Be two sides of the same coin

Learning Forward shows you how to plan, implement, & measure high-quality professional learning so you & your team can achieve success with your system, your school, and your students.

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Standards for Professional Learning outline the characteristics of professional learning that leads khổng lồ effective teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved student results.


Learning Forward supports leaders at all levels khổng lồ transform their systems into lớn true learning systems, where all educators engage in a measurable và scalable cycle of improvement.


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On your first day of teaching, did each student listen to lớn your every word? Did their work show mastery of the learning goals you’d set? Or did you, lượt thích me, glance through papers thinking, How could my instruction possibly have sầu prompted these essays? Then again, perhaps the work quality wasn’t as big a first-day concern as classroom management, the quiet little boy who would not participate, or how you’d cover the entire curriculum.

Like any profession or talent, mastering teaching takes thousands of hours of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Prietula, & Cokely, 2007). Here, “deliberate” means having a coach or mentor to lớn provide feedbachồng on key skills and strategies for practicing lớn develop them.

If this is true — that mastering the practices of great teaching takes years — then how can we rate teachers ineffective sầu as they first enter a classroom or even when master teachers are developing new skills? Rating systems need lớn consider this very real trajectory of growth.

Yet many of the evaluation systems being adopted across the country (và in other countries) are ranking teachers from highly effective lớn ineffective sầu and, in some cases, using the rankings to begin termination. How did this happen? Because the difficulties being experienced in evaluating teachers were viewed as a problem khổng lồ solve instead of a system of interdependent values — a polarity.

What are Polarities?

Polarities are paradoxes, or tensions, or both/and rather than either/or thinking. Measurement for teacher evaluation and measurement for supporting teacher growth are two distinct value sets that together size an interdependent pair where each mix holds a portion of the truth.

One value mix by itself is incomplete without the other. Barry Johnson coined the term “polarity” as he developed organizational tools for working with these ongoing dilemmas. “Polarities are interdependent pairs that can tư vấn each other in pursuit of a common purpose. They can also undermine each other if seen as an either/or problem lớn solve. Polarities at their essence are unavoidable, unsolvable, unstoppable, và indestructible. Most importantly, they can be leveraged for a greater good” (Johnson, 2012, p. 4).

Any time you treat a polarity as if it were a problem to solve sầu, you get the downside of each pole — exactly as is happening right now in many places with the new teacher evaluation models.

Threats of teacher strikes over evaluation systems, educator-driven cheating on standardized tests, a decrease in funds available for coaching, and a significant increase in teachers planning to leave sầu the profession indicate that we’re experiencing a vicious, not virtuous, cycle. A few years ago, one could have said we were in a vicious cycle because of the overfocus on supporting teachers.

Leveraging the wisdom of each pole could move sầu toward the goal that the sides have sầu in common: effective teachers in every classroom. Stakeholders need khổng lồ recognize the valuable contributions of the other position. Let’s look at what might happen during a gathering of minds on this issue.

Seeing a Polarity

To create this imaginary meeting of minds, I reviewed extensively the retìm kiếm, blogs, position papers, và websites of people and organizations on both sides of this issue, including the Bill và Melindomain authority Gates Foundation, Learning Forward, researchers at Harvard and Stanford, teacher unions and politicians, & many other sources.

In such a meeting, we would first demonstrate that teacher evaluation involves a polarity. A simple analogy — inhaling và exhaling — illustrates key points. Try it. Take a deep breath, hold it for as long as you can, và then breathe out. Then ask yourself: Which is better, inhaling or exhaling?

Whenever I have groups bởi this, someone always says, “Exhaling is better.” Really? You can’t exhale without inhaling. And, if you don’t cycle through both processes, your body will shut down. That’s the nature of a polarity.

Just as when you hold your breath, exhaling is seen as a solution, so years of an overfocus by the teaching profession on supporting teachers resulted in measuring teacher effectiveness being seen as a solution to lớn problems within our education system. Seeing a polarity involves considering a few key questions:

Is the dilemma ongoing? Are the poles interdependent? If we believe sầu that teaching expertise develops over time — and can always be deepened — then evaluating where we are and planning for growth is an ongoing cycle.Will overfocus on either pole undermine our purpose of great teachers in every classroom? Yes, the downside of supporting teachers became a system where nearly all were rated highly effective; removing those who weren’t was far too difficult. However, we are already seeing the downside of the new emphasis on teacher evaluation with a major increase in the percentage of teachers who plan to leave sầu the profession soon (MetLife, 2012).

Seeing a polarity is the first of five steps in a process called the Polarity Approach to lớn Continuity and Transformation (PACT). The PACT process is designed to help people with opposing views listen to & learn from each other, recognize each other’s values và fears, underst& the processes and incidents or policies that brought them to the current state, và determine what mutually agreeable action steps will lead them together toward a mutual purpose. The five steps are outlined in the table on p. 25.

