Standard 1 – Vision of Learning – Facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by the school community.
Facilitate a PD meeting designed to examine how the core values of the school guide practice.
Student Agency Data
HTHMA is a member of the Student Agency Improvement Community. This partnership with the Carnegie Foundation and other schools has led HTHMA to seek to understand and measure student agency at the school. These efforts focus on three components of student agency: growth mindset, belonging, and value or relevance. This year HTHMA is beta testing a student agency survey developed by the Carnegie Foundation. The survey seeks to provide insight into current levels of student agency at HTHMA. This student agency data has been disaggregated by gender, grade level, race / ethnicity, and free or reduced lunch status to identify trends concerning student agency within the diverse HTHMA student body. My director asked me to analyze this data and prepare a series of three thirty minute PD sessions for the staff about each of these three components of student agency.
Developing Professional Development around Student Agency Data
The goals of these PD sessions were to expose teachers to this baseline data, explain how the data was gathered, identify patterns in the data, and to highlight some research based practices to help students cultivate each of the student agency competencies. I worked with Robert to prepare a structure for this presentation that would achieve these broader goals. We also sought to generate open ended conversations about discrepancies in the data amongst various groups of students. The hope is that these conversations will push teachers to implement practices that develop student agency competencies for all learners and thus lead to more equitable outcomes for students of color. Each of the presentations would focus on one component of student agency as defined by the SAIC: mindset, belonging, and value.
We decided to start each presentation with a concise explanation of what the research suggested teachers could do to support students developing that particular student agency competency. We wanted to keep it brief and provide some specific advice for teachers about what they could do. We particularly wanted to highlight some key interventions identified in the SAIC concept paper (2013) because enhancing student agency has the potential to support diverse learners in achieving more equitable outcomes:
Academic mindsets are evident in students who believe they have the capacity to learn, see value in the learning context, and feel a sense of belonging in school. Together with learning strategies, fostering these mindsets in students’ classroom experiences has the potential to catalyze the effect of ongoing structural reforms, resulting in deeper improvements in outcomes for all students, and underserved students in particular (p, 1).
We wanted to bring attention to the idea that we could measure the extent to which these competencies were being realized and that there were specific interventions teachers could implement to grow student agency.
The next phase of the presentation consisted of priming teachers for looking at the actual student agency survey data. Priming is an instructional strategy we use as a way of increasing engagement and excitement around learning new information. Judy Willis (2014) explains how priming prepares learners for a new experience:
Among the simplest of these strategies is promoting curiosity — and students’ natural tendency to predict — by advertising the content the same way that a marketing company might. This promotes advance interest, and the resulting questions increase the student curiosity, opening the brain’s attentive intake filter. In short, it preps their minds to engage (p, 1).
To develop teachers interest in the student survey data we used priming by having them work in pairs to make predictions about what the data would show. Specifically, we showed the survey questions and asked them to predict how different groups of students like African American and Latino males or female and male students would respond to those questions.
Teachers were now ready to make comparisons between their predictions and the student agency data. We used a thinking routine developed by Project Zero to scaffold a deeper learning experience for teachers where their thinking was made visible. Ritchard and Perkins (2008) explain that using these types of thinking routines can help: “deepen learning in the content areas and foster thinking skills and dispositions. In our experience, this approach creates a chemistry that can be truly transformative for learners and teachers” (p, 5). Specifically, we used the think, see, wonder thinking routine and asked teachers in pairs to look at the student survey data in pairs and sequentially discuss what they thought of the data, what they saw, and what they wondered.
Finally, we decided to bring the group back together and have a discussion of things that stood out about the data. We wanted to provide a forum for the entire staff to process and respond to the results. Below is a slider which includes each of the three presentations referenced in this reflection.
Reflection on PD Sessions and Value of Student Agency Data
In debriefing the PD sessions with Robert, we concluded that the structures we employed in developing these PD sessions were effective in achieving our goals of exposing staff to the data and facilitating dialogue about student agency competencies at HTHMA. Please watch videos of the feedback I received in the slider at the end of this paragraph. This feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Participants particularly appreciated that the sessions led to a lot of open ended reflection about the experience of different student groups at HTHMA. I did wonder whether the sessions directly influenced teacher practice or whether the data seemed actionable for teachers. The feedback from teachers made it clear that additional professional development sessions would be necessary for teachers to change their practice. Much of the feedback indicated broad support to continue this exact sort of professional development and to focus on specific instructional strategies that could grow these student agency competencies.
