This is the second of a two part podcast where Steve identifies the need to build professional growth plans that support increasing student success. In part one, Steve described planning backwards from the desired student outcome to identifying teacher learning needs and opportunities. Here in part two, he examines the roles of forming hypotheses that increase teacher understanding and the importance of planning for the collection of evidence throughout the process. The sharing of PGP outcomes is highlighted.
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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 Building professional growth plans around hypothesis and evidence. The following podcast was recorded as a keynote for the better together summit, Transforming Professional Learning. This is the second half of the keynote. If you missed the first half, click back to the previous podcast in the podcast. I was joined by Corey Camp, who facilitated the presentation. As you listen, consider how the elements presented show up in your planning for professional growth plans.
Steve : 01:32 Are your professional growth plans disciplined focused, or growth focused – learning focused? Are the timelines for your professional growth plans organic or calendar based? What’s the impact of these items? And how does planning for educator growth to impact students’ success fit into the growth plans that are laid out in your system? I hope you find value in the words that follow.
Steve: 02:10 So before I lay out a specific strategy, I want to introduce some phrases here. And the first one is a hypothesis and evidence. And I found this very interesting article written by a management person at MIT, who said that managers should change from focusing on goals to focusing on workers’ hypothesis. And boy, that just tapped for me that that really helped when you were looking at professional growth plans. So when people set a professional growth plan as I’ve got this group of English language learners and I need improve their writing skill and all that’s in my goal is that I’m going to improve their writing, I think it missed where the learning was for the teacher.
Steve: 03:00 But if instead I said, here’s a group of English language learners, my goal is to improve their writing. Now what’s the hypothesis that I have about the learner production behaviors that would cause their writing to improve? And then secondly, what hypothesis do I have about my teacher behaviors that would work on getting those learner production behaviors? And so what I’m really doing in my professional growth plan is testing out my hypothesis. A professional growth plan should be a form of action research. And a phrase that I’ve been using for it is to get away from what I’m calling discipline goals to learning goals. So a discipline goal is when a teacher says, so my goal for next year is to develop two formative assessments for each unit of study.
Steve: 04:14 Well, if the teacher already knows how to design formative assessments, then that’s really a discipline goal. You know, it’s like me knowing I need to exercise and I’m setting a goal to exercise. That that’s not a professional growth plan. A professional growth plan should be driven by a teacher scratching her head saying, I’m not sure how to make this happen for kids. And that’s why I want it to be a professional growth plan. So as a professional growth plan, I’m developing a hypothesis, maybe a combinations of hypotheses that what’s the hypothesis for the learning production behavior. What’s the hypothesis for the teacher behavior. And now the execution of my plan is carrying out the hypothesis. And what I might do by the end is collect evidence to say I had the wrong hypothesis and that’s learning. That’s learning, to be back at the drawing table creating a new hypothesis.
Steve: 05:17 I carry this into the next word to go with it and that is evidence. So there should be evidence collected along the way. Too often, when people are doing professional growth plans and they set this goal of reaching a student achievement outcome, the only measurement they’re taking is on the student achievement outcome. And so they either got there or they didn’t get there. My piece says that evidence should be being collected all along the way. So my hypothesis is this is the teacher behavio I’m going to change. The first evidence I need to collect then is evidence that said, I actually did change the behavior. So if you came into my classroom and you looked at my questions, you can identify that there is a difference in the questions. There’s a difference in the task that I’m giving students to do.
Steve: 06:15 Then I’m going to go on to collect evidence. Did my change change student behavior? And so can I collect that evidence? And then down the road, the last evidence that I have is what actually shows up in student learning outcomes. Here’s the planning process. So if you start where I’ve gotten number one, all the way on the left hand side, I’m suggesting the first thing you’re going to do in planning is to identify what is that change you’re looking for in student success? Is it an increase in student learning from what has historically happened? Or is it that we’re going to actually start measuring something that we haven’t been measuring before? One of my favorite activities with a school is to take a look at their mission statement and their vision statements, and they frequently have items in there that – they’ll say things like we’re going to produce lifelong learners.
