How’s That Working For Ya?

Sense of urgency.

I’ll be honest with you: I used to despise that term. It wasn’t so much because of what it meant as it was the behaviors I witnessed that went along with the phrase. In struggling schools I observed well-intended educators doing, doing, doing without engaging in any type of systematic and authentic reflective process. Data analysis occurred and produced much of the same instructional behaviors before the analysis.  There was little to no reflection on and analysis of instructional processes. Yet with little to no change repeatedly no one asked an obvious question: how’s that working for ya?

A few years ago I taught a graduate course on reflective practice. At the start of the class, a learner asked if he could alter the format of an assignment to better align with his learning style and deepen his understanding of the course concepts. I said yes. The product of his learning is one I have since used (with his permission) as a catalyst for cultivating a culture of reflective practice.

I’m sharing his “Curriculum Comics Presents” product below. Perhaps you will consider the ideas presented to enhance reflective practice at your site so that data analysis does work for ya!

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Here are 3 ways you might use Andrew’s comic as a catalyst for reflective practice:

  1. Rehearse your own journey as a student to determine how to improve instructional processes for you and your students.
  2. Consider how your students are currently responding to instruction and ask, “what can I take away from Andrew’s learning experience as a teacher to apply to my own?”
  3. Use Andrew’s comic as a non-threatening way to engage staff in authentic dialogue on what reflective practice should look like at your site.

Without authentic reflective practice of instructional processes, you could just be spinning your wheels and that won’t work for anyone. Create a sense of urgency about reflective practice.

For more of Andrew’s work, check out his blog.


Wales, A. (2008, June 1). The teacher as reflective practitioner. Unpublished manuscript.


Value Creation: Focus Your Lens

Have you seen or experienced this? A group of educators conduct a class visit either for evaluative or peer-coaching purposes and the feedback generated after the event is scattered because of a vague focus or varying expectations.

Last week I was asked to serve as a guest lecturer for a class of aspiring and practicing school administrators on instructional rounds at George Washington University. I was asked to share how The Core Deconstructed (TCD) could be used with rounds. Given that I prefer to facilitate learning as opposed to lecture, I created an environment for a partially simulated instructional round.

Instructional rounds are great because they allow for thoughtful reflection on key work processes. To be clear, key work processes are,

Your organization’s most important internal value-creation processes. […] They are the processes that involve the majority of your organization’s workforce. Your key work processes frequently relate to your core competencies […] and the factors your senior leaders consider important for organizational growth. Your key work processes are always accomplished by your workforce (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, p. 51, 2013.)

Two key work processes are obvious in our field: the process of lesson design and the process of lesson delivery.

In the class I introduced the TCD elements, created three teams, released them to engage in the simulated rounds while considering only one TCD element and reflected on the process. During the phase of the rounds where the learners discussed their observations, one team was off-focus, the second was partially focused and the third was fully focused. (That was an interesting dynamic to observe.)

Focusing feedback on the key work process that requires the most change should lead the agenda. In this case the planning of instructional activities was the challenge. Students in the observed simulated classroom were asked to complete activities that were outside of the text they were reading. Higher order thinking was present, but not germane to their text. This created a host of challenges in the simulated learning environment that resulted in unfocused feedback.

The desire to address all areas of concern in a classroom is understood, but unrealistic. It becomes overwhelming for the person who is responsible for creating value for the students–the teacher. It also devalues the experience for the participants.

Focus is necessary. During the reflection portion of the evening, a twelfth-year teacher said this:

I’m glad we did this because I see now how easy it is to get off track in instructional rounds. We really need to go in and stay focused on what we went in to observe. I’m also glad that we were introduced to The Core Deconstructed because it gives us the specifics we should be looking for that impact learning the most. It helped me focus on what learning should look like and what the evidence of the learning should look like.

Note: the learner who shared this comment was from a state that did not adopt the Common Core.

