Common Sense

Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern News - December 7, 2015

About the Title

Common Sense was a pamphlet authored by Thomas Paine in 1775-76. It was written to inspire American colonists to declare independence from British Rule at the beginning of The Revolution. This weekly, modern, online relative of that pamphlet documents the news, events, updates, and celebrations of the TJ Revolution - the educational sensation sweeping through northwest Dallas.

TJ Feeder Pattern News in Brief

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Dr. Bravo, Chief of School Leadership in Dallas ISD, visited Cigarroa ES last week. He was treated to some great instruction and a strong school culture. Way to go, Cowboys!

Executive Director's Message

Team TJ,

Over the course of the next two weeks, students will be assessed using our district's ACP exams. Results from these exams will reveal each student's level of mastery of the first semester curriculum. Additionally, ACP results will demonstrate the strength of the instructional program at each campus, from alignment to instructional delivery.

Take care to ensure that the logistical operations that support a smooth testing environment are fully coordinated. Students are prepared - now they must show what they know!!

Let's have a strong final two weeks of the first semester. Stay focused and have a great week with students!

Timothy J. Hise

Executive Director, Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern

Classroom Practices that Boost and Dampen Student Agency

from Marshall Memo #613

In this paper from Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, Ronald Ferguson, Sarah Phillips, Jacob Rowley, and Jocelyn Friedlander report on their study of the ways in which grade 6-9 teachers in 490 schools influenced their students’ non-cognitive skills. The central variable that Ferguson and his colleagues measured was students’ agency. This, they write, “is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative – the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives. The development of agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as the skills we measure with standardized testing.”

The researchers used data from Tripod surveys of students’ perceptions of their teachers [see Marshall Memo 461] to examine how Ferguson’s “Seven C” components of instruction (caring, conferring, captivating, clarifying, consolidating, challenging, and managing the classroom) influenced agency, which manifested itself in the following ways:

  • Punctuality – The student tries hard to arrive to class on time.
  • Good conduct – The student is cooperative, respectful, and on task.
  • Effort – The student pushes him- or herself to do the best quality work.
  • Help-seeking – The student is not shy about asking for help when needed.
  • Conscientiousness – The student is developing a commitment to produce quality work.
  • Happiness – The student regards the classroom as a happy place to be.
  • Anger – The student experiences this in class, which may boost or dampen agency.
  • Mastery orientation – The student is committed to mastering lessons in the class.
  • Sense of efficacy – The student believes he or she can be successful in the class.
  • Satisfaction – The student is satisfied with what he or she has achieved in the class
  • Growth mindset – The student is learning to believe that he or she can get smarter.
  • Future orientation – The student is becoming more focused on future aspirations (e.g., college).

The researchers also identified a number of disengagement behaviors – the opposite of agency: faking effort, generally not trying, giving up if the work is too hard, and avoiding help.

What did the data reveal? Ferguson and his colleagues found that some teaching behaviors were agency boosters and others were agency dampers, indicating the delicate balance teachers must maintain between what they ask of students (academic and behavioral press) and what they give students (social and academic support). The details:

  • Agency boostersRequiring rigor came through strongly in the study – asking students to think more rigorously by striving to understand concepts, not simply memorize facts, or to explain their reasoning. This boosts mastery orientation, increases effort, growth mindset, conscientiousness, and future aspirations – but sometimes diminishes students’ happiness in class, feelings of efficacy, and satisfaction with what they’ve achieved. “These slightly dampened emotions in the short term,” say the researchers, “seem small prices to pay for the motivational, mindset, and behavioral payoffs we predict to result from requiring rigorous thinking. Combinations of teaching practices – for example, appropriately differentiated assignments, lucid explanations of new material, and curricular supports to accompany demands for rigor – seem quite relevant in this context.”
  • Agency dampersCaring may sometimes entail coddling: “in an effort to be emotionally supportive,” say the authors, “some teachers may be especially accommodating and this may depress student conduct as well as academic persistence.” Conferring can sometimes lack a clear purpose, which can undermine student effort and reduce time on task. Clearing up confusion can occur too automatically, with teachers doing the work for students and denying them the incentive and opportunity to diagnose and correct their own misunderstandings, which diminishes effort and conscientiousness.
  • Future-orientation boostersCaring and captivating are the teaching components most closely associated with college aspirations, the researchers found.
  • Achievement boostersChallenge and classroom management are the components correlated with students doing well on standardized tests, as the Measures of Effective Teaching study found.

“The point is not that there is a trade-off between annual learning gains and higher aspirations,” say Ferguson and colleagues. “Instead, the point is that the most important agency boosters for each are different. A balanced approach to instructional improvement will prioritize care and captivate to bolster aspirations, and challenge and classroom management to strengthen the skills that standardized tests measure. Certainly, without the skills that tests measure, college aspirations might be futile. But in turn, without college aspirations, the payoffs to those skills may be limited.”

