The Western Academy of Beijing conducted this podcast interview of Steve Barkley to share the importance of continuous educator learning with their entire school community. How often is your staff asking, “What do our students need us to learn?”
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Steve [Outro]: 00:14 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: 00:42 Building educator growth plans around the question, “what do my students need me to learn?” I’ve had the pleasure coaching and consulting with school leaders from the Western Academy of Beijing for the past two years. They recently interviewed me for a podcast that they shared with their school community that focused on the importance of continuous educator growth. I’m delighted to share the conversation with you.
Stephen: 01:19 So welcome to the WAB podcast. This is a conversation with me, Stephen Taylor, the director of innovation and learning and teaching and Jonathan –
Jonathan: 01:29 Jonathan Miller, PYP coordinator, and coach.
Stephen: 01:31 And we’re super happy to welcome Steve Barkley to our podcast. So Steve, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us all about yourself?
Steve: 01:40 You bet. So I’m an educator consultant working with international schools around the world as well as with a major chunk of schools in the United States. I’m 40 years into my career in education and I have a strong focus on teacher development and continuous teacher and learning through coaching.
Stephen: 02:10 Brilliant. Thank you. And Steve, you’ve been working with us the last couple of years now. Towards that work towards the future of learning here at WAB, and most specifically in the development of professional growth here. So I wonder if you could start off by helping our parents and our community understand why does teacher professional growth and learning matter?
Steve: 02:35 I think there’s a pretty good list of of reasons but I’ll start off with a top one. And that is that there is a continuous change in what schools, parents and students are looking for as to learning outcomes. In other words, what we’re asking students to accomplish, what we’re asking teachers to accomplish is in a continuous change process. So teachers have to constantly be picking up new knowledge, new information and sometimes new and changing mindsets as to what we need in education.
Stephen: 03:26 So over the last few years, what are some of the biggest trends you’ve seen or some of the biggest developments you’ve seen in teacher professional growth in the international school sector?
Steve: 03:36 Yeah, I would say the biggest one is teachers taking increased personal responsibility for their growth and that growth being driven by my students. And so that critical question of, “what do my students need me to learn” is a is an ever-present one. I think connected with that kind of reflects back to my earlier statement that while the traditional academic content areas that get tested remain critically important, we’ve continually expanded that list as to skills and attitudes for students to develop. And those frequently required a change in how I teach, because it requires a change in how students learn. So how a student learns and develops a growth mindset or how a student developed skills to work independently and collaboratively may change when my chemistry content hasn’t changed. But I used to be able to teach my chemistry content only with the focus on kids mastering the chemistry content.
Steve: 05:10 Now there’s this bigger array that I have to be paying attention to. And I do believe that another area it falls under teacher collaboration, cooperation, and teaming. So there’s been a switch in teaching being seen as a somewhat isolated, behind my closed door tasks that I took on on my own. Now I’m required to take that task on, in a working relationship with other people. So that changes the way I work as a teacher, both outside the classroom, as well as inside the classroom.
Stephen: 05:56 Absolutely true. We see lots of growing collaborative practices here at WAB and and people might wonder why does teacher collaboration make a difference to the quality of student learning?
Steve: 06:10 I think the first easy answer is to back it up and see how that has occurred in all sectors. No matter what a a parent might be employed at, there’s an ever increasing role for collaboration because most people’s jobs continually become more complex and you can’t achieve it in isolation. If I was to give a concrete example, most salespeople today need to be working with a finance person from their company and need to be working with a continual tech repair service person, because you can’t make the sale on your own. It’s going to take those three people collaborating. So if you bring that back to the classroom, what kids experienced last year, what they’re going to experience next year, how what they’re learning in sciences matches over with what they’re learning in literature or a new language, it’s becoming more and more connected which requires the teachers to work in that ever-increasing collaborative role. You don’t, you don’t achieve grade five standards and outcomes without grade two and three teachers having an understanding of those outcomes and realizing that they’re part of reaching it.