By now in the school year, you are well into rounds (or whatever reflective method you embrace), so I ask you to embrace this challenge. Engage in a pre-classroom visit session to strengthen your focus. You can create your own steps, or borrow the approach we used last week.

  1. Deconstruct the standard being taught in the class you will visit using the original TCD process
  2. Select an element of the TCD  to focus on (each team can select an element)
  3. Engage in your observation methodology of choice
  4. Make individual notes on individual post-its as you observe
  5. Regroup with your team the sort and categorize post-its
  6. Discuss the strengths and growth opportunities that emerged in your categories germane to the TCD elements
  7. Generate your report and hypothetical questions germane to the TCD focus for your simulated event

As shared by the students at George Washington University, focusing your lens with the The Core Deconstructed will certainly create value for the participants, the observed teacher and ultimately the students.



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

Eduvation: What is it and How to Make it Happen

“Eduvation” is a word I created to shorten and blend the use of the words innovation in education. (Perhaps the term already exists elsewhere, but I haven’t heard it used yet.)

Last week I witnessed a debate that stretched for 3 days at an 8-day Baldrige event. The topic? The meaning of innovation. The challenge was that the term was suffering from multiple interpretations. Given that we were at a Baldrige Performance Excellence event, the group decided to review the Baldrige definition of innovation in order to ensure a common understanding of the common term.

According to the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, 2013), the term innovation refers to,

Making meaningful change to improve programs, services, processes or organizational effectiveness and to create a new value for students and stakeholders. Innovation involves the adoption of an idea, process, technology, program, service or business model that is either new or new to its proposed application. The outcome of innovation is a discontinuous or break through change in results, programs or services.

Successful organizational innovation is a multistep process that involves development and knowledge sharing, a decision to implement, implementation, evaluation and learning. Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change, whether through breakthrough improvement or a change in approach or outputs. It could include fundamental changes in organizational structure to more effectively accomplish the organization’s work.

Recently, I read a few articles about eduvation–innovation in education–and they all seemed to focus on either new technology or new models. I wondered, “were those the only key levers to collectively move us forward in education?” My answer was no.

The Baldrige definition provided six levers with one of them being processes. Furthermore, the definition states, “Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change.” That being said, the questions for principals and teachers are, “what are all the key processes that would benefit from change, and particularly what are the key instructional and instructional leadership processes that would benefit from a change in thinking and practice?

The challenge this week is simple: engage in eduvation. The list below provides steps you can follow with your team and is followed by italicized examples.

  1. Sit with your professional journal to brainstorm changes that are required (blending professional best practices to deconstruct the standards)
  2. Collaborate with your peers to gather the collective thought and select the change that adds the most value (invest in The Core Deconstructed)
  3. Create your roadmap (create The Core Deconstructed matrix)
  4. Use technology to enhance the eduvation process (use the electronic template to later insert resources)
  5. Collaborate across departments or schools (share and refine your matricies)
  6. Communicate and eliminate barriers to the change (contact me for the next level and/or feedback)
  7. Keep it simple (keep it simple :-))
  8. Celebrate successes (share)

When you’re done, do #8 and let me know about your success!



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

Common Confusion: How to Avoid it and Organize for Student Success

Language precision.

This is something that  good educators like yourself require from students because you know it is essential to your students’ success. This is the case in all disciplines. Without precise use of language you know that students may miscommunicate meaning, cause unintended confusion or access inadequate information. Have you seen this happen before? I’ve seen this happen, but not only with students. I have also seen this with well-intended educators.

The first notable time I recognized  the need for using precise language among educators was in a professional learning session with middle and high school teachers. They debated with me at length–conversations and emails spanning a week to be exact–about the meaning of a cognitive process. As math teachers, they argued that evaluate meant to solve a problem and that evaluate held a different meaning for math than for other subjects.  I wrote about it in 2012. You can see my response here.

