Teacher Multipliers – a Reflection on Liz Wiseman’s words and Education.

Yesterday, my fabulous friend Mrs @tina_p posted this video on her Facebook wall.

I watched, I listened, I was intrigued. I played it again and I made some notes.  As I watched it for the second time I considered what I was hearing and reflected on my own practice.  I have always striven to be a learner and an enabler in my classroom but am I a Multiplier?  I’ve certainly worked with both diminishers and multipliers as I’ve ambled along my career path.  If I put my own career path aside and think about myself, as a leader of student learning in a classroom then what kind of leader am I?

I would hope that I am “someone who makes you feel smarter and more capable” rather than someone ” who made you question your own intelligence”.  However, I know there are times when frustration, tiredness or too much work (report writing?? )  can make us slip from one to the other.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1143390 Under Creative Commons License

The first thing that struck me about the idea of a diminisher and the classroom teacher is the fact that diminishers feel that that intelligence is Elite.  That “people won’t figure it out without them”.   Wow. Think about that.  As a teacher, do you feel that your students would “figure it out without you”?  What does that mean for you and the way you practice?  Our job is to facilitate learning, to help kids to figure it out and then to move forward using and developing that skill.  How many teachers have you met who feel that the most important thing is to be perceived as (what I like to term) “the fountain of all knowledge”.  These are the teachers who chalk and talk, tell kids what to think, have children sitting in silence listening to them and expect them to be grateful for the fact that they are sharing their knowledge with them. We like to think that these kinds of teachers are gone, that their place (sometime in Victorian England) was left behind long ago.

Consider then, PowerPoint presentations which give content and do not ask students to “figure it out for themselves”. Consider, textbooks, full of one source of information being studied for an hour at a time….  Consider the idea that as a teacher you feel that you know best. That having a student find an alternative to what you’re suggesting might be unnerving, so we’ll limit their accessibility to that information.  It made me remember this snippet from Punya’s keynote last year.

What a wonderful loss of control that  would be! 🙂

I wrote these… Should I have done?

The next thing that really stood out for me was that diminishersset the direction based on what they know… they are the decision makers.”  Wow.  Now, that is something that I am guilty of.  This connects to my last post about rubrics.  I ALWAYS have measurable lesson objectives (yes, even in my workshops at Flinders) but  it is usually me that sets those.

I do, sometimes, use the students’ feedback from plenary tasks like this one to inform those outcomes.  Sometimes I ask the students what they feel the outcomes should be based upon last lesson and we right them together.  Do I do that enough though? Could I do this more often? Probably YES I could and should.

This is particularly important when you reflect upon the statement that “when decisions are made without collaboration, they don’t know how to exercise  what you’re asking of them”.  I have seen a lot of examples of lessons without objectives where students are trying really hard to impress their teachers but they’re not actually clear on what it is the teacher wants them to do. If the outcome is well defined then it helps… if it was negotiated outcome that you worked on together – in which we accept that we have something to learn from the pupil (perhaps their style, where they’re at now etc) then those outcomes would become even easier to achieve.

Are we “Empire Builders” who “under use the talent” in our classrooms or are well enough informed to know what kinds of talent there are in our classrooms and use it?  Do we use stronger students to support those who are struggling?  Do we use assessment to construct opportunities to extend and challenge these pupils.  Are we able to sit back and be confident and say “people are smart and they will figure it out” WITHOUT ME.

A classic example of this from my own practice has been when I have supplied essay plans for coursework to my students. Students who don’t need them.  When I tried this here in Australia my students were confused and asked “but won’t we write your essay if we use your plan?” In the U.K. if I didn’t provide some kind of outline the students would have felt abandoned and disabled… something is very wrong with that.  That is clear diminisher behaviour.  I wasn’t trusting my very capable students to order and express their thoughts in an order that suited them.  I was scaffolding so much that I was inferring that I knew better and not giving the chance to show me what they could do.  Sure, not everyone in the same room is equally talented in that regard but I wonder how many As and A*s I stifled by giving them an outline and not showing and encouraging my faith in their ability to do it without me.

If (reflecting on my last post) the outcomes are clear and the rubric is accessible to my students they don’t need much more scaffolding from me.  I can give them a task and let them figure it out.   I can give them “permission to think and to fail” and let them learn from their mistakes – if they make them.

I used to have poster above my IWB that said “mistakes are how we learn”. I encouraged scribbling out, edits and refused to allow whiteout. I wanted to see the mistakes and the corrections so that I could see how and what they were learning.  Reflection and progress go hand in hand in my opinion 🙂 In that way, I hope I have shown that I can offer some liberation to think and fail.  To progress.  I expect quality work but I don’t expect it to be perfect.  There’s no such thing! Even Mary Poppins was only Practically perfect in every way.


What i do like, is the idea of guided exploration.  With me, as a mentor steering the ship (that’s the class) by asking “the hard questions” and stretching thinking.  I guess, the difference between a corporate world and a staff room is that it is also my responsibility to support the weaker members of the group so that they can also move forward and to do so without alienating them or preventing them from making just as much progress.

Her research showed that diminisher behaviour  almost halved the capability of those in a team to produce the goods. It makes you wonder how we can be more multiplying and achieve that (almost) 100% improvement in all of our students. I am clearly not perfect either Mary Poppins! 😉  This video made me re-consider some of my practice and reflect on how I need to be more aware of my inner diminisher.  Especially when it comes to something that I know I will be measured against.  I have to stop trying to influence the outcome through control and have more faith that we’ll get there.


How about you?  How do you measure up?