Reflecting Through The 12 Touchstones

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I recently had the opportunity to interact with McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin.  McREL, for those who do not know, stands for Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.  If you teach in my school district, you are very familiar with McREL’s work.  When I started as an educator, my induction trainings focused heavily on the research of Robert Marzano, and particularly, the book Classroom Instruction That Works (CITW).  CITW served as an essential foundation in the development of my pedagogy, and I self-assess often to make sure I am not losing sight of my core competencies in the classroom.

Through a leadership program I participated in, I became exposed to other McREL works, such as School Leadership That Works and Simply Better, an amazing read that changed how I interpreted data and perceived variance in the classroom.  Goodwin also wrote a book called the The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching.  The touchstones really speak to me, particularly how they are written in first person, active voice.  In my effort to share the 12 Touchstones with our readers, and also for my own benefit, I thought I would write a short series reflecting on each of them.  This is part one of a four-part series on the text.  Today I will cover the first three.

1.      I use standards to guide every learning opportunity

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In an effort to remain transparent, I have an admission.  I cannot stand absolute statements.  If I am an honest person, very rarely can I agree with them.  However, this is an important reality that all teachers need to face every day.  Do I use standards to guide every learning opportunity?  Well, no, not really.  I try to, of course.  Quickly reflect on your gradebook for the entire year…is there one assignment tied to a behavior rather than a standard?  If you have participation grades, completion grades, or any sort of extra credit, chances are you fall in the same boat as me: the impossible perfectionist.  I am not saying, nor are the authors, that one mistake means you failed your students.  If you are thinking about it as I am while I write this, you are implementing the first touchstone.  There are entire books dedicated to this concept and the overarching question of “what do grades mean?”  What I love about the first touchstone is its circular nature.  Good teachers begin planning and teaching with this concept, and they also use it as a reflective assessment post-lesson.  For teachers that I have observed and admire, evaluation post-conferences are nothing to fear because it is the same type of reflecting they already do internally.

2.      I ensure students set personal learning objectives for each lesson

This one is tough, and I do not know many teachers who would admit this is a strength or even a focus.  Sometimes we get caught up on delivering high quality, rigorous instruction, that it is easy to forget that lesson is a template for which every student approaches differently.  Personalized learning is taking over the education world, and for good reason.  Every bit of research and feedback from students tells us that relevant, meaningful learning engages students.  If your district is implementing any type of blended learning or 1:1 program, you have been gifted with tools to create personalized learning experiences for your students.  Of course, it is important to remember that the technology in use is intended to redefine how teachers teach and students learn, and not merely substitute for a textbook and notebook (think SAMR).  Still, technology or no technology, personalized learning goals are possible in any classroom, and there is no excuse to sell one’s students short.  Two important factors help pave the way for personalized learning.  The first one is establishing authentic relationships with students.  The second lies within the third touchstone.

3.      I peel back the curtain and make my performance expectations clear.

One of the simplest things to do while reflecting is to put one’s body in the shoes of a student and listen back to the instructions that he received.  Is there a clear defined learning outcome with examples of mastery for all learners?  Consider this, how many people purchase a piece of furniture, bring it home, and read through the instructions before beginning?  Better yet, how many people start at the back of a LEGO instruction manual?  None, right?  People do not have to do that because they are provided with a model (usually in the form of an image or a display model) that clearly defines the outcome of the task.  Do we do that enough as educators?

Now, consider how frustrating it gets when you find out that you made a mistake during assembly, and you have to go back and do it again.  Stinks, right?  To make matters worse, we were provided with a model of the solution!  Imagine the frustration for a student who is unable to visualize a teacher’s expectations, does the very best she can do, and receives feedback telling her that she did it wrong.  That’s not right!  If we are not careful as educators, we would do this all the time.  The message from this is clear, and it is nothing revolutionary: begin with the end in mind, then create personalized paths to get there.

In part two, we will explore touchstones four through six.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a note with feedback so I can grow as well!