Friday, December 9, 2016


Chris Shore and I drove from Southern California to Asilomar and back last weekend so we could attend and present at CMC North. On the way back, Chris introduced me to the idea of systems and how valuable they are to the success and longevity of a program, team, organization, etc. I realized I have so much to learn about systems.

In my current role as a Digital Learning Coach, I could ask,
"What systems have I put in place with fellows (teachers I support) so they can continue the work and mindset we started together?"

If I was in the classroom, I would ask,
"If I had to be away from the classroom for a day or more, what systems have I put in place so my students can successfully function without me?"

This last question can be truly sobering. I realize my systems as a classroom teacher could have been far better. Here are a couple reasons:
1) The systems that I did have in place, relied heavily on me being present. For example, when greeting students at the door, there was no guarantee the sub would greet them. Student thinking was valued, but this didn't always happen in my absence.
2) Did I establish and regularly execute systems so my students knew how to be successful each day they walked into class? Even when I was present, did I establish a system so my students knew how to share the most positive part of themselves with their classmates?

I could sit here and kick myself on many things. I could find at least 100 things I could have done better as a classroom teacher. Moving forward:
How do I build systems with my fellows so they are successful after our time working together?
How do I build systems with teachers in professional development workshops so they leave the workshop prepared to strengthen their own systems and instruction?
I'm thinking about reading Systems Thinking for Social Change over Winter Break. Has anyone read this book? If so, what do you think? Or do you have other suggestions?



  1. This post immediately struck a chord with me. My goal this year as a teacher is to build stronger connections with my students, but reading this post, I realize that the next step is to extend this to having my students build connections (personal and academic) with one another. I don't live and die by the famed 'Danielson Rubric' used in the NYCDOE teacher evaluations, but teachers who are rated highly effective need to have classrooms in which students are actively supporting one another, a feature to which this idea speaks. I need to create a classroom environment in which students view each other as sources of knowledge and avenues to learning - when they leave my classroom, they should think of each other as part of a current and future mathematical learning network. So too with leading professional development, I imagine - one strong takeaway might be how to forge partnerships and create supportive networks for oneself as a teacher when enacting new practices or modifying existing practice. Obviously, we want to be independently successful, and we want our students to be as well, but isolation can be the enemy of lasting change in the classroom.

    1. Hi Mermaid,

      Thanks for commenting. I'd love to see more "classrooms in which students are actively supporting one another." I know I could have done a far better job with this when in the classroom.

      In terms of bridging the connection between classroom structures and professional development structures, there are definitely some universal principles. I think you nailed one of them: forging relationships. Thanks for your insight and thoughts. Any recommended books?

  2. Hey Andrew! I always love to hear about your thinking.

    You sparked a few thoughts in me. Not sure if they're useful. And they're Chase-thoughts so they'll be disjointed and meandering. :)

    1) I was really moved by this Freakonomics episodes about talent and success:

    I had a lot of takeaways from it, particularly about the value and significance of "deliberate practice". i use a lot of the ideas and language to frame a lot of what I do in PD and lesson inquiries with teachers.

    I wrote more about my thinking here:

    It may be useful; then again, maybe not. Anders Ericsson is the man though! He's written some books that have been well received, but have only read articles and listened to his interviews.

    2) One of my routines is making sure that teachers set specific professional goals at the end of Lesson Inquiries so they can commit to new learning through practice and reflection. As you mentioned in your Classroom Clocks talk, reflection is a key component for learning. Reflection is key for teachers too. What is some important learning you've made during this process? How will you implement it in your teaching moving forward? I usually use a combo like that with teachers.

    3) In PD, i use something called the triple track agenda. Long story short, i use learning strategies with teachers to support their thinking. Then after the learning for them, I have them think about the process of the activity we did and how/when would they use that with their students and what changes they would need to make for their students. Can share more about that triple track agenda if you'd like.

    4) I used to coach basketball...and wondered about similar questions. Could they still run a practice without me? What should they be able to do without me (warm-ups, routine drills, fitness stuff) and how can I get them to show initiative? It actually started with Dan's "less helpful" language strangely enough. So I often think about my work now through that bball coaching lens. How do I set them up for continued success when I'm not there?

    Just some quick hits that are stewing and brewing. Hope they may be useful.

    1. Super helpful, Chase. I love your connection to basketball and being less helpful. I can relate with that. I will check out the freakonomics episode and return to the comments here.