Steve Hargadon’s Interview with Jim Knight

I recently listened to one of Steve Hargadon’s EdTechLive podcasts that featured an interview with Jim Knight, author of High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching and associate research professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. You can find Knight’s website here and you can join his “The Big Four Ning” professional learning network here (my own membership is pending). You can also find Jim Knight on Twitter @jimknight99.

The conversation between Hargadon and Jim Knight centered around instructional coaching, high-impact strategies and teacher professionalization methods. But the conversation did not solely revolve around education jargon and get lost in the weeds. Instead, Knight and Hargadon balanced a worm’s eye view with the bird’s eye view, presenting the big picture and then drilling down to minutia within a given topic. Here is the central theme of the interview and of Knight’s latest book:

One reason why many teachers are not striving to be there best is that poorly designed professional learning can actual inhibit growth by de-professionalizing teachers, treating them like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals doing emotionally complicated knowledge work… If we are to get the schools our children deserve, we need to start by treating teachers as professionals.

Knight starts out by making his big pitch; that there is a fundamental irreconcilability with two underriding assumptions in the teaching profession today. There are some that assume that teachers are intrinsically motivated to improve their practice, and others that assume teachers will not be motivated to improve unless there is a carrot and a stick, for motivation and accountability, i.e. value-added measurements tied to teacher evaluations (the stick) and higher pay for higher impact teachers (the carrot). Knight makes no bones about it, he cites Daniel Pink’s hugely influential book Drive in making the case that teachers are generally intrinsically motivated and that extrinsic motives, coercion and punitive accountability measures are actually detrimental to the development of the profession.  He succinctly stakes out his position when he states, “The distinction between power with and power over is really fundamental to establishing a positive learning community.”

Knight is talking both about the learning environment in the classroom between teachers and students and the learning environment among professional peers striving for improved instructional practice. Knight is an expert on professional learning and Hargadon draws parallels between how Knight talks about positive and productive learning environments for professionals and those for young students, parents and children, institutions and the community. Knight picks this point up and runs with it, surmising that often what happens when schools ‘loose’ parents during the IEP process is when they are not equal partners at the table.

What follows is a discussion on the finer points of the differences between different professional learning strategies from peer learning to positive deviance and appreciative inquiry. I was not at all familiar with these approaches before listening to this podcast and so some of this part of the conversation was lost on me. However, that does not mean I will not encounter these methods in the future and I’m glad to be aware of them. A cursory google search of these strategies immediately got me reflecting on the professional development approaches I have experienced and witnessed here in South Korea. Culturally, I would say the education profession, nor many other professions on the peninsula, have embraced any of these power with instead of power over professional learning methods.  In any case, Knight’s conclusion seems to be that there is no silver bullet in terms of professional learning, the key is “freedom within structure” whatever that structure may be.

Jim Knight’s list of 7 principles that educators should use to guide their actions with colleagues:

  1. Equality
  2. Choice
  3. Voice
  4. Dialogue
  5. Reflection
  6. Practice
  7. Reciprocity

The discussion gets into some deep waters at this point, as Knight cites Bob Sutton’s leadership research (side note: I googled Bob Sutton and found a fascinating interview with the aforementioned Daniel Pink, check it out!) and Paulo Ferreira’s concept of ‘mutually humanizing’ learning and collaboration. Again this sparked an immediate reflection on the work and learning culture here in Korea, which has produced unquestionably miraculous results in the six decades since the Korean War, but is a far cry from what I envision to mean ‘mutually humanizing’. I wonder if other cultures do not need a sense of power with instead of power over in order to be successful in a collective effort. Whether it is Confucian tradition, nationalist pride, or filial piety there is definitely a different intrinsic motivator at work in Eastern cultures. I also wonder if this motivation is limited? Will it evolve to look like something more collaborative with lower power distance between authority and subordinates? Will I appreciate the greater autonomy and more collaborative spirit of teaching in the US after my experienc here in Korea? Or, will I be convinced by colleagues that the Common Core, the district central office or my principal is dictating too much of what I teach and how I grow professionally?

There is great Ted-Ed video that was recently released on understanding power structures among individuals and societies. It’s a video that students 4th grade and up could more than likely understand and engage in a discussion that could help set a classroom culture of power with instead of power over.

They move into a discussion of the use of data of professional learning in education. What is notable from this discussion is their agreement that you need to have a “clear picture of current reality” before you can make a high-impact goal. Knight says that the best use of data in the business world is when it is not used punitively, instead as an improvement tool, one of many.

Next comes content planning, which is probably the most practical portion of the discussion, especially for a new teacher like myself. Knight lays out the two most important components of excellent content planning; first, the knowledge, skills and big ideas that the students need understand and acquire. Second, is content mapping, a visual representation of the path the students will take in their learning. The common theme with both those components is that the research says that students learn best when they understand the big picture and can make connections between the individual steps and tasks of the learning along the way and how they fit into the end goal. During my Teach-Now academic studies we were required to make a variety of graphic organizers such as mind maps and infographics. This is definitely a goal of mine for my first year of teaching. I am a believer in learning maps and graphic organizers.

There is more, much more that Knight and Hargadon touch upon, all of it resonates greatly with me. Knight makes the connection between gamification and flow, the idea that if we gamify learning students could potentially enter a state of optimal experience while personalizing their own learning. The discussion then moves to the importance of storytelling in education, which is a favorite theme of mine. Then on to the moment when a little girl, Natalie Gilbert, faltered in her singing of the national anthem at a Portland Trailblazers game, was first heckled by the crowd and then assisted by Maurice Cheeks, the Blazers head coach. What ensues is heart-warming and as Knight says, literally an inspiration to all educators to be a coach like Cheeks. Open questioning as a high impact strategy to get student “authentically engaged” and how to get teachers to shift their practice to leverage it. Authentic learning as doing science, not learning about science. Knight summarizes that teachers really need “caring and control” in order to be effective, a control that comes out of . He then gives one practical tip for teachers to use to make sure they are systematically attending to all their students’ needs; make a list at the end of every week on students she may have overlooked that week and came at the end of the list, then note the positive strengths of those students at the end of the list, and make sure the following week that they are not at the end of the list (witness to the good), i.e. teach yourself to notice what’s going well.

Key takeaways:

  • Weekly list of students, positves of students at the end of the list
  • Two components of content planning: 1) content definition 2) content visual mapping
  • Seven principles of collegial interaction (see above)
  • Power with instead of power over in all learning environments
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