There is No Mountaintop in Teaching

I have spoken often about the need for school leaders to keep the challenge of continuous improvement in front of all educators. I’ve suggested that all teachers be asked at the beginning of the year to describe what they are planning to do that they have never done before. Your strongest teachers might be asked what they are planning to do that perhaps no one has done before. Those high performing teachers should be on the cutting edge of action research helping us discover a break- through in learning.

I’ve had the opportunity to connect several speakers’ words that align with this message.

Dylan Wiliam examines the goal of every teacher getting better in this video clip. He identifies that most systems focus on teachers who “need” help or support when the reality is that all teachers fail every day. Wiliam suggests that this is what makes teaching an exciting career: there is no fear that you will master it before retirement.

I agree. You can be a stronger teacher your 35th year than your 34th when you keep implementing your newest learning and identifying what to learn next. I have described that if teacher learning were put inside a balloon, the outside of the balloon would represent the areas for further learning.  Therefore each new learning leads to questions that push my next learning. Consider all the times you left a professional conference with more questions than you had when you arrived.

Continuous Improvement Concept

On the Train-Ugly website Trevor Ragan interviews Natalie Hagglund, a member of the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team.  She describes players who all want to be the best and want to make each other better and hold each other accountable. The overall focus of the interview highlights a growth mindset where the goal is  continuous learning. She describes constructive conversations among players when one member is struggling with perfecting a technique….building an environment based on getting better.

Trevor and Natalie discuss the thought of players reaching the top level of performance….not having further to go. Natalie mentions that you wouldn’t find anyone on her USA team thinking that…. all you have to do is look at these top players all climbing for more. Trevor describes the value of building a team of learners rather than just top performers. The learners will eventually top the others. Natalie suggests that a team of learners won’t put up with a member who isn’t working to get better. We are reminded that new learning isn’t easy as you need to perform badly before you can add a new skill. It’s not easy for top performers to sink into the “learning dip” to get better.

march 27 dip

I have always seen the power of bring outstanding teachers together to learn with and from each other. When the best observe the best, everyone finds a new way of improving. I love the thought of building a staff where teachers hold each other accountable for continuous improvement. A PLC setting new student learning outcome goals challenges itself corporately to improve and that challenges members to individually grow.

Carol Dweck , speaking  at EdWeek’s Leaders to Learn From event in Washington,  identified the need for organizations to create a  culture that believes in the development of people. When such a culture exists, people feel more empowered, feel more committed and take on more creativity and innovation. She suggests this message be present: “We are here for your development not to sort you.”  Similar to Natalie Hagglund’s finding about a team focused on continuous improvement (learning), Dweck’s research finds that, “when there is a culture of development people band together.”

 What are the strategies of your leadership efforts to communicate a continuous improvement culture? What opportunities do you provide for the best to grow? How do you model your personal continuous development? Consider placing these questions on the agenda of your leadership team meeting as you plan for the next school year.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…