Book Summary: Intentional Interruption

Intentional Interruption: Breaking down learning barriers to transform professional practice
(Katz & Dack)

A summary (because that’s how I remember stuff). And maybe you’ll find the ideas they present useful & go out to buy the book too!

Teacher learning influences teacher practice, which in turn has an effect on student learning.
Learning (for both students & teachers) must result in a PERMANENT change in what a teacher knows and does.

As humans, we tend to avoid conceptual change (learning; changing how we think). We often go to PD & assimilate what we’re hearing or learning about with what we already do. For example, while learning about critical thinking, teachers will think of some of the activities they already do that involve thinking critically and will conclude that they are already doing all of this. In order to encourage conceptual change, we need to create cognitive dissonance for the teacher; we need to push back against their current beliefs, provide them with counter-examples, etc.

PD needs to be “just in time” and “job embedded”, meaning a teacher gets the learning they need to fix a problem, at the time the problem is occuring, within the context of where the problem is occuring. Instead PD often occurs outside the school, at random points in time, and tries to teach about ideas or strategies that you might one day need (“just in case” instead of “just in time”). Some alternate forms of PD exist (such as school walkthroughs) that concentrate on teaching the procedural (knowing how to use a certain strategy), but they often forget to also teach the underlying knowledge & reasons (knowing why and when to use the strategy).

Professional development: The dissemination of knowledge to teachers.
Professional learning: An invidual process of conceptual change for the teacher which results in a permanent change in how they think or do something.

Three factors that enable learning:

  • Focus: It is essential to clearly define a narrow learning focus or problem; ideally in the form of a question. eg. “How do we improve students’ ability to estimate?”. Ensure that your idenitified problem is really a problem; is there data to support this notion? The learning focus defines WHAT we will learn.
  • Collaborative inquiry: Learning focus question –> hypothesized strategy –> determine success criteria (look-fors) –> implement –> analyse evidence –> reflect on learning –> determine next question for the next cycle of inquiry. This process happens with colleagues working together, pushing and challenging each other’s ideas and practices, & providing each other with feedback. Collaborative inquiry is HOW we will will learn.
  • Instructional Leadership: This is WHO will lead the learning. A formal, or informal, learning leader will:
    • establish goals & expectations,
    • choose strategic resources,
    • plan, coordinate, & evaluate teaching & curriculum,
    • provide an orderly & supportive environment,
    • promote & participate in teacher learning & development.

Barriers to learning:

  • Thinking that a problem doesn’t apply to us; that we’re the exception.
  • Failing to consider all possibilities (for both the cause of the problem, and the possible strategies we could apply to the problem).
  • Confirmation bias: we look for evidence that confirms our theories instead of seeking out evidence that might challenge and disconfirm our theories (the evidence that will lead to real learning).
  • Focusing on recent or vivid evidence as the majority of evidence. Small numbers of salient or recent cases become exaggerated in our minds.
  • Recognition heuristic: we stick to what we know, what we recognize.
  • Omission bias: thinking that non-action will result in less harm. We are less willing to take an action in case it causes harm, but we forget that we may already be causing harm by keeping things static the way they are.
  • Hiding our vulnerabilities: We don’t want others to see that we can’t do, or don’t know, something. Makes us afraid to open up our practice to scrutiny, make our practice public, or ask questions.

Strategies to “interrupt” these barriers:

  • Focus on topics of learning that are controllable by you (avoid focusing on things you can’t change such as the school board’s priorities, the ministry’s initiatives, the kinds of students that attend your school, etc.).
  • Protocols: A set of guiding instructions to the step by step process for your particular profession learning focus or inquiry type.
  • Explicitly stating our preconceptions; this is the only way that we can then examine and challenge our preconceptions. It is also useful to reflect at the end of your professional learning on how it has changed or affected your preconceptions on the topic.
  • Rooting activities & interventions in the problems of practice:  Probe your colleagues and selves as to the learning focus to ensure it is clearly defined and that the chosen strategies to be implemented are targeting the learning focus at hand.
  • Using contradictory evidence: For example, when reading an article, ask teachers to highlight statements they agree with in one colour and those they disagree with in a different colour. Allow for individual brainstorming before bringing it back to the group to allow for contradictory (or outside the box) ideas to come through. Use the “agree then disagree” strategy when responding to or challenging new information, which requires a teacher to first state everything they agree with before explaining the parts they disagree with (forces them to consider the other perspective).
  • Learn from mistakes: This is a culture shift. Move away from punishing mistakes and set up a culture that truly values these mis-takes as opportunities for learning. Allow colleagues to admit to failures and encourage them to analyse their next steps.
  • Growth VS Fixed mindset: Praise effort, not intelligence. Explicitly teach others that we all have the capacity to learn and that our ability in any domain is not fixed.
  • Problems of practice (aka. learning focus) should be questions that the staff are naturally curious about … questions they actually want to answer.
  • Providing autonomy in task & time: Ensure that people have some choice in what they work on (what they learn about) and the time it takes them to do so.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)


2 thoughts on “Book Summary: Intentional Interruption

  1. Pingback: Module #6 – Building Collaborative Inquiry | PQP #2 Traynor Learning Blog

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