Aug 012011

Timothy Kanold was the Superintendent of Adlai Stevenson High School District in Illinois. This school is a huge success story, because it went from bottom of the bottom to top of the top. They did this through a strong commitment to PLC’s and communication. Now Mr. Kanold did not spend a second on his Keynote today telling us this. He didn’t have to. Anyone in education knows what Adelai Stevenson did, and it had nothing to do with testing kids to death or any other of the Bill Gates / Michelle Rhee type “reforms.”

Let’s walk through my notes from Mr. Kanold’s presentation today. He was a dynamic and amazing presenter, who knows how to hold the attention of the room.

He began with a story of his 15 year old daughter who has a best friend in a different math class. The friend had a teacher who had rich content and reasoning skills as an expectation, and his daughter did not. This, of course, caused a “minor” conflict and caused him to become involved.

Mr. Kanold was aghast to discover that the school his daughter attended (he didn’t tell us which school that was) did not have certain departmental norms.  Mr. Kanold asked one very simple question, “How is it possible that in 1 department two teachers could have such different expectations that one teacher uses Reasoning and Sense Making and the other teacher does not.” The answer there, as everywhere, is the same, “Because I can.”

And then Mr. Kanold asked the most important question of the morning, “How is that acceptable?”

The answer, of course, must be that it is not acceptable.

Mr. Kanold then challenged everyone in the room to write down 1 element of their TPOV, their Teachable Point of View. A TPOV is something he has taken from Noel Tichy, and is defined as, “A cohesive set of ideas and concepts that a person is able to clearly articulate to others.”  The NCTM has a TPOV, it is found on page 14 of the Reasoning and Sense Making book. But do I have a TPOV? Does my Department? All good questions. (I will write about my TPOV later.)

The next challenge asked by Mr. Kanold was, “How will you close the gap between the vision and the reality of adult action.”

Wow, that is tough. Of course, we have to have some standard to evaluate that gap, which leads us into some methods of distinguishing bad or irrelevant (my words) evidence from actual evidence. There are 5 kinds or levels of certainty in our actions.

  1. Opinion: This is where a teachers says, “This is what I believe.” “I believe this sincerely.” It is an opinion the teacher holds about the ability or capabilities of their learners, either collectively or individually.
  2. Experience: Here the the teacher says, “This is what I have seen based on my personal experience.” My personal favorite example of this is where a teachers says, “Well, based on what I have seen, we will have to agree to disagree.”
  3. Local Evidence: Here the teacher says, “This is what I have seen based on the experiences of my friends and colleagues.”
  4. Preponderance of Evidence: now we are up to evidence based on what we know as a profession.
  5. Mathematical Certainty: finally, at this level, we are basing decisions on evidence that is so certain there is no need for debate.

If we ever come across evidence that is at the level 5, then we need to not even discuss it, we just need to do it immediately! It is so absolutely amazing, and so rare, that not doing it breaks all rules of rationality. Decisions based on Mathematical Certainty are absolutely non-negotiable.

So is there anything that can reach that level of certainty? Mr. Kanald’s answer is Yes.

That thing is the fact that Professional Development that is offered over the course of 6 – 12 months and spans 30 – 100 hours, that deals with non-negotiable behaviors and expectations of success, where the PD is connected to results in the classroom (strong, demonstrable results), and designed to be an ongoing contextual subject matter requirement has an effect size of .73.

Let’s compare that to the well established effect size of poverty in the classroom. The poverty effect size is .57. The effect size of a fully functioning PLC, based on results in the classroom and best practices is .73. PLC’s have a bigger impact on learner success than poverty!

If we don’t act on that, we are crazy. We must act, and act NOW. That is decision making at the level of Mathematical Certainty.

Mr. Kanold really motivated and sharpened my thinking on my own PLC time. He gave me a copy (actually he gave 75 pp) of his book, The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders, which has free reproducibles here.

He blogs at and his twitter is @tkanold. To say I will be following and reading his material in the future will be to say the sun will rise tomorrow.

Some other books he mentioned during his presentation that are worth following up on / reading:

Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. Mr. Kanold said this book was very instrumental in shaping some of his ideas on PLC’s.

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