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“Reinventing” Teaching & Learning. Tony Wagner, Co-Director Change Leadership Group Harvard University, Graduate School of Education “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than the solution. ” Einstein.

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reinventing teaching learning

“Reinventing” Teaching & Learning

Tony Wagner, Co-Director

Change Leadership Group

Harvard University, Graduate School of Education

the formulation of the problem is often more essential than the solution einstein
“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than the solution.” Einstein

What is the “crisis” in American public education really all about—what’s the “problem”?

High School reform is just another fad.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Their schools are the problem, not ours!

Incremental change is the only way to go

the new educational challenges the rock the hard place
The New Educational Challenges: “The Rock & The Hard Place”
  • The Rock: NEW SKILLS for Work, Continuous Learning & Citizenship in a “knowledge society” for ALL STUDENTS
    • Convergence of skills needed for work, citizenship, & further learning: (e.g. communication, analysis, problem-solving, ability to work collaboratively)
    • Students lacking skills relegated to marginal employment & citizenship
  • The Hard Place: The “Net Generation” is differently motivated to learn
    • Kids accustomed to instant gratification and “always-on” connection
    • Kids constantly creating and multitasking in a multimedia world—everywhere except in school
    • Less fear and respect for authority—want coaching, but also transparency
  • Re-Framing the Problem: Reform vs. Reinvention
    • We do not know how to teach ALL students NEW skills. This is a new education challenge that requires development of new professional knowledge, new school structures, and new ways of working together.
ayp versus attainment the numbers that matter most for kids futures
AYP Versus Attainment…The Numbers That Matter Most for Kids’ Futures

% of US Students Who Graduate From High School

  • 79% of Asian Students
  • 72% of Caucasian students
  • 50% of African American & Hispanic students

Students Who Graduate “College-Ready”

  • 1 in 3 Caucasian & Asian students (37%)
  • 1 in 5 African American students (20%)
  • 1 in 6 Hispanic students (16%)

(Source: Greene & Forster, “Public High School Graduation & College Readiness Rates in the US, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, 2003

a theory of change
A “Theory of Change”
  • Students’ will not meet the performance standards for success in college and work unless and until teaching improves. More academic contentstandards, more testing, smaller schools, etc. do not, by themselves, improve teaching or students’ skills.
  • Teachers working alone, with little or no feedback on their instruction, will not be able to improve significantly—no matter how much professional development they receive.
  • The challenge of change leadership is to create a “system” for continuous improvement of instruction and supervision—rooted in a common vision of effective teaching, which is rigorous, relevant, and based on respectful, trusting relationships (the new 3 R’s)
the new work 7 disciplines for strengthening instruction

1. The district or school creates understanding and urgency around improving ALL students’ learning for teachers and community, and they regularly report on progress.

  • Data is disaggregated and transparent to everyone.
  • Qualitative (focus groups & interviews) as well as quantitative data is used to understand students’ and recent graduates’ experience of school.

2. There is a widely shared vision of what is good teaching which is focused on rigor, the quality of student engagement (relevance), and respectful, caring relationships for all students.

  • Either developed by the district or by the school

3. All adult meetings are about instruction and are models of good teaching.

7 disciplines for strengthening instruction cont

4. There are well-defined performance standards and assessments for student work at all grade levels. Both teachers and students understand what quality work looks like, and there is consistency in standards of assessment .

5. Supervision is frequent, rigorous, and entirely focused on the improvement of instruction. It is done by people who know what good teaching looks like.

6. Professional Development is primarily on-site, intensive, collaborative, and job-embedded and is designed and led by educators who model best teaching and learning practices.

7. Data is used diagnostically at frequent intervalsbyteams of teachers to assess each student’s learning and to identify the most effective teaching practices, and teams have time built into their schedules for this shared work.

teaching video discussion 1
Teaching Video Discussion 1
  • Was this an effective lesson? (Before discussion, place the grade (A—F) you’d give this lesson on a 3x5 card to be collected)
  • Discuss at your tables or with your neighbor your criteria for determining the effectiveness of the lesson
reinventing what how we teach the new 3 r s for the 21 st century
“Reinventing” What & How We Teach:The New 3 “R’s” for the 21st Century


  • ???


