Big Ideas
Chapter: A North or South Star

(1) Orientation to Vision

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-6-19-48-amAmong the most striking consistencies in the strongest classrooms around the Teach For All network is the vision alignment in those classrooms.  The transformational teachers we have studied align their daily efforts to a clear vision of their students’ future opportunities and leadership. 

The Paradigm of Vision Alignment

These teachers do not think in “check lists” but rather they approach teaching as daily innovations that align to  their aspirations with and for their students. 

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-6-20-51-amThese teachers do not ask themselves only, “What must be true at the end of the year?” or “What must I do well?” but rather they ask themselves “what do my students, their families, and I want to be true for my students’ leadership and opportunity five or ten years from now, and how are my actions today aligned to that vision?” 

These teachers are not driven by a “learn as much as we can each day” mantra, but are instead driven by a “make us much progress as we can toward our vision” mantra.

That is, the strongest teachers in our network are all asking themselves “What t must I do well to ensure that my students leave me on an enduring path to opportunity and leadership in their lives and communities?”   That question—that orientation to vision—leads them to think differently about what outcomes they values, what they want their students’ doing in the classroom, and their own actions and mindsets and growth.

An Illustration

Here’s a story from one of the classrooms we have studied (thank you, Ivy Martinez) that illustrates this “orientation:”

A fifth-grade teacher in San Jose, California named Ivy Martinez started class one day by instructing students to take out books, read a page to themselves and do a worksheet.  Because they class was usually a much more student-led, discovery-learning experience, the students found the instructions strange but did as they were told.  The teacher continued to teach in a pretty rote and superficial way for a while before stopping the class and bringing  students together for a discussion.

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-6-23-06-amShe asked them how class felt.  They told her it was boring and different from usual.  They asked if she was not feeling well.  A student said, “it felt a little bit like some of my other classes.”

Ivy said “Yes, it did.  We have committed together that you will have the choice to attend and succeed in college seven years from now.  Last week, I visited the high school you will attend and I saw some teachers teaching in this way.  I have to tell you—I did not see you, this morning, doing very much to squeeze all of the learning you could out of a class like that.  Let’s talk about how you could do that.”

No rubric of teacher actions prescribes “teach your students in a rote way to generate reflection on how they will handle that two years from now.”  At the beginning of the year, the list of end-of-year outcomes probably didn’t say “students will build ability to learn in a class taught in worksheets.”

But Ivy’s ORIENTATION to their vision of students’ lives seven years into the future led her to think of her own process and her students’ outcomes differently

The Challenge for Our Training & Support Models

Many of the frameworks we use across Teach For All (including Teaching As Leadership and the derivations of that model) are, in essence, maps of actions.  And our new teachers clamor for the concrete clarity and direction of those checklists and rubrics.  Especially for new teachers, those clear maps of actions are invaluable foundations for success.

And yet, we also see risks with those checklists and rubrics if we are not careful to ensure they are seen and used as only valuable insofar as they accelerate progress toward our vision of student success.  Across the Teach For All network we are unified in our commitment to systemic change.  A well-intentioned checklist or rubric can potentially inhibit the vision-driven innovations we need to see in classrooms that will accelerate systemic change for the benefit of our students. 

Our most successful classrooms suggest that action-lists and rubrics can be useful but are incomplete without a (north or south, depending on your hemisphere) star in the sky by which to judge the value of those lists and rubrics.   

How can we develop and support teacher- and alumni-leadership models that more fully embrace vision-driven orientation, and mitigate the risk “check-list” mode of some of our key resources?

Some Resources to Further Explore The Theme of Vision Orientation


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