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It may be one thing to “turn and twist a mental model from positive to negative or its counterpart. It is another thing to, as Kurt Lewin said, “refreeze” that mental model in a new place.

So it may be all fine and good to have empowered the citizens of my new city to use that right brain muscle too often neglected in a world of Mr. Spock Thinkers but it is another to transform the “I-thinks” to “I-cans”.

This is reminiscent of the High Involvement Model best described by Dr. Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues at the USC Center for Educational Governance. I also describe it in my own research and can be found at http://www.activelearningconsult.com.

Basically Wohlstetter showed that high involvement, and by extension, effective input and contribution by a cross section of stakeholders is only guaranteed when seven variables are operating. These are Power, Knowledge, Information, Leadership, Goals, Resources, and Rewards.

In the case of this “City” the High Involvement variable of Knowledge was sorely lacking. Knowledge in this case, speaks to the How to and can be associated with Senge’s Disciplines of both Personal Mastery and Team Learning.

In English, this means that while the group had generated many significant and potentially effective ideas to not only right their own Mental Models, but also to realign their own energies towards systemic health, they really didn’t know how to do this.

And so, under the “Teach a man to fish” point of view, that is, when the group knows HOW then no one leader needs to be so indispensable to the group’s successful continuance some schoolin’ was necessary.

So I taught them, however quickly, how to strategically action plan their ideas.

Here I claim no magic wand or secret formula about action plan design. Indeed I’d venture that most leaders, in education or otherwise are taught somewhere along the line, how to strategically plan. My website shows a couple of examples.

But the big HOWEVER is that learning such a skill as with learning most skills in a vacuum, has little or no translation unless or until the premise is embedded in a purpose.

Here my new City-dwellers indeed had purpose. That is they recognized that their ideas, as worthy as they were, needed to be translated to action. And that these actions couldn’t be willy-nilly throws of the dice. Instead, they had to sequence their ideas into actionable strategies. They needed to know who would be responsible, what they needed, how to overcome obstacles they could anticipate, and above all, how to measure their progress both formatively and summatively. Isn’t that what the quarterback does in the huddle?

And that will be the next Tale of This City.

The Root Cause term has garnered some attention these past few years of economic upset. When the market tanked in 2008 commentator after commentator pontificated on the root cause(s) for this systemic failure.

There are ways to more nearly isolate what “lies beneath” and how or to what extent groups and individuals can do this, first on a micro level and then at its counterpart. This is a skill and a mindset that needs more structured attention than what I intend to do in this blog series.

This blog series instead is meant to showcase how leaders “teach a man to fish” systemically. In this instance that idea appears to speak most nearly to Senge’s Personal Mastery and to Team Learning Disciplines but I would argue that neither has much traction without a reversal of prevailing Mental Models.

The Mental Model in this City appeared to be a dangerous mix of Futility, Powerlessness, Resentment, Frustration.

But I couldn’t tell them that. I needed them to figure that out and that was the challenge! I needed to teach them to fish.

I do not claim major victory here. I do claim that I distilled their feelings about the issues noted above by flat out telling them. “You feel Futile.” “You feel Powerless.” You feel Resentment”. and “You feel Frustration.”

They were almost surprised that I had “diagnosed” their concerns. And then came the key point.

To borrow a page from the late Steven Covey, I asked, “So there’s nothing you can do about any of the issues you lament?”

I guess it’s better put that I used a “reverse” Steven Covey. He among many practices, speaks to identifying what power or influence an individual or in this case, a group may actually have and to seek to use those competencies or abilities to work at solutions.

At first there was nothing. No answers or ideas. I waited the famous 6 seconds “wait time” strategy hoping that someone would offer up an idea.

Then I got, “Well, maybe the community has lost sight of what they want us to do. Maybe we should either reassert our vision or invite stakeholders to review it with us.”

Then I got, “I’m not sure we are communicating about the many wonderful projects and programs our districts offer.”

Then I got, X and then I got Y. And then I got Z.

And then, and then.

The ideas flowed! The Mental Model had been punctured.

What was necessary next was to take the bundle of ideas and show them how to make them happen.

In another Tale of Two Cities I lamented poverty issues that affected the capacity and vision of schools and districts in need to do what they needed to do by their children-clients.

I have been to another such “city” recently and have seen it again. Truly saddens me.

However this case also drove home to me how Mental Models, negative ones, if permitted to persist, can possibly drag a whole system down.

Do NOT get me wrong, the individuals with whom I worked in this case were a splendid collection of educational professionals in every sense. These were folks who were working hard to counteract the negativity they perceived around them, affect how they lead and how they make it work. But some had begun to feel their efforts futile.

