Lead by Learning Regional Director, Sarah Sugarman and JJ Hansen, a teacher leader, join Steve to explore the impact of quality shared learning experiences for teachers. How and why do teachers make their learning visible? How do students gain from their teacher’s willingness to be vulnerable and celebratory in their interactions with colleagues?
Read the article, “Three Actions for Building a Culture of Collective Efficacy” here.
Visit the Lead by Learning website.
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Steve: 00:31 Teacher as professional learner. Joining us today is Sarah Sugarman, the Regional Director at Lead by Learning, an organization that partners with schools focusing on building a culture of collective efficacy. And also joining us is JJ Hansen, a music teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District, who is part of a districtwide program, focused on building collective efficacy in her school. And she and Sarah have had the opportunity to work together. I reached out to Sarah because of an article that she had written about building collective efficacy in school. And as we talked, she told me that she could get JJ to join us and add to our insights. So ladies, welcome to both of you and thanks so much for joining us on the podcast.
Sarah: 01:34 Thank you for having us.
JJ: 01:35 Thanks for having us.
Steve: 01:37 Sarah, I’m wondering if you could give us kind of a kickoff. What’s the what and the why behind a focus on collective efficacy?
Sarah: 01:48 Yeah, I’d be happy to. So I think a lot of folks maybe now are familiar with the research of John Hattie, his book is called “Visible Learning,” and a number of years ago, he did a huge meta study on all these effective school systems from all around the world and he studied different factors that influenced student achievement. Things like motivation, parental involvement, you know, prior achievement, socioeconomic status, all these things that we associate with being connected to student outcomes and what he found far and away rose to the top had the greatest effect size on student achievement, was this thing that he called collective teacher efficacy. And he defined that as the belief basically of a group of teachers or a group of educators in their own power to make a difference for students. And he said that it’s this belief in their power to make a difference that actually leads to them being more likely to make a difference for kids. So we have been really interested in that at Lead by Learning in the communities of practice that we lead for teachers thinking about, well, what does it take to build that feeling amongst a group of teachers, that belief in their power to make a difference for students?
Steve: 03:18 Thanks. JJ, I, I’m wondering if you could tell us about some of the experiences that you’ve had working with Lead by Learning and the things that you’ve looked to implement with your colleagues?
JJ: 03:35 Yeah. I would say first and foremost, we are a group of people leading a group of people. And so the collective identity starts with the group of leaders. So Sarah, I’m on a team with two other of my colleagues, and we are thinking ahead of time. We are also learning, we’re actually bringing some of our questions, our frustrations, our flat sides, as we prepare our monthly gathering times to kind of ask questions. And I would say my experience is when I joined the team some years ago, the culture was already there because we’ve been doing Lead by Learning. It predated me. And so there are these amazingly, I saw them from the outside as successful gifted music educators, who have been doing this for 20, 30 years and are asking questions, are kind of pushing themselves and not resting on their laurels.
JJ: 04:41 Not believing the press about themselves because they’re like, we’re going to ask some harder questions. Why aren’t we retaining students of lower socioeconomic status in our secondary music programs when we’ve got them all in elementary school? Are there some things we’re missing? You know, we live in this area and in my town, the housing prices, the gentrification, all those things are changing our context. And so instead of just being satisfied with the kids who have resources, who are gonna be in our programs in high school and middle school, we’re trying to ask the questions, where are the other kids? Are there things that we can be doing? There’s some things that are out of our control, but we’re curious about the things that are in our control or ways that we can shake up the system because music education is the right of every kid who wants to have access to it. SO I would say I walked into a place where people have a lot of skill. They’re good classroom managers, they are amazing musicians and they help other kids develop musically, but they’re asking more. So things that are bigger than that, they’re not satisfied with that.
Sarah: 06:02 And if I could jump in maybe one thing, just to flesh out what that looks like. So that the music department has long had this sort of equity oriented, focus, this vision for all of them as a department to pursue. And when we meet for our inquiry sessions, each teacher bites off a slice of that. In my own classroom, what is happening? What am I seeing for my own students? What is an element of my own practice that I wanna work on that’s in service of this larger goal that we have for ourselves as a department?
JJ: 06:32 Yeah. So it’s not theoretical. There’s a theory up there, but then there’s very practical kind of, this is my piece for this work.
Steve: 06:41 So couple words I’m hearing here – I’m hearing challenge.
JJ: 06:46 Yes.
Steve: 06:47 And so the teacher learning is driven by teacher chosen challenges. Am I correct with that?
JJ: 06:59 Yes. A Teacher and I would say our principal, our supervisor is passionate about this. I would say our district is also asking this
question. So we get to exist in this ecosystem that actually supports our questions and our struggles and concerns.
