The mountains in Colorado are huge, and this is coming from a dedicated White Mountains hiker. As we touched down in Denver, I was amazed by how the Rockies loomed over the Mile High City, always visible no matter where you ended up in town. I was in Denver to attend the Visible Learning conference run by John Hattie and his associates, and the idea of visibility stuck with me throughout the week.
Hattie’s main thesis is that all teaching should be visible; this means that we need to invite the students into their learning process. It’s not enough to work your way through the assigned standards in front of you; students should know what it is they’re learning, why they’re learning and what comes next. This process has to move beyond posted learning targets for each lesson, and towards a core understanding from each student as to their purpose in school each day. Making the learning process visible and tangible for all students is a challenge for today’s educators, but one that will pay benefits as students become more engaged and motivated to drive their learning forward.
The conference also talked about the importance of administrator visibility. I recently made the transition from the classroom to administration, and being visible is one of the biggest keys to success, in my opinion. Whether it’s being permanently present in classrooms to get a true feel of how each classroom runs (rather than relying on the imperfect formal evaluation system), or being outside for drop off and recess to build relationships with all students, administrators need to be a visible presence across the school. This means blocking out time to be out of the office, and changing communication protocols so that non-educators know that you are not permanently at their beck and call. Visible administrators will help to drive forward visible learning.
The Rockies are ever present, even from the conference on the far side of the city. A storm rolled in one day, completely shrouding the mountains from view, but you still know they’re there from the ways the clouds move over the city. This invisible visibility happens in schools too in the form of the vision for education and the direction the school is moving in. Not every day will be full of steps taken towards the goal, but, like the cloud-covered Rockies, the goal should be visible to everyone – administrators, educators, students and families. Only when all parties agree on the direction of the school can a clear vision and full visibility be obtained.
About the author:
Ben Wolfson is the Assistant Principal of Gilmanton School in Gilmanton, NH and a member of the NHASCD Board of Directors.