Urgency in Leading, Teaching, and Learning - Steve Barkley

Urgency in Leading, Teaching, and Learning

nov 1

My recent reading lead to two articles that had me reflect on classroom observations where I was examining teaching and learning. In the August 2015, JSD Learning Forward Journal, Jennifer Hindman, Jan Rozzelle, Rachel Ball and John Fahey wrote about a Principals’ Academy at the College of William and Mary.  The academy is designed to improve instructional leadership and relationship building skills. (Article here)

One of four key leadership actions that are the focus of the academy is to observe for and talk more about learning than teaching. Exploring student engagement the participants work with an observation tool  that highlights 12 high impact engagement activities and five lower yield practices. Among the indicators for higher active engagement are students setting goals, making choices, reading, writing, problem-solving.

The five lower-yield practices for student engagement are:

  • completing worksheets and homework
  • engaging in oral turn taking
  • responding orally
  • engaging in listening
  • engaging in off task behaviors

“Administrators use the SURN Indicators of Student Engagement Observation Protocol in formative observations to collect engagement data. Teachers use it when planning lessons and students use a modified version to reflect on their learning. Then the principal and teacher engage in dialogue using the data.”

 In my work observing students I continually ask myself, “Is the student engaged in an activity of sufficient impact to increase the learning outcome?”  My sense of urgency is triggered when I believe that if the class I’m observing were physical education, no one would need a shower. The urgency tugs even stronger when I am aware that the students need to close a gap in their learning achievement and time is short.

This article and the observation tool can serve as an opening to important reflection with your staff.

nov 1 quote

The October 2015 Kappan magazine has an article by Joanne Kelleher titled, Create a Sense of Urgency to Spark Learning. “…. Our best teachers are already engaging students in authentic and relevant experiences, conveying the message that what they’re learning is both urgent and important.”

 As you visit classrooms, walk the halls, attend PLCs or teacher PD what signs do you read as indicating a sense of urgency?

Kelleher quotes a description from Ben Johnson:

This sense of urgency emanates from the teacher’s attitude, demeanor, spark in their eyes and the bounce in their step. It is the unmistakable message, though unspoken, that what we are learning is important and we have to do it in a hurry!

nov 1 urgent

Johnson suggests these strategies for building a sense of urgency in the classroom:

Provide a reason to learn — make it relevant:

Establish realistic products the students will create as a result of the desired learning.

Bring in an expert who can give the students real-life problems they need to solve using the desired knowledge.

Allow students to choose among different methods, not just levels of difficulty or depth.

Give students an opportunity to present or publish their work outside of class.

Make connections with the other subjects the students are learning about.

John Kotter, the author of A Sense of Urgency, identifies the need for leaders to create a sense of urgency by getting people to actually see and feel the need for change. He suggests that without urgency, any change effort is doomed. The sense of urgency is the attack on complacency. Kotter defines and cites the benefits of urgency in this video.

I have frequently defined the need for educational leaders to be optimist as they need to see a future that often has no data to support it. They see students without a history of learning success being successful. They believe teachers, who have yet to catch the desire to have a greater impact on student learning, will. Perhaps most importantly they envision themselves leading changes that they have yet developed the skills or strategies to accomplish.

Ben Johnson states, “The very first factor is that we have to be on fire before we will kindle any fire in our students.”

As principals, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders, how does your fire show?

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