OneThing44: Team Capacity means what?

Building Instructional Team Capacity is about Skill and Knowledge

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team's capacity to instruct young people:  acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers.  These are two quite different things.  One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, very little learning will occur.

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team’s capacity to instruct young people: acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers. These are two quite different things. One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, not much learning will occur.

As I think about my School Change Model and build its components, more elements open up to detail.  Admittedly, what is here is but an 80,000 foot view of only one component of school change: how teachers respond to gaps in student learning and improve their craft.  My thinking in these areas flows out of 25 years in classroom instruction and 12 years as an administrator (there’s a six-year overlap in there!) . . . and I am still learning!

The focus on the School Change Model this week has been on the critical stocks that constitute Team Capacity:  Pedagogical Skill and Knowledge of Teens.  

Considerable research in the last 15-20 years (Joyce, Marzano, Lemov, Danielson) and even more so in the last five years (ASCD, Gates Foundation MET) have resulted in clearly effective High-Impact Instructional Strategies that sustain ordered and respectful classrooms where teachers engage students in learning.  Researchers throughout the world  have verified the efficacy of various strategies and tools.  And teachers can (and should) learn these strategies to improve their capacity.

Likewise, what we know about teenagers has grown in the last decade in a few key areas:  cognitive science provides insight in not only brain development but also brain function –  how people learn, how and why people forget things, what happens neurally when children learn (Bjork, Coyle, Dweck).  In addition, cultural competence (West, Singleton, Gay, Payne)  is a critical set of conscious awareness and strategies that help teachers (everyone, really) build empathy for the students entrusted to their care.

Students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

A few of the resilient, beautiful, aspiring students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

At De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, the staff is about 80% white whereas nearly 80% of students are ethnic minorities, life experiences that generate quite different world views and aspirations.  As Cornel West’s famous book asserts, race does matter.

I am trying to map a system of change:  what are the key stocks within our bounded system, and how can we leverage them to improve student learning?  Maybe you can help me think this through.


OneThing43: let’s hear it for the Instructional Team!

The School Change model includes vital feedback

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team.  In the argot of education, the gap is often called the "problem of practice."

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team. In the argot of education, the gap is often called the “problem of practice.”

So . . . I’ve asserted a key relationship in the School Change model:  the Capacity of the Instructional Team increases  Student Learning.  But how might that actually occur?

In this model iteration, I’ve added a series of thoughts specific to that question.  Names in the parentheses are educational researchers whose work, among others, substantiates the claims.

  • The Instructional Team sets the learning target  (Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, et al)
  • The gap between the Target and what students actually know or can do drives the action of the team (Doug Lemov, Elizabeth City, et al)
    • Once the problem of practice is well known, the instructional team conducts research for effective practices
    • The instructional team conducts Professional Development sessions to learn those effective practices
    • The instructional team implements those new practices

This reinforcing loop establishes the key instructional feedback for any teacher:  having established what my students should know or be able to do, I research the most effective means of providing that learning and then I follow through.  There would need to be another reinforcing loop (or two) that includes teacher assessment of student progress, and administrative assessment of whole team efficacy with those new methods; but I purposely left that out for now just to underscore the primary feedback loop driving classroom instruction.

What to include and exclude in the model now starts to take on importance as my representation flowers into increasing complexity.  Even so, my core thinking about how all this works remains explicit.  What questions come to you as you consider this model for School Change?

OneThing42: it’s the Instructional Team that teaches

The Instructional Team’s Capacity is the stock to change

Team2I spent a week reconsidering a very small start: what are the key stocks in the system of school reform. And I changed my mind. It is NOT a single teacher’s capacity, but the composite Instructional Team Capacity that makes the critical difference.  So, at the very heart of a school reform is a team of professionals committed to the learning of a group of students.  And those professionals are themselves learning. 

The difference is they already know how they learn.  They have to figure out two things:  first, what is it they wish their students to know and be able to do; and second, how do their students learn?

The School Reform Model version 1.5

With the Connector I suggest a relationship between these two Stocks.  Notwithstanding a few model-building niceties that will need altering, the core assumption is explicit.  This helps us ask questions about my idea . . .

Some questions come to mind

  • What do you have to do to build up an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • Mustn’t there be an minimal and optimal effectiveness of an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • What could an Instructional Team do (or a Student do) to slow or stop the forgetting of what a student learns?

These are a few things I will address in next week’s version of the model.  I am hoping you might comment on these questions . . . and that would help with the model.

OneThing24: Br. Jack and La Salle science students to the rescue!

Restoring a salmon run in Yakima Valley

La Salle High School students wade into the Ahtanum Creek to assist with salmon restoration

About 140 miles east-by-north-east from Portland, the Yakima Valley of Washington state opens the high desert land to the traveler in a dramatic way:  crossing the Ahtanum Ridge, one sees an expanse of orchards and rivers and mountain peaks that dazzle anyone from a city.  It fulfills the epic imagination needed to comprehend the term “promised land.”