  • Helping students to understand why something is important to learn
  • Fostering curiosity & life-long learning by providing students opportunities to explore learning that is personally relevant to them


  • Students won’t learn or work hard for teachers who do not respect them
  • You can’t motivate a student you don’t know
defining rigor some essential questions
Defining “Rigor”: Some Essential Questions
  • What is rigor?
  • What are teachers doing in a more rigorous classroom?
  • What are students doing?
  • What kinds of student work would be evidence of rigor?
  • How might the definition of rigor be changing in an “information glut” world—what will be expected of our students?
excellent instruction a point of view
Excellent Instruction: A Point of View
  • Excellent instruction is less about what a teacher does (inputs) and more about what students can do and know as a result of the lesson (results).
  • In assessing the quality of a lesson, performance standards are much more important than content standards.
  • Performance standards for students must be benchmarked to what will be expected of HS graduates

Benchmarking Rigor: Work/College SkillsPublic Agenda Foundation “Reality Check” 2002

Percent of Employers & Professors giving high school grads “poor” or “fair” ratings on:


Benchmarking Rigor:

Employers View of What is Needed

What skills and content areas will be growing in importance in the next five years?

benchmarking rigor college view of what is needed
Benchmarking Rigor: College View of What is Needed

College professors’ views of the skills students lack:

70% say students do not comprehend complex reading materials

66% say students cannot think analytically

65% say students lack appropriate work and study habits

62% say students write poorly

59% say students don’t know how to do research

55% say students can’t apply what they’ve learned to solve problems

2005 Achieve Inc.

more important than academic content the competencies that matter most for college
More Important Than Academic Content: The Competencies That Matter Most for College

From research conducted by David Conley on “College Knowledge”:

  • Writing
  • Reasoning
  • Analytic Thinking
  • Problem-solving


The Collegiate Learning Assessment—an online performance assessment of these core competencies:

recent grads summary of what they need
Recent Grads Summary of What They Need
  • Writing skills
  • Study skills and time management
  • Research skills
  • Study group experience

What would your graduates say?

rigor in the classroom 5 habits of mind learning to ask the right questions
Rigor in The Classroom: 5 “Habits of Mind” Learning to Ask The Right Questions
  • Weighing Evidence
    • How do we know what’s true and false? What is the evidence, and is it credible?
  • Awareness of Varying Viewpoints
    • What viewpoint are we hearing? Who is the author, and what are his or her intentions? How might it look to someone with a different history?
  • Seeing Connections/Cause & Effect
    • Is there a pattern? How are things connected? Where have we seen this before?
  • Speculating on Possibilities/Conjecture
    • What if? Supposing that? Can we imagine alternatives?
  • Assessing Value—Both Socially and Personally
    • What difference does it make? Who cares? So what?


teaching video discussion 2 calibrating rigor
Teaching Video Discussion 2Calibrating Rigor
  • How would you assess the level of rigor in this lesson (low, medium, high)?
  • What is your evidence for this assessment?
thinking systemically working strategically 5 habits of mind for change leaders
Thinking Systemically & Working Strategically: 5 “Habits of Mind” for Change Leaders
  • What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
    • What does it have to do with improving teaching and learning?
    • What data (qualitative & quantitative) have you used to understand the problem?
  • What is your strategy for solving this problem?
    • Why did you choose this strategy? What others did you consider?
    • Can you clearly explain your “theory of action” i.e. how you think this strategy will solve the problem you’ve identified?
  • Who (teachers, parents, community) needs to know what to “own” the problem and support the change work?
  • Who is accountable for what to solve this problem?
    • What do they need to get the job done?
  • What data will you track to tell you whether you’re making progress in solving this problem?
implications for change leadership
Implications for Change Leadership

We do not know how to teach “all students new skills.” The problem of “reinvention” requires the development of a “knowledge-generating” culture and new leadership skills.

New Roles for School Leaders:

  • Ask the right questions, instead of having to have all the answers: POWERFUL QUESTIONS DRIVE LEARNING AND DEEP LEARNING DRIVES CHANGE
  • Resist being ‘reactive’: Stay focused on improving teaching!

3) Model the behaviors you want to encourage, such as seeking feedback, trust, & respect

4) Create “communities of practice” for improving teaching, leadership and collaborative problem-solving

sources resources further readings
Sources/Resources/Further Readings
  • Tony Wagner, Change Leadership: A Practical Guide for Transforming Our Schools (JosseyBass, 2005) and Making The Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2001.) See also: and a video on focus groups: “Creating Community Consensus: Dialogues for Learning & Engagement”


  • Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider, Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002)
  • Ann Cook, “Looking for An Argument” Video, TC Press
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years (New York: Basic Books, 1984)
  • Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam, 1995.)
  • Ron Heifetz, Leadership On The Line (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2002)
  • John Kotter, The Heart of Change (Cambridge: HBS Press, 2002)
sources resources further readings cont
Sources/Resources/Further Readings (cont.)
  • Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996) & In Schools We Trust (Beacon, 2002)
  • Richard Murnane and Frank Levy, Teaching The New Basic Skills, (New York: The Free Press, 1996,) & The New Division of Labor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004)
  • Public Agenda Foundation, “Where We Are Now: 12 Things you Need to Know About Public Opinion & Public Schools” (
  • Robert Putman, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000)
  • James W. Stigler & James Hiebert, The Teaching Gap, (New York: Free Press, 1999)
  • Wenger, E., & Snyder, W.M., “Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier,” Harvard Business Review, January 2000
  • Daniel Yankelovich: The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation (New York: Touchstone, 1991)