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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 ‘Simple’ Ideas Every Educator Should Work on in 2017

By Peter DeWitt — January 01, 2017 5 min read
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Ahh...the new year. After a short Holiday week we’re ready to jump back into the classroom and move forward with the rest of the school year. Right? Typically, we’re used to another week of recuperation before we return to our schools, but that’s what happens when Christmas ends up on a Sunday, and Hanukkah starts on a Saturday night and ends on a Sunday a little over a week later.

Just like with any new year we have our resolutions. Instead of all of those resolutions that may not last very long, we should look at a few that can have a powerful impact in 2017, and also happen to be a few that we believe we do already. That impact can be reciprocal because we will get what we give in 2017. Our learning and growing should never be one-sided.

As you read below you will see some influences along with their effect sizes. The effect sizes come from the research of John Hattie, who I work with as a Visible Learning trainer. In Hattie’s research, if an influence has an effect size of .40, it equates to a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input (click here to read It’s the Effect Size Stupid by Rob Coe). Anything with an effect size over .40 equates to more than a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input.

The last thing I’m asking you to try, is one of the most important. The inspiration behind that one comes from a powerful Ted Talk by NPR host Celeste Headlee, which you can watch by clicking here. If we do more of what she suggests, all of our relationships will improve.

The Big Three!
The point in offering only three suggestions is that research shows when we have too many choices we choose not to choose at all. However, in the title you notice that there are single quotations around the word simple. That’s due to the fact that these ideas may be simple but they are also quite complex at the same time, which helps to explain the examples that follow each idea.

The big three ideas are:
Big Idea #1 - Relationships with students:
Teacher student relationships has a .72 effect size. This seems like a no brainer, but because of what we know about self-efficacy (Bandura), we understand that not all teachers and leaders think that the relationships they have with students matter (Click here to learn more about self-efficacy).

Additionally, In Know Thy Impact: Visible Learning in Theory and Practice (2015. p.52), John Hattie writes,

Many years ago, Alessi (1988) reviewed more than 5,000 children referred to school psychologists because they were failing at school. Not one located the problem as due to a poor instructional program, poor school practices, a poor teacher, or something to do with school."

Sadly, Hattie continued by writing, “The problems were claimed, by the teachers, to be related to the home and located within the student.” Perhaps creating stronger relationships with students by having more positive conversations than negative ones, or making sure that we are focusing on authentic engagement versus compliant engagement (by doing more of what falls under big idea #2) we will have more students engaged in our classrooms and less likely to create behavior problems. Maybe we’ll have less students leaving our classrooms thinking we didn’t care.

Big Idea #2 - Some teaching strategies that have been around for awhile:
Classroom discussion (82) - Decrease the teacher talk and increase the student talk by providing them with learning intentions and success criteria, and a deeper understanding of how to have a discussion with the class. If they’re quiet, then partner them up so they’ll be less intimidated. And, give them thinking time so they don’t feel like they’re cold called for an answer.

Teacher clarity (.75) - Before students jump into a lesson they need to know the learning intentions and success criteria of the learning activity. This adds to the clarity of the lesson and has an enormous impact.

Feedback (.75) - Hattie focuses on 3 types of feedback, which is task, process and self-regulation. Effective feedback is always focused on the learning intention and success criteria of the lesson.

Reciprocal teaching (.74) - Students teach each other. And yes, they need the learning intentions and success criteria, and they also have to have a deeper understanding of the 3 levels of feedback from above.

Metacognitive strategies (.69) - Students thinking about thinking, and reflecting with evidence on the learning that took place. There are numerous metacognitive activities like exit tickets (what did you learn), entrance tickets (what are you hoping to learn), and fishbowl exercises just to name a few.

Questioning (.48) - What questions are teachers asking and do students have the opportunity to ask their own?

Big Idea # 3 - How we listen to other people:
Don’t multitask - It’s rude and sends the message that we’re not listening fully.

Don’t pontificate - We need to get off our soapbox. When we pontificate it seems as though we think we are right every time. No need to have a conversation if we’re not opening to learning while we’re in it.

Use open-ended questions - Ask questions that will inspire the other person to share their whole story, so we can get to the bottom of the issue.

Go with the flow - Sometimes we want to make sure we say what we are thinking, even if that means we half-listen to retain our own thoughts. If what we’re thinking is so vital we will remember it when they are done speaking. Better yet, their thoughts may inspire us to think of something better.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know - Don’t fake it. We need to act as though we are on record and what we say will be held against us. If we don’t know, we should just admit we don’t know.

Don’t equate your experiences with theirs - This one is a hard one for many of us. Very often we want to share our experience to build credibility and show the person speaking that we empathize with them. Headlee says that this makes the conversation about us and not them. We should listen.

Try not to repeat yourself - When we repeat ourselves over and over again it may come off as condescending. We really only have to say it once for people to hear it.

Stay out of the weeds - Headlee said we shouldn’t get caught up in dates and times when telling a story. We should stick to the point of the story more than pausing to get the date right.

Listen - We do not do this enough. We need to listen with the intent to understand. The interesting point Headlee brings up is that our brains are conditioned to speak on average 225 words per minutes but we are conditioned to listen to 500 words a minute, which means our brains are looking for ways to fill in those other 275 words when someone is talking to us.

Be brief - Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone who talks and talks and talks? We shouldn’t do that or we inspire the other person to float off out of our conversation.

In the End
It’s 2017 and we are all in the mood to have deeper relationships and make the year better than the one we had in 2016. The Big three strategies are sure to help deepen the relationships we have with others, and may just change the way people feel about us and the way we feel about them.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.