What Schools Needs from Society

I recently spoke with a new teacher’s aide who hadn’t sat in a classroom since she was a student. Her eyes were opened to the unique challenges teachers face on a daily basis. A teacher’s job is both extremely rewarding and extremely challenging. Unfortunately, many are feeling the challenges outweigh the rewards…and choosing to leave. There are a number of reasons for this as teaching has always been hard. Now we have things like Covid and TikTok adding worries and stress. 

People who freely criticize educators and school systems speak without truly understanding what it is like on the inside. They often speak without first trying to understand. 

I once heard it said that “somebody who thinks they know how to teach because they were once a student is like somebody thinking they’re an expert plumber because they’ve flushed a toilet.” 

There’s already a critical shortage of teachers. Society must change how it treats and supports educators before the teacher shortage causes doors to close. It is imperative that teachers and schools are held in high regard like they used to be. 

What can society do?

1. Thank a teacher. Do this intentionally, sincerely, and often. 

2. Don’t claim to have the answers when lacking training, experience, or an understanding of research about what works best. This applies to everybody - including politicians. 

3. Don’t believe everything you hear. 

4. When you have a question or frustration, go to the source. Seek first to understand. Don’t assume you know the whole story and vent on social media (or anywhere). 

5. Support needed improvements at the ballot box. 

6. There used to be prestige to entering the teaching profession. Encourage our young people to become teachers. 

7. Become an active member in organizations that support local schools. Donate time and/or resources. 

8. Trust those who have training and experience.

Doug Dunn has over 20 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and administrator. He can be found on Twitter @DougDunnEdS

7 Things Teachers and Leaders Can Learn from Coaches

When we stop to analyze what coaches do on a regular basis to grow individual players and teams, it doesn’t take long to realize they are modeling excellent teaching and leadership strategies. Oftentimes they may not even realize this. It’s just what effective coaches do. 

We can all learn from our coaches, and I hope this reflection encourages all of us to step up our games as we seek to grow the students and teachers we serve.

Below are seven things great coaches do extremely well. 

Great coaches share their vision of high expectations for players and teams. Expectations for personal conduct, individual growth, and team success are discussed regularly during practices, games, and film sessions. A vision and subsequent expectations drive a team’s effort and commitment towards excellence. 

Great coaches are excellent communicators. Not only do they regularly communicate their vision and expectations, but they visit with players individually to offer feedback and evaluation. Their players have the opportunity to share what they believe to be their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they envision their contributions to the team. Together, coaches and players set individual goals for improvement. Coaches will use these opportunities to share with their players what they see as their strengths, where they can grow, and how their contributions can benefit the team.

Great coaches have a team of players who will “run through a brick wall” for them. This doesn’t happen by accident. Great coaches make a point to build relationships by: 
  • Offering regular encouragement
  • Demonstrating care, concern, and interest in their players as people
  • Providing players a voice on the team. Players appreciate when their perspective matters and when they’re empowered with freedoms and responsibilities. 

Great coaches set an amazing example of providing effective feedback. The feedback is timely, purposeful, and followed by an opportunity to demonstrate understanding. It is common for coaches to stop practice multiple times to provide feedback to individuals and the team. Feedback also occurs in games during timeouts, at halftime, and when a player is resting on the bench. This feedback is driven by the vision and expectations which have already been shared by the coach, and understood and agreed upon by the players.

Great coaches must first, and foremost, model expectations of excellence for personal conduct, character, and integrity. Great coaches are also effective at modeling what excellence (success criteria) looks like in their particular sport. They constantly model proper techniques while continuing to provide effective feedback. Players are then able to visualize what success looks like and use their new mental images to correct mistakes and grow as players. 

Great coaches use video so players can see themselves in action. The conversations and feedback during film sessions can be extremely powerful at showing players where they’re performing very well and also areas which need improvement. 

