollow leadership’. She gives a pragmatic, day-to-day application and description of what it means to live your ‘Vision and Values’ and what engaging in your ‘noble purpose’ really means. ‘Looking Up’ is all about deliberately designing and committing to giving everybody the space and time to discuss, clarify and revisit your shared purpose. Embedding the act of revisiting your vision and values as an organisational habit will, ‘lift the spirits like nothing else’. Only when this is in place can you be assured that your vision and values are genuinely lived in every part of your organisation.
  • Team-Up: ‘…nearly anything worth doing is very difficult to do alone’ and the best projects are those which have a ‘sense of partnership from the beginning’. To intentionally grow and deepen connections through partners who share your vision and values and draw them into your ‘nobler cause’ is highlighted as fundamental to the next step of deliberately aligning your partnerships, to develop and behave as ‘one big team’, to deliver your vision and values.
  • Never Give-Up (aka Kanter’s Law): Only by stopping will you fail. This Key is integral to delivering your ‘noble cause’. Being aware and genuinely ready to dig deep as individuals, as leaders, as whole-teams and as learning organisations is underpinned by the requirement to persist, be resilient and resolute all the way through the implementation dip(s) which she refers to as ‘the messy middle’. The time it takes to develop and design a project, shape and refine it, align partners around your vision, values  and purpose is time well invested.
  • Lift Others-Up: Sharing and giving back to others is fundamental to ensuring the Six Keys are part of a sustainable cycle of development, innovation and ensuring we can all be part of a system that makes a difference.

Here’s the Talk itself…

The Keys offer a great way to structure a modular leadership/ leading change development programme. The ‘6 Keys’ similarly provide a simple and practical framework ready to be adopted when assessing leadership competencies, mindsets and effectiveness. This framework could then be used to shape coaching conversations and programmes. I’m really interested in any thoughts and considerations for how they could be used in other contexts.

Professor Dweck at TED earlier this year

This TED Talk by Professor Carol Dweck provides a good catch-all summary and introduction for anybody wanting to start doing some thinking around Growth Mindsets.

I’ll be adding this to the Core Professional Curriculum iTunesU course we have at school. This talk is only 10 minutes, so we’ll be using it as an introduction to the start of an EduBook Club Meeting. It also works well as a stimulus for a departmental meeting with a team wanting to undertake some subject-specific action research or a staff meeting in a smaller setting where you want to start focusing in on the big hitters such as motivation and engagement.

Here are just a few prompt questions I have posed in the past when using Ted Talks and other short videos and podcasts of educational thinkers in this way:

  • What do I know about the perceptions my pupils have of their own ability and how can I find out?
  • How does this relate to me, in my subject area, for the groups I teach?
  • How can I use the information from this research to refine my questioning to encourage pupils to refine, redraft and act on feedback?
  • In what ways does this prompt me to consider the way I design learning activities?
  • How does teacher-mindset influence verbal and written feedback?
  • How can we develop a shared language of learning that explicitly promotes the belief that learning is a developmental process?

Dweck’s earlier book, Self Theories is well worth a read (be warned, it’s quite pricey!) as it gets right into the different ways that pupils perceive their own ability, respond to praise, feedback and criticism, based on years of research undertaken by Dweck and her team.

Quality Teacher Talk

In this typically engaging short video piece from Hans Rosling, the world-renowned data visualisation and data-entertainment guru (see his brilliant TED Talks for more), identifies the power of explaining using props. He emphasises that although video can be used to explain some concepts, (see Ted-ED for examples to use if you’re looking to implement some flipped learning in your lessons), nothing replaces the teacher and their ability   to make learning fun through the explanations they can offer. For teachers and presenters alike,  being able to draw upon a vast repertoire of explaining is fundamental to being able to meet the needs of all learners/ listeners. As a result, there’s a great opportunity to keep refreshing ‘explaining techniques’ and consider the many ways we can employ quality teacher talk to differentiate, challenge and encourage learners to understand new concepts and think in new ways.