Stephen: 07:34 Brilliant. I mean, being that part of a bigger whole is a lot of the work that we do, right? And the interconnectedness of our IB programs emphasizes that. So we’ve been really excited to see the nature of some of the professional growth focus areas that our teachers are starting to come up with with their questions, right? Lots of teachers choosing to work together. Some teachers doing very specific action oriented growth, focus work with their students. So as we move forward with this, what might be some things that really help schools support and energize teachers towards effective professional growth?
Steve: 08:13 I think it’s critical that we put a vision in front of teachers that similar to the one we want to put in front of kids. And that is, we aren’t focused on a limited mastery. So the term that I like to use is, “there is no mountain top in teaching.” So I’m 70 years old. I’ve been in education for 50 years and I can’t see retirement very soon because I’ve got too much to learn. I sometimes describe it as if you take everything you know about teaching and learning and you put it inside of a balloon, the outside of the balloon represents the area for further study. So the more the teacher learns, the more skills the teacher masters, the the greater the opportunity for ongoing learning becomes. Important in my mind that we’re modeling that for students because it’s the same piece we want students to develop.
Steve: 09:19 I worked with a school that had in their mission statement, they wanted a high level of learning for all students and I was pusing them to define what a high level of learning was. And they described it that when you finished a course and you had more questions about what you wanted to learn than you did about what you had learned, that would be a sign to them that they were giving kids a high level of learning. So I think the idea that staff and the school are mirroring that for students is extremely valuable.
Stephen: 09:55 Great.
Jonathan: 09:55 I think you really hit the nail on the head, Steve and I appreciate that you bring up, you know, the concept of modeling and mirroring and really showing students kind of, the way. And if we, as educators are supposed to be the leaders of learning, how can we continue to lead if we don’t continue to learn? And one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is that in our work with you, you’ve really helped us shift – a statement that you made is we want growth plans to be something you engage in, not boxes that you fill in. And I know that for our CEL team, that really kind of hit home. And I’m wondering, when it comes to professional growth, I heard somebody say, sometimes there’s the assumption that you just grow automatically. But in your work, you are very intentional about the intentionality of growth. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and the importance of being intentional?
Steve: 10:52 Well, growth is driven by goals. So you have to have a picture of something you’re looking to accomplish and that’s going to drive your growth. So as a teacher, the question is, “what would I want my students to accomplish that to this point, I’m not able to cause that to happen?” And that’s why I need to step back and learn something. As a school leader, what would we want the the people on our staff to be able to achieve that they haven’t yet achieve? And we step back and, you know, I’d like to say to the whole community that’s the question we should be asking ourselves as a community. To what extent do I have a picture of the world being a better place? And I’m going to have to learn something. In order for that to happen, we’re going to have to learn something in order for that to happen. Similar back in the classroom, the teacher working as a motivator and to parents working as motivators with our, with our youngsters, it’s about helping our students have that picture, a future focused picture that’s going to continue to drive their learning.
Stephen: 12:22 So how can we help all members of our community understand that part of that future picture includes making a lot of
mistakes and that mistakes are okay?
Steve: 12:33 Well, it’s because you can’t learn to do something well until you do it poorly. So take whatever it is you want to learn – you know, you can’t go out and learn to drive a car without making mistakes. You can’t ride the bike without falling off, you can’t dance – you can’t learn a new language without sounding silly. So our job then is to create an environment where making mistakes is is safe. I love to use – my greatest example is, I’m learning German on Duolingo on my phone. And one of my joys is when I’ve made four or five mistakes in a row, an announcement jumps up on the screen that says, “making mistakes is a wonderful way to learn.” Just about the time that I’m ready to send the phone flying across the room, because I’ve gotten a bunch wrong in a row.
Steve: 13:33 And it really struck me the first time it happened. I thought to myself, man, I wish my years in a classroom, I would’ve said that to kids. I always said to kids that making mistakes was okay, it was acceptable, but I never went that step all the way up to say that, that it was great that you were making these mistakes. Because those other kids didn’t try to solve the math problem, okay? You made mistakes but what that means is you tackled it and because of your mistakes, there’s an opportunity to learn from here. So as school leaders, you’re looking to create that environment where we don’t make mistakes that don’t cause a disadvantage or a problem for kids, but we’ve got to make mistakes in order to discover that breakthrough, to get the next iteration. That’s the key word that a lot of people would connect with in the work that they do.