The negative mental models with which they contended were the perceptions and politics of the community in which they lead.

I have often noted to my Leadership classes that educators are many  ” – ologists”. They are

– PSYCHologists

– Economists,

– Political Scientists and

– SOCIOLogists, perhaps above all, before and / or in addition to being educator-leaders. They work with and lead people-groups!

This group clearly recognized and lamented the economic, political, and sociological forces that had intertwined for a “perfect storm” in their district.

For sure there are economic issues confounded by economic divide. One section of the district is very wealthy. Another section is very poor.

For sure there are political issues. I am not sure I have parsed them accurately yet but you can guess which group appears to control policy making and resource allocation.

These are underscored by sociological and demographic factors at play in many regions of our country. A growing “underclass” “threatening” those who hire them to perform service tasks but who are reluctant and / or downright resistant to providing them educational and social services to help them overcome their under-class – ness.

This becomes more likely an IMperfect storm whose consequences spin even the most well – meaning participants far, far from where they would prefer to be.

Incident after incident they recounted to me included how they wanted to do X and Y but were prevented by decision makers whose agenda were not grounded in the shared vision of creating and implementing the kinds of services, programs, initiatives, and resources that the district’s students truly needed.

Again, the paragraph above highlights the interconnectedness of Senge’s Five Disciplines. In this case the Shared Vision while still there was at the mercy of negative Mental Models.

As the group began to pile concern upon concern and negative incident upon negative incident I began to realize that I had to on-the-fly, try to give them new mental models or perspectives for engagement.

And so I drove to Root Cause.

Listen to its apPEAL.

Get it?

There are many metaphors to use about keeping the Shared Vision of a school sustained. Here, I recommend Senge’s book, Schools that Learn, that contains a whole section about how schools around the world have worked hard to develop meaningful shared visions and how they have stayed true to their message.

As two quick examples I know of a school district where, in their elementary schools, their mission is recited after the Pledge of Allegiance. I know of several school districts where the mission statement is visited as the first teaching task of each school year. Each grade level has an assigned task, appropriate to it, that they complete; e.g. poetry, pictures, writing assignments, etc. These are shared in  a special Fair within the first two weeks of school’s opening.

What’s troubling about vision and mission statements and the fact that their appeal and momentum all too often lose their reverberation is that the effort to develop one that has long lasting meaning and by extension requires long lasting conscious sustenance and adherence may be developed poorly.

There is research both ways about this. That is, engage stakeholders pretty much from the outset in identifying those values, priorities and actions to meet both so that all the planning and involvement activities that follow are powered by that initial development of the shared vision. That would be fine if the facilitator and her stakeholders realize that the subsequent series of processes in which they are going to splash may very well lead them to CHANGE their initial thinking. And when that happens both the facilitator and the stakeholders have to be flexible enough to be willing to adjust and maybe even totally jettison what they originally agreed to.

If you have been part of the arduous and sometimes plodding process that may lead to a mission statement you will easily understand that it could be hard to give up a single comma notwithstanding that new thoughts and themes may have evolved in the activities that you have been participating in.

Better I think to wait on that shared vision statement until the group has had ample time to dialogue about what their shared vision will be.

Then and only then should it be solidified and then and only then should it be the rallying point for all of what a systemically healthy learning organization should be.

Again as reminder, Senge’s Five Disciplines are not easily teased apart. However their sum is crystal clear. That is, twining these disciplines together makes a fabric not easily worn through. In other words, it lasts.

So what do we do to keep instructional excellence thriving through the multi-prism lenses of the Five Disciplines?

Shared Vision: Often when an accrediting agency visits a school an Examiner will make a point of asking children, staff, teachers and administrators what the mission of the building is. It’s certainly telling if no one can state and explain the the mission and vision. All too often a vision and/or a mission statement hangs in a prominent place in the school lobby or is perhaps also on a school’s letterhead and is ignored or forgotten anyway.

Whose fault would this be? The administrators? The staff? Other stakeholders?

While I suppose the easy answer is “Everybody”, the better answer is “The administrators”. I say this because they have been entrusted with continuity of leadership and have the moral suasive power, or should anyway, to champion, advocate for, fight for if necessary, for the values and intentions of the entire school organization.

When or if, the leader lets this lapse, she has truly abdicated her validity as leader except in name only.

I have an anecdote about this: As an elementary principal of an excellent building, I had worked with a terrific faculty (I inherited) and the community to not only create an ambitious mission but to create sub-systems and activities to align with it. One sub-system activity was to create a schedule where there was uninterrupted block time devoted solely to reading and language arts. This was inviolable and a focus point of all instructional planning.

