Magic Potion

Day 26…

download (2)Today I had the opportunity to spend time with members of our senior team as well as most of our Curriculum Learning Supervisors at a session entitled, “Deliberate and Consistent Use of Multiple Sources of Evidence To Inform Decisions”.  It is a part of the Strong Districts and their Leadership modules being developed by Ken Leithwood and Catherine McCullough.

I find that when I see a title like today’s, there is that naïve part of me that “for just a split second” hopes that I’m going to walk away with the magic potion.  The renowned researcher, Leithwood, who is responsible for “academic press” being one of our favourite go to phrases, is going to impart THE list of what we should be collecting in terms of sources of evidence, then provide us with THE list of what to do with what we find and then magically our scores will increase.  But alas, no magic lists exist!

Instead we were provided with the opportunity to hear the journey that two school boards embarked on as they worked towards improving student achievement and more specifically on they made evidence based decisions along the way.    I always find it interesting when listening to what others are doing and watching the reactions of the audience and checking myself for my reactions.   At times, there is a “been there, done that” reaction.   At other times, people are frantically capturing every step of the process as it resonates as something that we haven’t tried yet, but should.

In reviewing my notes, a couple of “aha” statements earned asterisks….

“I respect the work of Hattie and have often quoted his “Know thy Impact” phrase, but as I was listening to Leithwood talk about the fact that evidence doesn’t speak for itself and that when looking at student generated data we always need to be sensitive to the back story ~  I wrote “Know thy Context”.

Leithwood then shared that historically we have believed that we needed to first create a safe and orderly climate before tackling the academic skills.  But new research is now suggesting that by setting high academic standards for students, the school climate will become more safe and orderly ~ I wrote “Chicken or Egg”

One school board shared their deployment plan for instructional coaches and took the stance that resources would be focused where needed and if a school was not ready to embrace the power of the instructional coach, then they relied on the expertise of that administrator and did not put a coach in that school ~ I wrote “Ready or Not”

My final reflection has nothing to do with today’s topic, but with my note taking.  As I had not charged the keyboard on my iPad, I was left with “old school” paper and pen note taking.  And I must admit that my notes (although not overly neat) definitely tell a story of my reaction to certain parts of the day.  Astericks, boxes, circles, multiple arrows and squiggles are all reflective of the power of certain comments.

Maybe there is something to the latest articles about handwriting vs taking notes on a laptop

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No magic potion, but certainly lots of ingredients to think about mixing as we look towards rethinking how we are using multiple sources of evidence.

4 thoughts on “Magic Potion

  1. ….But new research is now suggesting that by setting high academic standards for students, the school climate will become more safe and orderly ~ I wrote “Chicken or Egg”….

    Thank you, Sue, for sharing this observation of Leitwood’s work! This really caught my attention as I have wrestled with this myself. I would love to know of local examples (*context) who may inform our thinking/serve as knowledgeable others if their approach has been academics beget culture, rather than vice versa…how do we establish a culture of high expectations without high expectations – and the instructional support to take our students there??? When we discuss our academic expectations, how narrow a focus is required? Subject-level? Strand-level? And just what do we mean by high academic standards for students? Their achievement? Our practice? Combination of the two? What are the measures? I am certainly motivated to dive deeper into the available research on this one…..and to hear others opinions!

  2. Sue,

    I read this post earlier this morning and needed some added thinking time before responding.

    The context is so important to a full understanding of the “data”. As you mentioned in another recent post it is often just a snapshot in time and without the full “story” behind it, it is nearly impossible to discuss fully. Standardized testing is also often not the best way to truly evaluate the impact of teaching/academic initiatives on student learning.

    The other piece you discussed that had been rolling around in my brain today is the idea that a safe classroom is and isolated concept. I don’t see why high expectations and building a safe learning environment need to be thought of as mutually exclusive. In my mind creating high expectations for our students is a way to build the safe learning culture in the classroom. Meeting our students emotional/spiritual/physical needs for learning can all happen in the same context as meeting their intellectual needs. We as teachers just need to understand the balance and focus needed for our students – which requires getting to really know our students.

    Academic press is necessary, but I can’t help but wonder if we are approaching the evaluation of the process in the right way. Do standardized test scores really tell us what we need to know? Would using more triangulation of data be more effective and have greater impact on changing teacher practice to meet student needs?


  3. I love the way you were able to succinctly summarize your learning into powerful statements particularly ‘know the impact’ and ‘know thy context’. This past week I had an informative conversation with a parent. I had no idea how some of my word choices were interpreted by her child and affected him. This message was also brought forward to me last week as well in another situation. My word choice matters and impacts others, I need to be more mindful of that!

    Secondly, context was my first thought as you mentioned examining data, especially since it is EQAO season. Having worked in a school dominated with families of lower socioeconomic status and now in one predominantly with a middle class income, testing scores are radically different. Lower scores do not mean less competent staff either and in fact it could mean the opposite, perhaps the scores would be even lower without the efforts of staff. Context really does bring data to life and make it more meaningful in order to inform next steps.

    Lastly, I need to read more on Leithwood’s current research because I do believe that student safety is number one: emotional safety, social safety, and physical safety. However, I believe safety and setting high standards can happen simultaneously.

    Thank you for a post that truly resonated with me allowing me to reflect more on my own practice.

  4. I like your concluding remarks at the end. Multiple sources of evidence…I wonder if this might also take into account by whom, for whom and with whom. Multiple sources of evidence and types may need to be specific to the readers of data who have to carry out initiatives. I wonder if their investment in unpacking data as a third party impacts the overall participation or exploration of how data, the work and student success.

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