In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve explores the concept of there being no mountaintop in a teaching career.
Watch the Dylan William video here.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:17 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: 00:45 There is no mountaintop to teaching. When I present this concept in a session in front of an audience, I use a slide that shows a picture of a mountain where the top of the mountain is covered in clouds. So that as you look at the mountain, you can only imagine what it is that’s up there. And that describes for me, a teaching career. You set out to master teaching. And the reality is, I don’t know what’s there at the top. And the higher I climb, there’s always another piece there for me to consider. Dylan William presents this well in a video clip, “Every Teacher Can Improve”. And I’ll put the link up on the lead into this podcast. He describes that we have a need in our schools for a culture of continuous improvement for educators.
Steve: 01:58 He states every teacher needs to get better. And he describes that in reality, all of us as teachers fail on a daily basis. That our daily experience is one of coming up short from the picture that we’ve set for what we want to reach with our student achievement. I would define that phrase of failing as that, you’re kind of always coming up short because as a teacher, you’re constantly moving the goal that you want to reach with learners. I recall observing a grade four teacher’s classroom and she had an activity where at the end of each week, students would set goals for the coming week. And then the kids would sign on to help and support each other in their achievement of those those goals. And as the kids were going around sharing their goals, the teacher was recording them on a chart in front of the room and then all the students would sign the chart agreeing to work as hard as they could to achieve their goal and to assist eachother and achieving their goals.
Steve: 03:17 And this one little girl said out loud that she was gonna move her reading score from a 20 to a 40. And this little boy said, “I don’t know that that’s awful high.” And so she lowered her number to 35. And when they had gone all the way around and the kids asked me to share a goal, I then discussed with the kids that, what would be a better thing? Would it be better to have a goal of 35 and hit it or better to have a goal of 40 and get a 37? And one of the one of the little kids said, “oh, it’s better to so set your goal at 35 and hit it because it feels so good when you achieve your goals.” And very quickly, a little girl said, “I don’t know, a 37 is more than a 35. So I think that would be better.”
Steve: 04:16 And the teacher went on to share with the students that in reality, they rarely reached the learning goals that she had set for them but they were always celebrating high levels of learning. And it was in the setting of those high goals that kept pushing student learning further and further along. Those high goals require the teacher to constantly have a growth for herself in the picture. Dylan William added that while some people may have to quit a job or retire because it no longer holds a challenge for them, as educators that’s something we don’t have to worry about. That’s not going to happen to us. He suggested that teaching is so difficult that you won’t master it in a lifetime. The phrase that I use for teaching being difficult is, that is the complexity of it. I describe that if you take everything you know about teaching and learning, you put it inside of a balloon, the outside of the balloon represents areas for further study.
Steve: 05:35 So that is a teacher, every time I learn, I get new information, I learn about a new strategy and I stick it inside of the balloon, it increases my area for study. I describe it at that as a teacher, I go off to a conference and I come back from the conference and I don’t come back celebrating the more learning that I’ve done, I tend to come back from the conference now having a picture in front of me or questions in front of me describing where I can go further. I had an opportunity to listen to a podcast interview that Trevor Reagan from a Train Ugly conducted with Natalie Hagglund, a member of the US women’s national volleyball team Hagglund describes players who all want to be the best and they want to make each other better. And they do that holding each other as well as themselves accountable.
Steve: 06:52 The overall focus of that interview highlighted a growth mindset where the goal is continuous learning. Hagglund describes the constructive conversations among players when one member is struggling with perfecting a technique. Building an environment based on getting better. That’s exactly what we need to be creating in the teams that teachers are working on in schools, in our PLCs. It’s the environment we need between and among administrators and teachers where each person is focused on creating the skillset of all of us individually and collectively. Trevor and Natalie discussed the thought of players reaching the top level of performance and not having further to go. Natalie quickly describes that you wouldn’t find that on that USA team. No one would be thinking that way. All you have to do is look at these top players and they’re all climbing for more. There’s a value in building a team of learners rather than a team of top performers.
Steve: 08:20 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’re reminded that new learning isn’t easy as you need to perform badly before you can add a new skill. It takes real courage for top performers to go into that learning dip where their performance drops on their path to get better as they’re consciously looking to improve in a particular area. I love this concept of top performers working with each other to improve. I’ve frequently said to school leaders that there’s real power in bringing together group of some of your most outstanding teachers and have them observe in each other’s classrooms and debrief. And when the best are observing the best, everyone finds a new way of improving. I love the thought of building a staff where teachers are holding each other accountable for constant improvement.
Steve: 09:39 A PLC setting new student learning goals and challenges that they are corporately agreeing to work on is challenging every member in the group to individually grow. Carol Dweck speaking at a Ed Week conference 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, they feel more committed and they take on more creativity and innovation. Dweck Suggested this message needs to be present. We are here for your development. Not to sort you. Similarly to Natalie Hagglund’s findings about a team focused on continuous improvement that is learning. Dweck’s research find that when there is a culture of development, people band together. Banding together for their individual learning and their collective learning.
Steve: 10:54 A few weeks back, I posted this comment on Twitter and it got a substantial re-tweeting and likes. “We need a school culture where vulnerability trumps ego. Educators open themselves to learning and coaching motivated by the possibility that they could further impact their student success.” If I set the goal of maximize student learning, it really requires me as an educator, to get closer and closer to that next learning piece which ends up only putting a new learning piece out in front of me. As you bring your leadership team together, consider what strategies and efforts you’re using to communicate a continuous improvement culture. What opportunities are you providing in your schools for the best to get better? How are you modeling your personal continuous development? I love working with leaders who make their own vulnerability an important model and their own desire for continuous learning, an important model for their staffs. They communicate every day, there is no mountaintop to teaching. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 12:48 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.