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Response vs. Reteach

What's the difference?

When I'm working with teams on their PLC-related processes, I 100% of the time encourage them to use a predictable, common agenda. The agenda is a multi-purpose tool, and one of its functions is to prompt us--during our meeting--to move through the inquiry-data cycle.

One of the typical questions I used to put on my agendas was, "What will we do for students who struggle?" Rick DuFour frames this question as, "How will we respond when some students do not learn?" And still other teams have written this prompt as: "How will we respond to the data?" and "How will we reteach this skill?" and "What will we do to support students who struggle?"

How we frame this question matters, and I believe it's important that we avoid prompting ourselves to potentially ingrain shaming or fixed mindsets towards our students. To ask, "How will we respond when some students do not learn?" seems to imply that there is something wrong with the student for not learning.

Likewise, to ask, "What will we do for students who struggle?" almost places an identity on those students--and that's definitely not the intention.

I'm so glad to get to work with a variety of teams and leaders. It's through brainstorming and conversations with you that I am able to rethink approaches, questions, and language.

Lately, I've landed on asking, "How will we respond for students who aren't there yet?" And I like this question for a few reasons:

  1. This prompts a response--and there are many ways we can respond.

  2. It centers the teachers to reflect on our own practices (and not blame students).

  3. It harnesses the Power of Yet.

There is no point in looking at data (as individuals or as a group) if we don't believe that our students can grow and can achieve. If we don't believe in their potential, looking at any type of results amounts to a "See...I told you!" situation where the teachers feel even less efficacy to influence learning in their classrooms.

And, to support the belief that teachers' actions in the classroom make a huge impact on learning, teachers need a broader definition of what they can do in response to data.

When we mistakenly think the answer to any of the aforementioned questions is: RETEACH, we feel stuck, out of time, under water, and overwhelmed. While there are definitely times and places for revisiting or re-doing a lesson, the term reteach is so broad, so undefined, and so time-dependent that most teams I know who say they will reteach simply write that on their agendas because they are stuck in not knowing what their options are.

We write down an answer we think we're supposed to give--but we're really not sure what it means, how reteaching is different (or the same as) teaching, or if it's the right next step in learning.

Honestly, we aren't quite sure what to do because we already did our best 1st teach on our own...and now we are stuck.

It's time that we give ourselves permission to think bigger and broader about responses to data. In the biggest sense, data should tell us how effective our instructional practices are.

So, if we used a particular structure or strategy in our classroom--say teacher-led, whole group instruction--and group of students are routinely not finding success on our assessments, we should ask ourselves: What is this data telling me about the effectiveness of my strategies? And also: What do I need to adapt or change about my instructional practices--moving forward--to increase the probability of my students learning the next round of information?

Sometimes the data tells us we are inconsistent in our curriculum implementation. Sometimes it tells us that our curriculum materials fail to adequately teach certain sets of necessary skills.

Sometimes the data tells us that we not yet creating inclusive spaces of belonging for all of our learners.

Responding to data is different than simply reteaching. Responding implies a change on my part as the teacher. Sometimes it's the administrators who need change. Sometimes it is the schedule, access to time or grade level instruction.

We need to give ourselves permission to widen our responses to data once again. One helpful way to rethink our responses is to use a visual brainstorming tool, like a web, to capture various options. Rather than listing an answer and moving on in our discussion--hit pause and brainstorm a variety of responses. When several responses are on the table, ask: Which of our students will benefit from this response? Why?

Truly, the PLC process is an inquiry process: we ask ourselves these questions not to change our students--but to change ourselves. It is possible to grow and change our approaches and not consider ourselves broken failures. Perpetual improvement can exist absent of shame and self-doubt. In fact, when teams embrace the process of perpetual improvement, the process (not the results) is what fuels their passion, collaboration, and willingness to respond.

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