Compliance is Not the Mission

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” — Daniel Pink

Teachers love it when their students are compliant. What’s not to like about it? It makes their jobs easier.

Even as assessment practices continue to move away from marks and toward standards-based grading, some stubbornly cling to the idea that assessment should reflect obedience to the rules of school. Nowhere is this more true than in the gym, where many PE teachers still assess students entirely on attitude and effort (ie. compliance), ignoring standards-based assessment.

The more you obey, the higher your mark.

But that’s a whole other post.

The truth is that there’s little correlation between compliance and learning. In fact, many of the characteristics of growth that we look to see in our students don’t fit at all within cultures of compliance. Risk-taking, self-advocacy, creativity, design planning, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, and an innovator’s mindset aren’t welcome when the only objective is to follow the rules.

Ouch.

Playing the Game of School

Compliant students are masters at playing the game of school. They’re great at coloring within the lines. They follow instructions meticulously and without a hint of pushback. They’re the students who most frequently ask teachers questions like these:

  • “Do you want this in pen or pencil?”
  • “How many words does this need to be?”
  • “Can I change the font for this assignment?”

These are the students who obsess about performance details, so visibly anxious about violating one of our all-knowing wishes that they cannot rest until they are assured that they 1) have crystal clarity on the rules of the task and 2) are playing safe within those rules.

A part of that behavior is endearing, almost. Like I said off the top, absolute compliance makes our jobs as teachers easier. As in a dictatorship, citizens who keep their heads down and obey without question are easier to manage and control.

And yet it’s when we frame compliance in political paradigms like these that we begin to see the problem. We know that critical thinking, resistant journalism, and protest movements are all essential to the health and function of vibrant democratic systems. It’s when too many citizens shut up and do nothing that power runs amok and abuses multiply like disease.

Give Autonomy When Possible

As teachers, we can’t give up 100% control in our classrooms. For the good of our learners, our little nation-states might still operate closer to benevolent dictatorships than pure democracies where every decision is made by referendum.

But we can take baby steps toward sharing more of our control and giving more autonomy than we have in the past. Allowing — even requiring — our students to become agents of their own learning, to become masters of creative decision-making, to evaluate their own learning critically.

Practically speaking, we can share control by giving students greater voice and better choices, by allowing them to co-create assessment tools, by inviting them deeper into the assessment process through more self- and peer assessments, by allowing them to follow their own curiosities and direct their own learning through models of inquiry.

When we share more control and give more autonomy, we’re creating an environment where “Why are we doing this?” is not regarded as a threat to be stifled but a thoughtful invitation to a healthy conversation.

When I think about what’s important for our learners, I keep coming back to the 4 Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Compliance isn’t on that list.

Because building a culture of compliance isn’t the mission.


by @MisterCavey

Episode 63 – Greg Moffitt

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GREG MOFFITT is a dad, husband, and the principal at Winters Elementary School in Winters, California. He’s also a doctoral student at UC Davis and a big education geek. Greg has set the audacious goal of reading through all of the books from Dave Burgess Consulting in 2019! Follow his reflections and reviews (along with those from teammate Kali Slusser) at http://readlikeapirate.wordpress.com.

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Episode Summary

Greg recalls the end of the last school year when a staff member gave him the truth, point blank: “You’re not smiling anymore.” A number of people on his staff team had been going through some difficult challenges, and as he felt the weight of his team Greg also found himself questioning his own work. Was he doing enough? But after receiving this challenge – and a strong encouragement to read Lead Like a Pirate – Greg started to rediscover his passion and joy. In addition to the book (and other books like Culturize and Lead with Culture), Greg began building a positive PLN on Twitter and gained enormous strength and encouragement from other education leaders there. He’s never looked back, and he describes this turning point as “life-changing.”

One thing that excites Greg about the state of education today is that social-emotional learning is finally getting the recognition and appreciation that it has always deserved. Emerging research and improving resources are helping educators better understand the needs of kids and connect with their hearts and minds. In Greg’s view, SEL skills aren’t soft skills – they’re essential in leadership and in life.

Greg and his staff instructional coach, Kali Slusser, are aiming to finish reading all the DBC books through 2019 at a pace of one per week. They were inspired by Alicia Ray (@ILuvEducating), and they’ve been tracking their learning at readlikeapirate.wordpress.com. Part of Greg’s professional goal here is to implement at least one idea from each book into his professional practice throughout the year.

Any time he can find the time to get outside and go for a hike, Greg likes to do exactly that. Getting outside energizes him, and whether it’s by the mountains or the sea, reconnecting with nature is such a valuable spiritual practice. He dreams of one day becoming a park ranger and helping others gain a greater appreciation for the positive power of the wild.

Greg loves checklists. He gains momentum from checking things off, and he’ll even add items he’s already completed to his checklist just so that he can check them off. Dr. Todd Cutler suggested he focus in particular on the most important priorities to hit every single day, and Greg now operates according to a 5-4-3-2-1 get-to list: 5 classroom visits, 4 documents or publications to update, 3 recess appearances to connect with kids, 2 check-ins with staff members, and 1 handwritten thank-you note. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it helps him stay focused on what matters most.

