In the context of systems culture and climate, I’ve been fortunate to have had several conversations with teachers and admin about relationships in their organizations and how they impact overall culture and climate. What has been interesting is how it struck me the other day, when exploring this topic again with a group, how deep the difference is between personal relationships in the work environment and professional relationships. What does it actually look and sound like?
Talking with a group of teachers about the condition of their relationships, I started to hear a common thread of responses I have heard from many teacher groups from diverse communities. They all seem to agree that “we’re good” “we have each other’s back” “we go out all the time after work” “we know about each other’s families”. As I listened, I heard the personal side of relationships but what about the professional side. The fact that we work together, in this building, as professional educators honing our craft side by side. So I thought I’d ask a stretch questions and challenge them to think deeper about what “relationships” could mean. I asked a simple questions…what professional strategies do you use to grow your professional relationships? It was silent. I had confused looks and loss for words. One teacher then said, “What do you mean? Can you give us an example?” So I followed with another questions… “Do you do Instructional Rounds? Collaborate in a PLC model? Use Japanese’s lesson studies?” I could see the lightbulbs going off. The paradigm shift just happened! So cool by the way when you can witness that with a group! Now the teachers were buzzing and thinking and listing all the ways they interact professionally in their daily work around content and instruction. “But how is this related to relationships?” I asked.
My own thoughts became clearer as I had the privilege to explore this with them. Allow me to be simplistic for a moments when explaining this next section. The whole purpose of a PLC is to better understand each other’s style of instructional design and delivery of a lesson so that student learning is at its highest quality. Being in each other’s classrooms for focused instructional rounds, helps us build our knowledge of each other professionally, observing and dissecting how we build a culture of learning within our own classrooms. Planning a common lesson, watching each other teach it, and providing feedback about the expected or unexpected student learning and performance is the point of Japanese’s lesson studies. There it is! The whole point of using these strategies IS to build our professional relationships! Why is this so critical and what are the possibilities to impact culture and student growth? Imagine if your relationships were strong both personally and professionally. Now imagine your next staff meeting, data mining meeting, RTI meeting, IEP meeting, grade level meeting, district initiative meeting…when someone (anyone) spoke at the table to give their perspective…we would exactly understand where they were coming from and why they thought the way they did. When we grow our professional relationships, we build a deep context of what each individual faces and how that shapes their perspective. This base of strong relationships impacts the level of our decision making, the interdependence of decision making, and the vertical alignment.
If it’s all about the relationships we have, then we owe it to ourselves to build both our personal work relationships as well as our professional relationships within our organizations. This level of cultural relationships has a long standing impact on the work environment and seeps into all other areas of organizational culture like communication, innovation, satisfaction, pride and quality of work to name a few.
How well do you know each other personally & professionally? What can you start to do right now to strengthen both?
Are your teachers teaching from within a submarine or are they freely jumping overboard and teaching in the wide open sea? This picture is a great example of the definition of least restrictive learning environment; an environment that provides the optimal setting for an individual to grow and learn with appropriate supports. In the world of education, we often only hear this phrase used in special education when determining the best educational placement for a student who qualifies for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). In fact, it is one of the more important responsibilities the team has when considering placement and planning for a students learning design and supports. The team ensures that the placement is in the least restrictive learning environment giving ample time spent in general education. The law provides the student with the supports necessary to access the curriculum for optimal learning opportunities. It is crucial for a student to still be able to benefit and grow from the experiences and opportunities the general education class has to offer. Too restrictive of an environment may actually prove harmful in the long term for several reasons, one of which is the learning gap becomes wider between the student and his grade level peers. The goal of special education is to close that gap and promote all students in their learning by holding them up to equally high standards.