 

 

I’ve included a screen shot of an observation format I use very regularly for you to have a look at: ‘Explaining – Improving the Quality of Teacher Talk’  The original version plus others that I regularly use, adapt and tweak can be found in “Full On Learning”. You’ll notice that this is a very focused observation tool, as it ONLY looks at the quality of teacher talk in relation to EXPLAINING. Hence it can be used as part of a developmental coaching approach..which is just how I use it.

I use this particular one as part of my pedagogical coaching toolkit. I’ve got others that focus on questioning and a more generic one that looks ONLY at ‘Pupil activity during the lesson’. They’re all developmental in design as they are limited by their focus on a very specific element of pedagogy. In practice, they work as a simple tally sheet during the lesson. You can add additional layers of complexity, according to what the teacher wants to focus on, but my watchword is and always has been to keep it SIMPLE when it comes to observing the complicated world of teaching and the similarly complex world of learning.

The strength of this tool is:

1. When you work with a group of teachers to create and amend the observation format you get into wonderful discussions and sharing of expertise. In fact, it’s at THIS point when you get the really crunchy discussions about ‘quality teacher talk’ and how various concepts can be explained and what else could be used to aid the communication of complexity, of topic fundamentals and of core concepts so that learner understanding is secure.

2. When used as part of a pedagogical coaching programme, the results can be put into a simple spreadsheet to generate a visual chart (Hans Rosling would be proud!). This then forms the basis of your coaching discussion, as it places the focus of the discussion on the teacher, enabling them to reflect and consider their own practice.

3. Coupled with a skilled coach possibly also with video, you get rewarded by by using this as part of a MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS approach and find that you get those sought-after MULTIPLE GAINS from one simple pedagogical focus.

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher Talk

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher

 

Even Better If we specifically focused on What Went Well

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to work in a wide variety of contexts around the country with fabulously open and highly reflective practitioners. Of late, I have been involved in engaging and often very challenging debates around the ways in which all forms of observations are used in schools to improve the learning experiences of young people.

One of the main areas of my work is concerned with how to develop and sustain a safe and effective culture of quality professional reflection. An integral aspect of this involves the design of dynamic professional development programmes that integrate a culture of coaching, action research and developmental lesson observations.

This includes:

  • the constant testing and revision of all observation formats
  • clarification of the purpose of all observations
  • agreement of the intended and expected outcomes of all observations
  • reflections on the language for and of learning
  • creation of a range of observation tools (different tools for different purposes)
  • systems that reflect and embrace the values of truly developmental and highly reflective professional learning

An often neglected area of the process of all forms of observation is the post-observation conversation*. In establishing a culture where developmental lesson observations are used to develop the quality of learning opportunities alongside and not instead-of or as separate-from judgmental or graded observations, the challenge is to find the most effective way to ensure that every post-lesson conversation is about professional learning and not professional telling.

Quality post-lesson conversations

The conversation following any type or style of learning observation can, and should, make as many of the demands on the professional expertise of the observer as on the practitioner whose lesson has been observed. This is just as true for a developmental lesson observation as it is for a graded / formal / judgemental lesson observation. It’s certainly true that just because there’s no grade to be given doesn’t make the complexities (practical, emotional and professional) of the discussion any more straightforward.

We can employ as much reassurance as we can think of in the form of…

‘It really IS developmental, there are no judgements here’ OR…

‘Remember, I’m not using the criteria to form any judgements in this, so don’t worry’ OR…

‘The lesson observation format I’m using doesn’t allow me to look for evidence that could be used to grade the lesson’

…BUT until a reflective and developmental culture is established (and even after it is), it is worth remembering that it is likely that it may always feel, for the person whose lesson has just been observed, that the ‘grading elephant’ is present in some guise in the room.

