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When All Things Become Visible

A Post by Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn

When All Things Become Visible

Last Sunday, we were sitting along the Chicago River working on last minute prep for our Visible Learning Conference session, watching kayaks and yachts go by when what to our wondering eyes did appear but a party boat being propelled by 10 eager pedalers.

Now if you read our last blog, you will understand why we were so excited…collective efficacy was floating by while we were thinking and talking about collective efficacy. (Just so you know, these things thrill us.) The boaters collectively believed they were going to reach their goal with a trusted captain looking ahead, monitoring their progress, and giving feedback on how they were doing. We left to head up to the Corwin bookstore to lay our hands for the first time on our new book dedicated to improving leaders’ skills in observation and feedback. It was a fine Sunday.

Lessons from Lake Michigan

Fast forward a few days…After the conference, we had the opportunity to spend several days on the shores of Lake Michigan. Our hosts had maintained a home there for 30 years and had become quite adept at collecting sea glass (officially known as seaglunking).

We realized we too wanted to become adept at this to return home with unique mementos. (Goals come in all sizes and shapes!) But, after the first stroll, we didn’t believe we had the skills or keen eyes for it as we returned with no glass and two stones we thought were glass. It seemed impossible. Yet, after just a few days, we returned home with a Ziploc full of treasures. How?

Our hosts made the invisible visible to us.

1.  Our hosts showed us exactly what to look for, and because of their years at it, had high expectations for us.

a.  They had jars and jars of various shapes and sizes to show us what was possible

b.  They outlined criteria for the best finds such as, how the edges should be well worn and that certain colors and larger sizes were considered “the best” (cobalt blue and red, FYI).

2. They built our capacity within our ZPD, gave feedback, and made what we were seeking clear to us.

a. On Day 1, they taught us how to spot the glittering tiny pieces, pointing them out to us in the water before picking them up, teaching us strategies about what they look like in the sun and where they might be in relation to the water’s edge. They watched us and gave us suggestions.

b. On Day 2, we practiced on our own, talking to each other about what we knew to be good strategies. We started to recognize how our actions were keeping us from finding good ones. (e.g., We would get distracted and start talking philosophically about how we are all like sea glass). Our hosts gave us feedback on our finds when we returned and discussed our strategies with us. They praised our ability to see the story behind the tiny piece of glass, but were especially proud we were able to spot brown ones, and locate the larger green ones–all building our confidence.

3. We used the feedback to make adjustments.

On Day 3, we returned to breakfast triumphant and received praise for our success.

From Shorelines & Seaglunking to Schools

Our hosts, without realizing it, were using the very strategies we write, teach, and talk about every day–supporting learners and increasing their self- and collective-efficacy. As new learners we were successful because Hattie’s essentials related to students becoming assessment-capable learners were in place during our experience.

We know teaching our students everyday is far more challenging than locating colored pieces of worn down Heineken and Budweiser bottles and support for changes in practice require much more than a single day or two of feedback. But shouldn’t we apply the same principles our hosts did for us to our teachers as they work toward daily, weekly, and annual goals? Teachers can become assessment capable learners when there are:

  • Clear expectations for teaching and learning, ensuring a common understanding across a school & district
  • Supports in place to help them accurately determine how they are doing in relation to those expectations through the lens of how they are impacting students
  • Supports in place to help them determine what to do next and how to meet or exceed expectations

Think too about what we know from Bandura (1994) about increasing efficacy. We had the opportunity for:

  • Vicarious experiences (watching others)
  • Mastery experiences (finding our own success)
  • Social Persuasion (positive feedback from our hosts)
  • Emotional States (our own joy in the experience)

Strategies to increase self- and group-efficacy and to develop assessment capable learners are tightly woven together. Efficacious learners are generally assessment-capable learners because they see the goal as attainable. And at the heart is high quality support in times of great challenge through high quality observation and feedback from peers or leaders.

Does your professional learning for teachers afford them opportunities to become assessment capable learners who reflect on their own impact? Perhaps, you cannot offer boat rides and views of sunsets throughout the year, but there’s a lot we can learn from our little pieces of seaglass. “I suspect many of us walk past true gems every day…” How many times do you walk by a classroom and not realize what potential or glittering treasure lies inside?

It’s Like Riding a Bike…

A post by Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn

It’s Like Riding a Bike…Together

This week, we were out organizing our research, yearlong practices, and lessons learned as we prepare to present at the Visible Learning Conference focused on collective teacher efficacy (July 9th & 10th in Chicago). We were immersed in Hattie’s research (Visible Learninfor Teachers) and in Donohoo’s “Enabling Conditions” (from her newest work (Collective Efficacy), when we heard it. And then we saw it. A bachelorette party was riding by. Not on motorcycles or individual bikes. But if anyone has had the pleasure of seeing a group of people pedaling away together laughing and cheering, you have seen the latest craze–a party bike.

