by Julie Wright
By now you’ve heard of Ted Lasso, I’m sure. And, if you are like me, at the end of a tough week you just need a little Lasso in your life to rejuvenate. There’s something kind of special, something timely, about Ted Lasso’s one-liners: “With every choice, there’s a chance.” Even though this guy is a fictional character, he sort of feels like a friend, a cheerleader, a coach. I think it’s because his words of wisdom apply to so many educational circumstances. Ted, like many of us, works really hard to be capacity-builders.
Capacity-building occurs when the talents and needs of everyone across the learning community converge to move a school or district in a unified direction. These aren’t one-and-done triumphs–when we build capacity, we create a longer lasting momentum of human potential. . These are enriching experiences that are repeated over and over again. Day after day, month after month, year after year, educators know how to share their knowledge and experiences with others to create a culture of getting better all of the time…together!
Building capacity doesn’t happen overnight, but can be a bucket-filling process when we work off of the good versus harp on the negative. There are many ways to initiate asset-based, capacity building opportunities. Here, I’ll share two do-it-tomorrow ways that I’ve found pretty foolproof.
- Get people reading and talking.
- Get people walking and observing.
Get People Reading and Talking
There’s a reason that pediatricians read medical journals. They need to be informed of the latest research and findings so that they can provide the best care for their patients. Teachers need the same updates. Whether it’s reading and discussing an excerpt, infographic, article, or a chapter of a book, teachers re-fuel their thinking and reboot their practices when they stay current with theory and research.
Invite a small group of teachers to join you during lunch time to talk about a short article or piece of text from a professional book. You can give them the text to read ahead of time or build in reading while eating lunch. Then, discuss the text together. Consider using the this version of the 4 A’s Protocol, adapted from www.schoolreforminitiative.org, to get discussion moving:
Here is a template for an invitation. Adopt or adapt it to fit your needs and purpose.
|Join me for a “Lunch & Learn” on ____________ [insert date and time]. During that time, we’ll be talking about _____________ [insert topic or link to article]. Bring your lunch and I’ll bring a dessert to share. Let me know if you can make it. Hope to see you there!_____________ [insert name]|
Not sure if lunch time is the best time? Well, consider one of these during a different time: Dine & Discuss, Popcorn & Ponderings, or Snacks & Study.
Get People Walking and Observing
Gather a group of curious educators to participate in an asset-based learning walk. Picture this. Administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers on a quest to “sniff out the good” across the learning community. The goal is to capture all of the choices and instructional decisions that were being made and envision all of the chances, or opportunities, that those choices afforded for future student learning.
As you walk from classroom to classroom, have each educator use a note catcher (try one of these!) to capture all of the good happening across classrooms. Instead of collecting and analyzing quantitative data, consider a learning walk focused on data collected by observing students, or kidwatching, in the round. Write down what you see and hear and name how those noticings make a difference to student learning.
By kidwatching, the focus isn’t evaluation. Instead, you and your colleagues give yourself permission to trust your gut, to thin-slice. Thin-slicing refers to the ability to find patterns in events based only on “thin slices”, or narrow windows of experience or data. It’s learned intuition, and it flickers in our minds as we process information to make decisions. Teachers do it all the time in the midst of teaching and watching how students are responding to their instruction. It’s powerful when we deliberately use it as a lens for a learning walk that focuses on what seems to be going well. Strengths; what’s harmonious; productive, uplifting, surprising, and so on. To try it, encourage your colleagues to trust their instincts as they take in–and take notes on—the following:
- Student talk (what students say, discuss, and share)
- Student work (what students write, make, create, design, solve, perform, and do)
- Learning environment (what is on the walls and bookshelves, furniture arrangement, and supplies used for learning)
- Instructional resources (what students read, listen to, or view)
Here’s an excerpt of an example.
Class: US History
Background: The teacher jump started learning time by sharing a series of images with students, asking them to write what they thought the image represented or what was happening in the image. By the end of the class, the students made connections about how each of these images connected to the learning progression question: How do the powerful hold onto power?
|What assets do I see/hear?||How do these assets make a difference to student learning?|
|Student Talk||Ss shared observations of each image with a partner|
Ss tossed around ideas, nudging one another to inspect some images a second time for new or different noticings
As the T nudged ideas, sharing places where Ss could lean in and look closer at certain images, Ss responded verbally and through writing
|Ss shared and gained new ideas from others|
The classroom was filled with S talk
Ss had more than one way to share their ideas and understandings
|Student Work||Ss wrote bullet points, blurbs and sentences about what they thought each image represented or what was happening in the image|
After speaking to others, Ss made new observations using the comment feature in their google doc
|Looking across past entries, it is evident that this activity is repeated (with different images) across time giving Ss multiple opportunities for deeper learning|
|Learning Environment||As Ss entered the classroom, there was gentle lighting in each corner of the classroom, creating a calm, productive atmosphere |
Each S had their own learning space with proximity to peers and T
Each S had access to and could easily see the screen with images and the ability to move closer if needed or wanted
|This classroom invited a mixture of social with academic|
Ss jumped right into the learning at the start of class
|Instructional Resources||Each S had 1:1 access to a laptop, google classroom, and individual digital folders|
Ss were invited to view and review images as often as needed
Instructional resources encouraged risk-taking, connection-making, and integration of ideas
|When Ss have access and autonomy, they are in charge of their own learning|
When Ss make connections, especially through integration, learning can go from surface to deep
So Why Does This Matter?
Capacity-building is one of those terms said so often it becomes a pleasant white noise. It exists as a bullet point in memos and professional learning initiatives. It’s time to make it vivid, real and action-oriented. Whether you are a district leader, a principal, a coach, or a teacher, you have the power to build capacity in students, and in colleagues. Start small. Get people reading, talking, walking, observing, and talking some more. You might focus on students first, and then do the same sleuthing on what leads to meeting a team, department, or building goals.
Begin with the assets you see. Name them, together. Negotiate what they mean in your school. Consider their implications for day- to-day practices. Get curious, and use these insights to frame professional learning questions that are most productive–and most pertinent to your learning community– for future growth together. That’s because with every choice, we uncover new opportunities, or chances, to grow our teaching practices.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Penguin Books Ltd., 2005.
School Reform Initiative – a Community of Learners. https://schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/4_a_text.pdf.
Wright, J. What’s Our Response? Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners. FIRST Educational Resources, 2021.
Wright, J. Side by Side Coaching: 10 Asset–Based Habits That Spark Collaboration, Risk–Taking, and Growth. Benchmark Education Company, 2022.
JULIE WRIGHT is a teacher, instructional coach, and educational consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in rural, suburban, and urban education settings. She holds National Board Certification as well as a B.S. in Education, M.A. in Language Arts and Reading, a K-12 Reading Endorsement, and extensive school leadership post-graduate work, including a pre-K through grade 9 principal license from The Ohio State University. Julie serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Ashland University and is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book (Wright & Hoonan, 2019). Follow Julie on Twitter @juliewright4444 or for more information on how she can support your efforts, visit www.juliewrightconsulting.com.