This is particularly true at that critical point of the commencement of the post-lesson conversation when the crowd of learners have packed up and their backpacks have disappeared towards their next lesson. For most, it is worth noting that this is when heart rates spike again, for both the observer and practitioner. It is at this point that the sophisticated skills of the observer have to be fully deployed into the situation, immediately and expertly.

Scorpion feedback 

A typical structure of much of our feedback conversations with learners involves providing some positive reinforcement and actively noticing some elements of effective practice followed by some ‘points for development’. This is often encapsulated as ‘What Worked Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ or ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ AfL-style feedback. At other times, it comes in the form of a ‘feedback sandwich’, where the effective element is followed by a developmental point and finished with another effective element. This structure has been adapted by many schools for observers to use with practitioners as part of the post-lesson conversation. The actual structure has many merits, whichever version or adaptation is used.

What I have been reflecting on most recently, however, is the relative impact of the effective elements (WWW) against the impact of identifying the (WWW) developmental points.

What we say/ what we hear

It’s a bit like going to a gallery to see an exhibition and finding pieces of art that we really like but noticing that the weather wasn’t very nice.

What often happens is that the person receiving the feedback does’t really listen to the WWW, however fabulous these are because they are waiting for the EBI. So whether there is a formal judgement hovering and waiting to be delivered or simply a non-graded developmental EBI, or both, the ‘EBI’ can still act as an unhelpful sting in the tail of the conversation, regardless of how massively positive the impact of learning has been as a result of the WWWs. And however accomplished the practitioner has been whilst employing these WWWs.

One of the main reasons for this is:

(1) The WWW and the EBI are often, although not exclusively, presented as two very separate, distinct elements of the observation.

(2) The source of these separate elements is often very different. This is because the process of identifying the elements of effective practice and the elements that we would consider as goals for development, even during the lesson itself, tends to involve an entirely separate search.

So the observer might see…

(1) (WWW) The lesson structure is clear

(2) (WWW) The Learning Outcomes & Success Criteria were communicated effectively to students

But identify…

(3) (EBI) The teacher-questioning didn’t encourage expansive answers from the learners.

All three points are really important, but when this particular post-lesson conversation occurs, there is a danger that all the practitioner hears is point (3) and leaves the lesson thinking, ‘My questioning isn’t good enough’. In doing so, they may fail to acknowledge and or even care that their planning was really effective and that the construction and communication of learning outcomes and success criteria ensured that all students knew why, what and how they were learning throughout the lesson. These elements may constitute two things into which they’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy and with this, elements of practice that another practitioner two doors down the corridor would really benefit from seeing in action. But they leave the experience thinking, ‘my questioning isn’t good enough.’ and add this to the infinite ‘to-do list of a self-imposed ‘must-do-better’ mindset.

The M.O.T.** and avoiding the STING 

So, in implementing Marginal Learning Gains Theory, the observer has the opportunity to be as meticulously selective as the reflective practitioner for whom they are observing the learning. In doing so, they can identify a specific area for development directly from the effective elements already in place. This means that the onus is on the observer to make a clear and specific connection between the elements of the lesson that have been effective and identify how more of this will enhance the quality of the learning experienced. This also means that as observers, we have to really up our game in making a highly sophisticated professional analysis of what really needs to be ‘grown’ from existing practice that will make the biggest impact on the quality of learning.

Obviously, in a coaching relationship, the options for what to focus on in terms of growth are identified and prioritised by the practitioner, but the elements from the observed learning presented by the observer still need to inform and enhance the depth of this  conversation.

So, here’s one very simple strategy (and yes, it will very soon be appearing as a Marginal Learning Gain) and the bonus is that is has an equally transferrable application for peer and self assessment activities with our learners.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 12.49.17

The fear of the EBI (Elephant Behind the Insight)…or something like that.

MOT

When the MOT leaves us knowing we’re on track and have the skills already in place to keep going…

* I am deliberately not referring to the post-lesson observation conversation as ‘feedback’ because in doing so, it still feels like I’m describing something that is predominantly a one-way process. This is regardless of how much we insist upon the need for there to be several feedback channels where the ‘loudest’ feedback channel is that from the ‘learner’ (or the practitioner’s lesson being observed in this instance) to the ‘teacher’ (the observer in this case).

