Lucy West – Focusing on Student Thinking

Notes on Lucy West session today at our School Board


How would we know real learning is taking place? seeing student thinking as evidence?

What concerns you about being an instructional leader?

  • need more time to work on learning – more time reserved for PD would help
  • understanding more about what the problem is about grade 6 math scores on EQAO
  • getting a clearer picture – what are the initiatives that truly have an impact on student learning.

First Big Idea:

You can have positional authority but still not be a leader.  70-80% of people in positional authority are not effective – so what makes someone a leader??

How are we going to define leadership?

‘Anyone who wants to help is a leader’

‘leadership is a verb not a job’

the most important tool is influence – everyone has a circle of influence.  Identifying who is in your circle will give you a picture on how you can move a school.

Leadership is something you choose to do some of the time.  There are many informal leaders – if we can influence them we can have greater influence in the school.

Second Big Idea:

What are you passionate about?

Leadership is passionate – if I am willing to put my ideas on the table, if I am willing to say what I am passionate about, you can at least open a dialogue with your teachers.

Do we know what our teachers are passionate about – what do they care about.  You may find common ground if you can find out what they are passionate about.

If you try to impose ideas on people you are going to lose people – can’t do this and be effective.

Vital Smarts – a resource mentioned by Lucy that addresses some of these questions

VitalSmarts is an innovator in corporate training and leadership development.
With award-winning training products based on more than 30 years of ongoing research, we have helped more than 300 of the Fortune 500 realize significant results using a proven method for driving rapid, sustainable, and measurable change in behaviors. We can teach your organization how to:

  • Dialogue safely about any topic
  • Achieve universal accountability
  • Help leaders influence organization-wide behavior
  • Increase employee engagement through self-directed change

The biggest issue in any organization is people NOT speaking up.  What do we do about that?  We need to get people to tell us what they think.

When something doesn’t work well – how do we encourage people to approach us?  When we are willing to do this we can change the culture!

Adaptive challenges cannot be solved by technical solutions – the job is to sort out what really matters.  Do we ask – what really matters?  What are we going to focus on?

Bottom-line purpose – to get kids to learn.  But, no one knows how to reach 100% of the kids 100% of the time – that is an adaptive challenge – we can use technical solutions to change adaptive challenges.  

The materials we have have to be used mindfully. 

Adaptive challenges are solved more through a process – ask questions, innovate, collaborate, work together – all of these practices are adaptive solutions.

Leaders need courage – we need to challenge the status quo.

Raise the taboo issues

point out contradictions

What risk are you willing to take?

Obstacles to Learning – tool for us to use can you identify what your obstacles are?

  • what learning look, feel and sound like?
  • what gets in the way of my learning?
  • how do we create a learning culture in which people become public and reflective and committed learners?

A Fractal – never-ending pattern – how many teachers exhibit the same obstacles to learning that we do?  How many students have the same obstacles?  How many are caused by the nature of the school?

What Happens in your organization when people

  • question authority
  • are skeptical
  • complain about situations attempt to do things differently from the norm

Habits of Mind

taking small steps to build a habit of mind to address the obstacle you have identified.

For me?  Turning off my phone at night!

if you focus on Vital Behaviours you can make the changes you want to make.

to actually hear what kids are saying and following that – this is a key behaviour.

What happens when a student gives an answer – what does the teacher do?  Anything that invites the students to tell what they are thinking about.  Dialogue that emphasizes reasoning, the big idea and critical thinking – that will allow for a student-centered classroom.

How to analyze a math class?

  • Who is doing the talking?  Asking the questions?
  • What’s the focus of the talk?
  • What are the students saying?
  • What happens when someone makes a mistake?

When you focus on discourse – we are learning to listen to each other, consider another’s perspective, how to challenge someone in a respective fashion – it means learning to work collaboratively with others.

We need to have a questioning culture (Fullan) where it is OK to make mistakes.  To be able to sit in the place of uncertainty more comfortably.

We attend to results, but not the culture and behaviour we need to have to bring about changes.

what questions might people use when they are thinking critically?

  • how do you know that
  • what is your source of information?
  • what evidence do you have, what further evidence do you need?
  • how might I be wrong about this?

mindset – the problem especially math, is that the teachers do not have the content knowledge – what do we need?

learn math from people who can teach they way they need to teach their children – not a one-shot idea.  This needs to be teachers working in teams to develop vital behaviours.

In your class, how do you us questioning?  What would happen if you the principal spent a week just listening to what questions teachers use?

lesson planning – to solve a problem look for as many ways to solve a problem as possible – this way you can predict what students will come up with.

The Turkey Problem – 24lb. turkey – 15 minutes per lb. how long to cook the turkey – why is this a rich task at grade 3?  Because they haven’t been taught to do this yet and different units. Specifically:

  • prior to any teaching of multiplication algorithms
  • sharing student work after students have solved the problem
  • teacher deliberately determines the order in which selected partners will share
  • thinking is visible

also, see this earlier post on math

Emphasis on the student doing the talking rather than the teacher.

The basic talk moves:

  • turn and talk
  • tell me more about that?
  • who can repeat that?

These three techniques can shift the culture in the classroom

turn and talk

Points on accountable talk :

  • use accountable talk asap
  • remind students to use each others name when talking
  • concentrate on big ideas
  • plan with others
  • have students turn and talk about the concept
  • daily expectations …tech explicitly
  • go back to students to clarify

this is not a natural skill –

what the teacher observed:

  • students not afraid to make mistakes
  • students willing to challenge each other
  • kids are coming to class
  • students writing notes in their own words

If the teacher is willing and ready this is what can happen!

Where to go from here?  I need to get into more math classes to see what really is happening at our school!!