After 9 years, I was “promoted” to Central Office just before the opening of the next school year. The new principal, in her zeal re-did the schedule I had developed. One consequence was to un-do the reading block. The principal, a fine educator, and who sustained the quality of the school well after I left, UN-did the schedule to meet what she construed as other priorities.

She was met with a near revolt by her faculty at the very first meeting. They were so committed to the instructional value of the original schedule, and to the overall mission and activities of the building that they gave her a very bad time for some time.

Think about the vision and mission statements in your own schools. Do your stakeholders know it? Does the planning and organization of the building or district functions support or dilute it?

If so, why?

If not, why? And how do you sustain emotional, intellectual, and yes spiritual commitment to it?

Next post will be about developing and sustaining your shared vision.

You take a class on a field trip. You return from the trip and NEVER allude to it at all. NEVER ask questions about the students’ perceptions, NEVER try to gauge what they learned from the experience! This would amount to a teaching mortal sin!

Experiential activities can only be at best half-effective if the themes and issues are not peeled off and examined.

This is called debriefing.

My wife insists that the kitchen sink sponge always be placed in its little holder until it is needed. As the sponge dries it becomes what I call “scuzzy”. Every now and then, klutz that I am, I have been known to spill a glass or two of orange juice in the morning. So I take the dried up scuzzy sponge from its holder, immerse it in the orange juice, soak it up, and then squeeze the now swollen sponge’s contents into the sink.

That is the metaphor for debriefing of an experiential activity. The juice on the counter was the actual activity. The squeezing of the sponge’s contents into the sink tells the “squeezer” how much was soaked up.

The debriefing segment to effective supervision is the post observation! For a supervisor to have had a meaningful pre observation with a teacher, then to have done the actual observation as described in previous posts, but THEN to have not had an effective post observation leaves the juice on the counter. A supervisor’s mortal sin.

This post is not intended to offer a primer on effective post observation strategies as such although I do have two important points to make below. The sum of all these posts is to emphasize the need for healthy and effective macro systems, sub systems, and their behaviors and practices so that school organizations can do their level best for their students’ needs to be effective twenty first century citizens.

A good post observation best reflects the systems disciplines of mental models, personal mastery, and team learning. Let’s concentrate on mental models.

Ah mental models, as in ‘tudes, as in paradigms, as in DIALOGUE. Two perspectives deserve exploration.The first is the attitude part. The second, and more important is the DIALOGUE part.

Hopefully, the attitude part will have been taken care of long before a post observation. More specifically I am talking about the mindset between the teacher and her supervisor, or for that matter, her peer coach, where the point of view each shares is that the commingling of teacher and supervisor exceeds the sum of their parts to create their shared belief that the process they’ve engaged will in fact result in improved instruction and thereby improved learning.

And if this is NOT the shared mental model, both supervisor and teacher must engage in what Senge calls Dialogue. Senge points out that the Greek roots of this word combine to mean two-talk. My many experiences lead me to sadly generalize that far too much of what we do in schooling is not really dialogue. Rather it is, to term it politely, yapping and I-thinks. In other words, we spend far too much time talking and talking and talking some more re things educational without using techniques to bring closure and / or agreement about an issue or concern. This is in contrast to dialogue where the participants use techniques to actively listen to another’s point and to find ways to generate agreement about the issue under review.

Covey would call this “Seek first to understand before being understood.”

My own website, http://www.activelearningconsult.com, speaks to creating groups with High Involvement factors. One of these is the knowledge component, as described by Wohlstetter, which of itself has two sub-components, the ability to analyze data, and the ability to function well as a group. I’d recommend that you’d check that out for more information about dialogue and about effective group functions. Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Group” is also well worth looking at.

The point is a post observation must be driven by strong dialoguing skills between the two participants for the purpose of solidifying the effectiveness of the sub system we call instructional excellence.

No, I didn’t forget the two specifics I’d like to offer for worthwhile post observations. The first is of goal setting. The second is of using evidence.

Every lesson post observation should end with an agreement about what the goal(s) might be for the next lesson observation. Doing so ensures that observations build on their own process to continue to improve lesson quality. I think Lee Iaccoca said “When you stop trying to get better, you stop being good!”

The other point to reiterate, is to assure agreement and to acculturate the dialogue towards exemplary instructional practices, promote a spirit of inquiry by both using and agreeing to what evidence and artifacts you will use to assess the extent to which the goals for the observation have been met.

