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November 17, 2013


A Simple Focus

by Chris Lindholm

The Right ReasonsA presentation I listened to last week by Kim Gibbons, Executive Director of the St. Croix River Education District, brought me back to a great synthesis of education research that I wrote about in a 2011 post.  Her main argument was that the best thing we can do to better serve our students with special needs is to improve core instruction – what happens in our classrooms to meet the needs of all students.  She presented John Hattie’s research with polish and focused on a simple question and my ongoing soapbox – how do we better align our practices with what research says is best practice?


The past several months has been a flurry of activity for me stepping into the superintendency in a great community in north central Minnesota.  Each time I’ve been asked about my vision for the school district my answer has been the same.

  • There is no magic bullet, however –
  • We have more research and know more than ever before about effective teaching and effective school practices
  • The vision is simply to align our practices to that research

So what does that mean in practical steps?

It means that any school or district serious about increasing student achievement will invest heavily in building the capacity of faculty and staff to deliver on more effective practices.  The deep well of literature and research on professional learning communities makes very clear that the adults in a school must engage in ongoing collaborative inquiry processes that drive continuous improvement.  This means organizing each school into collaborative teams who are mutually accountable for specific results and then working together with a tenacious focus on improving those results.  This means investing in time for teachers to observe each other teach, to work together to clearly articulate what each student is to know or be able to do, to compare results, and to engage in healthy debate about how to better meet the needs of a student.  This means that a community serious about improving results must invest in time for teachers to learn and practice – which doesn’t happen when they are teaching students.  I often compare this to expecting a football team to compete every day without practices – or an orchestra to make everyday a concert.  I argue that the work of a masterful teacher – or of a school that is truly functioning as a system – is far more complex, scientific, and artistic than any football game or orchestra concert.  And yet we somehow think it’s supposed to work without any practices…

John Hattie has posted the slide show below to Slideshare.  Towards the end he lists the effects that his research identifies as having the least influence, the most influence, and some of the effects in the middle of the continuum.   Doesn’t it make sense that we should focus our efforts on the strategies or approaches that have the most significant leverage to increase learning?  If we really care about increasing learning, why are we so excited about some of the ones that have little effect?  My vision is simply to align our work with what the research supports.  Make sense to anyone else?  

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 17 2013

    What I enjoy about your posts Chris it’s not a lot of hyperbole or ivory-tower visions. Simple, realistic viewpoints on what we need to do in educaiton. Last year when I worked in assessment, I dove into Hattie, William, Wiggins and Stiggins…all the research is pretty clear on what’s important. Not much is more important that timely, descriptive feedback. You don’t need Marzano or DuFour to cosult your school to pull that out.

    I saw that Hattie has a new one out – need to check that out too.

    • Nov 17 2013

      Good to hear from you Nathan. It’s been a long time since I’ve been blogging regularly and your encouragement is welcomed!

      Thanks for pointing me towards Hattie’s new book. I have it, but I haven’t read through it closely yet. It’s definitely on the list!

      Indeed, leadership is about making the complex simple. I don’t believe it’s rocket science to argue that we must align our work to research, however we have to convince our communities to pony up the cost of that work. We have to help others understand that this is complex work requiring great study, research and ongoing practice. We’re doing our part to redefine how we use PD – now we need to communicate that to gain support to fund it.

      I hope all is well with you Nathan. Keep up your leadership work making a difference for kids!

      • Nathan Mielke
        Nov 18 2013

        Redefining PD is the key to so much Chris. Moving beyond one-size-fits-all is so important as we tell folks they need to differentiate for their students. Working in a 1:1 school, I’m not trying to push all the things Think Tanks or vendors think you should be doing. I believe we just start with being able to do basic things in Google Docs, like comments, because all the research is behind the importance of timely, descriptive feedback.

        The other more complex and deeper pieces will come with time, but I think it’s good to start by focusing on simple things…

  2. Nov 20 2013

    Sounds a lot like Michael Fullan’s term “simplexity…” Love it!


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