Dr. Christopher M. Clayton serves as a Director of Education Services for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. He is responsible for providing support to over 180,000 educator members on issues involving assessment, teacher certification, student achievement, pedagogical best practices, and research in teaching and learning. He earned a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education and Ed. S. in Education Leadership, Administration, & Policy at The University of Georgia along with a Master's Degree in Curriculum & Instruction from Regis University in Denver, CO. He is a National Board Certified Teacher (2008, 2018) who, prior to starting with PSEA, served as a high school English and I.B. Theory of Knowledge teacher and coach for over ten years in Southern California and Washington state before becoming a district administrator and Director of Curriculum & Instruction in a large metro-Atlanta school district with 138 schools and over 100,000 students. He moved to Hershey to begin his role with PSEA in 2014 and happily resides there with his wife, two daughters (20 & 25), son (12), and granddaughter (7).
We talk with Dr. Chris Clayton about how social emotional learning is not separate from academics. Learn how fostering a growth mindset can be integrated into the daily fabric of all academic content areas as a foundational element for all learning to occur.
John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Dr. Chris Clayton. Dr. Clayton serves as the Director of Education Services for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. He is responsible for providing support to over 180,000 educator members on issues involving assessment, teacher certification, student achievement, pedagogical best practices, and research in teaching and learning. He earned his PhD in language and literacy education and an EDS degree in education leadership administration and policy at the University of Georgia, along with a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.
John: He is a national board-certified teacher who prior to starting with PSEA, served as a high school English and IB Theory of Knowledge teacher and coach for over 10 years in southern California and Washington state, before becoming a District Administrator and Director of Curriculum Instruction in a large metro Atlanta school district with over 138 schools and 100000 plus students. He moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania to begin his role with PSEA in 2014 and happily resides there with his wife, two daughters, son, and granddaughter. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Dr. Chris Clayton.
John: All right, welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, Dr. Clayton. It is awesome to have you here today.
Chris: It's fantastic to be here.
John: So, Pennsylvania. What part of Pennsylvania?
Chris: We live in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Our headquarters office is out of Harrisburg, which is the capital there, so kind of south central Pennsylvania.
John: We're talking Hershey, like Hershey chocolate.
Chris: Absolutely. Sweetest place on earth.
John: Love it. That's awesome. Well, we're excited that you're here. At CharacterStrong, we are all about how do we infuse social emotional learning, character development into the daily fabric of our schools, and yet sometimes I think because of the passion to do that, one of the mistakes that can happen is that we think that the academic side of what we're doing that is so critically important is separate from this work. It isn't. It totally braids in with what we are working hard to do every day with schools and to support those needs, and I know that your work goes deep here.
John: So, give us an example. We really believe here in the shorter podcast, in cut the fluff, get right to the stuff. So, talk to me about some of that work that you're doing to show how this work, social emotional learning, character development and how it's being infused, how does it connect in a way directly to the academic side?
Chris: Sure. So one of the things I'll do is support our members in a number of school districts on initiatives where they're really ... Let's take one aspect of social emotional learning, and that's fostering a growth mindset. If you're familiar with Dr. Carol Dweck's work around what is really the mindset that our students bring to school and the learning process.
Chris: So, I think we see TED Talks and we see things along those lines that are kind of maybe you add that as a supplemental piece or a little piece, but it's really how does it actually connect to the actual learning across the content areas in the school and integrate into the very fabric of what happens in schools on a daily basis, specifically-
John: 'Cause if we're not doing that, it's not going to take.
John: We have to infuse it into everything.
Chris: So how are we teaching about the brain and the physiological processes, the brain can actually get bigger. All the stakeholders know, the students, the parents, the faculty. Number one, we build a foundation there, but then where the rubber meets the road is how do we actually acculturate it and foster it on a daily basis in terms of assessment and grading practices. Do students really see grades as about measurement or about growth and development, and what do we as educators do to really help foster that continual growth process through school, rather than a class being about measuring, sorting, and classifying students by their ability? That's really, when you think about it, that's a fixed mindset process.