3. Observer should record what the students do AND what the teacher does!

4. Observer should use a range of artifacts as concrete evidence to substantiate principles for analysis and assessment in the post observation.

Vague impressions or memories of a given lesson certainly don’t give a teacher and / or a her  supervisor any meaningful data for a team-learning / personal mastery opportunity.

What is perhaps even more dangerous for improving solution might be where the observer’s lens is half closed. By that I mean where the focus is ONLY on the teacher’s activities and less often where the focus is ONLY on the students’ activities.

I’m reminded of a lesson where I was to be observed where I had brought the class to the library to research projects re immigration. My supervisor got up after about five minutes and told me to tell him when I was “really” teaching (aka lecturing) so he could come back.

The various lesson observation models out there lately like Danielson and Marzano among others to a more or less degree re-focus the observer to recognize, record, and react to teachers’ behaviors and activities, students’, and the interaction between the two. And this is clearly a preferred systemic development because at the very least, doing so promotes a dialogue between teacher and observer where professional analysis, learning theory and management dynamics are seen in their systemic Rubik’s Cube.

The fourth premise noted above goes back to “Just the facts ma’am.”

Let’s reiterate and elaborate on what may constitute artifacts / evidence of the sum  of a lesson:

  1. The lesson plan itself
  2. Teacher questions
  3. Student answers
  4. Peer to peer interactions
  5. Homework
  6. Classroom projects and visual displays
  7. Student Portfolios
  8. Teacher modeling of expectations
  9. Rubrics

What else do you use?

2.” Observer should script the lesson and steer the bulk of the script toward the pre-agreed observation foci.”

The new four letter word out there is the D word as in data. Lesson observation within the systems framework that drives this blog is no exception. Gone are the times when supervisor could enter a classroom, observe it without notes and respond to its effectiveness solely on the so-called wisdom of the observer.

I know of a system briefly in practice in the 70’s, where just about every behavior, by teacher, and by student(s) was assigned a number. For example, a One (1) might have been Teacher asks question. A Two (2) might have been Student answers question, and so on. The observer was charged with looking up every 5 seconds to code the number that characterized what was going on at that time. Think about it. That meant that in a given 40 minute lesson the observer could very well have coded the activity in the lesson 480 times! But the “data” would enable observer and teacher to recognize the frequency of given lesson activities and diagnose from there.

I do not know of any schools where this supervisory method is currently operable and I can think of many reasons why it is not! Nonetheless the approach does have some merit in forcing the analysts, hopefully BOTH teacher and observer, to recognize the dominating activities in a given lesson, diagnosing why, assessing the merit thereof, and making decisions about the lesson’s effectiveness.

Today I am most familiar with “data-collection” via scripting methods. This requires the observer to try her level best literally record everything that happened in the lesson! However this is not the same as the coding method described above. Instead supervisor improvises a kind of personal shorthand to record all teacher and students do and say. Usually this becomes impossible and also usually in my experience, at best becomes a script of everything that the teacher says, and maybe does, and will often ignore what the students do and what the students may say. Not good.

Here I have a suggestion that works pretty well and again, is a result of a healthy Pre Observation conversation. Instead of transcribing, court reporter style, the “testimony” of the teacher, better that that there be a pre-agreement to script only the facets of the lesson that they agreed to pinpoint in the first place. So, as in the case of the dialogue of the last post, the supervisor may only record the teacher questions and student responses.

Doing so, enables the supervisor and teacher to filter the other “noise” to concentrate on what matters most to both of them.

And the sum of this post is best connected to Shared Vision (always), and primarily to Personal Mastery. This is so because ideally, supervisor and teacher will have collaborated in constructive dialogue (Mental Models) to identify areas of strength and of deficits so that the teacher and supervisor can pinpoint appropriate training and support to help the teacher get better at what she needs to get better “at”.

“Observer and teacher should have pre-agreed on which components of the lesson that they felt were priority.”

I call this the blunderbuss versus the BB gun syndrome. In other words if I blast a shotgun at my target some of its pellets might hit the target but most will cause what is sometimes called collateral and more often than not, needless damage. If I aim and shoot my BB gun precisely I will be able to hit what I needed to hit in the first place.

Remember the old Tom and Jerry cartoons? That’s what I am talking about.

Leveraging from the previous post where I identified several guidelines for meaningful and effective supervisory practices in order to optimize meaningful and sustainable learning, I am strongly arguing that a teacher benefits most from an observation when the supervisor / coach and the teacher have agreed on what the supervisor should prioritize in the actual observation.

A dialogue in a pre-observation might go like this:

SUPERVISOR: So your lesson plan appears to be about the causes of the civil war. What do you want the students to be able to do as a result of this lesson?

