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Unstoppable Learning: Seven Essential Elements to Unleash Student Potential (Using Systems Thinking to Improve Teaching Practices and Learning Outcome

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This groundbreaking resource details the first management program designed to specifically address the first priority for today’s educator: improving the achievement of all students. Go beyond simply managing student behavior to quickly and effectively establishing an environment that promotes academic success in your classroom from day one. Teacher-tested, research-based strategies create a classroom in which children learn free from the distraction of disruptive behavior.

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Introduction

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INTRODUCTION
The Business of Learning

We are in the business of learning. Simply said, students attend school to learn. Students, their families, and society expect teachers to create environments that facilitate this learning and to plan meaningful lessons that guide students toward increased understanding. Regardless of our role in a school system—teacher, administrator, or related services professional—our first and most important job is to ensure students’ learning.

Of course, there has been debate over the years about what students should (and should not) learn. Society will always debate the content of the learning. As educators, we contribute to that debate, and we work to enact the curriculum that policymakers agreed on. In other words, the curriculum comes alive in classrooms through instruction. It almost goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: high-quality instruction impacts student learning. We believe that teachers matter, and what they do matters most. In other words, we don’t take a passive approach to instruction.  

Chapter 1

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CHAPTER 1
PLANNING LEARNING
Beginning with the end in mind is generally good advice for educators. We have to know where we want to go so we can design a plan to get there. It’s like traveling to a new destination. In the old days, we got out paper maps and plotted our course. When Doug first started subbing, he used a map to plot out the path to a given school assignment. When he got lost, he’d retrace his path to figure out what went wrong. When construction or a traffic jam interfered, he would pull over and devise a new plan to get to school. Over time, computers and the Internet took over the “getting there” process. When

Nancy was a central office coordinator in Florida, she printed out directions to several locations that she had to regularly visit and kept them in her car. When traffic conditions were not ideal, she’d call the location for advice about how to get there. GPS has changed our mapping procedures. Both of us have GPS devices in our cars.The tools we use to get where we are going have changed, but the fact that we need to know where we are going has not. It’s similar to teaching. The tools have changed, but having a plan for student learning outcomes has not. Teachers have to take into account the classroom conditions and be prepared for the unexpected. They have to work to close the gap between what is and what could be. Teachers have to understand the current performance of their students as well as the grade-level and course-based expectations. Lastly, teachers must continually assess students’ performance to plan ways to develop their potential throughout the school year.  

Chapter 2

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CHAPTER 2 LAUNCHING LEARNING
Intimidating. Sadly, that’s how some students describe their schooling experiences. It’s true: teachers can make learning intimidating without ever intending to do so. Students know that they’re in a given learning situation precisely because they don’t know something, whether that be fourth-grade mathematics, middle school English language arts, or chemistry. They really don’t need to be reminded of that fact. When learners are intimidated, they shut down. We’ve all seen students shut down, too scared to even raise their hand to ask a question.

One of our colleagues, Jonathan Mooney, talks about being so intimidated by spelling that he used to hide in the bathroom. When his mom learned of this, she decided to take him to the zoo every Friday of fourth grade so that he didn’t have to take spelling tests. Jonathan’s mom took care of the intimidating experience for her son by removing him from it altogether, but she shouldn’t have had to. Schools should provide a safe place to learn and grow, an ideal learning environment that invites all students into the content they are studying. Teachers’ ability to launch students’ learning is critical to their success.  

Chapter 3

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CHAPTER 3
CONSOLIDATING  L E A R N I N G
When the principal calls late at night on a holiday weekend, it’s usually not a good thing. In our case, it turned out to be a great learning opportunity but a challenging one. We received a call on Labor Day weekend with a plea:“Can you cover the twelfth-grade English classes for six weeks while the teacher is out on family medical leave?” Until that time, the oldest students we’d ever taught were ninth graders. We had both taught elementary and middle school and had spent a lot of time with freshmen in previous years. We really didn't know much about the senior year or the curriculum. We were faced with a problem and one that would require our ability to consolidate our understanding of teaching and learning to design meaningful experiences for the students. We had to learn a new curriculum quickly. We had to consider the developmental differences between our students of the past and the students who would be in our classrooms now. We had to figure out how to engage 140 students at the same time. As a result of school-level systems thinking, the faculty had decided that seniors needed some experiences with large-format lectures to be successful in college.  