John: Yep. So think about this. One of the things that we really try to work hard at is what we call low high, so low burden, high impact things that we can, because if it's high burden, it's really hard to get that fidelity across the board, right? So knowing a lot of different areas and things that you've been working on in that, what is a way that is really, in the big picture, low burden but high impact, a way that you can then take growth mindset and then infuse it into any academic content area or any assessment? What is a way that you could do that very practically?
Chris: So let's talk about two things very specifically, right? Let's talk about number one, assessments. Does every teacher have for every student at the end of an assessment something where they reflect on, a metacognitive reflection instrument where I actually get to go as a student, "Okay, where are areas that I did well and where are areas that I would specifically target for growth?"
Chris: So for example, for me as a former English teacher, did I have what I would call a tracking reflection or a metacognitive instrument that identifies from my pre-assessment to formative assessment to summative assessment, where's my growth been along the process? Where are the specific skills that I'm strong in, and where have I grown? Do I have a process where I can track and identify that?
Chris: And then specifically, the concept of buffer zones, if you've ever heard about that idea, is that you actively as a teacher plan one to two days after an assessment where I as a student can take my tracking instrument and go, "Okay, I specifically want to work here and here."
Chris: So let's say I identify out of a writing assignment, right, that I really still need to work on, let's say, transitions between my chunks in a body paragraph and transition phrases, and I really want to work on thesis statements. I identify that when I reflect on the rubric and do a tracking reflection instrument, and the teacher gives me the time to do that.
John: Yep, 'cause if we don't, it's not going to happen.
Chris: Absolutely. You've got to embed the time and the process and the mechanism to do that, right? And then does the teacher actively give me one to two days before we move into the next unit where I can now actively go, "All right, I'm going to Mr. Norlin's class across the way," and he's doing a targeted lesson on thesis statements and I get to actively work on that skillset to improve before we move into the next unit.
Chris: Or if you can't do that as a teacher, right, maybe you have corners of the room, everybody that wants to work on thesis statements. You're in the back left corner with Heather, who's an amazing student writer. So in other words, you're buffering-
John: Or that you could even check in on as the teacher and go around and help.
Chris: Absolutely, you're going around in different groups. So in other words, the assessment was about, "Where do I want to actively grow and improve before I move into the next unit and you actually give me the time to reflect, target, and identify those areas, and then one to two days to actually actively work there before we move into the next unit." That creates a growth process, not a measurement process.
John: Especially if you start to get traction with that, not, "I did it once on this one unit."
Chris: No, it's got to be consistent all year.
John: What if it was happening not just in English, but across all subject areas?
Chris: Now you've really acculturated growth mindset into the fabric of school with every subject area. Every time I take an assessment, it's about where have I grown and improved and where do I want to target for improvement.
John: So this is powerful. So, just to summarize, 'cause sometimes there's some big words that are thrown out there, but in reality, what I heard is there is a form that in reality is not that complicated, that should be carried with every assessment, that really gets students reflecting on certain things. There's a buffer zone that is built in after assessment where I then have the time to reflect on that process that we've gone through from, what, pre ... What'd you say? Pre, mid, and post.
Chris: Pre to formative to summative.
John: To formative to summative, and then I get a chance to, from what I identified, work on those things that I need to improve, 'cause isn't it about learning? 'Cause if I just throw a grade on there, right, what is happening? If all we do, we don't do-
Chris: That's fixed mindset.
John: Fixed mindset.
Chris: So in other words-
John: That's what we've been doing for years in education.
Chris: Absolutely. So in other words, if I walk into a math class and I'm like, "I'm not a math kid," which is classic fixed mindset thinking-
John: Yep, lots of people think that. Yep.
Chris: And then all that happens with the assessment process is I get a grade at the end of the unit that goes in the grade book. Me and my parents see it-
John: It affirms that I am not a math kid.
Chris: It reifies or reaffirms that ... That's a fixed mindset affirmation process.