TEACHER: I want them to be able to prioritize the causes of the civil war and be able to offer evidence for their conclusions.

SUPERVISOR: Great, and you’re going to do this by having them read a variety of prime sources.

TEACHER: This approach is new to me you know. I am a little uncomfortable in my questioning. I’m not sure if my questioning is high level enough to draw out this kind of thinking.

SUPERVISOR: Ok, why don’t I pay most of my attention to scripting your questioning?

TEACHER: Sounds good.

Now, this is in contrast to supervisor reviewing the lesson plan, nailing down the teacher’s objectives and then on the observation, writing everything-everything that the teacher does from scratching her nose, to sneezing.

Clearly, the focused precise targeted approach over time will help coach a teacher to acquire the spectrum of skills and practices to optimize students’ learning.

How does this and the next several entries relate to systems thinking and systemic reform of education? In this case we’re talking mostly about Team Learning and also about Personal Mastery and Shared Vision. (We’re always talking about Shared Vision!)

Having an inquiry-based dialogue and exchange about the qualities and elements of a good lesson and / or unit design is clearly about Team Learning for you see, the assumption in this Discipline is that the organization has striven, through a variety of means to acculturate its citizens / stakeholders to have co-mastered the principles of great lesson design and implementation. The mindset (as in Mental Models?) that the supervisor has a monopoly on all things instructional and the teacher is merely the serf-implementor of a given lesson is just pretty silly if not absurd. Better it would be, no, that both observOR and observEE can both talk the same talk and exchange a meaningful analysis between them rather than one where the observOR talks / coaches “down” to the observEE? That’s called dialogue.

Personal Mastery is all about the organization’s obligation to make meaningful and effective attempts to “grow” their citizen / stakeholders by providing opportunities for or supporting the stakeholder’s own attempts to learn their craft and to excel in it. In this case, we’re talking about the teacher’s diagnosis, whether generated by the supervisor’s coaching or through their own self-analysis, that there are holes in the (w)hole of their teaching skills.

A good observation, undergirded by all participants’ recognition in and commitment to sound teaching principles, will provide the opportunities for the system of exemplary teaching to improve on itself when it needs to improve on itself.

The beauty and sometimes the beast of systemic thinking in school improvement is that while we can speak to Senge’s 5 Disciplines and explore them pretty deeply, doing so, is also often misleading.

Sometimes I wish there were a “Sixth” Discipline because then I can use the metaphor of the Rubik’s Cube. I will anyway, even though we’ve yet to invent that sixth side. By Rubik’s Cube I mean to suggest that solving that puzzle means twisting and turning those colors and sides on three axes in all sorts of combinations quickly leads the puzzle solver to realize that if you twist one side often ALL the other sides are affected by your actions. It gets pretty complicated pretty quickly.

In the same way whilst we can describe each of Senge’s five disciplines it is as important to realize that these variables are not nearly so discreet as you may have originally thought. In other words, they do intersect, overlap, and blur together very readily. So even as I wax poetic to common shared vision amongst the supervisors I described in the previous post it is equally important that having a sense of shared vision is only one side of the cube.

If we mean to improve instructional practices systemically we also mean to engage in the other disciplines and in this post’s case, particularly that of Team Learning. Team Learning is about assuring that all participants are able to engage each other in effective dialogue towards  meaningful purpose. It is also about having common language and terms that can serve as an effective baseline for this dialogue. It’s about making sure that it is true that “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

In this case I am referring to the “data” of supervision. The bottom line is that the supervisor and the teacher need to be able to understand the actions and practices of the lesson observed in order to distill and identify the lesson’s plusses and deficits.

At least two steps are involved in doing this systemically. The first is that all participants, supervisors and teachers, are schooled in common rubrics about effective instruction.

The second step falls primarily to the supervisor to have effective data gathering means to capture the lesson’s activities and components so that the post conference collaboration can point the way to continuous improvement.

What will follow in this description is not particularly earth shaking. What it does do is affirm research based practices and suggestions that should characterize an effective supervisory system.

1. Observer and teacher should have pre-agreed on which components of the lesson that they felt were priority.

2. Observer should script the lesson and steer the bulk of the script toward the pre-agreed observation foci.

3. Observer should record what the students do AND what the teacher does!

4. Observer should use a range of artifacts as concrete evidence to substantiate principles for analysis and assessment in the post observation.

The next posts will elaborate on these practices. But I’d daresay that while there is nothing you may not have already known about effective clinical supervision you need to take your own school or school district’s pulse to decide the extent to which these suggestions are the rule rather than the exception.