Chapter 4

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CHAPTER 4
ASSESSING LEARNING
Assessment is the link between teaching and learning. Without assessment, teachers will never know if students have learned the content they thought they taught. We were reminded of this during a faculty in-service training session. A very nice presenter came to school to talk with the faculty about prescription drug abuse. He had great slides and a nice video that provided tons of information. At the end of his time with us, the teachers thanked him, and we moved to the next topic.Satisfaction was high, but knowledge levels were low. The guest speaker left feeling like he did a really good job providing us with important information about the signs we should be aware of and how to recognize students under the influence of various substances. But how much did we really learn? We had a hard time remembering the street names of most of the drugs and could not recall the differences between pupil dilation for one drug versus another. In other words, we didn’t learn much. A simple assessment several minutes into the session would have revealed this. That’s part of what makes a great teacher—one who knows how and when to assess learning and then use it to inform next steps in teaching. Further, as we will see in the next chapter, another part of teaching excellence is taking action based on the assessment data collected.  

Chapter 5

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CHAPTER 5 ADAPTING LEARNING
Nancy is the first one to admit that she doesn’t look like a typical athlete. Nonetheless, she defines herself as one based on other characteristics besides outward appearance. For several years now, Nancy has been meeting with a personal trainer who specializes in kettlebells, cast iron weights that look like a cannonball with a flat bottom and a hooped handle. Kettlebells are used for a variety of ballistic movements to build strength and stamina. Nancy’s trainer uses a technique called wave loading to develop both strength and stamina, scaling the number of repetitions to the relative weight. Employing this technique, Nancy begins with lighter weights and more repetitions, gradually increasing the weight while simultaneously decreasing the number of reps. The lighter weights and longer reps build stamina, while the heavier weights and decreased reps build strength. Nancy’s trainer calls her“freakishly strong.” When Nancy had a knee injury, the trainer used the same wave-loading technique but dropped the overall weight requirements a bit. In addition, she made adjustments to the workout itself, temporarily eliminating some exercises that would make the knee worse. As Nancy recovered, her personal trainer systematically increased the weights again and brought back most, but not all, of the exercises. Some were never reintroduced because they would likely cause another injury. Through it all, Nancy maintained her strength and stamina and has continued to progress. Her progress would have stopped cold if it hadn’t been for a trainer who was sensitive to the need to modify the workouts so that Nancy could continue to progress. Quite frankly, it would have been easier from the trainer’s standpoint to say, “Come back when you’re healed.”   

Chapter 6

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CHAPTER 6 MANAGING LEARNING
Don’t smile until winter break” was the advice Doug received from a well-meaning mentor when he started teaching. So there he was, on the first day of school, standing in front of students talking with them about expectations, all the while trying not to smile. It was all very Machiavellian. The theory was that it is easier to begin strict and become kind than it is to begin kind and become strict. But the problem with this advice is that it’s hard for students to develop relationships with people who don’t smile at them. Students want their teachers to care. They want to be treated fairly. And they want to know what to expect when they arrive in the classroom each day. Not smiling is bad advice. We say, smile all you can every day. Develop strong relationships with students, and then lean on those relationships to establish expectations for students. To us, that’s much better advice than simply being a strict teacher who has to use control and intimidation to manage a group of students.  

Chapter 7

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CHAPTER 7 LEADING LEARNING
A few years back, one of our friends announced that she had purchased a Groupon deal for a series of cooking classes we could all attend. There were no prerequisites for the class, so we figured that it would be a fun way to spend a few Wednesday nights. We might pick up a few tips to use in our own home kitchens, but mostly we thought it would be an entertaining way to spend time with three other friends. However, we were soon to learn that Chef Fred’s expectations didn’t match our own. After we washed our hands and put on our aprons, he dove right in to an extended discussion about the proper technique for sautéing. It’s possible we weren’t paying close attention, and we might have been chatting just a bit with our friends in the class. Suddenly, every member of the class was being assigned individual tasks for preparing the meal (we weren’t quite sure what the meal was—we missed that detail).  

Appendix

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Driving Questions

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Table A.5: Driving Questions for Adapting Learning

Students

Teachers

Formal Leaders

When I make an error, how will my teacher respond?

Does my teacher provide multiple access routes so I can understand?

What are acceptable ways for me to demonstrate my understanding?

If I have unique learning needs, how will they be met?

What actions do I need to take based on the student assessment data?

How can I differentiate instruction to meet students’ diverse learning needs?

What accommodations and modifications do I need to provide for specific students?

How does the teacher leverage student errors to improve learning?

What departures from the planned lesson did the teacher make, and why?

Are there students who are being undersupported or oversupported?

Are student supports and services aligned to promote academic growth?

Are the supports and services the teacher provided consistent with the student’s IEP goals?

How does the school obtain feedback from families about successes and areas of needed improvement for supporting students?

 

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