Celebrate and Grow…Protocol for offering and receiving feedback – Plan and Practice

With our protocol and agenda developed, we wanted to try to “take” this assessment.  On Monday afternoon (12/17/12), members of the Faculty Staff Leadership Team (FSLT) and the Academic Leadership Team (ALT) gathered to talk through the following agenda.

 5 min – Welcome and outline of the hour
5 min – Watch Dan Heath: How to Find Bright Spots
10 min – Michelle and Jill discuss being Thus: the intersection of Them and Us
10 min – Think, Pair, Share using Celebrate and Grow prompts
10 min – Quad Think, Pair, Share
15 min – Whole group discussion
5 min – Wrap-up and Thank You

To be specific about who is in the room, the FSLT is comprised of approximately 25 faculty and staff members, and the ALT members are the Head of School, the Director of Teaching and Learning, the Early Elementary Division Head of School, and the Upper Elementary Division Head of School.

Michelle welcomes everyone, and I introduce the video, explaining a little bit about the book Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard and that the video will offer faculty time to each their lunch.

We then shared the talking points and asked the FSLT members to use Think, Pair, Share to discuss their feedback with one other person.

  • As a member of the Trinity Community, what can we celebrate?
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, how can we continue to grow?
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, I wish…
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, I’m grateful…

After approximately 7 minutes, we asked the pairs to pair up to form groups of 4 to continue the discussion.  The idea here is to take an opportunity to refine your ideas and word choice – to practice and get feedback in a small group – prior to taking in the whole group which includes your evaluation team.  (We’d like to think of ourselves as the coaching staff instead of an evaluation team, and we are working on it.)

After another 7-ish minutes, we transition to a whole group discussion.  Michelle, Kato, and I facilitated a discussion of our community’s bright spots, celebrations, and growth points. It was a great discussion.  We wish we had notes.  The most significant moment, for me, was when Sarah Mokotoff hesitated, but bravely said

“I wish progress reports were easier.”

Everybody does.  How great for the administration to hear this! We know and are working on it, but it was said in a way that gave a sense of urgency.  There was no anger or frustration in her delivery.  This way of hearing what needs to be addressed has potential in our community!

We discussed the plan and approved it.  Our Head of School will invite faculty and staff to have lunch with the ALT in small groups over several weeks in February.  FSLT leaders will send the Celebrate and Grow talking points to all members of our community before the lunch sessions begin.  Notes will be taken on a public Google doc during each lunch and shared with all members of community after the last lunch meeting.

Will the bright spot approach to offering feedback help our community grow and learn?

I hope to write another post after the last lunch meeting in February.

Progress over pace

To what standard do I and should I hold myself to concerning my own learning? Do I seek and highlight my own bright spots as I do for my learners? Hmm… What assumptions do my colleagues and I make about our learning as members of our school? We are learners too. Do we see each other and ourselves as learners? Do we treat each other and ourselves with the same care, kindness, and respect that we give to our young learners?  How often do we affirm the learning of our colleagues? ourselves?

The following is a copy of a note I sent to our faculty today to hopefully remind us all that we are learners.  We celebrate learning progress! It is not about how fast learning occurs or how my learning compares to another’s.

A few of you know that I am running.  On May 20, 2012 I started a 14-week running program to train for a 10K.  I am currently working through week 11 of the training program. (Note: May 20th was more than 14 weeks ago, many more.) Here’s the graph of my run this morning:

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 8.42.30 AM

After my warm-up walk, I ran for 25 minutes, walked for 5 minutes, and ran another 15 minutes.  The green in the graph above shows my run, which is really a slow, plodding jog, and the red shows my walks.

To reflect on my progress, I picked a day close to the start of our faculty pre-planning. Here is the graph from my run on August 6, 2012:

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 8.42.02 AM

I still cannot run a 10K, but look at my progress!  Yes, it is taking me longer than “normal,” and I am struggling to improve.  Progress is progress.  It is not about how I compare to Brian or Erin.  It is about my personal growth.  Often, I am discouraged by what I cannot do, but holy cow, look at what I can do today that I absolutely could not do in August.

As I left yesterday afternoon, Jeff M. caught me to tell me, once again – ‘cause he does it often – about the progress and growth of our community with regard to technology.  In our conversation he repeatedly praised our community members’ work, effort, and learning.  He sees lots of bright spots in your work.

Learning is about progress not pace.

Celebrate and Grow…Protocol for offering and receiving feedback – Brainstorming

How do I offer feedback that can be heard? What if I want to offer or I am asked to give feedback to my supervisor or evaluator? What are the risks and consequences if I offer cool feedback? We strive for an open community of learners.  How will we grow if we do not seek, offer, and consider feedback?