Steve: 07:22 We’re going to create – we’re going to have students develop skills of collaboration and independence. And I love those words, but you gotta break it back down and say, okay, what does that look like from an achievement standpoint? So what kind of rubric would you create to talk about a fifth graders or eighth graders or seniors being independent learners? I just signed on today to start a new one with a school. Their vision statement is “intellectually curious.” And they realized they’ve been saying it for a long time and haven’t measured it. So what does it look like to say we’re looking for our students to be more intellectually curious and how do I put that with number one. And then I start planning backwards from it. So if you look at number two, the first thing he was going to do is talk about assessment.
Steve: 08:19 So how would I identify where my students are at now and then based on that, what is a goal that I would look at setting? So I frequently have people let’s say you were looking at students’ ability to work collaboratively and let’s say you’re working with fifth graders. So what would it look like is – suppose you had a scale of one to five. So five are fifth grade kids who are advanced in their abilities to work collaboratively. And one is kids who are pretty far below the you’d be looking at for a fifth grader. And a three or four is the standard you’re looking at and the ability to work collaboratively. So if you’ve got that spelled out as to what it looks like from a rubric standpoint, what would it look like early in the year to assess where your students are on that continuum?
Steve: 09:15 How many kids do you have that are at one or a two and kids are at a three and kids are at a four and then what’s your plan for the year? You know, what is it you want to build your growth plan around? Are there a lot of kids at one or two, and your goal is to move those kids to three? Or you have kids kind of spread out on the continuum and your goal is to move all the kids one level from where they were. It’s steps one and two that move you into the goal setting process. Then step three is now where you’re going to predict what the learning production behaviors are. So what is it that kids need to do to to bring this about. Then step four are the teacher behaviors. So step three and step four are where you now build in your your hypothesis. And now as a teacher, what supports do I begin to turn towards? What’s available for me in professional development?
How might I work with coaches, how might I work with a PLC? What are all those pieces on that end that are going to support me? So this is your planning component piece.
Steve: 10:34 Should we check there, Corey, for questioins?
Corey : 10:37 Yeah. We’ve got one from Crista that asks if you can give a concrete example of a hypothesis and the evidence you would collect towards that.
Steve: 10:46 Yeah. So let me break it let me break it down into, let’s take this school that I’m working with right now, that’s looking at at critical thinking. So if you go to the PBL websites, you can download rubrics for critical thinking. There’s rubrics for kindergarten through third grade fifth through middle school and high schools. So now I’ve got a rubric. So at step two, I can assess where my students are with that rubric and set some goals to move them ahead. So now step three, what’s my hypothesis? I think for students to develop critical thinking skills, my hypothesis would be that students need to spend more time solving real problems. Students need to struggle with real problems, trial and error and develop perseverance.
Steve: 11:50 That’s my hypothesis, the student learning production behaviors. Now what’s my hypothesis about teacher behaviors? I’m thinking that the things I’ve seen about project based learning or problem based learning, I think those things might be the actions that I need to take on as a teacher. Now I’ve got some research to do. What I’m researching is, what teacher behaviors are needed to support kids in this process? What are the teacher behaviors that I need to actually teach kids in direct instruction? Is there other problem solving strategies I should be teaching kids with direct instruction? So now let’s go to evidence. So now I’m ready to start collecting evidence. The first evidence I would be documenting is changes in what I’m doing as a teacher. So I am now implementing some real community based problems for my kids to tackle.
Steve: 13:07 I’m doing less direct teaching of the content and creating opportunities for kids to struggle with it. And that’s the evidence I’m going to collect. Now, as I begin to move in that process, what are my kids doing? I’ve collected evidence my kids are packing it in and quitting. So now I gotta go back and form a new hypothesis. I’m going to need a different teacher behavior. And when he gets to the end of this, that’s where the teacher learning should have occurred as the teacher continually reflects back on this whole process. I hope whoever asked that question, that that makes sense to. And if you want to push back more on the question, please feel free to do that.