And then one drives into the cities – Toppenish, Union Gap, Yakima.  It’s an area slammed by lean times, and the deep source of prosperity – the land and water – has been used hard for decades.  At La Salle High School in Union Gap, the small school established on 40 acres abutting Ahtanum Creek, students and an iconic teacher decided it was time to swim with the fishes. Along the riparian zone edging the school’s property, Br. Jack Henderson, FSC, and his students have started plantings and, recently, received a grant to start a salmon hatchery.

It’s the kind of thing all schools ought to be doing – noting its special place amid its environs and putting the collective intellect and physical capacity at the service of the local community.

Br. Jack presides over the raceway with the Ahtanum Ridge and riparian zone in the background

Here in Union Gap, La Salle students under Br. Jack’s tutelage, ever so methodically, restore and recover the salmon runs of the Ahtanum watershed, however minute its spread within the broader Yakima Basin and Columbia River Watershed.   In the small-scale operation that is La Salle’s salmon hatchery, their two raceways house fewer than 25,000 alevins.  Each morning before school and, again, before they leave for the day, students walk from classrooms to the far end of the property to feed the flickering fry, soon to be released in the spring time Ahtanum flow.

More and more high schools near waterways are doing this.  It’s the perfect, engaging kind of academics that teenagers are naturally drawn to.  At Warrenton High School at the mouth of the Columbia River, students have established the Warrenton High Fisheries Inc. (, and it is succeeding.  (Over on the far right of this page, you’ll see Moving+Things – click on “Life Cycle of Salmon.”)

This direct work of managing some aspect of a complex system enables students to comprehend the precarious time-bound interplay of multiple forces . . . how all those disparate things are really one thing.

La Salle science students

Some parts of our ecosystem are – in fact – in terrible shape, but students can play a part in restoration.  It’s likely to take a few generations to right the ship. Fortunately, there are teachers like Br. Jack and students like those at La Salle High School in Union Gap who give us hope.

QuickThing2>Let’s hear it for beer!

Many western waterways go bone dry, creating high tension for water rights and jeopardizing our pursuit of the perfect pint.

Ben Franklin, noted scientist and reputed lush, once soberly spake: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” And it just may be that beer holds the secret to our sustainable future.

The annual dry river and creek beds of the West demonstrate Garret Hardin’s classic tale of how the tragedy of the commons meets our deep love of fresh water and a quality pint of ale.  This Montana story of water rights, litigated for decades from a perspective of economic priorities, brings locals to the brink of a broken system.  Thank God . . . it’s beer to the rescue!  Using an ingenious systems approach, locals were able to create a thoughtful market solution that returned water to the streams. And kept local ales on the shelf and in the pub.

A restored Prickly Pear Creek

It helps if you drink a pint as you watch!

Rob Harmon: How the market can keep streams flowing | Video on

QuickThing1>Michael Pawlyn: Using nature’s genius in architecture | Video on

In this TED video, the erudite and polished Michael Pawlyn speaks about bio-mimicry as a deep reservoir of successful design we have barely tapped. There are “three really big changes” we need to bring about, among them is a change from “linear to closed loop thinking.”

If I were to dream a dream, it is that we teach closed loop thinking most of all. View > Think > Enjoy.

Michael Pawlyn: Using nature’s genius in architecture | Video on

OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect

Gregory Bateson tells us that we ought always look for the “pattern which connects.”

Gregory Bateson

I first stumbled upon Gregory Bateson while a college student and working at a local book distributorship. Our customers were college and university libraries, and one of them had purchased a beautiful hardbound copy of Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity.  I stood there, over the packing table, thumbing through the book filled with words I’d never seen before:   stochastic, lineal, ostensive, morphogenesis, and homology. At least I could pronounce them, and that was enough to seduce me.  And then this: what is the pattern that connects all living things?

My own prized copy

It was the first mind-stretching book I read in my life.  Some parts of it completely escaped me (some still do), but I kept at it, mesmerized by the language and that recurring phrase, “search for the pattern that connects.” The chapter on “Every Schoolboy Knows” I read and reread – it is where I received one of the intellectual gems of my feeble scientific interest: “science never proves anything.”  It was hard to take.  Take in, that is.  Every paragraph punched me in my paradigm.

It’s still punching today.  The premises of thought upon which all our teaching is based are ancient and, I assert, obsolete.

To the extent we create and inhabit a built environment opposed to nature, attempting to obliterate nature – covered from rain, warmed by a furnace, cooled by air conditioning, transported by car, bus or jet, elevated by escalators and elevators, cleansed in showers, filled with store-bought food, clothed by fabrics milled and stitched by machines – we engender a damning separation of mind and nature.