Here is their distillation of ten classroom practices that develop agency:

  • Care – Be attentive and sensitive, but avoid coddling students in ways that hold them to lower standards of effort and performance.
  • Confer – Encourage and respect students’ perspectives and honor student voice, but do so while remaining focused on instructional goals – and don’t waste class time with idle chatter.
  • Captivate – Make lessons stimulating and relevant while knowing that some students may hide their interest.
  • Clarify with lucid explanations – Strive to develop clearer explanations, including how the skills and knowledge you teach are useful in the exercise of effective agency in real life – especially for the material students find most difficult.
  • Clarify by clearing up confusion – Take regular steps to detect and respond to confusion in class, but do so in ways that share responsibility with students.
  • Clarify with instructive feedback – Give instructive feedback in ways that provide scaffolding for students to solve their own problems.
  • Consolidate – Regularly summarize lessons to help consolidate learning.
  • Challenge by requiring rigor – Press students to think deeply instead of superficially about what they are learning. Anticipate some resistance from students who might prefer a less-stressful approach – but be tenacious.
  • Challenge by requiring persistence – Consistently require students to keep trying and searching for ways to succeed even when work is difficult.
  • Classroom management – Achieve respectful, orderly, and on-task student behavior by using clarity, captivation, and challenge instead of coercion.

“The Influence of Teaching: Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency – A Study of 16,000 Sixth Through Ninth-Grade Classrooms” by Ronald Ferguson with Sarah Phillips, Jacob Rowley, and Jocelyn Friedlander, a paper from The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, Oct. 2015,

Feedback for Someone Having Trouble Accepting Feedback

from Marshall Memo #613

In this Harvard Business Review online article, Deborah Grayson Riegel (Wharton School and The Boda Group) has suggestions for managers who get pushback when they have difficult conversations with colleagues – defensiveness, shutting down, yessing them to death and not following through on promises, or calling in sick on the day of a performance review. “My advice to leaders in these situations is to take a break from giving other performance-related feedback,” says Riegel. “Instead, start giving feedback on how the employee receives feedback… It should be its own topic of conversation, addressed when you have enough evidence to assume a pattern and when both you and your colleague have adequate time and energy to tackle it.” Here are her tips for these talks:

  • Make the case. Say that it’s important for everyone to be able to receive critical feedback seriously and professionally – and that resistance isn’t helpful to the team, the organization, or the person’s professional reputation.
  • Be curious. The person may not see his or her behavior the way you do. Ask an open-ended question about how the person sees the supervisory dynamic.
  • Use neutral language. “Want to make someone defensive?” asks Riegel. “Tell him he’s being defensive!” Avoid blaming words and language with a negative connotation. Try something like, “When I give you feedback, I notice that you look at the floor. I’m curious to know what’s going on for you.”
  • Ask for feedback. It’s possible that your communication style is too direct, the timing of your critical conversations has been bad, or that you’ve sent mixed messages by pairing negative feedback with praise. Perhaps ask, “How am I contributing to this problem?” and model how to receive critical feedback.
  • Eat humble pie. Talk about a time you messed up, were criticized, and didn’t take it well – and what you learned from that.
  • Secure a commitment. Here’s a possible opening statement: “So moving forward, here’s what I’d like to see happen: I’ll give you some feedback and if you feel like you disagree, have a different perspective on it, or that I am not getting the whole picture, you’ll tell me that in the meeting. I’ll agree to really listen to your take on the situation, and we’ll come up with a plan together. Does that work for you?”
  • Acknowledge positive change. After the feedback-on-feedback talk, start looking for evidence of improvement and immediately reinforce it.

“When Your Employee Doesn’t Take Feedback” by Deborah Grayson Riegel in Harvard Business Review, November 6, 2015,

Leadership Quote of the Week

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Week At-A-Glance

Monday, December 7, 2015

  • Burnet ES Spot Obs (8-10am)
  • Knight ES Spot Obs (10:30am-12:30pm)
  • Williams ES Spot Obs (1:30-3:30pm)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

  • ED Meeting w/ Supt. Hinojosa @ Haskell (8:30-10:30am)
  • Campus Visits
  • CMS Goal Setting w/ AF Moore @ Haskell (2:30-3:30pm)
  • Summer School Meeting @ Haskell (3:30-4:30pm)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

  • Principal of the Year @ Infomart (7:30-9am)
  • Cary MS Spot Obs (10am-12pm)
  • CMS Goal Setting w/ Ms. Fowler @ Haskell (1-1:45pm)
  • Jefferson FP Alumni Marketing (2:30-3:30pm)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

  • Longfellow MS Spot Obs (8:30-10:30am)
  • MS Data Meeting @ Longfellow (10:30am-12pm)
  • Master Scheduling Meeting @ Haskell (12:30-2pm)
  • ES Data Meeting @ Foster (2:30-3:30pm)

Friday, December 11, 2015

  • ED Meeting @ Haskell (7:30-8:30am)
  • CMS Goal Setting w/ AF Blackmon @ Haskell (10-11am)
  • HS Data Meeting @ Samuell HS (12-2pm)