Corey : 14:00 Thanks, Steve. Crista said, thank you. You know, something I’m just personally connecting to is I love how this process and this idea of hypothesis and evidence over just setting a goal and seeing if I made it, it really sets the emphasis on the iterative work of the teacher. That change is, we’ve got an idea, we’re going to go try it and then we need to reflect on how it went. What did I do? What was the response? Where do I need to change? Did I do all the right things, but the response wasn’t there because maybe I forgot to teach them how not to roll the dice four tables away. It really makes us think a little bit. And I think that’s, for me, I know when I was first coached and first worked on a PLC as a new teacher, me, as soon as I understood that I don’t have to have it right away, which is hard for me.
Corey : 14:53 I’m a perfectionist, but I see that this is okay, that it’s, there’s no perfect lesson. But the important thing is that our kids are safe and our kids are learning and that we are all growing together. So I love that there’s this emphasis on the hypothesis and we can always come back, was our hypothesis wrong or the conditions wrong. And that’s a great job for our coach to help a teacher do or an instructional leader or a PLC to grapple with those things as we come back and look at our plan to see, we still have those products of learning, we still have those outcomes and goals. Where in this formula process can we change?
Steve: 15:32 You used a word there that’s of critical importance and that is professional. So that’s why it’s called a professional growth plan. And I keep bringing people back to the fact that teaching is a profession. And I define professions as experimental fields. So I separated difference between working in a trade and working in a profession. If I’m working in a trade, I get training to do something the right way. I’m taught how to do it the right way. I’m coached to do it the right way. And then the expectation is I do it the right way. And probably I’m going to get evaluated on whether or not I do it the right way. When I move into a profession, I now work in an area where I study a lot, learn a lot and then conduct experiments with my clients. So doctors experiment with patients, attorneys experiment with cases and teachers experiment with learners.
Steve: 16:36 And if you carry that through, I sometimes find a teacher who can struggle the most, is a teacher for whom 92% of her kids are being highly successful. And it’s those 8% of the kids that I got to realize doing more of what I’m doing to the 92%, probably isn’t going to work for those 8%. And when it’s going right for 92%, there’s a tendency that I’m getting reinforced that I’m doing the right thing. Instead of being able to step back and say, I really need to enter into a new learning. I mean, one of the things that I’m finding, what the COVID-19 thing is watching the medical community on TV and watching doctors being stunned – I mean, they’re making hypotheses continually now about what they think they learned. And they’re frequently finding out that what they thought they learned, wasn’t the right thing, but that’s just driving them back into the learning process. And I think we need to be at exactly that same spot.
Corey : 17:44 Yeah. I love that. One of our participants said, wow, doctors practice medicine, lawyers, practice law, teachers, practice learning.
Steve: 17:51 So do you want to know what the what what the best practice research is? Sure. Just the way I want my doctor to know what it is, but I don’t want my doctor to stop when the best practice research doesn’t fall through. I mean, again, just like at the COVID thing, that’s what happened. Doctors’ best practices didn’t work. What the medical community thought they knew, they found out they didn’t know it. And they had no choice but to step into hypothesis. So as a teacher, you’re constantly meeting kids who are defying what you know to be best practice about teaching and learning. And what we need kids to be facing is is as teachers who won’t let go of that, who believe that they can make a breakthrough.
Steve: 18:47 And if the first three hypotheses I tried out didn’t work, I’m back to coming up with the next one. So the first thing I’m going to do in the implementing of my plan is to is to carry out that assessment and identify what the current conditions are and where that’s gonna take us in driving my goal. Then I’m at the implementation. So I’m going to implement those teacher behaviors that I arrived at in my hypothesis and get students started on the learning production behaviors. So notice the words I used there. I’m going to initiate, motivate, teach, and coach those desired student learning production behaviors. Now document is where I’m going to start collecting my evidence. So I’m collecting the evidence that that my practice has changed. And this could be practice with just a small group of students.