**And yes, this means I have a new acronym (because I really don’t think we have enough in education).

Hope and Wisdom and the Via Negativa

This a strange post, so forgive me. I think it must be what happens when you’re trying desperately hard not to stray into something that you’re not yet prepared for, but can’t help thinking about, and yet keep recognising that it is evident in everything you do, how you think and certainly, how you view the world and always have. And after that introduction, I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to click away…but if you don’t, just to let you know, this post is about HOPE.

I had the pleasure of hearing Baroness Estelle Morris speak last week at the Institute for Effectiveness in Education Conference 2013 hosted at York University. I do not intend to go into the evidence, research and practice debate here as there’s many others doing just that extremely well right now.*

One thing Ms Morris said really struck a chord with me.  In her response to her introduction, and after she had said, “Please call me Estelle”, she reflected on how she had been introduced. She said that she felt that she needed to define herself as what she was not.** She  acknowledged that in a room full of educational researchers and a very small number of teachers, she was not…

  • a teacher
  • a researcher
  • a politician

But that what she was, or rather, where she was, was in ‘the gaps’ in between these things:

“…it is because I’m not these things, what I hope to bring…is an attempt to fill the gaps between all the things I’m not.”

She went on to say that wisdom is required to ensure that the connection between these things is made strong so that the gaps in between the three are reduced. This is something that definitely informs my thinking about the research, practice and evidence debate.

But back to this post…

Sometimes, I come across an idea, a quotation, an approach, a picture, a piece of text, a film or a sound that sits in the gaps between what we do, what we think and what we hope for. The job for us, then, is to make sense of it and in doing so, bring it closer to our own lives through our values and expertise. This is how our wisdom gets exercised and this is the wisdom of teaching. Because once we make those connections, we get to offer the very same opportunity to our learners.

So here is one such stimulus.

For me, this 3:14 minute trailer could be shared with learners in pretty much every subject area and chime with any theme connected to resilience, grit, learning, determination and aspiration. In doing so, it offers leaners the opportunity to forge their own connections between the subject of the film, their ideas and actions and thereby offer them the chance to reduce those gaps and develop their wisdom. By exploring the many different ways in which they can connect the film to the subject, topic or theme, they are learning about, they get to generate quality questions and begin to create their very own links that in turn will connect to their prior and present learning.

Because it is such a rich resource, if nothing else, at the end of the day, projects like the one outlined in this film give us all a much needed and refreshing dose of one thing that lies at the heart of everything that drives us in education, research and, I would like to think, politics too: hope.

If you want to really immerse yourself in hope and, given the times, why wouldn’t you? Then there’s also this inspirational 18 minute TED Talk all about the origins of the Barefoot College and where the concept of solar electrification first evolved. I’ll be posting it on my TEDUCATION site to sit alongside similarly inspirational and education-applicable TED Talks, with some of my own reflections soon.

*NB If you want to find out more about the evidence, research and education debate, I strongly suggest you sign up for The ResearchED 2013 Conference (@researchED2013) being organised by Tom Bennett and follow the twitter stream and fabulous blog posts that have been stimulated by the debate.

AND...There’s also the fabulous work of The Coalition for Evidence Based Education CEBE. They’re already set up to create one of the proposals that Ben Goldacre calls for…the equivalent of a ‘dating service’ to enable educators and researchers to develop projects together.  I’m saving specific references to it for another time, after some careful reflection (regular blog readers wouldn’t expect anything other than that from me, I am sure).

**I am probably biased here as this is one of my favourite philosophical approaches, the ‘via negativa‘, if you’re interested. It is always a fabulous stimulus for any ontological debates for the existence of…well, anything, really.

