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But, They Should Know This

Have you ever watched people on your team working and see them get stuck on an issue? Or ask you for help in solving the problem? And say to yourself, “But, they should know this.”  The issue may not be that they know or don’t know something, it might be about transfer of knowledge and skills.

 Often our knee jerk reaction is to get frustrated and say, “You should know this.”  Saying that to someone doesn’t help them. My first assumption is that if they could do, they would. So, we have to ask why they aren’t.

 The problem is that skills trained and learned in one area are not being transferred or applied to other areas.  For example, we know that providing students with specific feedback is important to help them learn, but we don’t always apply that principle when managing people.   We learn management skills for our classroom, but don’t apply the underlying concepts to management in general. We know differentiated instruction works for students, but don’t use it when working with adults.

 The problem can be that when we teach these skills we are tying them to tightly to a single context—to students or to a classroom, as opposed to people in general or an entire organization.

Brown and Cocking (1999) identified four key characteristics of learning as applied to transfer. They are:

Necessity of Initial Learning: Learning with deep, organized knowledge and strategies on how to use the knowledge increases the potential for transfer.

The Importance of Abstract and Contextual Knowledge: We need context for initial learning, tying too tightly to a single context creates inflexibility or stipulation to just that one context.  We need to ask learners (students or staff) during the initial training to think and state how they can apply this new information across multiple contexts.

The Conception of Learning as an Active and Dynamic Process:   Learning is an active and dynamic process, it is not static.  Learning should be ongoing and should be monitored and supported. Meaningful assessments and feedback support learners in applying knowledge across a variety of contexts.

All Learning is Transfer: New learning builds on previous learning, which implies that we can facilitate transfer by activating what learners know and by making their thinking visible. This includes addressing learner misconceptions and recognizing cultural behaviors that students bring to learning situations.

When we think our team should know and apply information and they don’t, we need to first ask ourselves:

Did we present information correctly? 

Did we teach them how to think beyond what is presented in the training?

Did we visit them in their classrooms and provide reinforcement and feedback?

The Jeep Wave

Recently, I became the proud owner of a Jeep Wrangler—one of my all-time favorite cars. I pull out of the dealership and another Jeep passes me and the driver waves. What a friendly place, I think.  Over the next couple of weeks Jeep drivers continue to wave at me. Do I know them? Are they mistaking me for someone else?

Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I turned to my old friend, Google.  Here is what I found out:

“New Jeep owners soon discover a tradition that has been around perhaps as long as Jeeps, the Jeep wave. Some may think it’s strange or even silly, but before you judge perhaps take a moment and consider this.

During WWII the Jeep was always on the move, often running back and forth from the front lines delivering vital supplies or urgent messages, or carry wounded soldiers, attempt rescues or bring reinforcements. Some say this is where the Jeep wave began as a way to know friend from foe or acknowledge an officer without a salute that might alert enemies of a high ranking official. Or perhaps it was just a simple gesture from soldier in one Jeep to another Jeep as they passed. A sign of camaraderie and respect between courageous souls in dark and dangerous times.  This practice continued when they came home from war.

This simple wave immediately made me feel part of an exclusive club with a strong history. It made me feel part of something bigger than myself.  Isn’t this an objective of most leaders?  We want to create a culture that supports a mission or a belief. Sometimes, we just make it more complicated than it is. A simple wave from a complete stranger accomplished that goal for Jeep owners.

How can we apply this to leadership in our schools? What lessons can we learn? Here are a few thoughts:

  • People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, something they can believe in
  • We need to find the thread that connects our people and strengthen it
  • It is not always about intricate plans and/or money when trying to establish a culture or trying to re-culture our schools-it can be something simple that represents that big idea, something simple like a wave
  • You need to be brave and commit to the idea. If you are shy about your idea, people either think you don’t really believe or are too embarrassed to share, so why should they follow

Would love to hear thoughts and ideas on creating a strong culture in your building. 

Tension is Bad, or is it?

Tension is bad, isn’t it?  Well it depends on the kind of tension we are talking about, but for the most part tension is good.  Tension, despite common belief, instead of having a negative influence on our performance, our attitude and our interaction with others, can be a driving force for improvement and growth. As a matter of fact, I would say there is no growth without tension. Tension creates unity.

When we surround ourselves with people that think and act as we do, we remove the kind of tension that leads to exploration and new knowledge. Want generate effective ideas and strategies? Have some tension. 

Disclaimer: We are not talking about the kind of tension that is based on self-interest or personal agendas.  We are talking about the kind of tension that comes from a passion about getting it right and doing good.

What can you do:

Look for people you respect, but may not agree with you

Embrace the disagreement-don’t avoid it

Engage in conversations and explore the disagreements

Realize change often takes on a life of its own, and it may not be what you originally envisioned

Tale of Two Leaders

In prior blog posts the concept of relationships was explored. How leaders build relationships can take several different forms.  It is such a powerful skill for leaders, let’s look at how two leaders addressed similar situations and the impact on relationship building.

Leader #1, Principal Jones, was walking through the hallways and heard a teacher in the hallway speaking to her students that were lined up outside the cafeteria.  More accurately, she was yelling at them:

“We are not going anywhere until you line up straight.”

“How many times do I have to tell you kids? Shut up in the hallways!”

Principal Jones continued to her destination, a meeting with her leadership team. Before the meeting started she vented with her team complaining about the teacher and how something needs to be done. She spoke negatively about the teacher and the behaviors she witnessed for several minutes before she began the meeting. No one ever approached the teacher in question.