Steve: 19:52 You know, I have some – let me give you a concrete example for me. A group that frequently frustrates me at the secondary level are high performing students. Actually, let me – the phrase that I like to use for them is they’re highly proficient. So there’s a group of students who are advanced, and those students generally get pushed into advanced courses. But I now have a group of students who are highly proficient, meaning they’re performing at the start of the unit, they’re performing at a level above the kids who are at the ready and proficient level. And very often, what happens is all of the learner production behaviors are designed for those kids who are at the ready level or at the scaffolding level. And we miss that group of kids at that highly professional level. I found some middle schools in States where schools were being asked to document a year’s worth of growth.
Steve: 20:56 That was a common group of students who frequently came up, not making a year’s worth of growth because the learning production behaviors weren’t isolated or different for them. Or another example of that, a teacher knowing that that she has some students who need scaffolding may end up scaffolding the lesson for everybody. And now the scaffolding is actually preventing other kids from practicing learning production behaviors. So I’m documenting that I’m actually changing my behavior. Now I’m going to start documenting how does my change in behavior change the student behavior. And now I’m going to come back to assessment at the end and check that back against the goal that I had previously laid out here. We’ve always known that teacher efficacy was was critical. That teachers had a belief in their ability to to bring about a change in student learning outcomes and and make a change even in cases where students were bringing lots of outside problems into the classroom. The step that that John Hattie’s research has pushed us ahead to now is that there’s something that trumps that individual teacher efficacy and that is collective efficacy.
Steve: 22:33 So I have to create a school where people have belief in their colleagues’ ability to bring about this change as well as in their own ability to bring about this change. So in my mind, professional growth plans should end with presentations. So similar to the way kids would have an exhibition, our professional growth plan should have an exhibition. And I would love to see us honor a teacher who made the wrong hypothesis and documented what she discovered in her wrong hypothesis. And if I take you back to a medical example, a doctor who makes a kind of hypothesis like that lays out a major study and at the end of the study finds out that that he or she was wrong. They don’t burry the study. They’re probably out on the road for the next year at conferences or doing virtual conferences now where they’re presenting their failed hypothesis because everybody else now has got a chance to learn from that failed hypothesis.
Steve: 24:00 I just I just posted a blog this past week on intellectual humility. And that’s where we really need to be with our professional growth plans. When I discover that my thinking was wrong, it doesn’t mean I failed, it means I’ve learned something new. And that’s where we want to be with our students. But the other push that I’m encouraging people to do is to make your professional growth plansorganic driven rather than calendar driven. It is absolutely crazy that I have to stop my professional growth plan because it’s the end of May and in September I have to start a new one. It’s absolutely crazy that I figured out my hypothesis doesn’t work in January and now I’m going to wait until the next year to to start a new professional growth plan with a new hypothesis. If we’re going to have schools that were looking for kids to be lifelong learners, then continuous, lifelong learning for teachers is organic. It’s not calendar driven.
Corey : 25:17 Gosh, I love that. I love that. And so many important notes add to the chat here. I’m monitoring that as you go forward. Melissa said she just read a tweet that said, “if you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s no sense making them.” And we definitely have, again – reminding everyone that the learning experience we just came out, of March through June was an emergency online teaching. And that is completely different from what should be the intentional although iterative plans that we move into as we look to next year. But we can take in what worked really well and what didn’t work from that emergency online teaching into the next school year. And I love this idea of that exhibition at the end of sharing – even if our hypothesis was wrong, I mean, if we thought it and we thought it would work, somebody else will think that down the road and so we can better learn from eachother’s mistakes.
Steve: 26:14 Imagine that teachers’ professional growth plans were were housed and categorized. And you could go online and pull third grade teachers’ growth plans connected to science just for fun reading.
Corey : 26:37 Yeah, well, yeah. Or as you’re kind of maybe diving into station rotation for the first time. In that catalog, you can say, who’s tried it and what’s worked and what hasn’t. I love that idea. I love that a lot.
Steve : 26:44 I hope you found some valuable thinking for your own professional growth plans and for the professional growth plan policies that are implemented within your school. Are they backwards designed to gain increased success for students from educators’ new learning? Do your plans promote hypothesis and evidence collection? Are they organic in time and are they focused on shared learning? So that educator learning shared throughout the community can assist in building collective teacher efficacy. I wish you well in this important work around educator learning. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 27:44 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 noubarkleypd.com.