Chris: As opposed to, I get my math test back. I have an opportunity to track and reflect where I have improved and done better, and then I actually see, "Wow, I've actually grown in these specific skill areas, right? So maybe I'm more of a math person than I thought." And then I actively get an opportunity to improve before moving into the next unit rather than just being a punitive measurement process.
John: Yep. This is powerful. So, one of the things and one of the reasons why you're even here right now, 'cause we're in person together ... Sometimes we're on a call with someone who's somewhere else ... is that we're working on taking some of these tools and embedding them into what we call our CharacterStrong gym, right, as a resource that schools could use.
John: A lot of times, it's not that we don't want to do it. It's how do we do it. There are simple steps that we could start to take across all subject areas to start to infuse more of a growth mindset that shows that this is not just over here on this side and then there's academics. No, they totally work together.
John: And so before we close down this first podcast together, and I hope that we can have more conversations in the future, what are some of the results that you've seen in terms of either working with educators and the response to it, right, is it light bulbs going off and or anywhere you've seen it infused? Just any kind of results so far from this work, 'cause I know you present on it quite regularly.
Chris: Sure. So I'll give you two examples. My own research for my PhD dissertation, right, I looked at my own grammar and mechanics instructional approach and how it improved writing performance in students. I did a mixed method, so quantitative and qualitative research analysis, where I essentially gave I think nine different teachers across three different high schools in Georgia this approach.
Chris: First semester of the year was called treatment. They did their own thing. They wouldn't have normally done, and then second semester was this approach that had these concepts we just talked about, tracking and reflection instruments, et cetera, right?
Chris: But before I did all of that, and which I saw tremendous results in the improved writing with the treatment, right, and so it worked for other teachers. But what was really interesting to me is prior to doing that, I did an analysis of my own students' performance. I went back and looked at grade data of my own students. I was teaching the same stuff but when I infused this process I just talked about, the average grade in my own class for students went up basically a full letter grade.
Chris: Let me make this clear. So what I'm saying is ultimately, I was teaching the same stuff, but I was stopping and giving three to five minutes after each assessment to track, reflect, and identify.
John: Making time.
Chris: And then making it about growth process with buffer zones. Average grade went up a full grade in my class.
John: So that goes to that whole piece of the feeling that we don't have enough time, when in reality, when you make the time for something that is high leverage, you are getting greater results, which is a powerful thing.
Chris: So the big thing to think about is what the foundation that you're building for the process of learning, right? What am I coming to school for as a student? Is it to get a grade or is it to continually grow and improve?
Chris: If we don't foundationally connect that you're coming to school in every area, whether it's character or English and math and science to continually grow and improve and get better, it's our fault. We've set up a fixed mindset process, so students will have fixed mindsets.
John: Yep. Okay, this is powerful. If you are listening, I think that many schools need to hear this simple yet powerful message. Please share this podcast. We're going to be putting resources that are out there. This is going to be a part of our CharacterStrong gym. It's awesome having you with us. Appreciate the work that you've been doing from almost every area of this country, you've been in from Washington, California, Atlanta, Pennsylvania, right?
Chris: I would add to your question, the districts I'm working with, they're starting to find the same results. They're starting to really think about, "Oh my gosh. What we're actually acculturating and have been for years and decades is a fixed mindset in our students."
Chris: They're really starting to look at, "Okay, in terms of assessment and grades, what are we actually doing to really help foster a growth mindset?" So it's so powerful to see when we have as an educators those realizations for ourselves about, "All right, what are we actually doing for our students and the mindsets that we're helping them build?"
Chris: It's been, yeah, to your point, fascinating to see that in different states around the country and be able to do that work. It's just amazing, 'cause you are really getting at character development, too, right? You're getting at, "How do I think about every time I make a mistake, is that a growth opportunity, right, or is it something I'm avoiding?" It's really powerful in the mindsets and dispositions it develops in our students.
John: We're talking both classroom level as well as school-wide. Well, thank you for being with us.
Chris: Oh, thanks for having me.
John: It's been awesome. Could probably talk all day long, but we'll have you on again at some point. Thanks everybody for being with us. Make it a great day.
John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.
John: To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit CharacterStrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.