Leader #2, Principal Smith, holds regular meetings with her teacher leaders.  During one meeting, new procedures were introduced regarding data management.  One of the more experienced and senior teacher leaders began to make negative comments about the procedure to the teacher sitting nearby, but not commenting to the group as a whole.

“Here we go again, another change.”

After the meeting Principal Smith approached the teacher. The principal shared that she valued the teacher and everything she brings to the table—that she depended on the teacher to provide good feedback, voice any concerns, and make suggestions. She then expressed her concern on how the teacher had commented, not to the group, but to individual teachers and in an overall negative manner about the new procedures.  They explored both the teachers concerns and alternatives to how the teacher could have expressed them. 

In the first instance the leader never approached or spoke to the teachers, but complained to others about the teacher’s behavior. Leader #1 became part of the problem as opposed to leading toward a solution. Relationship building opportunity lost! The second leader took the direct approach, spoke to the teacher, identify the issue and worked on a strategy together that met both their needs. Leader # 2 grabbed the opportunity to deepen the already strong relationship.

Some simple guidelines:

  1.  See something, address it directly with the person/people involved
  2. Identify/Recognize the person’s concern’s and validate them
  3. Work together for a solution that builds your relationship and addresses concerns
  4. See relationship building opportunity in every interaction with your team. See it, take it. Turn negative situations into a positive opportunities to strengthen your team. 

Are you helping TOO much?

Question: Are you helping TOO much? 

The answer is more straight forward than you might imagine…if you were to hang out imagining things like this.  In case you are not hanging out doing that I will just tell you: If the “teacher help” that you are providing hides the need for intervention, you are helping TOO much.  There.  I said it.

Our goal as teachers is to teach students to mastery.  Most everything we teach needs to be taught until students can do it on their own.  I’m not saying that we lose track of this, but ummmm… sometimes we lose track of this!  So, grab yourself a drink (I mean lemonade or tea of course!) and let’s remind each other what we mean. 

Typically, the teaching job is not complete until a student can perform the task without assistance.  It is good (and necessary) to provide the scaffolding (temporary assistance) so students can get it right – but give the message to students from the start that their goal (and yours) is for them to do the work without help.





I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do

You do (mini-test)—everyone gets it right independently.

I do (demo)

We do.

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do.

You do (test)—students get it right independently.

I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

You help student to get it right and you mark it right so student’s score/grade looks like he/she knows it.  Move on with lesson.

I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

We do.

We do

You do (test)—only one or two students don’t get it.

Mark item wrong.

Move on with lesson.   *Get them extra help. 

(I do=teacher model; We do=teacher and students do item together; You do=students do item independently)

It is important to remember that ALL questions that are posed to students, both oral and written, during lessons are MINI-TESTS (formative assessments if you will).  The goal for these questions is to find out if the students have mastered the learning objectives/targets for the lesson.  It is information that tells the teacher whether more instruction is needed.

So here are some implications as I see it:

  • “Individual turns” (either oral or written worksheets, etc.) should show that all students have learned the skill in the learning target.  If there are errors by more than ¼ of the group, you haven’t finished teaching that part.  It is probably necessary to go back and re-teach that part until it is mastered.  If less than ¼ of the group miss it, plan to move on ASAP.
  • If you sit with and TEACH or RE-TEACH an individual student during independent work time, you are helping too much.  This results in a couple of things: 1) Other students may be shortchanged in that you are not able to circulate and monitor in order to provide feedback. 2) It sends the message to the student receiving 1:1 instruction that he/she doesn’t need to attend to the whole group instruction because the teacher will provide private tutoring later.  In reality, the teacher should be spending between 20-30 seconds at the most with an individual student while circulating and monitoring during independent practice. REMEMBER: By the time something is assigned as independent practice students should know how to do it with little assistance.
  • If you are circulating and monitoring and you see an error, tell the student something like “Uh oh.  That one isn’t right.  Look carefully and try it again.”  Demonstrating sympathy is cool, but don’t stop to help the first student with an error on an item.  (PLEASE NOTE…NO REALLY…NOTE THIS: THIS IS FAIR ONLY IF THERE HAS BEEN EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION!)  Keep monitoring and look for other students making the same error.  If you find three students (in an average sized classroom) making errors on the same item type, stop the class and do a group correction.  Make a note to review this item type until all the students have learned it.
  • Students who cannot do their work independently are quite possibly in over their heads.  If students can’t do the independent items without help or they can’t get items right, there is cause to take a minute for some instructional decision-making.  Most likely the situation indicates the need for some model of differentiation and/or remediation. 
  • Don’t forget that while building scaffolding is done very systematically, removing it requires the same intentional thought.

Now let’s get out there and teach ‘em!

Randi Saulter started her career as a speech/language pathologist, then moved into the classroom setting where she taught in both general and special education in grades K-12.

She served as district-wide program coordinator for special education; the principal of schools which utilized only research-validated curriculum; Director of Curriculum and Instruction for two different school districts; and a lecturer at San Francisco State University in three departments in the School of Education. 

Randi is the co-author of a very popular math facts fluency curriculum as well as a web-based teacher evaluation tool.  She has also authored and co-authored several articles on various topics in education.

Randi now works as a consultant for school districts around the United States and continues to present keynotes and workshops and trainings nationally as well.

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