Ensuring Impact: The Aggregation of Marginal Learning Gains

So, I am now well into a reflection-development phase of the Marginal Learning Gains work. This has to centre around, as with all educational endeavours, “What impact will the Marginal Learning Gains approach have on the quality of teaching and learning and how will I know?”. It is early days, I know, but I am a front-end evaluation sort of thinker and I like to be clear about the intended impact and outcomes from the outset. I am always looking to refine and learn and to do that, I have been asking a few questions of MLG. My own experiences with MLG mean that I have been part of a launch of MLG and I am privileged enough to have been made aware from feedback to this blog, emails, ‘actual’ (!) conversations and through Twitter that many, many people are also now well underway in developing Marginal Learning Gains as a way to reflect and develop their own practice with colleagues and staff.

This post is an acknowledgement to the amazing amount of MLG interest, positive feedback, ideas and fantastic sharing of thinking over the past few weeks about the implementation Marginal Learning Gains (MLG). People have been sharing how they are already using MLG to develop quality learning opportunities in individual practice, within teams and across a school.

Although it is tempting at this point to simply say, “Just try it and see” or, “Take a look at what people are saying in their blogs and tweets about how they’re using MLG and the impact that is having” that’s not enough for the evidence-based researcher in me.

Marginal Learning Gains: The missing verb

When it comes to impact, there is one word missing from my blog posts, our tweets, the marginal gains hashtag on Twitter and even the Marginal Learning Gains website itself that is most likely to provide an answer to how we will see and know there is impact. Although described in the original Dave Brailsford documentary and in his interview here, the one word missing from MLG is the verb, “AGGREGATION“.

For it is in what we DO with the many small Learning Gains we identify, analyse and develop that will lay the foundations for sustained improvement. This will also avoid the inherent danger that some people have rightly noted and commented in our discussions of recommending Marginal Learning Gains as a way to ‘just find some (possibly random) little things to improve’ which may result in pressurising us into implementing a frenetic series of disconnected teaching activities that will only serve to confuse, disrupt and overwhelm. Which is the exact opposite of what MLG is all about. It is designed to give clarity to what we want to develop and improve so that we can think, reflect and discuss what great learning needs to look, sound and feel like for our learners. Have a look at the Ofsted survey on the Learning Goggles section of this blog, placed at Number 4: ‘Some myths about teaching and learning’. This has a description of what might constitute ‘over-teaching’ on pages 12-15 of the Ofsted Survey and illustrates this point about ‘overwhelm’ with teaching strategies.

Criteria: what is a Marginal Learning Gain?

A Marginal Learning Gain is one that can be identified as one small constituent part and incorporated into the whole of a teacher’s practice and used to enhance the daily learning experiences of learners. Ultimately, if there is to be an authentic sense of AGENCY and AUTONOMY in this process, the MLG is entirely up to you. It is for you to reflect on your own practice so that you can select what to focus on as what you believe will make the greatest difference. Drawing on your own wealth of expertise and the advice and observations of others around you is probably the best way to select your first few Marginal Learning Gains.

Here are three possible sources of evidence you may choose to use to refine your definition of your own Marginal Learning Gains and make an informed selection:

1. SELF AWARENESS: The here & now: What and where are the missed opportunities that we frequently observe in our own and each others’ lessons, see in written work or notice during learning walks? What are the small adaptions we could make that would avoid the reflection, ‘…if only…’ in response to how learning is delivered and organised. Where we know we could have provided students with opportunities to think more deeply, make connections across and between topics, discuss with confidence, synthesise their prior and present learning and apply their expertise to new situations?

2. EXTERNAL RESEARCH: The known & reported: What does research say really makes a difference to the quality of learning outcomes? Which of the most powerful teaching techniques or approaches are worth really making a part of our standard practice?

3. JUDGEMENTS: The accountability framework: What does Ofsted say aids (a) the flow of learning and (b) the quality of progress over time of every student? How do we avoid trying to do everything listed be discerning about the few things we can identify in our own context, analyse these and develop them accordingly?

