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The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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Want to Effectively Help Others? Curiosity, Commitment and Caring Are the Essential Tools, Says Edgar Schein
May 19, 2016
by Cathy Gassenheimer
With great anticipation, I opened a copy of the latest book by Edgar Schein, the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Schein is the author of Helping and Humble Inquiry, both of which have helped shape the work of the Alabama Best Practices Center.
This new book, titled Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster, is hot off the press. As I began to read the preface, it did not take long to hook me. Let’s see if you can be hooked as well!
Schein begins the third paragraph this way:
“In my own experience as a helper, it seemed crucial that the client really be able to tell what is bothering him or her and be able to be open and trusting in doing so. I then discovered that the major inhibiting factor to clients’ being open and trusting is the cultural force in the United States toward telling as being the heroic model...."
Schein says the cultural premium placed on "telling" led to helping and consulting models in the U.S. that were structured around diagnosing problems and giving recommendations. He continues:
"In my own consulting efforts, I found that telling did not work, and furthermore, that the clients who called me in for consultation often had previously experienced the ... approach with other consultants and did not find the diagnose and then recommend approach terribly helpful.” (pp. 3-4)
When we ask for help – or, even more challenging, when being told we need help –we feel a loss of independence. As Schein observes in his earlier book, Helping:
“It nevers ceases to amaze me when I observe someone stumbling or falling down on the street how the first thing out of his or her moth is invariably ‘I’m OK.’ Even when we are clearly hurt we are reluctant to accept the suddenly impose state of dependency." (p. 32)
Accordingly, to successfully help someone, Schein suggests, the helper needs to focus on strengthening the status of the client (or person being coached) – to resist giving quick answers and spend lots of time listening and understanding what the client wants. This begins a process he calls humble inquiry.

In his new book, Schein broadens his concept of humble inquiry to humble consulting, which begins with the consultant or coach first exploring “what is really on the client’s mind” and honoring the client's own curiosity.Read More
What I Learned from This Year’s Instructional Rounds
May 9, 2016
By Cathy Gassenheimer
Last week I facilitated our seventh and final instructional round for this school year. Facilitating rounds may be my very favorite activity. I get to visit classrooms, talk with both students and teachers, and get a true birds-eye view of learning in action.
Participating in an instructional round requires a lot of concentrated mental work. After learning (or brushing up on) the purpose and format of instructional rounds and the importance of gathering “fine-grained, descriptive, non-judgmental evidence related to a specific focus," participants visit three classrooms at one of our cooperating schools.
While in each classroom, the visitors ideally talk with students (if during small group instruction) and gather evidence they can use later in the day to identify patterns, contrasts, predictions, and questions…all related to the school’s identified focus, which is called a “problem of practice.”

Students at Vestavia Hills HS in a circle discussion, as instructional rounds participants observe.
Then the fun begins as participants transfer their gleaned evidence onto post-it notes, map them on a sheet of easel paper to group "like ideas" and begin to process what they saw and the implications for their own professional learning.
At the beginning of almost every instructional round, I tell participants that if we “do” instructional rounds correctly, their head will hurt by the end of the day because of their hard work and deep conversations.  It's about the best headache you can get!Read More
A Closer Look at ABPC's Statewide Instructional Rounds Program
April 21, 2016
By Cathy Gassenheimer
Walking into a first grade classroom, I noticed the teacher working at a table with six students. The other students were working independently across the room. Some had iPads, one was using a SMART Board, and others were completing a worksheet.
I approached the student at the SMART Board and asked about her learning target, or “I Can” statement(s). She pointed to an adjacent board and summarized the two learning targets: “I can read words with ‘ou’ and ‘ow’ sounds” and “I can write words with ‘ou’ and ‘ow’ sounds.” She pointed me to the SMART Board and showed me the words she had created thus far: “clown, frown, cloud, sound…”
She seemed very self-sufficient and goal-oriented. So I wondered aloud what she might do if she got stuck or confused. She looked at me, paused briefly and replied, “Well, I’d have to come up with a creative solution!”
Talking to students about their learning is both rejuvenating and encouraging. And that’s one of the main reasons I love facilitating instructional rounds across the State of Alabama.
Read More
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