This past week in my doctoral course work we have been studying the differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Sounds exciting huh?! Actually, it really has generated some great thinking and online discussions (it’s a blended program).
Now, I know what you are thinking… or at least what I was thinking when I realized we were learning about quantitative and qualitative research, “Why do we need to study this? Let me save you the mystery, one uses numbers and one uses observations as the basis of research.” Sound about right? Technically it is correct, but why does the difference between the two matter? That is the question to ask, why does the difference matter.
Think about this. Can you tell all that you need to tell from numbers? Do data points tell you all that you need to know about a student? How about groups of students? Or better yet how about an entire school? If you just look at the numbers, you are not going to know the story behind the numbers. No wait…
You are not going to know the humans behind the numbers if you just look at the numbers. You are not going to know the stories of struggle and success when you just look at numbers. There is a face associated with each point of data and each score.
This makes me sad because in public schools we are not dealing in numbers, we are dealing with people and their education. We are shaping their future and their lives each day. What do the numbers for that look like?
Now let’s look at our “accountability” system in schools. How is the “accountability” structure set up? This sums it up:
This is best instructional practice, right? This is how research says we should assess student learning, correct? Parents would be 100% satisfied with our teachers if this was our approach to teaching wouldn’t they? I don’t think so. I would not allow this to occur and neither would my parents, but yet we allow politicians to do this to our schools and to our students.
Why? Why do we allow this from our elected officials?
How about the students? Is it fair that all of their learning come down to a single test taken on a day chosen by someone that does not even know the education level and abilities of the student? Did their parents just get a divorce? Are they dealing with an unknown illness? Were they up all night because their family was just evicted from their apartment because their landlord sold out to a developer? What happens as adults when we experience this? We usually take a day off work. Can kids do this on state testing days? Don't forget the school is rated on participation rates of state testing too.
When a student is told they must pass a test or they could be held back from their peers or not allowed to graduate, that’s fair huh? Does this increase their stress and anxiety? You better believe it does.
All of this from comparing qualitative vs quantitative research. I told you we had great thinking and conversations.
Here is my thinking about the difference between the two: You cannot just look at the data. You must take the data and then learn about the people behind the data to understand “the why” with the data. When you just look at numbers you just don’t get it. We do not live in a black and white world no matter what the data says.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
My wife and I are runners. There was a time in my life when I would not have described myself as a runner. All of that changed about 10 years ago when my wife told me I should run my first marathon. Until that point I just ran as a part of “working out”. Not anymore.
This morning we had a long run as a part of our training for this coming running season. The weather this morning was especially warm and humid for mid-September. To be honest, it felt more like early August outside. The humidity was so thick that it felt like we were in a bowl of soup. Not that I have ever been in a bowl of soup, but If I were, I would imagine that it would feel like it did this morning. It was not comfortable running weather at all.
After we finished running, Amanda made a statement that was quite profound. She said that being a runner has made her comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Think about that for a minute.
Are you still thinking? I will wait.
When you think about it, this totally makes sense. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in life. That is just the way it is sometimes. Change happens. Your job has an unexpected change, your boss asks you to do something you think you cannot handle, you have to work through unexpected life events. It happens to us all. The people that do the best in these situations are able to be comfortable while being uncomfortable.
Allow me to make some connections to how running has helped me to be comfortable while being uncomfortable.
When you are running for more than an hour at a time your body begins to experience different feelings. Sometimes it is pain, sometimes it is numbness, sometimes it is euphoria, and let’s face it runners, sometimes it is pure delusion!! The point is, it can be and often is uncomfortable. As a runner you come to expect that and you know that it will not last. You learn to work through it and even use it to push you further. You use being uncomfortable to make you better.
Being a runner has made her comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Amanda and I both agreed that because we were so accustomed to running through discomfort we have been able to take that approach in our work, and even our lives. We know that we can work through whatever issue is brought our way. Sometimes the discomfort makes us work even harder and after struggling through the discomfort we are better for it.
We have never finished a run and said, “man, I wish we had not done that.” But we have said, “we should have gone for a run today.” Sometimes you just need that discomfort in your life.