There is an inherent danger in taking an ‘only-do’ approach to MLG in that although it may well lead to identifying some (possible very small) aspects of teaching that, if given attention, can be analysed and then developed, this may not be something that, when aggregated, makes s direct contribution to the ‘whole’. There is one level of impact in reflecting in this way, for sure. The trick is, as is always the case, to consider how to make this learning gain an ACTUAL GAIN and with this, ensure that it is sustainable and can be aggregated (incorporated into the whole so that it has impact). The key to the MLG approach is to ensure that every learning gain made can be embedded and sustained as part of everyday practice, ensuring that this will not be one of those ‘missed opportunities’ at a later date.

So here goes…the Marginal Learning Gains approach with a methodology to accompany it. One that can be used time and time again so that gains can indeed be aggregated. As Dave Brailsford says, it is only when you put the marginal gains together and embed them as part of your standard practice, that you will start to see the TOTAL impact. In this case, on the quality of teaching and learning.

So this is my first attempt (of several, I am sure) to explain just how integral and manageable ‘MICRO‘ action research is as an integral part of the Marginal Learning Gains approach. It is an approach I have used for years and as part of the MLG process, I can only see how will benefit anybody who wants to ensure that MLG thinking will have a sustained impact over time for quality teaching and learning.

For me, any form of research is about developing a reflective mindset and with this, it has a direct a impact on practice. In working and thinking in this way, we get to the point where we are confident enough to implement the small but meaningful changes (MLGs) in teaching practice that will make a big difference in learning outcomes.

The MLG tool: Micro Action Research

Micro action research is the methodology that is most suited to implementing Marginal Learning Gains in your practice and ensuring that the aggregation happens. If Marginal Learning Gains is the philosophy, then micro-action research is the methodology. At the end of which, the Learning

Gains can be pulled together (aggregated) to ensure sustained impact. There’s clearly a synergy between the methodology and the philosophy of MLG.

In micro action research, you focus on developing just one aspect of pedagogy (which you have identified from one or all of your three evidence sources listed above) with a specific group within a limited timeframe. Once you have developed this one aspect, embedded it and sustained it as part of your practice, you simply identify another key component and apply the same process. That’s where the Aggregation of Marginal Learning Gains starts to really take a hold.

This is how it works…The Micro Action Research Question

Rather than asking, “How can I improve my teaching from (x) to (y)?” and with this question, getting frustrated because you feel that you’re doing everything you know you should be doing, micro action research requires you to reframe the question in SPECIFICS, so that you can easily and systematically assess the impact of any specific changes you test out. So your question will sound more like this,

“To improve my teaching from (x) to (y)…” becomes…

“How can I use [SPECIFIC STRATEGY] (e.g. paired discussion) SO THAT I see an improvement in the [LEARNING OUTCOME] (e.g. quality of learning talk) with [FOCUS GROUP] (e.g. five Year 9 boys) over [TIMEFRAME] (e.g. three lessons) ?”

The handy thing about this approach is that the research can be undertaken without making massive changes or requiring hours of pre-planning. By adopting a reflective mindset in the first lesson, you are using the Marginal Learning Gains (IAD) approach at a meta-level and in doing so, embedding it in your own thinking.

In your first lesson, you IDENTIFY what your focus needs to be. Between the first and the second lesson, you ANALYSE the characteristics of what you EXPECT when you listen to ‘quality learning talk’ in this instance and then, in the second and third lessons, you can DEVELOP those specific characteristics through the small changes you implement.

In doing this, you don’t have to undertake a whole-scale re-programming of your  teaching preferences and style but instead, you are free to focus your attention on a specific aspect of your repertoire. You can then engage in a highly reflective process that will not only develop this specific aspect of teaching but, more importantly, shape the way in which you design learning at the outset.

If you merge this with some developmental lesson observations as part of a focused MLG coaching programme, then you’ll have a model for teaching and learning development that is sophisticated in terms of depth of thinking and quality reflection but simple in terms of manageability. This is a Low Input: High Impact model for professional development. And if you want to know more about how the developmental coaching programme works, I’ll be posting about that soon.

