Radical transparency on full display? It’s not bragging if you can back it up!
In the spring of last year I had the chance to travel to Boston, Massachusetts for the annual ASCD Empower18 mega conference, which welcomed 10,000 teachers from all across the country. At the conference, I dropped into a featured session led by bestselling teacher author Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) and his longtime research associate and friend Steve Gruenert (@SteveGruenert), co-authors of several books including School Culture Rewired (ASCD 2015) and School Culture Recharged (ASCD 2017). The session was lively, insightful, and thought-provoking — but the biggest takeaway for me was a tool that the duo was piloting called the Teacher Effectiveness Inventory: an eye-opening survey to help educators get a better feel of the sort of impact that they were making in their classrooms. Have a look:
The rules are simple:
- Administer this survey to your students either as a printed page or a Google Form.
- Let students complete the survey anonymously.
- Reflect on the results.
Loved this so much that I brought it right back to my building for the following month’s PD, and was thrilled when more than 60 teachers in our school voluntarily opted in to administering this survey with the students in their classrooms in the weeks thereafter. This has since become an annual tradition at O’Connell High School, to the point where more than 70% of the educators in our building now WILLINGLY (!!!) give students the chance to sound off and provide anonymous feedback on our teaching practices, which helps us get a better feel of how we are doing as professionals in meeting the needs of the individuals who receive our instruction.
For teachers skeptical of administrative one-off walk throughs and top-down “gotcha” observations (where some feel the need to perform to an arbitrary crew of visitors or “put on a dog and pony show,” so to speak) — there really is nothing better than receiving an authentic measure of how we’re doing from the kids who sit in our classrooms each and every day of the school year.
It’s eye opening. Honest. And scary.
To raise the bar in my own classroom, I stole a page from Jim Collins outstanding leadership book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (2001). Late in the book, Collins tells the story of Ray Dalio, CEO of the hedge fund juggernaut Bridgewater Associates which manages $160 billion, and talked about what this business tycoon did to help move his company to an industry leader. Dalio’s key to success? Embracing radical transparency.
Be warned: this “radical transparency” stuff isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a pull no punches, “hey there’s broccoli in your teeth” approach to leadership, designed to flip over every rock in the proverbial yard in an effort to use honest feedback to propel leaders to becoming the best version of themselves. Inc Magazine explains the process in three steps:
1. Find mutual agreement individually.
To make a big culture shift that helps others develop their own identity within the organization, start by getting each person into a private conversation. Dalio said the two key questions to this are, “Should I tell you what I really think?” And, “Can you be free to tell me what you really think?” Once everyone is in agreement on this, you can begin to share honestly with each other.
2. Design the boundaries of radical transparency.
Radical is by definition of going as far as possible. Decide on boundaries that are right for your culture. Most of the companies I work with on this draw a clear line at the point of legality. Take HubSpot, for example. When this company was faced with going public, their radical transparency was challenged through laws. HubSpot will share everything that is legally able to share — which means they don’t share salary data, as it is not owned by the company alone.
3. No more “closed door” conversations.
Practicing being honest and sharing with others how they can improve at every opportunity. As the culture sees the benefit of this, it is going to be easier. You must make a conscious effort to reduce the secrets and having closed-door conversations.
In teaching terms…
This meant not only administering the Teacher Effectiveness Inventory, but PUBLISHING the results for my entire class, their families, my colleagues, my admin team, and the entire world to see. No matter how good or bad the feedback turned out to be.
Now, before today’s entry gets brushed off as a glorified teacher humble brag: look, I’ll own what’s mine. I think I’m pretty good at my job. I hear nice things from parents, students, and administrators. I get invited to present at state and national conferences. And I have been given the incredible good fortune to see my crazy teacher thoughts garner enough attention in the social media space that I’ve even finished a book manuscript about the things I’ve learned along the way.
On the first day of every school year, I tell my students that their favorite class is the one that they enjoy the most. But their BEST class is the one where they learn the most. If we’re both doing our jobs right, I want my class to be BOTH of those things.
And that’s why I am not only eager to administer the Teacher Effectiveness Inventory each year, but likewise to learn from the data it provides. And to publish the results for everyone in the world to see regardless of how good or bad the feedback shakes out. Because it’s not enough to be the “favorite” teacher — I want to be the best.
In the words of The Greatest himself…