Reframing - Steve Barkley


I’ve had another one of those weeks where my reading and experiences connected!

First, I read Dennis Sparks writing in Phi Delta Kappa’s Leading through Learning publication, “The Importance of Reframing”. Sparks identifies that people think in terms of frames and metaphors. He then suggest that the framing of “teaching as performing” highlights several important elements of teaching but is also limiting. Perhaps, teachers as leaders of knowledge workers and inventors of knowledge work, or teaching is teamwork, teaching is learning and teaching is relationships with students and colleagues might be frames to consider.

Next, I found a posting by Yvette Jackson, chief executive officer of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, that appeared on ASCD’s Community Blog titled “Too Much Focus on Students’ Weaknesses?”
She warned against the assumption that underachievers have no strengths and the dangers of using labels (minority, disadvantaged, etc.) to support these assumptions. In order to close the achievement gap, educators shouldn’t look at the lack of potential, but rather should have a fearless belief that all students have potential and teach according to that mind-set.

Labels are frames.

Searching for more information on reframing, I found a site that featured work by Robert Sandidge and Anne Ward that was chapter 11 in the book Quality Performance in Human Services Leadership(1999- Brookes Publishing). They define context reframing and content reframing.

Context reframing is taking an experience that seems to be negative, not useful, and distressing and showing how the same behavior or experience can be useful in another context. Children’s stories are full of reframes designed to show children how what might seem a liability can be useful in another context. For example, the other reindeer made fun of Rudolph’s bright, red nose; but that funny nose made Rudolph the hero on a dark night. Context reframing can be used as a “perceptual filter,” taught and practiced until it becomes an integral and habitual way of organizational thinking. It is a very useful tool in business as it is the way of thinking that gives one the ability to make lemonade from those unexpected (and unwanted) lemons. Creativity, new visions, innovations are commonplace for those who know to reframe and recontextualize problems and obstacles into opportunities and resources

The second type of reframing is content reframing. Content reframing is simply changing the meaning of a situation – that is, the situation or behavior stays the same, but the meaning is changed. For instance, a famous army general reframed a distressful situation for his troops by telling them that, “We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in another direction.”

I was observing, training, and facilitating K-1-2 and 3-4-5 vertical teams in elementary schools. The teachers are in their first year of these teams and the design is built upon the majority of students remaining on the same team so that teachers can share responsibility for student achievement across the three years. This district has a long history of parent choice where parents request particular teachers for their child. Teachers began sharing their concern that “parent choice” would undo the efforts to connect teachers and students for the longer commitment. Most teachers felt it was unlikely that a policy change could/would solve the problem.

After listening to the concerns for a few minutes, I reframed to these questions: ”How could we get most parents to request teachers on the team?” “What influences parents’ request?” “What actions could we take?”

The teams identified that:

Some parents ask teachers to recommend a teacher for next year… so with the trust that team members are developing they should be able to speak strongly about their teammates.

Many parents ask para professionals for a recommendation… so we can prepare paras to speak strongly about the power of teacher teams.

Parents want the best for their children and request teachers they “know”… so we can begin to send materials to parents that inform them of the power of teachers as a team and help them “know” about teachers new to the school.

Often, students tell their parents which teachers they’d like to have… so we can be sure that students have positive experiences with the teachers on the team..

The reframing rather quickly tapped the creativity and energy of the group. Most teachers quickly identified actions that were not only doable but valuable beyond the initial purpose of the parent choice problem.

Be conscious of the reframing opportunities present in your teaching and leading today.

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