Transformational Learning and Leadership
Chapter: Acting on Insights

The “Critical Mirror”

You may be thinking:“OK, I am inspired by the spirit of Transformational Learning & Leadership. I get that everything is about alignment to a contextualized vision of student success.  And I understand the patterns of student outcomes, teacher actions, and teacher mindsets that are emerging from strong classrooms across the network… NOW WHAT?!?! What do I do with all of this?!”

Our probably not immediately-helpful answer is: “Use these patterns as a ‘critical mirror’ as you seek to align the outcomes, actions, and mindsets in your teaching model to your contextualized vision of student success.”

And your response is probably: “Blah, blah, blah… But what do you ACTUALLY mean? Give a friend a break and tell me what you’re ACTUALLY talking about!!”

What We Mean By “Critical Mirror”

It’s easiest to explain the “critical mirror” idea by explaining what it is NOT.

  • We should NOT “cut-and-paste” the patterns as a framework for any particular partner organization (because they are generalized, synthesized, and weren’t designed to align to YOUR context’s local vision);
    • instead we should use these patterns to inspire critical thinking about your current choices of outcomes, actions, and mindsets as you attempt to align those choices to your local vision of student success.mirror
  • We should NOT expect any single teacher to embody ALL of these outcomes, actions, and mindsets (because these patterns are a summation of common patterns across many strong classrooms, and no single classroom represents mastery of all the patterns);
    • instead we should encourage teachers to self-reflect on where they are stronger and weaker against the outcomes, actions, and mindsets that are most resonant in your context as means of accelerating teacher growth.
  • We should NOT treat these TLL insights as static (because every new transformational classroom we study has the potential to evolve and improve them);
    • instead we should all consider ourselves to be CONTRIBUTORS to the evolution and testing of these ideas as we use them to think critically about the outcomes, actions and mindsets that best align with our vision of student success.

When we use the metaphor “critical mirror,” we mean that the TLL model in the previous pages should be used to provoke reflection about your classroom or your program’s work to align your outcomes, actions, and mindsets to your local vision of student success. 

It’d be irresponsible to hand teachers or partner organizations a “blank sheet of paper” when we have learned so much from these classrooms.  It’d be impossible for Teach For All to hand a teacher or program a cut-and-paste framework that is aligned to their local contextualized vision of student success.  So, we are aiming for resources that help teachers and programs build from what we have learned and invite them to consider what would align to the local vision of student success.

crit mirror

Illustrating on “Critical Mirror” Idea with an Example

Imagine a partner organization has engaged with its local history, economy, and culture. Imagine the staff has had conversations about the purpose of education with children, families, and leaders in their community. After this, the collective (staff and partners) came up with this vision of student success, which they know they’ll evolve over time. But they’ve got this to start their journey:

Our students will grow into critically thinking, entrepreneurial leaders who are working to rebuild this nation.

If that is the vision of student success, what reflections might arise as members of the program team think about what elements of the PADA student outcomes that most align to that vision?  Here are some examples of “vision-aligned” reflections…

crit mirror exercise

Rather than adopting the PADA outcomes as their own, this team is thinking critically about them in the context of their collectively, contextualized vision.  This exercise will help the team make smarter, more purposeful decisions about the “broader student outcomes” that it aspires to with its teachers.

Your Turn: Illustrating the Critical Mirror Idea in an Exercise

Now you try.  Imagine two different organizations, Teach For Jupiter and Enseña por Saturn.  Consider their two different contextualized visions:



You probably noticed that the vision of student success on Jupiter is more communal in nature. Where the organization on Jupiter is aspiring to grow students as leaders who are focused on contributing to their families and communities, Saturn’s vision is more centered around each child’s growth as a self-determined, autonomous being.  Great!

Below is an excerpt of the teacher action patterns — from “Employing Student-Empowering Strategies.” (Note: this is the full excerpt.) With the different visions in mind, take few minutes to exercise your vision-alignment muscle. Which action do you expect Jupiter and Saturn to embrace, devalue, and/or edit knowing what you know about their different visions? Scribble away…

  • Utilize content- and grade-level-specific, culturally responsive instructional practices that position students as competent, teach towards instructional goals, and orient students to one another in ways that students are discovering knowledge and mastering skills, valuing their cultural identity and personal assets, and taking ownership of their learning
  • Elicit and respond to student ideas, managing and coordinating student academic practice (in differentiated ways as necessary) so that all students are participating, engaged, and have the opportunity to gain mastery of the objectives
  • Differentiate implementation of instructional strategies in light of students’ learning differences so that all students are engaged and challenged
  • Check for understanding and growth frequently by questioning, listening and/or observing and providing direct so that you know students are mastering objectives
  • Adjust course (in a lesson or unit) in light of checks for understanding so that all students mastery the objectives even when an original plan is unsuccessful

Something else that isn’t here that you think would be impactful in your context?

Case Studies Illustrating What Comes Out of the Critical Mirror Use of TLL Patterns

In next iterations of this provocation paper, we will explore partner organizations teacher development frameworks that have been or are being influenced by the TLL outcomes, actions, and mindsets. 

In the meantime, just as a bit of proof that some pretty amazing, contextualized versions of TLL grow out of these kind of exercises, take a quick look at Teach For America—Houston’s new “Teaching As Leadership” model which grew out of critical reflection on Houston’s localized vision alongside these TLL patterns. 

Where do you see the fingerprints of the TLL model in this customized teacher performance framework?  How are the adjustments to the TLL model that you see in Houston’s TAL framework helping that organization align to its vision of student success?

And here is an excerpt from the Teach For America-Houston team’s teacher action rubric.  Again, how can you see the spirit of the TLL patterns contextualized-to-local-vision in these resources?

houston TAL

houston detailed

In Summary…

The Transformational Learning & Leadership patterns in this provocation paper cannot be blindly applied to any particular community context, but they can serve as a lens through which we can challenge and evolve our chosen outcomes, actions and mindsets.

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