Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.24.18De-Silo-Fication And How To Do It

Image result for silos

Come out of those silos, friends.



I had a great conversation this week with a group of colleagues from TNTP about a concept I only have a not-very-helpful, made-up word to describe: de-silo-fication.

The word refers to structuring training so that connected and separate topics don’t seem disconnected, especially when one of them requires urgent and intense focus in the short run. The key is to structure training so we communicate the whole, even while drilling down into a part.

Here’s the classic example, the one that gave rise to the term:

When training teachers to manage behavior and culture, we have to find ways to remind them that behavioral techniques are connected to and serve academic techniques and academic achievement. They are necessary but far from sufficient. And we have to find ways to ensure that they can envision what excellent classroom execution, writ large, looks like, and therefore how behavioral moves fit into that larger whole and serve it.

This is challenging because managing behavior is such a large and complex topic—and one so critical to teachers in their first year of service. It’s so important they not crash on behavior at the outset that getting teachers up to speed on it can easily crowd out other topics and make behavior moves seem separate from rather than connected to topics like questioning and lesson planning.

So: How do you achieve mastery of what’s urgent in the short run but also keep your eye on the long term and hopefully express that the two cannot be separated and work in synergy?

This was the topic of conversation with a fantastic group of colleagues from TNTP whom we are working with to improve TLAC training: Chris Diaz (Charlotte, NC), Doc Miller (Indianapolis, IN), Ellie Cook (West Texas), Megan Goodrich (Tulsa, OK), Tamara Shear (Clark County, NV), and Nicole Brown (New Orleans, LA). In fact it was Doc who coined the term de-silo-fication in the midst of the conversation.

Here’s a list we came up with of ways trainers could de-silo behavioral work while also helping teachers to master its principles.

Intersperse behavioral and academic techniques: Kind of obvious and we’ve been advising this for a while, but it’s important to always have something teachers are working on that tacitly reminds them that there’s more to a great classroom than behavior and culture when they’re digging deep into it. So mixing in some Turn and Talk or Control the Game or Cold Call with that What To Do, Radar and Systems & Routines sends the right long term message even if it means the latter techniques will take a bit longer.

Frequently intersperse videos of “the big picture”: I want my trainees to see engaging classrooms where instruction is rigorous and vigorous and behavior tacitly supports those things as often as possible. Doing so allows me to ask trainees, “How do the behavioral techniques we’re talking about have to be executed to support learning?” Perhaps even more importantly they help developing teachers have a strong intuition for what a good lesson should look like. More than once I’ve walked into the classroom of a first year teacher where the kids were orderly and positive and waiting to be taught but the teacher had put so much focus on the behavioral moves it took to get to that point that he or she had little sense for what students should get in return: a great lesson. There’s not much worse than kids doing what they’re asked and then getting ‘rewarded’ with a boring and patronizing worksheet. The trade is, you do the right things in the classroom and you are rewarded with the challenge and thrill of real learning. Even if I don’t have time to teach young teachers all the moves to make those lessons yet, I want their instincts to be strong, to have something inside of them say: it must be more interesting for them even if they don’t know all the details of how yet.

Practice behavioral techniques “in the middle of academics”: The scenarios you use to practice communicate a lot.  We’ve recently begun transitioning our Strong Voice work to focus on getting students back on track during a writing exercise, for example, rather than getting them back on track during a time when they are slouching, say, without specifying when or how. We want the message to be that these are tools you use to keep the lesson going as it should. We want to practice in a way that stresses the connection. The “why” is more implicit that way. So is the synergy.

Practice ‘best case’ first: Long ago we used to have teachers practice behavioral moves in challenging situations. This seemed right because they are often anxious about what to do in such settings.  And that’s a good argument. But over time we’ve come to see the wisdom of training people to use their techniques in the most benign setting first. We want them to perceive the moves as minor adjustments that keep the lesson on the rails and are used early and so with less tension. We want them to learn their techniques in the setting they will most frequently be used—warm, positive tweaks to a culture going the right direction. This means that practicing What To Do directions on an academic topic would be a better starting point than practicing What To Do corrections for an off task student. At least at first.

Constantly ask: what’s the synergy? Teachers will see how behavioral moves support learning moves—–and how their execution can best unlock the synergy, if we ask them to think about it constantly. We should ask as often as we can: What academic technique could you pair this with? When would you use it? How would you use it to support writing?  We even think you might add a step to Paul Bambrick’s summary of how PD works: See it; Name it; Do it. The fourth step would be “Read the Need for it:” practice what you look at to decide what intervention to use and how. The risk otherwise is that we train teachers who are proficient in a technique but less ready to decide when to use it. They can execute but don’t make good choices about when and how. Choosing the wrong technique is usually counterproductive even if it’s done proficiently.

Anyway, we loved our discussion of de-silo-fication with our colleagues at TNTP, even if the word is jargony.



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3 Responses to “De-Silo-Fication And How To Do It”

  1. Kevin O. Grier
    October 24, 2018 at 11:25 pm

    It’s been my experience to always demonstrate by example, and support how/what a healthy learning community should be, with special emphasis on respecting individual learning styles, attitudes and inclinations.
    The de-silo-fixation is nurtured intuitively by each student, without becoming dogmatic or imposing.
    There’s nothing more deflating than a group of students fearful of just being themselves.

  2. October 26, 2018 at 7:07 pm


    I really enjoyed this post. Some quick ideas that popped in my head:

    1. Is the overall training plan tied to a specific organizational improvement aim? If so, then the necessary change package including a sequence of topics/techniques for training may become more readily apparent. The aim is likely to differ by school context or even by different contexts within the same school.

    2. Is there a measurement system tied to the improvement aim? Balancing measures in particular could help ensure that some part of the system that is receiving less attention at a particular moment in time doesn’t create unintended consequences in other parts of the system (e.g. focusing on behavioral versus academic techniques early in the school year leading to less than ideal academic results).

    3. Is there an opportunity to do all of the above training in some type of structured social learning network? If this network has a well-specified aim and a shared theory of improvement, then perhaps that structure would be a reinforcing mechanism among group members as they navigate between behavioral and academic techniques.



    • Doug Lemov
      October 31, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks, John. These are great questions.

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