Greg’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape His Practice

On Twitter, Greg recommends following @MrsHankinsClass and @heARTISTatWORK. These two educators are non-stop sources of positive creativity and inspiration!

In terms of edtech, one tool that Greg has used with great success this year is Facebook Live. It’s been a great tool to engage the parent community and share learning activities between home and school.

Greg shares two book picks. The first is A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, and the second is The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman. Follow the authors of A Mindset for Learning at @MrazKristine and @Christine_Hertz.

Who can’t use another great education podcast to listen to? Greg recommends listening to Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast, hosted by @Joshua__Stamper.

A YouTube channel that will keep us smiling and interested is Rice Farming TV. Follow this great family on Twitter @RiceFarmingTV.

On Netflix, the Moffitt family pick right now goes to Fuller House. When the kids are in bed or Greg has a few minutes to make his own pick, it’s The West Wing.

Follow Greg.

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

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Song Track Credits

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Episode 62 – Beth Houf

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BETH HOUF is a mom, middle school principal, passionate leader & learner, and forever teacher. She’s also the co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. Interact with her on Twitter @BethHouf and engage with ideas from her book at #LeadLAP.

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Episode Summary

Beth is the principal of Fulton Middle School in Fulton, Missouri. She serves about 600 students in Grades 6, 7, and 8. After fifteen years of teaching and leading in elementary contexts, this is her fourth year at Fulton MS. Beth also serves as a facilitator with the state department’s regional leadership academy, and she mentors new principals in Missouri leadership program.

Beth began her administration career in the pressure-packed atmosphere of No Child Left Behind. School test scores were low, requiring the school to issue letters to families in the community saying that the school was a failing school. What a culture-killer! In response, Beth worked hard to move the needle and improve test scores, instead of putting her focus on building school culture. She worked so hard, in fact, that she began to approach a state of burnout, and found herself considering leaving education for a career in nursing. Then in 2014, she attended the NAESP Conference and met Jay Billy, who showed her how to engage better and smarter with other education leaders on Twitter. He also encouraged her to connect with Dave and Shelley Burgess, and Beth soon saw the value of TLAP principles in education leadership.

Lead Like a Pirate was first born out of Beth’s passion for the principles taught in Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. After she began building a workshop that would apply the #TLAP principles to leadership contexts, Dave and Shelley Burgess encouraged her to put her ideas and content into print. As she wrote Lead Like a Pirate, one of Beth’s main concerns was to ensure that other administrators didn’t have to experience the levels of fatigue and burnout that she once experienced. Yes, there will be times when we get discouraged or down, but she doesn’t want education leaders to feel like they are all alone or don’t have a support system. Beth wanted to archive best practices and resources but also start to build an active community of education leaders.

When she’s not focusing on education leadership inside and outside of her own context, Beth loves to read. In particular, she loves to do online read-alouds, book talks, book tasting, and any opportunity to connect books with kids and light their passion for reading.

Beth sees improvement as a daily process. She starts each day by reading a blog post — her favorite is one from Rich Cryz (@RACzyz). She also tries to stay current in leadership practices within and outside education and takes in professional development whenever she can. She welcomes free opportunities like #DitchSummit with Matt Miller, and although she’s not currently contemplating a PhD, that’s a possibility in her future. She also talks about her efforts to further promote and amplify the voices of other culture-builders, including Lead with Culture by Jay Billy, Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, and Balance Like a Pirate by Sarah Johnson, Jessica Johnson, and Jessica Cabeen.

Beth enjoys traveling, experiencing other cultures, reading non-fiction, and sampling wines. She traveled to Alaska in October and was blown away by the phenomenal educators there who face overwhelming obstacles. Beth also enjoys sampling and learning about new wines. The best trips are the ones that combine education and pleasure. And when her boys hit on a new area of passion, she finds extra motivation to get involved herself.

Beth starts each day by getting up before anyone else to just relax with coffee and the news. Just the act of sitting quietly for 30-40 minutes gives her to calm she needs to start her workday in a good head space. She also leans on social media to improve parent engagement and involvement, so she makes sure she is taking pictures and video whenever she can as she gets into classrooms. She finds that the best documentation of learning happens right then, in the moment. Beth also calls herself a mobile principal. She carries her backpack with her wherever she goes so that she can get work done wherever she is and not remain tied to the desk in her office.

Beth’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape Her Practice

On Twitter, Beth points first to a couple of hashtags – #FMSTeach and #LeadLAP. She also recommends following co-author @Burgess_Shelley and publisher @BurgessDave and @DBC_Inc.

Beth’s edtech recommendations focus on effective visual communication. She points out Quik, Canva, Poster My Wall, and Smore. Follow these great platforms on Twitter @Quik_App, @Canva, @PosterMyWall, and @SmorePages.