The Faculty Staff Leadership Team (FSLT) working in collaboration with the Academic Leadership Team (ALT) accepted the challenge to design a protocol for offering feedback in our community.  We want to continue to further create an environment where feedback is sought after, given, and received respectfully, kindly, and with intention. Here are our starting point questions:

What is the one thing (or top 3) that is uppermost in your mind? What is your priority?

      • When describing Trinity, what do we acknowledge as something we celebrate or should be celebrated?
      • Concerning our community’s growth, what do you suggest for growth, learning, and improvement?
      • What else would you like to share with and contribute to the entire Trinity community?

When FSLT and ALT met, the FSLT leaders, Kato Nims and Michelle Perry, led us through a discussion to modify and improve the above questions. How can we create a comfortable space for faculty and staff to offer feedback to the administrative team?

It was magical.  It was an awesome example of collaboration for community improvement. I have so much to learn from my colleagues!

The brainstorming phase offered these ideas from faculty, staff, and administrators:

      • Being supportive vs. being defensive/complaining
      • Positive Growth needs to be emphasized
      • Open Discussion
      • Think-Pair-Share to begin an open discussion about celebrations and growth opportunities.


      • Themes: Time, Balance, Change, and Follow Through,
      • I wish and I’m grateful for…
      • Great sentence starter: “As a member of the Trinity Community…”
      • How do we broadcast to our community?
      • Avoid questions that push towards negative/complaining responses
      • Concerns over honestly sharing due to judgement: face-to-face dialogue in separate sessions  for faculty and staff
      • Faculty vs. Staff questions…same or different?
      • Good question (maybe two questions): What can we celebrate at Trinity and how can we continue to grow?
      • Don’t get too specific because you then end up excluding people who are completing the survey.
      • Some personal questions and some general questions
      • Open-ended vs. closed questions

After the brainstorming phase, we boiled to down to the following 4 prompts.

  • As a member of the Trinity Community, what can we celebrate?
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, how can we continue to grow?
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, I wish…
  • As a member of the Trinity Community, I’m grateful…

We wanted to know if these prompts would help our community talk openly about the areas where we glow and where we might grow.  We decided, as a team, to “take the assessment” ourselves before implementing it school wide.

Will we comfortably and confidently be able to express our feelings and concerns?

We have planned to meet on Monday to “practice” the protocol and make any additional modifications.

I plan to post the formal “lesson plan” for this hour and some of the outcomes in a future post.

Leading Learners to Level Up – #LevelUpMath #LearnFwd12 – the details

Hello, I am Anne Conzemius, the host for your Learning Forward session.

Well, no pressure there, huh?  Actually, about 15 minutes prior to this quick introduction, I scanned the roster of participants and noticed Anne’s name on the list of our Learning Forward conference session..

My previous post, Leading Learners to Level Up – #LevelUpMath #LearnFwd12, was written prior to our presentation.  Here’s what we actually did after I got through the nervousness and shock of Anne’s presence.  (I used a quote from her book, The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning, in the slide deck for this conference session, in this blog post, to collaborate with Bo (@boadams1) on this rubric, and in many discussions with teachers.

To lead learners to level up – learners of any age – we want to find and highlight their bright spots.  We want learners working from a point of strength and climbing to the next level.  To introduce this idea, we used the YouTube video Dan Heath: How to Find Bright Spots, shown below.

I gave a 4-minute Ignite talk on the why we should lead learners to level up.

Jeff used the TI-Nspire Navigator for Networked Computers to assess our small audience so that we could adjust our plan to meet their needs.  We quickly learned that Algebra I could be our focus (whew!) and that teacher growth as well as student growth was important to our participants (yay!).

Jeff then shared the YouTube video Leah Alcala: My Favorite No, shown below, as a jumping off point for a discussion on turning mistakes into learning opportunities.  We then discussed how leveraging technology – we use TI-Nspire Navigator, but PollEverywhere, Google forms, and other tools could be used – to offer faster, more public feedback and discussion opportunities while redirecting the work to the learners.

Since Leah’s video was about multiplying polynomials, I shared our Algebra I leveled formative assessment to engage our group in a discussion about bright spot and strength finding.

How do we offer students voice to self-advocate for their learning?  The days of the negative self-talk “I don’t know nothing” must come to an end. Everyone needs to acknowledge what they know and what they want to know.  It is about empowerment – empowering the learner. It is about coaching.  How powerful for learner to approach the teacher and say: I can do XX; will you help me learn to YY?  I want to work in that environment, don’t you?

A question from our participants caused us to discuss our assessment plan. How did I handle summative assessments and what did my grade book look like?  I cannot post graded assessments here, because they might still be in play in Algebra I classrooms. I can, however, share How do we use the December exam as formative assessment? and the Google doc that we used to document progress on non-graded formative assessment work. (This is a copy; feel free to explore and “report” data to see how it feels. You can view the results here.)

Jeff asked amazing questions to facilitate the discussion.  Through his art of questioning, we talked about the philosophy of doing homework with deep practice, I can statements…, and leading by following.

