Hiding in Plain Sight or Walking the Path Together?

It just breaks my heart when I think about one of my classes.  Their behavior is awful.  I have been counseled over and over again – it’s not your fault Jill; it is the combination of personalities.  Well, it may not be my fault but it is my responsibility. 

Their behavior is bad (relatively speaking of course, remember I teach in Camelot); they are rude to each other and to me.  Individually, they are great kids.  I love each of them as individuals – collectively, not so much.  This statement – “collectively, not so much” – is not true.  If I did not love them, would I worry about this so much? 

What is most discouraging is that they are hiding their lack of understanding.  They are using their behavior to mask deficiencies and to distract me and others from the real problems they face.  It is like they are jumping up and down, waving, screaming “look at me, look at me” so that we won’t notice they are struggling to learn.  It is too risky to ask a question and reveal publically that you just don’t know something or anything. 

In contrast, in my other classes, they regularly say “is it okay that I’m at Level 0? I don’t know any of this and need help.” It will be blurted out “Help! I’m at Level 1 and want to be at Level 3.  Who understands this and will help me?”  Literally, two or three other kids will get up and begin to coach.  There is no snickering; no mocking looks are exchanged.  The culture of our community says we all learn together; if one struggles, we all struggle.  We are walking this path together.    

I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I have an hour of let’s hide in plain sight, tear each other down, if I can’t learn this no one will, followed immediately by an hour of let’s learn together, build each other up, leave no man behind. 

Which classroom would be your pick if you were a student?

Let’s apply this question and the situation to our own work.  What if the teacher described above was a school administrator and the classes were two different schools?  Which school would be your pick if you could choose?

Would you choose to teach in a school where the culture is “it is too risky to ask questions and reveal that I am struggling with an area of my teaching?” 

Or, would you choose the school where the culture says “we all learn together; if one struggles, we all struggle; we are walking this path together?”

Aren’t there both schools here in Camelot today?  Which school are you in now?  Are you walking the path with others or hiding in plain sight?  Where do you want to be? No move needed; great!  What can be done to help you move if you want to move?

6 thoughts on “Hiding in Plain Sight or Walking the Path Together?”

  1. I want to be in the school where we are all learning together – walking paths of growth and development. Don’t we owe this to our students – to model such a community?

    How has your intervention differed with these two sections? Are the students aware of this dichotomy that you perceive? How much is the “fixed mindset” responsible for the issues in the one period and the teacher culture for some? When our main objective is to “look smart,” don’t we avoid opportunities to learn and fail…for fear we will reveal that we are not as “smart?”

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    1. I want to be in a school where everyone is learning, where we model (practice) what we value (preach). I belong to a community of learners, but it is small and the population varies from day to day.

      About my intervention strategies between my sections…
      we are walking this path together section
      In the “we are walking this path together section” my intervention strategy is to get out of the way but be there when called for. My students intervene on each other’s behalf. It is beautiful. I have lots of evidence; the most striking for me was a report from DD during her walk-through observation. DD was there to see the differentiated review for the exam. She was encouraged to interact with the kids. She reported that RU (huge social capital – generally math struggler) kindly and correctly helped GC (needs more social interaction – math is a strong suit) understand that she had written the equation of a vertical line when the problem called for a horizontal line.
      hiding in plain sight section
      In the “let’s hide in plain sight” section, we have tried many strategies, some work for 24-72 hours, some don’t. I have modeled what I expect about learning. I’ve been working on learning about assessment. They have given me (and each other) feedback about the formative assessments with levels as well as our 2nd chance tests. I am searching for a way to improve their learning. I have been funny, quiet, mean, and direct. Many have come back after school to talk with me about others in their class and what I should do to them – never about themselves. I have to ask questions to get them to reflect on their own behavior. I have tried to model “walking the path together” by sitting down and discussing the problem with them.

      I have also asked for help from my colleagues, again “walking the path together”. Two gradechairs, their coach, and a former teacher have all done peer visits at my request. I asked these four teachers to specifically observe the children and their behaviors. The feedback I have gotten has been discouraging. It ranges from things that I cannot change (my gender, my race, the schedule) to things that I am philosophically committed to for learning.

