This is the second post which details my experience of spending some time with the HOW2 team for a couple of days last month. If I was to describe what they do in a sentence, I would say;
"HOW2 develops 'Classroom Ready' Infographics for Educators' Professional Development”
As the founders’ story unfolded through sitting in on their strategy meetings, listening to the anecdotes at meal times and one-on-one conversations, I saw similarities with the background of HOW2 and "Work Hard. Be Nice." which is Jay Mathews’s book about the KIPP schools and the founders' story.
This post details how the HOW2 Team have “Worked Hard at Being Nice" to educators with their innovative Professional Development (PD) visual guides.
This startup idea was conceived while the founders where transforming a special school. One of the tools in their tool kit for achieving this was a massive amount of empathy and support for their staff.
Their passion for good PD and the desire to support the wider educator community with good PD became so strong that it led to them leaving the safety of classroom to head for the less certain startup land.
Here's how and why the founders came to identify that there was a need for what would eventually become "HOW2" and their visual demonstrations of teaching techniques.
The Happy Hippy Teacher… Popular, But Rubbish
| Read the Weird Teacher's book?|
Here's the Happy Hippy Teachers
The first I hear about the origins of HOW2 is Co-Founder Oliver Caviglioli's hilarious, humble and self depreciating observation;
“I was a happy hippy teacher who was popular… But useless”
Not content with the "useless" bit, he went looking for good PD to help improve his teaching, but couldn't find anything that was useful.
Straight away this reminds me of the introduction of Jay Mathews’s “Work Hard. Be Nice,” and how KIPP Founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin had grand plans to inspire a generation as young teachers but came to the realization that they were… well, “a bit rubbish” at teaching.
What changed this and what kept the young KIPP teachers in the teaching profession was the steady hand of an experienced teacher and mentor, the awe inspiring Harriett Ball.
|Harriett Ball mentored & inspired the KIPP Founders ...|
And her students... And other teachers.. And, well Everyone really!
There was no Harriett Ball in Oliver’s school, and every method of PD that was available, he felt was... well, "a bit rubbish." Every solution had their strengths, but it also had its flaws.
Work Hard. Read Lots… And Question Everything!
So Oliver undertook a voyage of PD discovery that has lasted a lifetime. He is extremely knowledgeable about the various teaching techniques, methods and models. He also searched for personal and professional development outside the world of education (for more information on this in a future post).
There were all kinds of academic research some of which was accurate and has stood the test of time, others which were nothing more than fads based on the science of "hokum" (And they say EdTech sales people are like snake oil peddlers! Lol).
I think that Donald Clark highlights this extremely well in his presentation:
|It's Not Just the EdTech that can be "A Bit Rubbish"|
Check Donald Clark's 2,000 Years of Learning Theory
As Clark highlights, some of these models were not as effective as educators, policy makers and researchers first thought.
The research clearly worked, as Oliver did enough to survive the classroom. He even did a good enough job to bag the top job.
Walking the Walk Vs Dead Man Walking?
I believe what the HOW2 Founders partnership when working as Head and Deputy Head is similar with the results (and methods) the KIPP Founders achieve in their schools.
Dear reader, I am bursting to tell you the details of this story… but that’s a post in itself. What I will say, though, is this. If you:
- Are a change agent
- Understand the role that physical space plays in facilitating change
- Appreciate the importance of culture
This will be a right riveting read! I'm not sure if I'll be picking up this story in my blog, or if someone more experienced like Jay Mathews will want to tell it... But, if no one else does, I'd be honoured to give it a go!
The children had severe and complex learning difficulties and associated medical conditions that made a comprehensive care regime a necessity AND given the fact that there were no carpets in corridors or classrooms, there was no curriculum as such beyond that of a 1970s behavioural checklist. And resources and associated knowledge that might support a more modern approach seemed limited. It is perhaps no surprise that, HOW2 co-founder and Deputy Head, Ian Harris' immediate impression was that the environment and culture were more akin to that of a hospital where care came first rather than a school where care was given to ensure that teaching could occur.
|"Environment and culture was more akin to that of a hospital"|
Could have been worse... It could have been like a Prison
When the KIPP founders were starting out they found it a challenge to convince parents that their kids would be in good hands with:
Two young teachers... In a new school... Which was outside of the traditional system
Now that's a tough sell! Not sure that I would have applied for that job!
When all other presentation content and styles failed the KIPP founders went for a more direct approach: Desperate, passionate... and brutally honest. Their opening statement was:
"80% of the kids in this area will be in jail by the time they are 21...
We want to make that 80% of kids graduate from college when they are 21!"
We want to make that 80% of kids graduate from college when they are 21!"
So the outcomes for the kids at Oliver's school could have been worse! Nevertheless, a lot more education was now going on and, as a result of Oliver's professional development initiatives, the level of teaching improved.
Through self learning and sourcing his own PD he went from "Popular... but 'a bit rubbish" to "Extremely well respected... and exceptional" not just as an educator but as a change agent and mentor.
Oliver's learning and unorthodox approach to PD was soon applied to his staff in his new role as Head Teacher.
A Hire Learning...
A few months before starting at the school Oliver saw an enterprising young teacher do some incredible things with students with learning difficulties.
This was Oliver’s first hire at his new school: Ian Harris, his future HOW2 business partner. A special partnership had begun. The changes were as immediate and significant as they were unorthodox. This included Professional Development.
...But Low Expectations?
Just like the opening session of HOW2's strategy meeting, any time the topic of teacher assessment came up at the school, Oliver and Ian made sure staff knew who's side they were on, and left their colleagues in no doubt what the purpose of the assessment was for.
“Assessing the teachers at the school when we started would have been like telling a fireman to go out and put out a fire without a hose!