As my friend Mark McCord says, “Lean into that discomfort.” Use it, don't run from it! Make it work for you to help you become better.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
The state of Texas completed a major overhaul of its teacher evaluation system and it has been a change for the better already. The former system called “Professional Development and Appraisal System” or PDAS was developed 20 years ago and at the time was an improvement over the existing teacher evaluation tool. I am sure there is someone that can tell me that tool’s name (or I can ask the Google) because I was completing my bachelor’s degree at the time PDAS being developed and quite frankly still in denial that I was going to be an educator. That is a completely different blog post!
Now, the state of Texas has developed the T-TESS (Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System) evaluation tool. There are many new and great components about T-TESS that I really like but perhaps the most critical and my most favorite of these tools are the purposeful conversations that T-TESS makes you have as educators. The goal of T-TESS is for professional growth through goal setting, achievement, reflections, conversations, and observations. The focus is on teacher growth, as it should be.
One of my main purposes for becoming a principal was to support teachers. This support has been just as much for me as it has been for them, but don’t tell them that.
The past two weeks I have spent much of my time having goal setting conversations with my teachers over their T-TESS aligned goals they have set for themselves. These have been two of the best two weeks of my principalship. Why have they been so great? It is because I have been intentionally listening to my teachers and working to support them as they push themselves to become better practitioners.
There have been some teachers that I just needed to listen to, ask a couple of clarifying questions, and then ask them how can I support them. There have been some teachers that I needed to help create more specificity in their goals because they were not sure of how to write what they wanted to accomplish as it relates to T-TESS. And there were some teachers that I just needed to give them a confidence boost because they were not sure of what to do. I have been able to support my teachers in very real ways. I really like that.
One of my main purposes for becoming a principal was to support teachers. This support has been just as much for me as it has been for them, but don’t tell them that ;o)
As the year progresses I cannot wait to see where the conversations lead us. I encourage you to take part of these purposeful conversations. Make the time for the conversations and allow them to develop. Listen without thinking of what you are going to say next. Help by asking how can I support you to achieve your goals.
Be purposeful in your conversations. Teachers deserve that.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post I have returned back to school. So students, your principal is hitting the books this semester too. Having earned three college degrees in my life I am not a stranger to school and how to succeed in school. In the midst of my first full week of school I quickly realized that I am going to have to be able to work in ambiguity.
Coming into this commitment I knew that I would be reading volumes of texts and journal articles and of course writing about what I am learning. What I did not realize until now is that I am going to have to learn how to thrive while working in ambiguity with regards to some of the different tasks I am being asked to perform and complete. It is purposeful ambiguity in that the outcome is for me to become a better questioner, researcher, and seeker of knowledge that can distinguish and differentiate between good information and great information. But it is ambiguity none the less and as an educator we do not always work well in ambiguity.
Why? We want to be told what to do by our teachers. It is how we have been trained. It is what we know. But do we really grow as a learner with this approach?
There are open ended assignments and then there are Open. Ended. Assignments. Don’t get me wrong, I am not out here without a life line of help and support because it is there. I am out here being expected to forge my way through my learning and being able to share that learning on a very short timeline. This is not the “normal” way we “do school” and it takes some adjustment. The assignments we are given are designed to push our thinking and help us to develop our skills. We are given choice in the areas we would like to work along with a list of preferred research journals and resources to utilize and then we complete assignments based off our own choices and selections.
The ambiguity really comes in with wondering if the research I am choosing to review, analyze, and share is what the professor is looking for and, of course, am I completing the assignment the way the professor wants. And there is the source of the real uncertainty for me. What is it that the professor wants? Therein lies the trap of being asked to work in ambiguity, floundering in your own uncertainty because of the learned need to have “approval” before moving to the next stage of work.
Over the last few very late nights I realized that I should be asking what is it that I want to learn about (my interests) and how can I apply that to what the professor is asking me to do (skill development). I had forgotten the most powerful option the professor provided to us, the power of choice. I had choice over the material I would be working with and when I came to that realization I was able to thrive in the ambiguity because the research I had chosen was relevant to my interests.
I had scrapped the four articles I had originally because they did not really speak to what I want to work in the next few years. They were good but when I realized that I had the power to not settle I found what spoke to me and all of a sudden the skill work became less difficult.
As you design lessons for your students and staff for that matter I want you to think about ambiguity and choice. There is power in purposeful ambiguity when it is designed correctly. The power of choice made all of the difference for me when I felt as if I was not ever going to be able to complete what was being asked of me. How can you build in choice for your students? You would be surprised how big of a difference adding the element of choice will for a student!
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Director of Instruction and Leadership Development
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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