Here’s a question – do you believe all students can learn? If you said yes and you’re a teacher or leader, are there examples at your school of students who aren’t achieving gains in their learning? How do you reconcile the two? Here’s another question – if you were asked to list ten things that knew you about each learner in your class or school could you? More importantly, would they know you knew these ten things about them? If you said yes, then you are doing well at knowing your learners. If you said no, then you would be wise to read Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan’s book “Putting the Faces on Data“.
These are the questions that Lyn Sharratt asked us to reflect on when she was here earlier this month. This is Lyn’s second visit to Parramatta and we are grateful for her assistance in helping us put faces on our own data. It’s a strategy that takes personalised learning to a much deeper level because it requires us to continually and collectively analyse student learning and plan the next sequence. Sounds simple but as Lyn says it is hard hard work. It requires a relentless focus on a shared goal.
As former superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in the York Region, Canada, Lyn says that literacy became their goal and their system mantra. They asked themselves what they expected of their literacy graduates and once they determined this, they worked backwards. Stephen Covey refers to this as beginning with the end in mind. It required coming up with a definition that everyone could live with from K-12. “Literacy” was defined as language and mathematically competency. They then asked what were the foundational literacy skills necessary in the 21st century? These were the ability of graduates to think, understand, analyse and to critically reflect.
Lyn says they worked hard at embedding the definitions and professional learning so that every single teacher was working toward the same goal – literacy. It paid off; they achieved significant gains in Year 1 reading levels. They analysed data relentlessly and looked closely at what was working in the ‘high focus schools’. As Lyn and Michael drilled down, they discovered these schools hadn’t taken their eyes off literacy. In the midst of flux, they were able to stay focused. The other schools blamed everything from a change in principal to a leaky roof on why they couldn’t maintain focus.
Lyn’s experience shows that implementation is often our Achilles’ heel. We have a tendency to move on to something new every year than stay the course. As Lyn puts it, we need to move beyond the modelling stage to the doing otherwise nothing actually happens in schools. This means looking at the data, knowing the learner and asking what comes next. We want our learners to be independent but we need teachers and leaders to be interdependent when it comes to implementation. If something is fully implemented in your school, it means that 90% of teachers, according to Lyn, are doing it as part of their practice. The short of it is we all need to know the same things about our work. We all need to know our learners.
On the last page of Lyn’s workbook is the quote: You can’t lead where you won’t go. Lyn has given us permission to say no to the things that won’t make a difference to students and to go where we may not have been before.