It was a giant rolling karaoke machine with 14 renditions of Livin’ on a Prayer being sung at one time, when it came to a screeching halt…more laughter….and it inched forward to the next destination. Here it was–collective efficacy right before our tired eyes. We know this may seem far-fetched, but indulge us for a minute…we are a bit loopy from hours of research for our new book having just finished our first book (out next week!).

We were intrigued by the bike riders and found ourselves immediately asking ourselves, “What is making this endeavor so successful for this group?” We were finding our answer in what we know about collective teacher efficacy or the belief that, through collective actions, a group of educators can influence student outcomes and increase achievement, rooted in Bandura’s findings (Donohoo).

Conditions for Success

There are lessons we can learn from our party bikers:

1. They had a common goal. (Though theirs may have just been to have fun…they had determined destinations and a shared vision in mind.) Everyone needed to work toward the same goal to move forward and come to a consensus on where they were headed and where they would take a break and stop. Periodically, we saw them pay close attention to how they were doing (like, their speed, effort, if there was equal participation).
2. It relied on the riders to each do their part to go forward. A few of the more athletic ones couldn’t do all of the work. (Some of them tested that theory out.)
3. It brought the riders together in challenge and success. The journey was the reward. They laughed when they were not in sync as much as they did as when they were careening at high speeds.
4. They ultimately had no doubt they could propel this bike through the streets. They boarded tentatively, but as they successfully propelled themselves and gained momentum, they propelled their confidence and belief in their ability to reach their goals together.
5. Most importantly, they had a leader steering the bike and offering feedback. Picture the party bike with no one at the helm!

Who is at the helm?

Instructional leaders – you are the party bike drivers! You are instrumental in fostering and developing your pedalers’ collective efficacy, and Hattie has identified this as the #1 factor influencing student achievement.

These bikeriders didn’t think too much about their impact on the bystanders, but “teachers, schools, and systems need to be consistently aware, and have dependable evidence of the effects that all are having on their students – and from this evidence make the decisions about how they teach and what they teach.” (Hattie, 2012, p.170)

How and when does this happen?

It will when leaders and teachers:

#1 – believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement

#2 – believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teacher or leaders did or did not do

#3 – want to talk more about the learning than the teaching (Hattie’s Mindframes, 2017)

This will occur when teachers:

  • clearly understand expectations and
  • develop an accurate perception of their own standing against those expectations.  

Because leaders:

Shift from practices of inspection to observation and feedback for learning–and to support teachers in doing the same for their peers–to include:

  • evidence-based observation focused on collecting information on student engagement and learning
  • analysis of “causal attributions” (Bandura) to help teachers see their impact
  • development of high quality feedback that is actionable and offers teachers the opportunity to grow.

Observation and feedback are at the heart of collective efficacy. How are you as leaders driving toward common goals and a shared understanding of expectations for teaching and learning with your riders?

We aren’t saying schools should be like party bikes…or are we?

After all, Bon Jovi says, “We’ve got each other and that’s a lot…”

See you in Chicago!

Are You Smarter Than a 6th Grader?

A post by Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn

Many of us have been wowed watching the Jeff Foxworthy show with 5th graders, but recently, we were wowed as we watched 6th graders set the bar for instructional leaders everywhere as we visited classrooms in one of our CT middle schools.

What We Know

According to Hattie (and the work that gets us up everyday), high quality feedback that promotes growth should always ensure a learner recognizes the following:

Where am I going? How am I going? And What’s next?

To accomplish this, feedback should:

  • Be built from clear expectations and rubric language
  • Provide clear examples as evidence
  • Include questions to promote reflection
  • Communicate strengths vs. praise and areas of growth vs. criticisms

Enter 6th graders.

What We Saw

We had the chance to observe a debate. We know one of the greatest challenges in this lesson structure is to keep the observers engaged. For this lesson, the 6th grade class watched 8 students debate while crafting feedback for their peers through the tech tool “Today’s Meet,” a safe way to run a Twitter-like live feed during a lesson. We thought students might struggle to listen and process the strength of the arguments, follow the feed, respond to peers, and maintain critical and formative feedback based on the debating rubric. But, were we proven wrong…these are 12-year olds living in 2018 after all. In addition, they work with teachers who set high expectations, recognize the value of unpacking rubrics, explicitly teach students what quality feedback is and how to deliver it, and provide platforms for them to convey their findings. Consider some of the feedback that was provided for the peers debating:

Feedback on the quality of presentation

“Pro side sounds prepared and states points in clear ways”

“I like how pro side has said transitional phrases”

“S was clear and loud, but not enthusiastic”

“C knows his cards and is using good eye contact”

“Words like ‘um’ and ‘like’ should be avoided”

“T is the only one talking during the rebuttals.”


