Learning Bets
Chapter: Critical Friends

Critiques of this Conversation

The purpose of this “provocation paper” is to help us be critical friends to our own and each others’ assumptions and bets about how teachers best learn.  The ideas and experiences in the previous sections have generated a rich set of conversations and reflections, and in some cases significant programmatic changes.

Here we are collecting some of the comments, questions, and critiques in hopes of catalyzing more of them:

Realizing the Need for More Clear Learning Bets

In our context, we have made lots of bets on how to develop our teachers, but we have never shared them with participants and coaches, and we never frame them in a theory of teacher development.

—Pablo Prince (Enseña por Argentina

I also think that poor adult learning is part of this.  We tend to plan one way for students, and a differently way for teachers. So much adult learning is just lazy.

—Jennifer Brennamen (Teach For All)

Teachers need to have an understanding that there is a lack of clear answers about how to develop great teachers and that much of their own growth in the program depends on their constant and critical reflection on their practice and proactive work seeking out opportunities for development consistent with their personalities, contexts, and goals.

—Nathan Marks (Enseña por Mexico)

We speak as of we are highly convinced about some things related to learning theory, but we are not so convinced when is the time and required effort of IMPLEMENTING them.  (Maybe what is pushing us back is cowardice or, lack of clarity or building stamina or disorienting experiences). It makes me think about when and how we are addressing the HARD questions.

—Ana Tejedor (Ensena por Mexico)

The lack of clear alignment in the Spectra Exercise suggests that we should spend more time aligning definitions and sharing impressions on these areas in order to determine a clear diagnosis of where we currently are as a team. This will be necessary in order to proceed with the next step of setting explicit learning bets.

—Jeff Warner (Teach for Bulgaria)

Reflections on the Costs of a Lack of Clear Learning Theory

The lack of clarity on a theory of development leads us to focus on little things that appear in the field and we tend to solve them all, and we can’t. The trial and error is exhausting and undermines the impact of our teachers.

—Natalia Maldonado (Enseña pos Ecuador)

The process taught me that we all bring in assumptions of what works best, what’s most effective, etc… and that it’s easy to just continue operating under these assumptions. In order to grow as an organization, we need to, in a way, hold nothing sacred and be willing to challenge our assumptions.

—Jeff Warner (Teach For Bulgaria)

I am taking away the importance of being explicit on the bets we are making, AND leaving space to reflect on new bets.  I think our teachers would be able to learn more if they understood this process.

—Tomas Recart (Enseña Chile)

I’m learning the importance of explicitly thinking about the impact that you want your bets to have. I think I’ve been so focused on helping to choose/ prioritize bets that I haven’t asked enough questions about the intended impact of those bets.

—Felicia Cuesta (Teach For All)

While I believe that we are pretty clear in the WHATs and HOWs as an organization, we still have a long way to go in terms of answering what this is going to look like in terms of  the Program and the Organizational level.  I have learned from Mexico and Bulgaria’s model that they have been able to jump this hurdle, which gives me the juice I need to continue using our team further.

—Nissa Gainey (Enseña Ecuador)

Connecting Learning Bets to Purpose

The WHY being at the top of the list is so important. What is your vision and mission? Teach for India is developing leaders in all fields and not specifically expert teachers (partly because of their context – it’s hard to teach in India beyond the two year programme). Their bets on WHAT and HOW are totally different because they are trying to do something totally different. They are in a fundamentally different business. Controversially I don’t think that teaching is leadership. They are connected but not the same thing. If they were the same thing the WHAT and HOW would be the same for both – and it isn’t

—Matthew Hood (Institute for Advanced Teaching, UK)

I think that we need to get better at purpose. If we are building a movement of leaders who are going to unleash the collective power of their communities to achieve social change and the classroom is where they learn the skills they need to do that, what would we do differently? I think that when we think of our teachers as teachers and default this to teacher training, we completely lose sight of their 50 years of leadership after the first two in the classroom.

—Jen Brenneman (Teach For All)

Reflections on the Dialectic of Skills and Mindsets

I also worry that mindsets alone are insufficient for success.  We need to provide teachers with the skills to achieve what those mindsets achieve.  Many of our teachers who leave do so because they feel like they have the mindset but they can’t make the reality fit it…

—Doug Lemov  (Teach Like a Champion, Relay Grad School of Education)

I also worry that mindsets alone are insufficient for success.  We need to provide teachers with the skills to achieve what those mindsets achieve.  Many of our teachers who leave do so because they feel like they have the mindset but they can’t make the reality fit it…

—Harry Fletcher-Wood (Teach First, UK)

We need to look at both mindsets and skills. I think lack of skill turns into a negative mindset. We also need to ensure people have the mindset to persist when times are tough, when they need to push their expectations of that child a little further.

—Louise Preston (Teach For France)

I agree that knowledge and skill building lead to developing mindsets. As a past teacher coach, I never had a teacher ask me “how should I think about this issue?” “What value should I have about this?” “How should I feel about this?”… the questions were always: “what should I do?” “How should I approach this?” And I found that doing something different almost always lead to thinking and believing something different.”

—Tritia Samaniego (Teach For All)

Wondering if I believe this: Mindset is a condition necessary to success…. but success is defined as the development of skills and knowledge.”

—Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion, Relay Grade School of Education)

The Need for and Challenge of Differentiated Teacher Learning

I struggle with the pull between generic and differentiated learning.  I guess this comes from my deep belief that we should do our best to meet learner needs.  In order to do this, we need to make sure we differentiate our delivery of professional development.  Wouldn’t it be unethical to take a generic approach that does not take any learner differences into account?  Wouldn’t that be just reinforcing traditional one-size-fit all models?

—Nissa Gainty (Ensena Ecuador)

How do we individualize our learning bets for teachers considering their diverse priorities, experience, skill level, and mindsets?  I’m assuming it involves making the process of determining learning bets more teacher-centric, but how does that look in practice?  Highly differentiated PD and participant support come to mind, but logistically I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

—Nathan Marks (Ensena por Mexico)

The Need for and Challenge of Collective Learning

I think that collective learning goes with the “science of individual”, if we are truly embracing the concept that everyone is a leader of their own learning and has a unique learning profile…it is necessary for us (societally) to recognize the strengths in others and learn and appreciate diversity of thought backgrounds, etc. in a collective way.

—Rachel Brody (Teach For All)

The Challenge of Learning and Improving

It has been reinforced for me how important prioritization is in terms of making real change.  It is very hard to make lots of changes on various axes.  It is much easier to have one or two driving forces, or axis on which you are going to try to make change, and to try to see that come through in lots of elements of the program.

—Ashley Salmon-Wander (Teacher For All)

I stepped out of [the Roundtable] thinking that there was something missing: all the data that I saw (perhaps I missed some) and the thinking, seemed a bit on the technical side.  I am convinced that if Tim Daly, with the powerful systems that he has, would go into issues such as motivation, conviction, and many of the variables that are difficult to measure but we know make a difference, perhaps he could find some more answers that would share actions.  I value the measurement of how much coaching the teacher gets, but I would also value if that teacher has a dream about their students, and how clear that dream is.  Just the fact that it is difficult to measure doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, it is worth a shot.

—Franco Mosso (Enseña Peru)

One of the biggest challenges is that it is so hard to tell what is working and isn’t that we try to do a little bit of everything or change every year. But part of the reason this is hard is that we haven’t always had a set of student outcomes that we are measuring in order to know what is working.

—Ashley Salmon-Wander (Teacher For All)


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