Even now, short paragraphs slip from my grip: ” we have to show that the difference between two consecutive summations of odd numbers is equal and always (emphasis his) equal to the difference between the squares of their ordinal names.”  From which I eventually culled cardinal and ordinal. All these dazzling words made me giddy – fun to speak aloud, but empty of meaning, at least then.  Here, then, in Gregory Bateson’s esoteric tongue were the emanations of my imaginative life breaking free of something.

The world I grew up in was not a pile of parts; it was one all thing.

OneThing19: sappy Mindwalk may still help us

We will need to change our paradigm from a mechanistic one to an organic one

"Mindwalk" appeared in theaters in 1990 with Liv Ullman, John Heard, and Sam Watterson

In a movie reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre, Mindwalk came to the big screen over 20 years ago.  It is not likely that this film would play more than a weekend; even then, the venues would be independent, neighborhood theaters.  It’s just people walking around, in a spectacular place of course, but they’re just talking about ideas.  The vast monolithic paradigm is cracking at every conceivable corner and bend and fold.  You can’t see it happening, of course.  It’s all going on in your head as you listen to this.  To readers of this blog, you’re probably already there.  When this first appeared, not so much.

Fritjof Capra’s brother Bernt produced the film.  It is set in Mont Saint-Michel, France.  The set up:  a US politician goes to visits his friend in France, and they join up with Sonja, who tells them about Systems Theory.

The acting is, well, not really acting. Cheese-ball comes to mind.  They walk and talk.  It’s a lecture on a stroll, a Chautauqua on the beach.  It might also be a great way to introduce this idea.

OneThing13: the model’s the thing

The-Map-is-not-the-Territory Guy

He’s looking a bit put out, isn’t he?  Poor Alfred Korzybski, he looks as if no one has paid his ideas any mind. And he’s probably right.

If your average teenager stumbled upon this image, just how fast might the back button be pushed?  He’s serious, he’s old, he has words like “multiconditionality” on the board, and it’s a black and white photograph.

But I am thinking that he and folks like him – Gregory Bateson also comes to mind – are exactly what’s needed in the schools of education across the US.

What does it mean, as Korzybski famously said,  that “the map is not the territory”? Let me take a stab.

I really don’t know what the United States looks like.  Out my window in Milwaukie, Oregon, (suburb south of Portland), I see the roofs of two houses, the tops of 11 Douglas Fir trees, the empty branches of one poplar and two maples, and 14 electrical wires stretched from one pole to houses and posts out of my vision.  The sky is cloud-covered.  The vegetation dormant.  In other words, I know what my dot of the US looks like (45.4559 x -122.6084); and I know what it looks like right now.  At night? Yesterday? Tomorrow?  Hard to say with any accuracy.  I can also faintly recall a few places I’ve been, some more frequently than others:  Mt. Hood, the Oregon Coast, my parents house in SE Portland; and some places just once: Burlington, VT; Moab, UT; in my high school girlfriend’s basement.

Now, I have flown over vast stretches of the United States.  I have stood on both coasts.  And I’ve looked at magazines and photographs of various places all over the country.  I even have a jar of dirt from my grandparents farm in Nebraska.  And we have a map of the United States in the kitchen.  I visit my family in Seattle, Reno, Eugene, Beaverton, Forest Grove, and Portland.  But I don’t really know much about the United States.

What’s in my head are models, abstractions Korzybski called them.  When our mental models more closely and minutely align with the actual, we live better.  But it’s so hard, since our capacity to experience is shrouded by layers of abstractions, not the least of which is scattered on the screen you are now reading.  When I say “Douglas Fir,” what image pops in your head?

Schools and education are perilously far away from this.  We ought to be about model-building, experimentation, refinement, experiencing.


OneThing11: oey . . . me achin’ capacity

A non-shrugging Atlas

“We have some changes to make, and we need you to help.”

Tell that to 11 board members, 43 employees, 61 corporate partners, 281 students, and several hundred parents and guardians.  Each hears a slightly different thing:  why do we need to change? is something broken?  how much do I have to do? isn’t this your responsibility? you’re right, let’s get going! You mean, things are not OK?  will I get paid extra to work on that? you’re right, things need to change, but you’re way wrong on what to do.

I get it.  In the classic definition of carrying capacity, we focus on a population, its vital resource, and pressures for space. Here, among an cadre of teachers and staff at an urban high school, I am thinking about the stock of will to change, a sustaining spirit and camaraderie bolstering that will to change, and the pressures of moving things at the right pace.

In such a two-stock model, where ought my energies go?

How do we balance collective will and the pace of change?

To the camaraderie, yes?  The esprit de corps keeps a team believing it can tackle huge tasks and change the world.  And we are trying to do this – change destinies one student at a time.

And planning, so that the pace of change is appropriate:  not too fast so that large scale curricular changes remain just ahead of the annual and unit planning that teachers would normally do, but also fast enough so that sufficient change occurs to keep people engaged in change.

It’s a lot to carry.  Done right, I am sure, there are a lot of people who will do the lifting.