Do we have IPLPs (Individual Professional Learning Plans) for teachers? It came to me to think about our teachers environments this way and I wondered if as a system we were remembering to advocate for them and guard against too restrictive of an environment for them to teach and learn in. Do we offer our teachers just the right amount of support for them to thrive and venture out to explore and experiment or are we too stuck on protocols and processes, micro managing and overseeing? We need to remember that in order for our students to grow they need to know it’s ok to take risks and try to fail in order for them to experience new learning. The same concept applies to teachers and how we approach supporting their professional growth. Education has been hit hard in the past 8-10 years with wide sweeping policy reform, standards, technology demands, assessment changes, early literacy, and the continual threat of inadequate funding for critical programming. Our only hope to survive these waves and ride them out to new shores lies in our teachers capacity to learn and grow in as least restrictive working environment as possible. The good ole climate and culture strikes again. It matters and as leaders we should always be staunch advocates for preserving our teachers right to autonomy while fiercely providing the supports, accommodations and modifications to their learning so they can experience the level of learning needed to show growth in this tenacious education reform era. By the way, who are the case managers or resource providers for our teachers? We are! The servant leaders! The multipliers of intelligence as Liz Wiseman would put it in her book the Multipliers. How do we as a system measure the restrictiveness of our environment, of our leadership, and know if it is just right for our teachers to grow in?
So now lets ask ourselves, if we were going to write goals/benchmarks/accommodations for this IPLP for teachers, what would that look like? Sound like? How often would it be communicated? Progress monitored? Let’s not ask any more of our students then we are ready to do ourselves and remember that we are ALL learners and thrive best in a least restrictive learning environment! As a great mentor of mine says often, “less is more” and more only means more restrictions not necessarily more learning.
Our commitment should be to shift this cultural paradigm in our schools and districts and not be afraid to come to the surface and open the hatch to allow us all to breath/ feel / explore learning. The truth is that if we can trust others and provide them these least restrictive environments along with our support then when the time comes to ‘dive’ to the depths and take on heavy attacks from the outside we will be stronger, more unified, and clearer in our purpose, our mission!
Run Silent, Run Deep
Burt Lancaster & Clark Gable
I encourage you to reply and add to my learning! Can you tell I spent some time watching war movies with my dad 🙂 Every experience had in life is a learning experience!
Have you ever caught yourself wondering why a staff meeting, institute day, student assembly, or any lesson for that matter didn’t go quite as planned? In each of these scenarios the common thread is the intended learning that was planned for the group. Planning for learning has many components but I find the one with the greatest impact on a successful outcome is what learning design was chosen to facilitate.
It’s funny how when we observe a learning session, we first see the behaviors that the participants are manifesting and quickly conclude that they are at fault if they are disengaged, talkative, disruptive, or unruly. We quickly blame them for not following the ‘norms’. The truth of the matter is that most of the time it has to do with poor LEARNING DESIGN. We fail to be creative and align participant interests with desired outcomes. The standards for professional learning, as outlined by LearningForward.org, state that learning designs have many features in common: “active engagement, modeling, reflection, metacognition, application, feedback, ongoing support, and formative and summative assessment.” The purpose for choosing a learning design is to enhance the learning by changing participants knowledge, skills, attitudes, and performance. Examples of familiar learning designs experienced are Gallery Walks, Chalk Talk, 3-2-1, Tuning Protocols, Data Teams, Action Research, Learning Rounds, Peer Mentoring, Video Reflection, and many more. Please refer to this link for further references and a complete explanation of the Learning Design Standard. Here is a website I use that houses many different designs to choose from when planning learning session. Finding a design is not as difficult as promoting participants engagement in the learning. Without their engagement, the likelihood of transference to our students learning is low. The KEY to promoting the level of engagement you are looking for is to POSSES the level of energy and passion required. You have to BELIEVE in them and the learning!
Now imagine a room full of adults or children actively engaged in conversations, freely sharing ideas, questioning and challenging what they are learning from others… while you walk the room listening, learning, and collecting ideas from the discussions you are hearing. Remember that the learning needs to be owned by the participants and your role is not to deliver it but to design the environment that will promote this learning culture.