Oh, and just in case you thought they weren’t listening…

Feedback on the quality of the argument

“Forgetting your lunch or gym clothes isn’t much of an ‘emergency’” [cell phone pro side]

“I like how he used a website and a good fact for rebuttal.”

“C and P have a good idea that students can use their phones in school with educational apps to help them learn.”

“I think S should stick to facts and not hypotheticals.”

“Con keeps reusing the same facts.”

“What do germs have to do with having phones…everything has germs.” [cell phone con side]

Our favorite: “Is a reliable source?”

Later, we went down the hall to a 7th grade Socratic discussion where the outer circle of students was providing feedback through the app Padlet. This allowed for a slower pace than the live feed, but again we saw high quality feedback about the quality of the arguments appear on the main screen. Peers recognized the strength of the evidence used, how speakers were building from each other’s responses, and the appropriateness of the evidence cited.


What the Lesson Is For Instructional Leaders?

These two classroom examples align with our standards of the high quality feedback leaders should be providing for teachers:

Standard A: A claim about practice and supporting evidence aligns to rubric language

Standard B: Specific evidence is provided to support growth

Standard D: Areas of strength and growth are rooted in the evidence and rubric

Standard F: The feedback can serve as a learning tool

Imagine the conversation and new learning that occured after the debate or Socratic using this level of feedback. If 12-year olds can provide this for their peers, can’t we all?

What support can we provide our instructional leaders so that they produce high levels of feedback for their teachers based on observations?

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

A Post by Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn

We were sitting in Patrick’s living room the other day attempting to write, but found ourselves distracted by the geese in the backyard. We caught ourselves saying out loud, “welcome back” when we noticed new additions had arrived.

Two of the geese have spent the last few weeks of winter in this spot (probably feeling as irate as we have been about snow in April), but now several others have joined.

As Amy has lived in Florida for 20 years, and as all good writers do when faced with a deadline, we decided to read more about Canadian geese migration patterns.

So, did you know the first two are the scouts? They determine the best spots (Patrick’s yard, of course) and guide the others.

You may have heard the many connections between leadership principles and the behavior of geese, but this view out the window resonated so much after Patrick spent the day and presented at the CT E2LEAD 2018 Conference at Mohegan Sun organized by CT’s Teacher of the Year Council. So, we gathered a few ideas about what instructional leaders can learn from our flying friends:

They rotate. When one in front grows tired, another takes the lead.

Successful administrative teams share the responsibilities, leverage other resources such as instructional coaches or curriculum specialists, and foster teacher leadership to add layers of feedback and support for a school.

They honk. This distinguishable sound wakes many of us, but this is either encouragement and/or communication among the birds.

It is critical for our teachers to have a clear idea of where they are going and how they are going and for leaders to confirm effective practices – and the greatest avenue to achieve this is through high quality feedback.

They fly together. The always impressive V-pattern creates efficiency and ensures that they reach the destination together.

This reminds us that we are stronger together. How are you creating common understandings and building teacher capacity to support each other?

This spring, consider what you need as a leader to take flight with your teachers and staff.


  • Remember, the early bird catches the worm.
  • Address issues like water rolling off a duck’s back.
  • Make your impact your swan song.
  • Don’t let yourself become a lame duck.

Okay, we’ll stop.

Go From Ordinary to Extraordinary

A Post by Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn

“My powers are ordinary,

only my application brings me success.”

Sir Isaac Newton.

In the last chapter of our new book Feedback to Feed Forward: 31 Strategies to Lead Learning, we highlight extraordinary practice of several districts and administrators. In that same chapter we provide six challenges to administrators and coaches who are charged with observing and providing feedback to teachers. One of our favorites is:

Go beyond policy

How often are you engaged in tasks that directly impact teaching and learning in your building beyond the policy requirements? Meet our heroes who are far from ordinary from New Fairfield Middle School. As a team, four leaders (including the principal Christine and the one AP Cheryl) have conducted 96 classroom walkthroughs since the beginning of this school year. By October, they had visited every room once. It is important to know this is over and above their required informals, formals, and midyears. They are disappointed in themselves as they were shooting for 350 by break. Yes, 350. They feel disconnected even when a week or two goes by and they aren’t out in their classrooms.

The walkthroughs provide valuable data as to how teachers and students are doing on a day to day basis and send a message to teachers that instruction is the central priority in the building. The leaders use the classroom visits to identify and communicate strengths, identified as “I appreciates,” and potential next steps communicated as “I wonders.” All teachers often feel threatened or nervous whenever leaders visit and the team has been working to build trust and establish an environment for growth through this practice.

They too struggle with the same things you do. They have fights, bullying, and bus incidents. They fill in for cafe duty and have to call and meet with parents, but they are finding the time.

What’s keeping you from your classrooms and leading the teaching and learning in your building? How are you going beyond policy and supporting the growth of your teachers?