Google Earth, Soup, and the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching

Deep in KIPP’s underground labs* a team of brilliant programmers labors day and night to create a dazzling digitized app for the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching.  With the tap of a finger you dive  from a Google Earth view of the central visual down into the competency level another tap swoops down to the observable behavior (street level) view of the Framework.

An actual example from the Framework of these different views of teaching in the classroom culture element (Google Earth view) of the Framework.  Joy is a coachable competency (map view) within classroom culture.  One of the observable teacher behaviors (street view) within classroom culture is smiles and laughs regularly:

The Google Map view of the Framework articulates a constant challenge in the work of teaching and developing teachers.  Teaching is  an interplay between our most deeply held beliefs and our nano-sized decisions.  Choosing who to call on while monitoring your tone and facial expression epitomizes an action that sends incredibly powerful messages about what we believe.  Elliott Witney of KIPP Academy Houston notes that soup and salad both have distinct ingredients but teaching is more like soup where the final flavor is an amalgamation of all the ingredients and no single ingredient stands on its own.

The Google Map idea came up in a conversation with Steve Farr, author of Teaching as Leadership, Teach for America’s Chief Knowledge Officer, and all around smart dude. He also gets genuinely excited by great teaching.  Elliott and I had the opportunity to pick Steve’s brain recently about his experience with the creation, roll-out, and revision of TFA’s Teaching as Leadership work.

The key ideas that emerged in the conversation

Narrative matters if the Framework is to be more than mythical.  People want to know the story of how this Framework came to be they want it to be grounded in the stories of real teachers and schools.  The narrative around the Framework has to evoke the grit and ganas of KIPP.**

The Framework is a bundle not a document.  Knowledge about teaching practice without coaching, evaluation, and tools for support is helpful for a boutique sliver of teachers and leaders.  Knowledge about practice with aligned supports will move an armada of teachers.

A great framework changes behavior with stickiness of  central language or  visuals.  Consider how the name of TFA’s framework, Teaching as Leadership immediately impacts the mindset of the reader or consider how the now disgraced food pyramid made us believe the foundational importance of pastas and grains.  We are hoping our decidedly un-corporate, opposite of bland visual will pass the sticky test.

One of Steve’s ideas that continues to pinball around my brain is that the Teaching as Leadership rubric was a revolution in the development of the overall bundle of TAL work, not because TFA got it 100% right but because it increased the efficiency of norming expectations and improving the model within Teach for America staff.

The second important piece of this idea was using the Sue Lehman award nominees as the test cases for each version of the rubric.  Regions would nominate their highest performing second year corps members and TFA staff would compare their teaching using the latest rubric.  Not only did this help norm understanding of the rubric and raise expectations as people saw the best teaching across TFA nation; it also highlighted gaps in the rubric and pushed the next better version ahead.

I have seen rubrics lead to tremendous inefficiency particularly when they devolve into a giant, size six font document that teachers parse like the Talmud.  However ratings also force us to take a stand rather than hang out in the netherworld of clever language.  Was Teacher A’s explanation more effective than teacher B’s?  Which teacher demonstrated a stronger growth mindset?

The  rubrics and ratings  help the framework developers improve the framework and its tools; I am not as sure that the rubric and rankings are as useful for the actual work of coaching.  The amazing Pam Moeller of KIPP Foundation and Drew Martin at TEAM’s RISE have developed several evaluation tools using the Framework, some with rankings and some without. I have tried out Pam’s Framework evals in four recent end of year conversations and they helped teachers and I to articulate their strengths and areas of growth much more quickly and clearly.

The development process of the TAL started with finding the group of TFA corps members on the far right of the performance curve and then doing some long form journalistic interviews of those teachers.  We have in a very minor league way mirrored this process with the KIPP Framework and I am struck by the power of the interview.  Many of our best teachers are so completely immersed in their work that they aren’t completely sure where their impact comes from.  A knowledgeable interviewer can unpack lots of amazing insight and the interview makes great teachers feel like the celebrities they would be in a perfect world.

Steve summed up the overall theme of the conversation with a beautifully Zen-like line.  “The path to impact is never perfectly clear.”   The KIPP Framework and the other work like it will never be recipes or sets of direction but the shared language and process of will help us move faster and farther down the road.

* Just kidding, KIPP does not have underground labs; our labs are above ground in penthouse.  Still kidding.  Contrary to some recent misreports KIPP schools are not awash in wealth.  I say this as someone whose students attend class in trailers and use a parking lot as their gym.

** The ganas and grit of the KIPP narrative starts with KIPP mentors like Harriet Ball, Rafe Esquith, Jerry Myers, and Charlie Randal; people who have done transformative work for decades inside of vast struggling systems.  It shows up more recently in Frank Corcoran re-writing this Christmas Carol each year in a new Bronx location for his kids, in teachers like Beth Napleton and Alison Drake showing up at a student’s house every for weeks to get him to re-enroll and still tracking him eight years later, in the sixth grade team at KIPP Lynn rolling of an eleven day hiking trip and teaching with a smile on Monday morning.

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2 Responses to “Google Earth, Soup, and the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching”

  1. Janice Says:

    Is this a real app???

    • mrdolan Says:

      Totally kidding. Partly kidding, actually. Several people have talked about this. No one has the skill or money yet. Interested?

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