Stephen: 14:30 The iterative nature’s really important, right? Because we try things, we reflect on them. We have to give them the chance to be reflected on purposefully and then improve before we discuss them or before we, we lose faith in the ideas. And I think in a school like WAB, we’re so fortunate to have quite strong safety nets, right? We have excellent curricular frameworks. We got support from the IB and all the tools that they have. We have like really great teachers and for the vulnerability and the inquiry mindset, to be able to say, I feel like learning could be better if we took these extra steps, beyond that strong foundation that we’re on, I think is a nice place for us to be able to say, these are healthy mistakes, right? This is something that we’ve learned. This is a way we can move forward.
Steve: 15:19 We often talk in education about best practice. What do we know to be best practice? But I like to use the concept that where would we be in our medical community if they only focused on best practice? So what if we studied doctors and health and found to be best practice? The way we make a breakthrough is somebody has an idea as to what it is that could move this ahead. And I’ve always said in a school, it’s your strongest teachers, your strongest professionals that you want pushing themselves ahead, because you’re really comfortable that they’ve got the safety net there. There’s nothing they’re going to do that would, that would allow students to be be damaged or hurt or fall behind because of the experiment they were putting in place.
Steve: 16:14 So it’s the strongest folks you want doing that. And I’ll tell you, a great example happened many places in this past year, in that many teachers jumped ahead dramatically in their ability to teach virtually and online. And they made a bazillion mistakes. But the environment was created and part of what I loved is the kids watch their teachers making the mistakes, and the teachers made themselves vulnerable to kids. You know, I’ve never done this online activity before, the first time I’m doing it and the kids are giving me the feedback, hey, guess what? It didn’t work. And the teacher said, okay, let’s figure out what we can learn from this. It was just some awesome modeling occurred during that process. And in many ways it moved teachers’ learning in that area way ahead of what our old workshops used to do because our old workshops, we had difficulty getting the teachers to go back to the classroom and take the risk. Now, the teachers and the kids were all thrown into the risk together.
Stephen: 17:21 I’m going to bring the conversation back just a little bit. Something you mentioned early on, which is very important to our professional growth development here at WAB. It’s that guiding question, “what do our students need me to learn?” And one of the things that we might ask is, well, how do we know what our students need us to learn? How do we, and how would we observe if the moves that we’re making have had a positive impact?
Steve: 17:46 Well, that figuring out what kids need me to learn is part of the teacher learning and it’s part of the teacher collaboration. So just the way you look at it at an inquiry approach in your classrooms for students, what you’re doing at your school is creating an inquiry approach for teachers, causing teachers to ask the what if question? I’m big on data data raising questions. So when you look at student work, when you look at student data, student results, student assessments, as a teacher, the question I’m asking is, “what questions are emerging from this?” You know, is it possible I could have gone deeper in the student learning and what would that have looked like?
Stephen: 18:44 Thank you for your time, Steve and all the work that you’ve done to help us develop professional growth here at WAB and the work that you’re doing with our teams to help move forwards. We are very engaged in thinking about the future of learning and as a final question, what do you believe is most important in the world right now for the future of learning?
Steve: 19:07 How’s this for a word? Awareness. Teaching and modeling awareness to see what is going on around me and what could be going on around me. Seeing what is present now and what could be present. I’ve always been big on the thought of the the joy of learning. I’ve always been a lot of years pushing the fact that we never should have brought the word work to school. You know, when we went to schoolwork and classwork and seatwork, we set it as some kind of drudgery rather than the fulfillment that comes the joy that comes from getting closer to an ideal. So it means allowing people to – actually let me go a step further. Encouraging people to have that picture of the ideal that we want to move closer and closer to and then the joy of learning how to get there.
Stephen: 20:31 Brilliant. Thank you very much, Steve. Thanks for your time, Steve.
Jonathan: 20:34 Yeah, Steve. Thank you so much. Great to talk to you as always.
Steve: 20:38 And thank you. As I’ve said I love my my own opportunity to continue learning and a relationship with your school has has pushed my opportunities for learning. I appreciate it.
Steve [Outro]: 20:58 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.