Well, it is that time again…the start of a new school year! As the 2018-2019 school year begins, I have been thinking a lot about teachers using the expression “there’s a learning curve.” In particular, I was thinking the images that phrase could produce in a student’s mind…
Of course, anyone can quickly school themselves in the origins of “learning curve theory” on Wikipedia or via other online sources. I grabbed this image of a typical “S-shaped learning curve” from the August 24th, 2018 version of the Wikipedia Learning Curve page:
Maybe a student would picture this S shape…the gradual accumulation of knowledge (or skill) until one feels they have mostly mastered the topic (or task) and there is less and less to learn until they know it all! Pretend you asked your students to draw “the learning curve” on day one of class this year and the majority drew an S shape. Maybe you would pause and draw this version of the “curve:”
Hopefully, this one seems more realistic to you as a teacher? I think it better reflects that learning is messy, that sometimes it happens in fits and starts and after a setback (dare we say “failure?”).
Then I started thinking about teachers and their learning curves…and I start thinking about all the change teachers see over a career. I have felt and witnessed “initiative fatigue” over my 23 years in education. Is it tricky that we ask our students to show up every day and learn something new, but as adults we tend to balk at it? Of course, that assertion is overly simplistic as not everyone is uncomfortable with change, but the pace of it or the magnitude of it may make anyone uncomfortable with a particular change.
Over the years I have grown fond of using “The Implementation Dip” graph (shown below) to help students and teachers picture the learning curve:
If you are not familiar with “The Implementation Dip,” the term was made popular by Michael Fullan while writing about change management. The graph above can by widely found online, but I am not sure the original source.
Then, I started thinking about picturing what is going on within the dip on that graph…and I stumbled onto this graph from a Center for Public Education blog post about the effectiveness of teacher professional development:
Of course, we feel awkward/uncomfortable in the dip. And how do we feel more comfortable being uncomfortable? That has everything to do with the coaching (or teaching) we receive in the dip. Then I found this neat graph in the book Results Coaching: The New Essential for School Leaders (2010), by Kathryn Kee, Karen Anderson, and Vicky Dearing–and they reference Michael Fullan’s work as well work by Eva Wong at Harvard (the graph is actually adapted from Wong’s work):
Source: Results Coaching: The New Essential for School Leaders (p. 16)
So, it IS a new year and time for a fresh start. How might we help our students and teachers visualize learning and coach them through the frustration and anxiety of the dips? How might might we, as faculty and leaders, be more comfortable with being uncomfortable? How might we be great coaches–and allow ourselves to be coached? How might we best create a coaching culture in our schools?
Best of luck on a great year, coach!