There was no curriculum, no training, no resources and no support, and our staff didn’t deserve that! So we put the right infrastructure and the right culture in place BEFORE we assessed any staff"
I've never taught but, from what I understand about teacher assessments and the culture at many schools, this sounds like some radical stuff! Quite the departure from the culture of associating assessments with Ofsted who, at best plays the role of "Big brother is watching;" at worst "The bogyman of education"
I imagine that the fight with the authorities regarding any conversations between Ofsted and Local Authority bureaucrats etc, these conversations might even have been as challenging as it was for KIPP to get all stakeholders (Superintendents, schools, parents, etc.) to give them the space, permission and paperwork they needed to establish their first class.
A Lasting Legacy
Through his meticulous research Oliver understood that in order to make lasting changes at a school takes 10 years, he worked there for 11 and, in grand "Good to Great" style, he made sure that the right succession preparation and the relevant staff training (obviously) had been done.
|HOW2 Mapping their way to "Product Market Fit"|
HOW2 Quantify Clarity in Teaching Practice
In the US a lot of startups have core values that help inform the actions of the organisation. I'm not sure if HOW2 go in for "core values" or "mission statements." If they did I would imagine that they would include concepts and frameworks built around;
- For the sake of the Kids
- Rigour & Due Diligence
For the Sake of the Kids... No Excuses!
During my visit Oliver used one of Helen Timperley's comments/quotes a number of times: "Driven by student need." Sounds obvious, but I have been at education meetings, workshops and conferences and noticed that the word learner/student was hardly used during the event.
I'm sure you can imagine the kind of resistance a new Head Teacher might get when they take over a school at the best of times, but when this is a former hippy and the previous Head had been in charge for 30 years... it can take the resistance up a notch. Oliver and Ian's battle cry would become;
"For the sake of the kids, if it's an idea that has the potential to benefit the kids... we'll explore it"
Some of Ian's stories about the number of reasons and the ridiculousness of the arguments for maintaining the status quo were hilarious.
This reminded me of KIPP because of the many hilarious excuses that people make when it comes to why people from low income areas can't perform at a high level. While the excuses may be funny, the impact this has on our young people can be tragic!
The repetition of HOW2's battle cry reminded me of one of my favourite KIPP videos. I imagine that the walls of their schools are full of positive affirmations like this:
|"For the Sake of the Kids" |
HOW2 Founders achievements reminded me of my faviiourite KIPP video
There are a number of ways that clarity seems relevant to the HOW2 Founders mission and brand.
First, there is clarity regarding what works and what doesn't. Oliver has studied education from every angle, this has produced a clarity of thought, he seems to intuitively know what's needed. Here are two clarity gems from him;
"There's one thing that teachers value and it's the advice of their colleagues"
"Educators who teach the same students and share techniques they use in class is invaluable"
Secondly, there is gaining clarity with what the speaker is saying and clarifying that the listener has understood. Through working at the special school Oliver and Ian found that visual aids were used a lot, and if a student didn't understand a concept, the task was broken down further.
For example, if a student was not able to tie their shoes in 4-5 steps, it was broken down into more and more steps until they did get it.
Clarity of Action: Professional Conversations
Oliver's analytical mind commitment to excellence when it comes to educators PD is obvious. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he speaks about the work he has done around applying the "Theory of Action" to HOW2;
"It facilitates better teaching conversations, the granular nature of the questioning was impressive and you could see the thought process on how and why teachers used a certain technique.
It also give teachers the permission to make mistakes and try again in a supportive way… not in the usual blame culture that education seems to be caught up in around making mistakes.
It’s about decision making and there’s no way to get inside a teachers head to find out how they go about making decisions. Check out HOW2s flow chart for facilitating “Better teaching conversations” using this theory of action;
This is quantifiable and it's iterative, you can test, reflect, adapt and test again.
You decide the learning that you want students to achieve… then get the HOW2 you need to use to teach it”
Great Teaching… And More of it!
Listening to the achievements of these startup founders is a lesson in "HOW2" put into practice elements from some of the books I've read, like:
- Jim Collins Level 5 Leaders
- Dave Logans' Stage 5 Teams
- Marcus Bukinghams Rule Breakers
- Bo Burlingham's "Small Giants,"
- Bill Aulet's "Disciplined Entrepreneurship"
As well as a few others, but the most accurate comparison that I would make... happens to also be one of the biggest compliments could pay anyone working in education.
This post has referenced a few of my favourite education videos above including:
1) "KIPP Bay Area" because it shows what is possible when we focus on the concept of "For the Sake of the Children."
2) Three Technologies that Could Change Learning because this shows that educators and policy makers can get it wrong, just like EdTech startups products can go wrong... but sometimes technology companies and startups can get it 'more right' than policy makers do too!
Mike Feinberg gave a talk on the role that the best technology plays in the classroom at the 2013 ASU/GSV Summit. Here's what he told the young go-getting startups:
"Great teaching and more of it, that's what great EdTech does."
He went on to elaborate on this, tools that either:
1) Reduce admin functions so educators can spend more time teaching, or
2) Allow educators to teach for longer by enabling students to learn outside the classroom"
"If you had the choice of a master craftsman or on educator who taught in a bare room OR a mediocre teacher who had all the gadgets and gizmos... Which class would you want your kids to go to?"
It is my belief that the experiences, culture and knowledge that HOW2 has built up in the classroom AS WELL AS the way the startup has "Pivoted" (from writing PD books and providing training to visual guides) and have collaborated and co-created with the early users to ensure that they have achieved "Product Market Fit" over the last 3 years that they now have a service that will meet with Mr Feinberg’s approval. But as the saying goes... "The Proof is in the Pudding"