The second notable time the need for using language precisely was highlighted was during a classroom visit. I noticed the objective read, “Students will analyze their answers and correct their errors,” but after a few minutes of observing students I saw that they were simply redoing the problems that were done incorrectly on a test. There was no process of breaking down the whole into its constituent parts to determine the interconnections and surface their faulty reasoning. Students simply redid their wrong answers.

The third notable time I recognized the need for precise language was during a professional learning session where a school administrator asked, “Doc, what’s the difference between analyze and evaluate?”

It became strikingly apparent that while we may use common terms, we do not hold common understandings and that our imprecision with how we define cognitive processes can interfere with our students’ learning. This sentiment was echoed recently by an educator during a Core Deconstructed workshop. After an activity that focused on gaining common understanding of common terms she reflected saying,

This was good for me because I see how we use these terms all of the time, but we ourselves had difficulty clarifying them. It made me think that if we have difficulty clarifying them, then somehow it’s impacting the way we teach and impacting what our students learn […] and this is particularly important for the population of students I serve. I have to be precise with my language.

Given her statement I ask, when you are collaborating with your peers, providing support to your colleagues or leading your staff particularly when the topic of transformation and new standards are involved, are you sure there is no miscommunication due to language imprecision? If your answer is an emphatic, “Yes! I am sure!” then great. But if you are not absolutely sure, here are three steps you can take to be sure.

  1. Agree to agree on gaining common understanding while maintaining individual creativity
  2. Agree to access The Core Deconstructed® as a tool for fostering common understanding and individual creativity
  3. Agree to collaborate on working through the process together to ensure common understanding and individual creativity

Whether you use this process or another, one thing remains true: the use of imprecise language when organizing for student success will most certainly lead to miscommunicated meaning, unintended confusion and inadequate information.


Transform versus Reform: Splitting Hairs

[Education] 1.0 is when we managed access. 2.0 is when we thought about school improvement and got pretty good at it. 3.0 is when we start to move toward a different, and we hope, transformed paradigm.

These were the words of Valerie Hannon, a director at the Global Education Leaders’ Program on the topic of redesigning education. Her statement caused me to reflect on two previous posts: one on resting on your laurels of high performance using NCLB expectations in a Common Core world and the other on authentic transformation.

Since the turn of the millennium, I have argued that instead of focusing on educational reform we should focus on authentic educational transformation, and particularly now to address the Common Core. Here’s why. At their core reform means,

to make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

and transform means,

to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

Today I began purging my bookshelf and I noted several papers and books produced by high profile educational institutions with the similar theme of closing the achievement gap. I would argue that if we continue attempting to “close the gap” by simply making changes to an existing system, there is a high likelihood that the gap may never close.

Perhaps it is to time embrace authentic educational transformation, that is, making a thorough changes to the way we do education. Should you as  a leader decide to accept this challenge, allow me to be upfront: it won’t be easy.

Transformation occurs when leaders create a vision for transformation and a system to continually question and challenge beliefs, assumptions, patterns, habits and paradigms with an aim of continually developing and applying management theory, through the lens of the system of profound knowledge. Transformation happens when people managing a system  focus on creating a new future that has never existed before, and based on continual learning and a new mindset, take different actions than they would have taken in the past (Dasko and Sheinberg, 2005, pg. 1).

Last school year I coached a school leadership team through the process of embracing authentic transformation through the lens of a system of profound knowledge (SoPK). As a result, they experienced their highest gains in the history of the school. (Contact me if you would like to know their story.)

Therefore I advocate that if your goal as a leader is to facilitate equity in educational excellence through authentic transformation, you can do two things:

  1. Begin exploring your team’s position as it relates to SoPK by processing your thoughts using the resource below, and
  2. Expand your exploration with a progressive partnership.

Distinguishing between transform versus reform may appear to be an exercise in splitting hairs, but it is clear that reforming (improving) a system that was not designed to be functional in the 21st century may not be the answer. It’s time for Education 3.0. It’s time to transform.