Marginal Learning Gains #5 pt2: Fostering Expectant Teaching Mindsets (S3)

As I am immersed in Marginal Learning Gains at the moment, I am testing out Tiny Changes that make a Big Difference (#tcbd) and I wanted to follow on from my previous post and share my experience of adopting the thinking-language of expectancy that I used when I worked with a group of teachers very recently.

My enquiry question:

How can I establish a culture of high aspiration with a group of teachers I have only just met and who don’t know each other by using the thinking-language of expectancy SO THAT I encourage really deep thinking, discussion and decision-making (characterised by negotiation, persuasion, consideration and discernment) and elicit high quality responses to a creative thinking activity?

Here’s what I happened…

I deliberately changed my thinking SO THAT I adopted the language of expectancy to communicate my high aspirations for the group. I made a deliberate shift in my thinking as I moved from Hopeful Teaching  (‘I hope they come up with some good responses’) to Expectant Teaching (‘I expect them to generate high quality, well thought-out and considered responses’).

I showed an image and asked the group to come up with a tag line to suit what they saw. Some jumped at this straight away and clearly had lots of ideas as they started talking before I finished my last sentence of explanation. Others responded by lowering their heads in a ‘Please don’t ask me, (I’m not creative at all) and I’ll rely on somebody in my group to come up with something’ sort of way. Pretty typical for any mixed grouping and there’s absolutely no judgement from me for any of those responses. I completely understand and have experienced them all, particularly in staff training and conference workshops!

Anyway, I called an end to the activity by the tried and tested (but vague) wait-for-the-lull-in-the-talk-technique and pulled their attention back to the image. During the activity, I listened very carefully to the discussions and made a notes of the first ideas I heard from the pairings and who they came from. During the activity, nobody wrote anything down or reached for the paper  provided. All of this took about 3 minutes in total.When I asked the whole group for feedback here’s what I noticed:

  1. The responses given were exclusively each pairs’ very first ideas that they had come up (I had noted these down during the task) SO THAT I knew there had been little or no development in thinking from the beginning of the discussion to the end
  2. The ideas that were shared were those ideas that had come from the more confident member of the group SO THAT the less confidently presented ideas lost out to the more confidently expressed ideas.

In the spirit of good research, I then asked them to do the activity again, with a new image. This time I adopted an ‘expectant’ teaching mindset and framed my explanation in the language of high expectations. That is, language that is Structured, Specific and Succinct or S3 for short…

‘You are going to complete this activity in three parts:

First, I am going to ask you to look at an image on your own and think about it for 1 minute.

Second, and you’ll share your thinking with your partner, you will have two minutes only to discuss what you were thinking and together, write down with THREE possible tag lines for this image.

Third and last, still with your partner, you will both have just 30 seconds to create ONE tag line as a pair that shows your best thinking.’

The first thing that happened with the new set of instructions was that every member of the group reached for their pen and paper to make a note of their ideas. This was because they knew they had more than one idea to generate, there would be additional thinking to do and they would have to use all three of their ideas in the second part of the activity.

When the time was up, I asked for their best thinking. This time, I noticed that their responses were much more developed and had clearly moved beyond their first ideas. The final offerings were almost all hybrid versions of the three initial ideas that they had originally generated. Those pairings who had selected one of their original tag lines and not adapted or improved on it justified this by saying that they couldn’t think of anything more or different a it really was the best of their thinking as it was.

The impact of using the language of expectations:

  1. All of them had thought more deeply about the task at hand because they knew they had to generate a specific number of initial ideas within  a structured time frame
  2. All of them made decisions during the process (rather than just going with the first/ loudest/ most confident/ forceful idea) because they were specifically required to justify the selection that they made

To summarise: I used the language of expectations to structure the activity SO THAT everybody demonstrated high levels of discernment and thoughtful consideration as a result of the scaffold of ‘Structured, Specific, Succinct’ expectations.

