In this podcast Steve shares an example of his process for facilitating a leadership team’s identification of hypotheses underlying their team goals. These hypotheses then guide the formation of leadership plans and future decision making. Sharing the hypotheses with staff creates a form of transparency, requiring continuous leadership actions that are aligned.
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Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School Leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve [Intro]: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:46 Using hypotheses in exploring leadership team goals and actions. I recently facilitated, virtually a high school leadership team that was exploring their goals at the start of a new year. Before the meeting, they had sent me information that their focus points for the year were one, establishing relationships with students two, meaningful and challenging lessons and three, making connections with students.
Steve: 01:23 They stated that their goals for the year were improving students’ academic performance and making learning meaningful and purposeful. In an earlier podcast, I shared the thinking of Jean Ross, who wrote an article entitled “Why Hypotheses Beat Goals.” She suggested that instead of asking, what is your goal? We should be asking people, what is your hypothesis? I’ve put the link to her article in the lead-in to this podcast. Ross identifies that by forming a hypothesis, it causes us to articulate in advance, why we believe a given course of action will lead to the success that we seek. She defines a hypothesis as an intelligent articulated guess that is the basis for taking action and assessing outcomes. I took the information that the school had shared with me and I formed two hypotheses to offer to the team for their discussion, reframing and rewording if necessary.
Steve: 02:55 My plan was that forming agreed upon hypotheses, it would drive the formation of the leadership team’s actions. Here’s the first hypothesis that I formed based on the information they had shared with me. Teachers building strong student relationships increases students being known and knowing that they are known. This creates a student willingness to be vulnerable in setting goals and working to achieve them. This proposed hypothesis was discussed and personal examples were shared by members of the team. Individually and collectively, they agreed with the hypothesis as it was stated. Here’s the second hypothesis that I proposed. Teachers using knowledge about individual students to guide the selection of challenging learning task would increase students’ investments in learning, producing improved academic performance. Again, team conversation reinforced agreement around this hypothesis. These hypotheses can now be shared and explored with the staff, uncovering the degree of agreement that exists around the validity of the hypothesis statements. The hypotheses being made public create a form of transparency.
Steve: 04:34 Staff can now be looking for the administrative leadership team to have continuous alignment between the hypotheses and their leadership behaviors. With agreement on these hypotheses, I now facilitated the conversation around the actions that the leadership team would take. Looking at the first hypothesis concerning building relationships, we began exploring these questions: What is already in place to encourage and support teachers in how they begin this year with a focus on student relationships? What expectations does the team have for teachers and how are they as leaders planning to communicate those expectations? The school that this team is leading will be opening virtually, probably at least through the middle of November. Current plans are to then begin a hybrid model with approximately a third of the students in school at a time until they can open physically for all the students. The team began exploring the support that the staff would need to take action on building student relationships virtually. Each leader was able to identify some teachers who have historically excelled at relationship building.
Steve: 06:17 They discussed how these “expert relationship builders” could become a resource for other members of the staff. We examined the recommendation from CASEL about using a five minute chat with students held early in the year to increase teachers’ knowledge about students. Especially critical this year, uncovering what students’ experiences had been through the pandemic. For this community, the COVID-19 had a severe impact on many members of the community and therefore a negative impact on many students. Our conversation continued to raise the possibility that the administrators might use a similar model of the five minute chat with teachers within their departments. You can find a link to that five minute chat in the lead-in to this podcast. Next we explored the second hypothesis concerning teacher selection of challenging, personalized learning tasks. Tasks that were influenced by the knowledge of students that teachers would gain. Our discussion began by identifying where challenging, personalized learning tasks had been present for students both post and pre the quarantine time.
Steve: 08:04 We also explored where these personalized challenging tasks had historically been missing. To identify expectations, these leaders then discussed what challenging personalized learning might look like during the virtual learning time and what possibilities would exist as the district moves from virtual to a hybrid model and to eventually all students back at the school. As the team reached consensus on the hypotheses behind their goals and the pictures of what implementation would sound like and look like, they were ready to focus on their needed leadership actions. Each member of the team was asked to bring their responses to the following questions to the next leadership team meeting: What are the most important leadership behaviors for us to be implementing in the coming weeks, individually and collectively? What should our leadership focus be during the time that the system is working in a virtual mode? What expectations should we have of each other?
Steve: 09:35 What commitments are we prepared to make to each other? Consider how your leadership team might gain from formalizing and sharing two or three hypotheses that are driving your team’s actions and decisions. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss your team’s hypotheses. Often, someone listening to your explanation can assist in clarifying the message. I’d be happy to listen and to facilitate your thinking. I am at the beginning stage of working in a year long leadership team coaching process with several schools. I’m planning on starting with building the team’s shared hypotheses. I believe that that will guide and provide a focus for my coaching actions. I’d love to hear your findings if you step forward and experiment with using hypothesis to guide your leadership team. Thanks for listening and best wishes on the very important work you are
doing to serve students today.
Steve [Outro]: 10:59 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.