      I do use direct instruction, but I prefer inquiry. “Several of these boys may benefit from a “hard copy” of specific step-by-step instructions for the lesson at their table, allowing you to ask questions such as “Has anyone NOT YET completed Step 3?” “Has everyone collected and recorded three sets of equations of parallel lines, as indicated in Step 4 on your instruction sheet?” to help ensure that they are all understanding & following directions / instructions.” Step-by-step instruction takes the discovery out of the experience. I am struggling to revert back to “step 1…step 2…step 3…voila! you are a problem-solver.”

      I have tables and chairs rather than desks and rows. “The very first thing you need to do is get them back in desks. They can’t handle sitting at tables; That is the cause of the majority of your problems.” The furniture is not the problem, but I tried. We relocated to another classroom as an experiment. They hated it; I hated it, and we lost a critical piece of technology that allows for seemless formative assessment at an instant.

      Next strategies…analyze the data and set new goals together.
      bw plot of exam data

      I read Perpetual Edge’s Unit Charts are for Kids last night and then was boo-ed by Chris Lehmann for using box-and-whisker plots so you might want to see the data in histogram form.
      hist of exam data hist of exam datahist of exam data

      The box-plot tells me more, but I am a math teacher…sigh.

      We all have individual goals for learning algebra. We will review these and attempt to set a team goal.

      One more thing about choosing “hide in plain sight” or “walking the path together”…I LOVE that these teachers were willing to give us an hour of their day to help make our learning better. I want to be a community where it is safe to ask questions, to ask for help, to discuss what is not going well, to work in team to make learning better.

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  2. Hi Jill,
    After attending a couple of your sessions in San Antonio, I am getting caught up on your blogs. I found that this one hit a note with me. Unfortunately, I don’t have one “hiding in plain sight” class, I have four. Not only am I struggling, but the rest of my team is struggling with them as well. It seems that no matter what approach we take, we get the same, disappointing, outcome. My fear is that I am not reaching the behaviorally challenging students, but the quiet ones as well. Have you been able to reach them at this point in the year? I know that there is not one magic solution, but any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Jennifer

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    1. Hi Jennifer…
      Last week (yes, in March) we had a positive step in the right direction. I wrote about it in Create a Guiding Coalition of Students – The Way It Should Be – Examples of Good Work. They are the reason that the Assessment Study Group is working on a rubric for class participation, effort, collaboration, homework, etc. We are trying to convey our expectations in a tangible way so that they can understand what we expect and want. In Rubrics, Feedback, and Learning, you can read about progress for the kids’ point of view. Every set of children is different, but this seems to be working for all but 2 of mine – a vast improvement since August.

      I believe that we must convey our expectations in kid-friendly language. We need to show our learners how to go from where they are to where we need them to be. I would hear myself say that to a child that I need them to focus, but did I tell them how? Did they understand what I meant? Now they can judge where they are on our rubric and see the target behavior. SJ is a great example. He was a level 2 in most areas in February and now is a solid level 3, and he is having fun learning!

      Another example from this class is ML: This week he wrote:
      “I think that I have improved since the break because I am sitting away from my friends and I understand the material better. I have a more open mind and that is helping me understand the concepts. I am giving a good effort on tests and my homework and during class. One time I was struggling with factoring during my homework but I asked about it in class the next day and learned it better and now I can do it easily. I should probably go to Office Hours more to do my homework instead of doing it in the locker commons because then I can just ask a question right away instead of doing deep practice until I do it correctly. I feel that I did pretty well on the two tests even though they weren’t the highest grades. I think that the grades I got were pretty good for the level of understanding that I am on which is that I know how to do the basic problems but I don’t know how to apply it to other problems.”

      So my suggestion is to start identifying the behavior that you want – loudly. For my learners, they know when they are off task, but they haven’t been recognizing when they are on task, doing good work. The rubric helps, self-reflection helps, and seeing examples of good work – their good work – is helping.

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