During the first phase of the presentation I tried to reference specific interventions that teachers could implement in their classroom. For example, during the value presentation I referenced an intervention where students are asked to write a reflection about how what they are learning might be relevant. This simple intervention has been shown to be very effective according to the SAIC concept paper (2013):
The results showed that students who wrote about the relevance of their science material to their lives were more interested and performed better than those in the control group. This effect was again particularly strong for students with low success expectancies. Students earned 0.8 more GPA points than their counterparts in the control group.
At the same time, I tried really hard to emphasize that the teacher just saying that mindset or belonging are important doesn’t translate to student growth in these competencies. In a Henchinger Report article (2015) Carol Dweck warned of this danger when teachers exhort students to develop a growth mindset without changing their practice: “You can’t just declare that you have a growth mindset.Growth mindset is hard. Many educators are trying to skip the journey.” (p. 2) It is the learning experience or context that the teacher creates for students that leads to growth in these areas.
The teacher feedback I received seems to suggest that a single slide on instruction was not enough. Instead it would be valuable to provide additional PD sessions on how teachers can change their practice to support the growth of these competencies. This is not surprising as supporting staff in changing instructional practices requires more than a one off presentation according to Gulamhussein (2013): “There must be support for a teacher during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.” I would anticipate that we would need to dig deeper to understand what teachers at HTHMA are currently doing to foster student agency and think about what the research suggests as ways of pushing these practices further. This quote also reveals we might need to provide additional support to teachers in implementing new practices like coaching and a sustained focus on developing student agency competencies during future PD sessions.
The priming seemed to serve its purpose and get staff thinking about what the data might reveal. I think it was critical that the priming slide showed the actual survey questions students were responding to so that teachers could anticipate how various students might respond. Walking around I heard a lot of interesting predictions and also questions about the methodology of the survey and whether they were asking the right questions. Asking teachers to make predictions was an effective strategy in that it disrupted what could have been a passive presentation: “Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice” (Gulamhussein, 2013). Throughout the presentation there were opportunities for teachers to actively participate which I think was key to the level of sustained engagement.
Once the survey results were displayed teachers became engaged in conversations around the data and its implications. The thinking made visible protocol was productive in provoking and sustaining conversations. The quality of the conversation did seem to vary based on the data we were discussing. The feedback I received from Robert highlighted the importance of selecting data that illustrated differences amongst groups so that there were things to latch onto and discuss.
The full group discussion at the end of the protocol was dynamic and each of the three presentations had different teachers participating and driving the conversation. For example, the belonging presentation sparked an interesting conversation about gender and confidence and the way this impacted student achievement. The value presentation sparked questions about methodology and whether the survey asked the right questions. These conversations were a good way to start the staff thinking about student agency. Hopefully additional data we will gather later in the school year will show growth in these student agency competencies which we will be able to connect to specific teacher practices. Our participation in the SAIC and the ongoing process of gathering, discussing, and changing practice in response to this data has the potential to make a focus on student agency an ongoing part of PD at HTHMA. Hopefully through this ongoing process we can avoid one of the more common traps of PD:
The one-time workshop assumes the only challenge facing teachers is a lack of knowledge of effective teaching practices and when that knowledge gap is corrected, teachers will then be able to change. Research finds otherwise. It turns out teachers’ greatest challenge comes when they attempt to implement newly learned methods into the classroom” (Gulamhussein, 2013).
Barshay, J. (2015, November 23). Growth mindset guru Carol Dweck says teachers and parents often use her research incorrectly. The Hechinger Report.
Gulamhussein, A. (2013, September 15). Teaching the Teachers. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. (2008, February 15). Making Thinking Visible. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
Willis, J. (2014, September 22). Cognitively Priming Students for Learning. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
SAIC CORE CONCEPT DESCRIPTIONS – ACADEMIC MINDSETS. (2013).SAIC.