Sarah: 07:20 And JJ mentioned that she came into a culture that was already kind of established, and this culture actually predates me as well. I only started working with this group a few years ago, but my colleague at Lead by Learning has supported you all from the very beginning. And I think it’s really a Testament to the vision of Peter Goodland, your department leader, are really seeing the potential for this kind of culture to come about. Like you mentioned when we first started talking Steve, how collective efficacy doesn’t just happen, it’s built intentionally. And I think that the leaders of this group had this vision. We need to do something. We need to take some steps to intentionally build this culture where people do feel aligned around this vision and feel like they have the power to do something about it.
Steve: 08:06 Sarah, I know that you wrote about the need for for making learning visible. And I’m wondering if both you and JJ have some examples of how that plays out.
Sarah: 08:19 So when I hear that idea of making learning visible, to me, I think of that on two levels. It’s important to us to help teachers make their students learning visible and then it’s also important that the teacher leaders of the group, JJ and her colleagues help their colleagues, to make their own learning visible at as well. So we’re talking about making student learning visible, but also making teacher learning visible as a component of this collective efficacy. And JJ can share more examples of what the student learning piece looks like. But in a nutshell, we talk about data in a very broad sense at Lead by Learning. To us, data is anything that helps illuminate the student experience. So if you were to come to one of these music teacher inquiry sessions, you would see teachers with little short video clips, showing each other.
Sarah: 09:09 Here’s 30 seconds of something that happened in my classroom the other day, or you’d see people pulling up little snippets of a student survey that they gave, or here’s a question that I asked a couple of kids, and here’s what they said and I’m so interested in their response. You’d hear people talking about all kinds of data as a way to make learning visible. And then for the teachers, really the way they make their learning visible is by having these learning conversations with each other. Here’s what I’m thinking about. Here’s what I’m not sure about. Here’s what I need your help figuring out. So these chances to engage in learning publicly with each other, are these regular opportunities to surface their own learning.
JJ: 09:47 Yeah. And I think I just add to that, I think the literal seeing of someone’s seeing else’s exit ticket, like how they worded something, we all work from first grade to high school. And so it’s quite a diverse group of students and teachers. Many of us, we’re all doing multiple grade levels as well. And so one thing I’ll give an example, I was in a learning group with a colleague who’s been teaching for 40 years, amazing musician and teacher. And I was struggling. We had done a post concert reflection and I’m thinking about, oh, I wanna get more out of my high schoolers. And then this person mentioned using a preflection with her fifth graders before they did a classroom sharing. And I thought I’m doing that before our next concert or kind of thing. And I have been doing that for the last year and a half.
JJ: 10:49 And it is amazing the fact that this person mentioned the word preflection and kind of showed me her Google form with some sample questions. And I tweaked that from fifth grade to high school and we just had this in November and having students think ahead of time about maybe the areas, the song they’re struggling with for performance and then reading the preflection, I got much better reflections on that students were using discipline specific words that I hadn’t read before in my high schoolers and the performance was better. But honestly, that, wasn’t my goal. My goal was how are they processing – well, that’s always my goal ,.
Steve: 11:38 I’m glad you went back on that .
JJ: 11:40 I won’t lie, but you know, the process is important. I want them to be musicians who can translate this learning of singing, I teach
high school choir, to different aspects of their lives. And so I just was so pleased with what I was reading post concert. But I think my colleague saying I did this preflection with my fifth grade flute students, and I’m thinking, oh, never thought of it. She made up the words. And I thought I’m doing that. And I don’t want that to be like this is the only way to go, but that kind of creative thinking, that curiosity.
Sarah: 12:19 What I’m thinking about JJ too, as you talk about that is how, what happens when, in this culture of kind of collective efficacy and collective learning, is this feeling this spirit of generosity almost.
JJ: 12:31 Yes.
Sarah: 12:31 You know that your colleague is sitting there caring just as much about your success and your student success as they care about their own success and their own student success because there’s this feeling in your department that these are all our kids, we’re all in this together. So I have a responsibility to you as your colleague to help you be the best that you can be just like I have a responsibility to myself to help me be the best that I can be. And I really think that that’s one of the things that happens when you work really hard on building this collective efficacy community,
Steve: 13:06 JJ, I’m sensing, as I was listening to you, there’s an element or an amount of vulnerability that needs to be present on the teacher’s part here?