In being explicit about expectations, we can frame success criteria in a far more purposeful and succinct way. If we want a group to come up with some good questions about a topic, we can start to think about how many questions we realistically, or ambitiously, expect them to come up with. Then we can specifically tell them how many questions we really expect them to generate. If we think they will need about three minutes to do this, we can tell them we expect them to come up with (x number) of questions in (x amount) of time. In this way, we will can be clear about our expectations and communicate our belief in their ability to achieve this at the same time, SO THAT we nurture their personal sense of agency and a ‘can do’ attitude in their learning.

So, “I want you to come up with some ideas” becomes, “I expect each one of you (insert names if needed) to identify six important points in the text and select the three most important in (specific time)”

And, “Some of you might be able to/ could/ should….” becomes, “I expect those of you who are working at level (x) / (insert names if needed) to be able to…by (midway point in the lesson/ end of lesson/)…SO THAT….you can show me/ each other that you can/ understand/ know/…’

Marginal Learning Gain #5 pt 2 = Communicating in the Language of Expectations (S3)

  • Think in the language of expectations SO THAT we communicate what we expect learners to be able to achieve by the mid-point/ end of the lesson/ topic/ unit/ term
  • Design and organise learning SO THAT we ensure learners meet both our own and their own expectations (as far as they possibly can)
  • Communicate through the language of expectations SO THAT learning outcomes are framed as; “I expect (either insert names OR use all/ most/ some of you) to be able to (do/ show/ analyse/ communicate/ create etc) SO THAT …”
  • Encourage learners to adopt the language of expectancy in their own thinking (structured, specific and succinct) SO THAT they start to shape and own their ambition
  • Ask learners what they specifically expect to be able to do/ know/ understand achieve and how they will do this at specific points in the lesson SO THAT they can commit to just this (see Marginal Gains #2 Compliance to learning plan)
  • Ask learners what they expect from the next lesson based on what they can now do and/or what they now know and understand SO THAT they build on prior learning and engage in their own sense of progression over time
  • Ask learners how well they expect to achieve in a forthcoming assessment, by the end of the topic, term, year SO THAT they can record this and use it as their personal learning goals as the year progresses

Being expectant rather than hopeful involves using the word ‘expect’ when we both think and talk about learning. It means we can be structured, specific and succinct in how we design and organise learning SO THAT we create a culture of aspiration and clear expectations. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we develop a hope-less teaching environment. We all need to be hopeful particularly when we start out on each new part of our learning journey. But perhaps we can deliberately shift our mindset earlier in the process of teaching? By consciously changing the language in which we think and adopting this in our communications with learners from the outset, we won’t have to wait for evidence to reassure us that we really can believe that great achievement is possible. Perhaps this is what we can also encourage learners to do? If they wait for enough evidence to let them know it is safe enough to commit to learning, they may never take that intellectual risk we know/ believe they can. I wonder if this Marginal Learning Gain could be one way to accelerate a sense of agency and self-belief in our learners.

When we are expectant of ourselves and each other, surely then, we will find ourselves enjoying a culture of high aspirations? And if, for some reason, expectations are not met, then I wonder whether enables us to ask exclusively learning-focused questions as to why this hasn’t happened. In this way, we can avoid being left wondering whether a failure to meet a learning goal was because we did not explain the task with clarity, plan it well enough or think it through. We will surely know that, having adopted the ‘Expectant Teaching Mindset’, we certainly made it clear, we definitely planned it well and we meticulously thought it through, then the next obvious step is to respond to the missed goal as being down to a gap in knowledge, understanding or skill development. We can then immediately and confidently adjust our teaching accordingly.

Maybe this is another Tiny Change (a Marginal Learning Gain) that can make a Big Difference (#tcbd) SO THAT we can own our ambition SO THAT we foster the sense of agency at the motivational heart of our learners.