Daszko, M. & Sheinberg, S. (2005). Survival is optional: Only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation. Retrieved from

Close Reading Deep Dive: Professional Learning Action Steps

It’s time.

If your teachers haven’t returned yet, I’m sure they’ll return in a few days.  Shortly thereafter, school will begin again. You are in preparation mode.

A recent conversation with a State level leader caused me to reflect on a challenge: how will instructional leaders support teachers as they mediate complex texts?

A few months ago I delivered a series on designing lessons that employ the close reading approach. Now, as teachers return, is a great time to take a deep dive into understanding close reading. Simply talking about it, or giving steps to it, or buying someone’s kit is not enough. If you want to develop professional mastery, analysis of the approach is necessary.

Below are three sample lessons designed for students to use the close reading approach to engage with complex text. They are all linked to the posts from which they originate. Reading each post will provide the background knowledge necessary to understand the logic of the lesson. Review the posts then consider the professional learning action steps that follow.




Professional Learning Action Steps

  1. Read or present What is Close Reading and the posts associated with the lessons above (everyone)
  2. Distribute the  lesson designs by assigning to groups (1 lesson per group)
  3. Read the lesson design process and the lesson itself
  4. Make the connections between the process and the lesson
  5. Facilitate discussion on how the teacher mediates the text in the lesson (here’s support)
  6. Use the lesson as a model to plan your own
  7. Peer review and rotate

Complex texts must be used in instruction and teachers must be mediators of the text, therefore educators must master the close reading approach.

It’s time.

Common Core Strategy Alignment: Professional Learning Action Steps

Two things happened on the way to writing this post.

First, I was conversing with a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) who shared that her principals needed to become better at instructional leadership. She then followed her statement by saying they did not require coaching or professional development, but they needed to be managed more instead. She has been the second CAO to share this sentiment in two years. I am bewildered.

Second, yesterday a colleague engaged in a chat on Twitter where teachers shared that they had yet to see the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am bewildered and concerned.


Strategy is defined as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.


A few months ago I stated, “accountability on its face is very simple–you do what you say you will do.”

Strategy and Accountability

Strategic plans designed to manage for accountability should function on three tiers: (1) the district level; (2) the school level and (3) the classroom level. If all three levels are not tightly aligned, then the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement will be spotty, if not illusive.

The strategic objective of improving instructional leadership with the misaligned action step of increasing how much school leaders are managed will scarcely allow for the goal of increasing student achievement.The strategic objective of increasing teacher capacity with the CCSS while teachers are still unfamiliar with the standards will simply land you in a ditch.

Most school districts have strategic plans. The system-wide plan should undoubtedly cascade to the individual level for schools’ staff if teachers and leaders are going to be held accountable for student growth on CCSS assessments.

A Missing Ingredient

A conversation I do not hear on the school level as it relates to accountability is one about strategy. I hope you are aware of you district’s strategy, but even if you are not, here are 7 discussion points for leaders and teachers to employ during instructional support sessions. They are sure to align classroom activities with district strategy.

  1. Determine the purpose of the lesson–not the content, but the purpose.
  2. Determine the level of thinking you want students to engage in. The level of thinking should align with the purpose.
  3. Determine the appropriate instructional process that best aligns with the level of thinking–process not activities.
  4. Determine the appropriate appropriate learning activities that best align with the instructional process.
  5. Determine how you will differentiate to meet the various representation and expression needs of your diverse learners.
  6. Determine the appropriate student work product. This is what’s used to assess the level of learning and thinking that occurred.
  7. Determine how you will differentiate work products to meet the various engagement needs of your diverse learners.

The visual below can support the discussion.

Dr. B's LD Decision Tree

If we simply talk about alignment without ensuring it occurs, then that’s all it is–talk. Talk alone will not lead to increased student achievement. Strategy, alignment and intelligent support will. The Core Deconstructed will also.