JJ: 13:17 That’s right. And I feel like that vulnerability is the space for that. It happens because basically, our supervisor says, almost every time, you’re not gonna be evaluated on the stuff you’re sharing here. This is not an informal review, a performance review. So if he’s in the room, he’s like, I really want this to be messy in process. I want people to be honest, because that’s how we actually get into maybe helping address some of our challenges. And so I think that vulnerability, I will say two things about it. I think actually the Lead by Learning, there’s a little bit of scripting that happens. And as when I was new, it felt a little like “what?” because you have a time you share and you have this time limit so that there’s enough room for voices and then people get to reflect on what you shared for two minutes and then there’s like three minutes of like free for all questions back and forth.
JJ: 14:18 I think as we’ve practiced that together as a department, there’s a lot of safety in that because they’re often sentence starters, like, “I’m curious about blah, blah, blah.” And I think the vulnerability is allowed because I know someone is not gonna say, “well, all you need to do is…it’s simple,” you need to manage a classroom better or whatever. No one’s gonna say that. Or if they do say that, someone else is gonna say, this is not what we are here for. And it may not be as simple. That person’s asking a question that’s bigger than a simple, this is how you manage a classroom question. So I think we get to go deeper next level. And beyond just the surface quick fixes, because we’re asking questions about things that are not easily solved.
Sarah: 15:15 And I would add to at Lead by Learning, we believe that all learning is social and emotional. So a lot of what we do in our sessions is support people to reflect on their own social and emotional experience in the same way we would ask students or invite students to reflect on theirs. So we always have a model. Before we ask people to be vulnerable with each other, we’ll invite one person to be vulnerable in front of the whole group, share some student learning data, share their questions. Here’s what I’m struggling with. Here’s what I’m not yet sure about somebody ask me a question, somebody supportively challenge me, and then we’ll pause and say, how did that feel to you? And kind of normalize that yeah, it can feel uncomfortable, but that’s not a bad thing. We’re not here to be comfortable. We’re here to push ourselves to grow and to learn.
Steve: 16:02 You laid out a piece there that I wanted to circle back to and you put the words, push and grow on it. JJ, I was thinking we had a little laugh when you said improving the performance wasn’t critical and I was gonna call you on it before you called yourself on it But I’ve always loved to use the performing arts and a lot of the athletic programs as my example, in the fact that your work with your students goes public. And so you’ve got a willingness to be vulnerable if your vulnerability allows you to enhance that student performance. And I really sense that’s where that’s where we all need to get to as as educators, that if I thought that my students could have learned more had I not allowed my my ego to get in the way and made myself vulnerable so that when I made vulnerable with my colleagues, I in effect, owe that to my students.
JJ: 17:19 Yes.
Sarah: 17:20 Yeah. You know, I’m having this realization in this moment that I literally did not ever have until right now, but one of the things
that COVID did, was it prevented the music department from being able to have performance. The performances were not happening. Either remote learning was the only thing, or even after we had been back in person still for a long time, there wasn’t the opportunity for performance. So what that meant as a department was that they were forced to shift their focus away from the product, away from the performance and more on to well, what’s just happening in a daily basis in our classrooms? And what they decided last year and JJ, you can add to this, was that they wanted to bring joy to the musical learning. That was their goal. How can we create joyful musical experiences for our students?
Sarah: 18:04 And that has continued over into this year as a sort of a focus on process as well as product. But the realization that I just had was that that’s the same thing we’re trying to do for the teachers in the room. It’s not only the product that matters, it’s not just how you end up delivering that lesson or do all your students get to X, Y, or Z milestone. But it’s the process of earning together that we’re trying to really zoom in on, make richer, make deeper, make more satisfying. And if we do that, then we know the product will come. We will have better lessons. We will have better outcomes for kids, but we get there by focusing on the process of learning together.
Steve: 18:49 I would hang on to joy as part of the product.
Sarah: 18:53 Yes.
JJ: 18:54 Agreed.
Steve: 18:54 I think the joy of learning is a pretty good outcome to have in mind. I love it.
JJ: 19:01 Very much so.
Sarah: 19:03 Totally.
Steve: 19:03 Well, ladies, I thank you so much for the time and the things you shared with us here. Sarah, I’m wondering if you could tell folks
how they could be in touch with you and lead by learning?
Sarah: 19:17 Yeah, absolutely. So we have a website it’s weleadbylearning.org, and you can also send us an email. We are part of Mills College in Oakland, California, so our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve: 19:34 And JJ, I’m sure that I’m gonna have some performing arts folks who have listened to this and decide they wanna find out more about what’s happening in your program. Are you comfortable giving us a way that they might touch base with you?
JJ: 19:47 I think the easiest way is if they get in touch with Sarah, that’ll be the simplest.
Steve: 19:51 Terrific. Well again, thank you so much and have a great rest of your day.
Sarah: 19:59 Thanks, Steve.
JJ: 19:59 Thank you. Enjoy.
Steve [Outro]: 20:02 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love 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.