Friday, August 15, 2014

Chapter 9- Learning Targets

“When you make an observation, you have an obligation.” – M.K. Asante

First, let me share that I have enjoyed my little summer project.  I got to read a great book and share it with my friends….last time I checked the stats, the Learning Targets blog had been viewed over 6,000 times.  I realize that may not be much in the virtual world, but I have to believe it is better than me reading it alone.  So what happens next?  Well, I guess the point of doing this to begin with was to help teachers plan better lessons so that students would understand what they are learning.  That is the goal…to design dynamic learning experiences for students. However, as this last chapter suggests, teachers can’t do it alone.  Effective schools call for effective leadership.

Principals and others placed in the role of observing in classrooms all enter with certain beliefs about what is important.  As Moss and Brookhart share, principals use typical lists of “best practices” to create “look-fors” in the classroom.  The danger in this is that too often these lists are only centered on what the teacher is doing.  We focus on teacher actions, occasionally even scripting every question they ask, or strategy they use. Sometimes we look for “student engagement”, but how do you really determine if a student is engaged? No, the “jugular” question, as the authors put it, is “Engaged in what?”.  Too often we have students working on well intend, but poorly designed lessons and they become meaningless in pushing students’ learning forward.  Someone has to provide support to ensure this doesn’t happen.

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Last week, our District held its annual “Administrators’ Academy” and each campus brought together their leadership teams for two days of intense learning.  This year, the focus was very much about moving toward becoming a more effective school by improving the instructional culture.  In this chapter, Moss and Brookhart discussed the value of leadership teams in a school and the power they possess to improve instruction.  However, it is not easy.  The leaders of the school, be it the principal or a group of leaders, send a very clear message about what is important, by what they focus on.  If a leadership team values what the students are doing in the lesson rather than simply what the teacher is doing, a transformational shift can occur in the culture of the building. 

On page 151, perhaps my favorite quote of the whole book arrives:

“There are virtually no documented instances of turning a troubled school around without intervention from talented leaders.  Although there are many factors….leadership is the catalyst.”

Intentional Planning!!

At our Admin. Academy, we talked about the influence of the teacher and how important he/she is for their class, but study after study has shown that an effective school, lead by effective leadership teams, have a larger impact on a student’s educational career.  What this means, is that while the teacher matters most for that individual school year, students make the m
ost gains in a school with strong leadership over time.

So what type of leadership is important?  The term “instructional leader” by the authors’ estimation has become a watered-down term with varied definitions and expectations. A few characteristics of an effective instructional leader that I took from the chapter:

·      Instructional leaders create a common language about what they consider evidence of effective teaching and meaningful learning. These shared beliefs allow a campus to know what is working, what is not working, and do something about it.
·      Instructional leaders engage in targeted professional development WITH teachers about improving what happens in the classroom.
·      Instructional leaders ensure that strategic instructional practices that raise student achievement are embedded in each lesson.
·      Instructional leaders conduct strategic observations, provide targeted feedback to teachers, and forge strong learning partnerships between teachers and students.

I hope those of you that have been reading along this summer have enjoyed the book as much as I have.  I found a ton of helpful reminders about the importance of students being partners in their learning and it reinforced my belief on the value of good lesson planning as the key to high student achievement.

One final question:

·      What does your campus leadership do to support the instructional culture of your building?


  1. Every single thing I do in my daily walk impacts instruction. Curriculum and Instruction is my love. Just as any administrator does, I too, struggle with consistency in getting in the classrooms. This year, our campus admin team has put together several protocols for ensuring we keep instruction at our focus. Pg 151 sums up our focus..."if the leadership team places increased value on what students are doing during a lesson, then a transformational value system will begin to take root.." and on page 150 "what we value, we perpetuate." Our goals and desires for our students learning must be at the forefront of what we do on a daily basis. It all ties back to chapter 1 - do our actions align with our beliefs?

  2. In the chaos of the beginning of the school year it is important to remember that we impact instruction just by the nature of our position. Every time we walk the halls, visit classrooms, attend PLCs, and talk with kids we are sharing and emphasizing what we think is important about instruction on our campus.