My concluding remarks began with a quote from Anne Conzemius (and Jan O’Neill) which “outed” Anne as an assessment goddess to the rest of our participants.

“In order to engage in high-quality assessment, teachers need to first identify specific learning targets and then to know whether the targets are asking students to demonstrate their knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or ability to create a quality product.

The teacher must also understand what it will take for students to become masters of the learning targets…

Equally as important, the teacher must share these learning targets and strategies with the students in language that they understand. It is not enough that the teacher knows where students are headed; the students must also know where they are headed, and both the teacher and the students must be moving in the same direction.” (Conzemius, O’Neill,  66 pag.)

To end the session, we quoted CL – an 8th grader in my care while beginning her journey to learn Algebra:

“I truly believe the formative assessments are helpful for using as study guides for tests. I use them as study guides and I learn from my mistakes through them.

I do like the fact that they are not graded because it takes the pressure off of taking them and makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first. They are really helpful for going back and looking at what I missed, and then ask you for help on those questions.

Having the four levels really helps because I know what levels I need to work on so that I can keep moving up to a higher level.”

Notice her last sentence: … I can keep moving up to a higher level.

Lead learners to level up by empowering them to ask their own questions.


Conzemius, Anne; O’Neill, Jan. The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2006. Print.

2010-11 was the last year I taught Algebra I, but if you want to see the day-by-day plan for the entire 2010-11 year in Algebra I, it is still online as a resource.

Leading Learners to Level Up – #LevelUpMath #LearnFwd12

At Learning Forward 2012 Conference in Boston, Jeff McCalla and I offer a session as described below:

Learn to model practical classroom formative assessments that naturally offer differentiation. Hear stories and gain artifacts from National T3 instructors as they share their struggles and successes as well as their students’ struggles and successes in middle school and high school math. Develop processes and tools for creating formative assessments that integrate technology and motivate student collaboration.

Our “lesson plan”

  • Quick introduction using Dan Heath: How to Find Bright Spots
  • Ignite talk, shown below, to overview the why of learning to create leveled formative assessments
  • Formative assessment using TI-Nspire Navigator for Networked Computers to get to know our audience
  • Enter workshop mode – our challenge is to let the participants choose the path that we take.

In our description we say “Hear stories and gain artifacts from National T3 instructors as they share their struggles and successes as well as their students’ struggles and successes in middle school and high school math.”  Here are some of the stories and artifacts that we plan to use:

  • Learning from Leveling, Self-Assessment, and Formative Assessment
    I spend about the same amount of time with these formative assessments as I did when I gave quizzes, but now my job is more interesting.  It is problem-solving, coaching, and having conversations with my learners.  They have the opportunity to critique their work and report back to me.  I feel like I’m coaching rather than judging.  My learners talk to me about what they can do and what they need.”
  • Helping Students Level Up
    The change in response from our students is remarkable.  The improvement in our communication is incredible.  Students now come in after school, sit down with me, and say “Ms. Gough, I can write the equation of a line if you give me a slope and a point, but I’m having trouble when you give me two points. Can you help me?”  Look at the language!  We are developing a common language.  Our learners can articulate what they need.  Regularly in class a child will ask “Is this level 3?”  They are trying to calibrate our expectations.
  • How do we use the December Exam as Formative Assessment
    In Algebra I, we aim to get “in the weeds” about this reflection and intervention.  We want every child to reflect on what they could demonstrate well and where they need additional help.  We do not want them to move to high school and geometry next year with any doubt or weakness if we can help now.  But, how do we know who needs help?  We collect data, but we let our learners do the data collection.  We need to be informed; they need to be informed.  We are a team working toward the goal of mastery or proficiency for all learners.
  • Informing Assessment:  Need to Check for Acquisition of Skills over Memorization
    We used our leveled formative assessment to identify a need, a gap, in understanding.  Our learners and our colleagues are helping us find the path to teach and learn.  Isn’t this the way it should be?  We should struggle to learn, but shouldn’t we struggle to learn together?  Shouldn’t we learn what needs to be learned rather than what is in some book written x years ago?
  • Level Ups with Formative Assessment to Improve Communication and Skill
    An unexpected by-product of this type of formative assessment is the leveling up of their vocabulary.  Rarely does a student now say “I don’t get it.”  Much more often a child will come by after school and say ‘I need help writing the equation of a line when you give me a point and the slope.’

In our session, we model using technology to make these type of assessment easier and more manageable to deliver, implement, and process.  We share video evidence of increased peer-to-peer communication and collaboration. We also share teacher-made classroom ready assessments as a jumping off point to “develop processes and tools for creating formative assessments.” 

We have several documents to share. If interested in having copies of these leveled formative assessments, please email me using jplgough dot gmail dot com, and I’ll share the Dropbox folder with you.