Mapping Values and Fears

Once we recognize that we’re working with a polarity rather than a solvable problem, the next step is mapping — hearing & understanding the values và fears of each side.

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Picture dividing the room inlớn four quadrants, with each section representing the upside or downside of a pole, and a flip chart easel in each quadrant. Individuals walk to each quadrant, reading và adding items to each of the charts.

Ideally, each stakeholder spends time articulating the values held by each pole (the upside) as well as the fears. The table on p. 27 summarizes the widely documented values & fears of each pole.

Can you see how the negative effects of overfocus on the left pole (lower left quadrant in the table) led lớn the upper right quadrant being seen as a solution? And how we’re already seeing the downside of the right pole because the left pole is being ignored?

The pendulum swings will continue without honest conversations about values & fears. In fact, research into lớn how we size our positions and opinions reveals the impact of confirmation bias — the tendency to lớn only pay attention khổng lồ information that reinforces the position we already hold. The only truly effective method for overcoming these biases is khổng lồ enter inlớn deep dialogue with those who believe differently (Haidt, 2012). This mapping process provides such an opportunity.

However, the real power of polarity thinking comes from careful consideration of where the system is right now, how it got there, và what actions can help us get the upside rather than the downside of each pole.

Assessing Where We Are

The next step is assessing, formally or informally, whether we’re seeing the upside of each pole. Within each school, district, or state, difficulties và solutions will be slightly different. We can informally assess where we are by considering which quadrant best describes the current energy flow in the system. Or we can use a formal assessment, using results to lớn size the right action steps and put energy into lớn the right practices lớn leverage the polarity.

Here’s an example. A large school district, well into its first year of using its new teacher evaluation system, agreed khổng lồ administer such a survey lớn instructional coaches, teacher evaluators, and curriculum coordinators.

The survey process developed by Polarity Partnerships gives an overall rating, a rating for how well the values & fears of each pole are being addressed, và ratings on individual questions. One can also compare different demographic groups.

We knew immediately that interest and concerns were high, since over 60% of those who were sent the survey liên kết not only responded within 48 hours but also wrote lengthy answers khổng lồ the open-ended questions and comment on the survey items.

The survey included 12 questions, evenly divided to gather information on how well the values and fears of each pole were being addressed. Respondents were asked khổng lồ rate how often they see và experience items such as the following, with their responses ranging from “always” lớn “almost never”:

Our systems have sầu appropriate pathways for removing ineffective sầu teachers.Measures of student motivation enable us lớn identify teachers that need tư vấn.Concerns over accountability testing result in teachers teaching to lớn the test.Resources and requirements for teacher professional development are unclear.

Given the newness of the evaluation system, it was no surprise lớn see an overall score indicating that work is needed to leverage the evaluation and support sides of this polarity.

Analyzing how different stakeholder groups answered questions pointed lớn specific difficulties. For example, whereas the evaluators said, “Our method for identifying which teachers need developing is seldom ineffective sầu,” coaches gave a rating of “often” khổng lồ the same cống phẩm.

Further, coaches indicated that concerns over accountability testing were causing teaching lớn the kiểm tra, but evaluators rated this as “sometimes.” In contrast, both groups felt that the new professional development options were motivating teachers to improve sầu practice.

The Last Steps: Learning và Leveraging

The assessing step provides clear information about whether the wisdom of both poles is being leveraged. All the energy being invested in resisting or fighting can instead be directed toward finding action steps that promise khổng lồ gain the upside of both poles.

Some teacher evaluation models around the country already include positive sầu ways lớn leverage the needs of both poles, including:

Building on how high-performing countries such as Finland và Singapore have professionalized the teaching profession;Using research on motivation, which comes not from rewards & punishment but from autonomy, mastering skills or knowledge, and a sense of purpose (Pink, 2009);Establishing clear markers for professional growth as well as a response to lớn intervention Mã Sản Phẩm for helping teachers develop expertise; andEnsuring that models tài khoản for varying levels of students with special needs or other considerations that affect teacher workload and impact.

Besides these action steps, we can note action steps that warn we aren’t leveraging this polarity very well — signs that manifest earlier than teacher strikes.

Moving toward agreement

There are many similar polarities in education, where overfocus on one side eventually brings on a policy swing: Think of the cycles of methods for reading instruction, emphasizing key knowledge or key practices within disciplines, or even how leadership is distributed.

Darling-Hammond (2010) points out that not only bởi these ongoing battles slow progress on student learning, but “the students most harmed are the most vulnerable students in urban & poor rural schools, where the political currents are strongest and changes of course most frequent” (p. 15).

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While the process takes time, the results can bring agreement where polarization existed, pinpoint the best allocation of resources, re-energize collaboration around mutual goals, and stop the policy swings that are inevitable when polarities are misdiagnosed as solvable problems.