10 THINGS I LEARNED AT UVA

I recently visited the Darden School of Business associated with the University of Virginia (UVA), and it was an amazing time of learning. The trip was for the Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE), which helps build leadership capacity in order to successfully turn around low performing schools.

Since I had the privilege of visiting UVA, I wanted to share some of the things I learned.* Below you’ll find a list of ten strategies, ideas, or people with whom I had the pleasure of meeting.

1. The importance of feedback. A principal who attended UVA with me had a great epiphany: creating a protocol, agenda, etc. and then asking for feedback isn’t as powerful as receiving feedback from people who are helping you create the product in real time. Too often we ask for feedback when it’s too late.

2. Creating urgency. Everyone talks about the importance of communication, which is absolutely true. What isn’t discussed as often is the importance of urgency. To create positive change, leaders must first explain why the change is imperative.

3. Asking “Why?” over and over (and over again). The great consultants deftly facilitate understanding by asking “why?” many times.

  • Consultant: The students in subgroup X didn’t do well on this common formative assessment question. Why?
  • Teacher: Because they weren’t listening.
  • C: Why?
  • T: Because they didn’t care about what I was teaching.
  • C: Why?
  • T: Because they’re not interested.
  • C: Why?
  • T: (Pause.) Because the lesson wasn’t interesting to them.
  • C: Why?
  • T: (Pause again.) Because I didn’t make it interesting.
  • C: How could you make it more interesting?
  • T: I suppose I could include information in my instruction that applies directly to their lives.
  • C: Is there anything else you could do?
  • T: I could talk less during the input portion of my lesson and provide the students with something more engaging during the structured and guided practice portions. 

Asking “why? over and over is necessary if you’re going to get anywhere close to the root cause of an issue.

4. The 25 Cent Rule. This is from Tonya Kales. Imagine you have two quarters, three dimes, four nickels, and five pennies. Now take no more than five minutes to write the top ten to fifteen things you can do at your school to increase student learning. Now take your two quarters and place them by the two top things on your list. Then take your three dimes and place them beside the next three most important items. Do the same thing for the four nickels and five pennies. The quarters represent your “big rocks,” the things that give you the biggest bang for your buck regarding student learning. The pennies are placed next to the lower priority tasks, and unfortunately those tasks are where we often spend the most time.

5. Clarity regarding measurement of data. This is also from Tonya Kales. Let’s say you want to lose weight; what’s the best way to measure success? A scale? Clothing size? BMI? Food journal? Pictures? Exercise journal? Calories? What if you’re heavier on the scale due to muscle gain, but you look better? What if you’re cutting the calories, but the food you’re eating isn’t healthy? What if you have an impeccable food journal, but you’re not seeing any results? And what if a group of people are trying to lose weight, but they’re using all these different metrics to determine success? This would make success difficult to determine, huh?

6. Martin N. Davidson. I want to be this guy when I grow up. I ordered his book on Amazon after attending a few of his sessions. You can find the book here.

7. The Consultancy Protocol. You have a presenter, timer, and consultant(s). The presenter shares a problem of practice, and the consultant(s) ask questions or make statements that help the presenter arrive at her or his own conclusion. Answers and opinions are not provided to the presenter. It’s pretty powerful. Some of the effective questions or statements that could be said are:

  • Tell are more about…
  • Have you considered…?
  • What do you think (a person) would say about…?
  • It appears you are operating with an assumption that…
  • This leadership challenge raises a couple of questions for me…

8. The importance of everyone getting good at the same thing (or at least pulling in the right direction). Oftentimes, we think we need to be perfect in order to be effective. All we really need is a team moving (ever so slightly) in the right direction. Of course, having only a few initiatives that everyone does well is the goal, and when a district has coherence and alignment, it’s easier for the central office to provide support because everyone’s doing the same high leverage things. It makes things simple, and simple is beautiful. However, it all starts with pulling in the right direction.

9. The importance of one’s environment while learning. The UVA campus is inspiring. Location can be an important factor in student success.

10. Chalkboards are awesome and are undervalued in K-12 education. Long live the chalkboards! The UVA classrooms had at least three chalkboards at the front of each room, which had the ability to be moved up and down by the presenters. This definitely added to an aesthetically pleasing learning experience.

*When educators attend conferences, academies, or encounter unique people or experiences, it’s important they share what they learned with others. 

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