In books, Beth just finished The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Maia  Szalavitz. She also recommends Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education by Brad Gustafson. Follow these three authors on Twitter @BDPerry, @Maiasz, and @GustafsonBrad.

Looking to add some more great education podcasts to your podcast deck? Check out Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales and Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast. Follow these educators on Twitter @cultofpedagogy and @Joshua__Stamper.

Beth is admittedly not a YouTube subscriber, but she does mention the Fulton Public Schools channel. Check it out here: Fulton Public Schools.

When she is able to find a little Netflix time, Beth has been enjoying flashbacks from The Nineties.

We sign off on this conversation, and Beth gives us the best ways to follow her online. Find her On Twitter @BethHouf, on Instagram @BHouf, and check out Lead Like a Pirate on Amazon.

Follow Beth.

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

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Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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The Joy of Food in Education

When it comes to building a positive staff culture, food is an easy win.

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My last two weeks of work have been highlighted by three wonderful, encouraging, food-fuelled community events. Perhaps your school context has enjoyed similar experiences.

The first came at the end of a Friday two weeks ago. I was exhausted. It had been a long day, a long week, and a long reporting period. With weeks of marking, reporting, and written comments in the rearview mirror, I was ready for a break.

Thank God it’s Friday.

Then came the call to head to our multipurpose room. Obediently, I headed over, not sure if we had a staff meeting on the schedule and definitely not expecting what came next.

A Friday Fiesta

As I entered the room with colleagues, we were greeted by an amazing Mexican-style spread: tortillas, taquitos, salsa, corn, and a handful of other delectable items up for grabs. Two of our administrators had put together a full-blown margarita bar, replete with bartender aprons and ingredients for custom orders.

Plates were filled and glasses poured. Teachers ate at round tables around the room, talking and laughing as Mexican music provided ambience. It was a fun way to end the day and the week, and I left with a spring in my step that I didn’t have at the last bell.

A Christmas Banquet

On Friday night, my wife and I attended an elegant Christmas banquet for the entire staff of our 1500-student community. And when I say all staff, I mean administrators, teachers, education assistants, facility managers, custodians. Everyone. And their partners, too.

Planning and preparation for the evening had begun a full year in advance, and it showed. The food was magnificent, the conversations were enlightening, and the entertainment was fun. I was able to get to know colleagues and their partners on a whole new level. It was a great evening.

A Staff Luncheon

The third event to make this highlight roll was a staff luncheon two days ago. This time, a small army of staff volunteers worked through the entire morning to prepare a delicious home-cooked Christmas feast.

Tables were set, candles were lit, and staff enjoyed an extended lunch to enjoy great food and great company. More great conversations, laughs, and shared experiences. Main courses, desserts, and beverages were available in such quantities that a follow-up meal was required to exhaust them all.

The Incredible Power of Food as Culture-Builder

Looking back at these three highlights, I’m struck by the power of food to do what it does. I get it — it’s no great revelation that food makes people happy. But in the context of school communities, food is an amazing facilitator.

1. It brings everyone into the same physical spaces.

Let’s face it — staff teams generally don’t congregate in their entirety unless required to. If you’re like me, sometimes a lunch break is best spent catching up on email, planning, marking, or checking items off the infinite task list. On other days, the 4.5 hours spent with students between 8:00–12:45 simply demands a few precious moments of peace and quiet. Sanity recovery.

But feasts like the one we enjoyed on Monday trump all those demands. Everyone shows up, because you don’t say no to a home-cooked Christmas feast.

Food has a way of bringing everyone together.

2. Food facilitates longer conversations and builds relationships.

I think back to our Christmas banquet on Friday and the fun conversations at our table. I was able to connect with other teachers and education assistants on our teaching team, and I was able to get to know their partners as well. We talked journalism, real estate, life histories, infertility, and a host of other topics both light and serious. By evening’s end, I knew everyone at the table a little better than I did before.

Opportunities to have longer, relaxed, and unlimited conversations with colleagues are few and far between. And none of it would happen without great food.

3. Food events level the lunch field.

This point is a lighter one to be sure, but to me, there’s something unifying about everyone eating — if you’ll excuse the cattle reference — from the same trough. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, there’s something there that quietly signals we’re all in this together.

4. Nothing says “we care” like the act of serving up a great meal.

It might be the most obvious point to be made here, but at the end of the day it may still be the most potent. As we know from Abraham Maslow, food speaks to us on deep physiological and emotional levels that we don’t always fully understand or recognize.

When administrators and education leaders go to the effort of providing a meal, it is noticed. It’s a gesture that says you are welcome, you are loved, you are appreciated.

A good meal builds positive morale, energy, and optimism on a team and in a building. As these factors tick upward, the quality of instruction, creativity, growth, and learning on the part of our lead learners can’t help but increase as well.

When it comes to building a positive staff culture, food is an easy win.