Professional Learning
Great coaches are students of their craft. They constantly seek ways to help their players maximize potential. One way they do this is by searching for new drills to improve their players' fundamentals. Practice time is limited, so it is important to get the team game-ready in the most effective, most efficient manner possible. They observe what other coaches do in case there's something which could be implemented with their own team. Sometimes it's a drill, as mentioned, while other times it's an offensive or defensive set or scheme. If there's a way to make their players or teams better, they are quick to add it to their repertoire. Great coaches are constantly finding ways to learn more about their sport, coaching, and leadership. They do this by networking with other coaches, watching film, observing other coaches in action, reading coaching literature and playbooks, etc. Great coaches understand they do not have all of the answers and must constantly be learning and improving to give their players the best opportunity for success.

Each of the first six things are related to some of the most powerful influences on student achievement according to John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research. The hinge point in the Visible Learning Research is 0.40, which is one year’s growth for one year’s time. Below are effect sizes for some of the strategies mentioned above:
  • Vision, expectations, and goal-setting may be most closely related to Teacher Clarity which has an effect size of 0.75 - almost two years' worth of growth in one year’s time.
  • Student-teacher relationships have an effect size of 0.52.
  • Feedback has an effect size of 0.70. Modeling can also be an important component to feedback.
  • Micro-teaching has an effect size of 0.88.

As I reflect on these seven areas, I am reminded of the need for me to be better with each of them. Whether you serve as a coach, teacher, or administrator, how can these help you foster a culture of growth and excellence?

Doug Dunn is currently athletic director and junior high principal for the Licking (MO) School District. He has previously served as a K-8 superintendent and elementary principal. Doug can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.

Why Students Fear Failure

My 6th grade daughter’s lowest grade during the first quarter was in PE. Her mom and I aren't overly concerned with her grade, though, as it was due to her time running the mile. As I sometimes do, I began making connections between her experience and what sometimes happens in classrooms.

Let's first go back in time to our junior high PE days. Imagine the following scenario:

Today, your PE teacher is showing you how to shoot a free throw. When he is done, you will then go to a basket and shoot 10 free throws. Your grade for this assignment will be based on how many shots you make today. There will be little-to-no feedback, and tomorrow you’ll move on to the next lesson. You were shown how to shoot the free throw, so the skill should be learned and proficiency ready to be demonstrated. You may be told mistakes are okay, but your grade is permanent and based on your abilities immediately after the coach’s instruction.

Sounds familiar? Probably so but not from PE class. This scenario likely played out many times in other classes. As a former math teacher, I regrettably admit this was a common experience of my students. I taught the lesson, assigned work, and collected it the next day to be graded - often times without quality feedback. Students who already understood the material or who “learned quicker” received higher scores. Some may have achieved mastery at a later time, but their scores were lower because learning wasn't demonstrated soon enough – according to my pre-determined learning deadlines. 

It was also common for me to preach that failure is okay. Afterall, we learn from our failures. However, students would learn that failing too early in the learning process meant lower grades. 

Failure wasn't really okay, and I failed to recognize my responsibility in providing feedback in a timely manner.

I could’ve been better, and my students deserved better from me. At that time, grades weren’t about the learning. Grading was done because…well…that’s just a part of school. And feedback? That takes too much time. 

I recently read Making Assessment Work: For Educators Who Hate Data but Love Kids by David Schmittou. In that book, he says:

“If a kid shows today that they can earn a higher grade than they earned three weeks ago, change it. This just shows that you did an excellent job of teaching and inspiring hope. It is not an indictment of the kid. It’s a celebration of your ability to teach.”

May our practices demonstrate we value mistakes and feedback more than grades and pre-determined learning deadlines. By truly rewarding mastery, and the path to get there, we can inspire hope by sending the message that learning is the ultimate treasure.

Doug Dunn is currently athletic director and junior high principal for the Licking (MO) School District. He has previously served as a K-8 superintendent and elementary principal. Doug can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.