Sunday, January 18, 2015

Be curious, not judgmental: I wonder why . . .

Walt Whitman wrote 'Be Curious, Not Judgmental."

I seriously doubt if he was thinking about a high school administrator when he did so, and although I was an English major, I cannot place the context of this quote.

I do fervently believe, however, that curiosity is certainly one of the best characteristics that we should embody as a school administrator, and we should do our best to inculcate and inspire our staff's curiosity as well.

Why?  For one reason, curiosity about all of our decisions about student learning, indeed deep analysis about all of our Professional Learning Community work can only lead to getting better every day at it.  And if we can improve our actions, our mindsets, our dedication to answering the four questions of PLC work, then our student learning can and will be enhanced.

Imagine if every administrator, every teacher, and every same-subject team collaboratively posed "I wonder why" . . .  to these questions as we meet regularly and analyze our student data:

1. What is it we want students to learn? (I wonder why our scope and sequence is effective?  is not effective? I wonder why our learning target work is effective?  is not effective?

2. How do we know our students learned it?  ( I wonder why our students did not perform to their highest ability on our common assessment?)  (I wonder why our D and F rate is higher on the semester exam than on the short cycle common assessments?) (I wonder why there is such disparity on student performance on agreed upon standards by various same-subject team members?)

3. What do we do when students do not learn it? ( I wonder why your students did so much better on vocabulary acquisition on our common assessment?)  (I wonder why some teachers on my team enact effective re-take policies while others do not?)

4. What do we do when students already know it? ( I wonder how we can better use diagnostic data to differentiate for enrichment?)  ( I wonder how we can better implement flexible groupings for enrichment as an instructional practice.)

Certainly posing "I wonder . . ." statements as a collective same-subject team can only lead to best PLC practices and higher student achievement.

In addition, it keeps same-subject team collaboration non-threatening and collegial.  "I wonder . . " statements focus on curiosity among team members and propagates positive team culture and climate rather than negative judgmental comments which may close doors of discussion rather then open them.

As administrators, it is also something important for us to remember.  When we look at same-subject team and/or teacher D and F data, it is important that we choose curiosity and "I wonder" statements in our administrative team conversations and with our staff.  Covey stated it another way: Seek first to understand.  Choose curiosity over judgment.

In the end, the more curious we are, the better we engage in conversations that help us understand the work our teachers and teams are doing each day with our students.  And shared understanding leads to progress and improvement for every student, every day, in every classroom by every teacher. And no one has to ask "I wonder why" to understand the importance of getting better every day and the difference it will make in our students' lives.

Words really can and do make the difference. And now I have data work to do:  I wonder why . . .