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There’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.
Reading and Language Arts
Technology in the Classroom
This is the first in an ongoing series of posts inspired by How I Work, a bi-weekly series on one of our favorite sites, Lifehacker. As educators, we like to know how other educators work, how they live, and how they play, so every other week we’ll be featuring a new interview with a new teacher. This week, we’ll hear from Marc Hamlin, an English Language Arts teacher from West Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Location: Exeter- West Greenwich Regional Senior High School, West Greenwich, RI 02817
Desired location: Eventually, I want to move on to teaching at a local community college. I want to “age with the profession.” I can’t say I’ll have the same relevance or world view of a 15 or 16 year-old when I’m in my late 50s-early 60s.
Current work title (administrator/teacher/school technologist, etc.) Also, what grade do you teach?: It’s interesting. I taught ELA at my school for the first 8 years of my career. Then, I had an opportunity to teach educational technology for 10 years. It was fun, but 10 years of teaching in “The Bunker” (room with no windows) can really warp your perception of reality. Then I went back to my first love, ELA, and here I am, but with a strong technology skillset. I’m all about integrating technology into lessons to improve learning.
Area of expertise (subjects you teach or have an interest in): ELA, computer technology, web design, computer networking and network design, relational database management systems (RDBMS) with languages like MySQL.
Do you have a specific long-term career goal?: Yes, I want to start creating instructional videos on YouTube. I really think it’s now, not the future.
Languages you have studied or currently speak: Well, It’s funny. On my father’s side, they came from France and Belgium. On my mother’s side, they came from French-speaking Canada (Quebec). But the language was taken out of them when they went to school (My mother spoke French until she went to school.) They were told not to speak French at home. It was all about assimilation, then.
As a consequence, I speak the French I learned in French class- “Un petit peu.” I feel I’ve lost a good deal of my cultural heritage as a result. When I look at Hispanic students, I think, “Yes, learn English, but don’t ever stop speaking your language. Once you lose that, you lose your cultural treasures.”
The project you’re most proud of: The “Sweded Video Project” is my very favorite. Inspired by the Jack Black/Danny Glover/Mos Def film, “Be Kind, Rewind,” the project centers around creating stories (or adapting stories read during the semester) to a five-minute “short attention-span” theater.
Imagine breaking down Moby Dick to 5 minutes. It’s breathtaking. It’s not merely about how we tell stories, but why, after all these thousands of years, we still gather around an electric campfire to hear and tell each other stories. And unlike other group projects, each student has a clearly defined job, with a “deliverable” at the end of the process. That part is 70% of the project grade. The video is only 25%. They make a movie poster using Photoshop to promote their movie- 5%. We have a large-format printer that allows us to print to poster size. We put these posters up in the hallway to promote their videos. Then, we roll out a red carpet at “premiere time” and “movie day” becomes a party, a human coming-together. I’d like Arne Duncan to put that through his testing regime and see what he comes up with.
Favorite technology gadget for the classroom: I’m a big fan of BYOD (bring your own device). As long as your platform isn’t too esoteric, most devices can play nice-nice with web 2.0 tools out there. I’m now exploring a site called exittix.com to facilitate some formative assessment strategies in my classroom, but we’re not 1:1 yet. Until then, 5-up (hold up five fingers, students self-assess their competency before and after a lesson) will have to suffice.
And I’d be crazy not to mention the impact Edmodo.com has had on my classroom. Parents, students both know what is expected of them, and when. Not to mention the fact that I don’t lose out to snow days anymore. And it’s a place for students to distill what they think about a work or a topic before they are asked to comment, at night, in a thread.
Next conference/professional-development event you’re planning to give or attend: I’ll be attending something called “Writing Strategies to meet CCSS” which is supposed to be good. I’m going with my department on 3/17. If it doesn’t work out, well, there’s an Irish bar across the street from the conference site. So after the conference, I may have to go in there for a debriefing.
How many hours per day do you usually work?: As a teacher of ELA, I often work 10 hours per day. At 48, I can’t work as long or as late into the night as I used to. When I first started, I’d be up until 12, 1 am…Now I have rules for myself. Like, “Don’t bring home more than you can evaluate in one night.” Otherwise, that “teacher bag” can become something of a nemesis.
Are you an early-riser or a night-owl?: It’s also seasonal, and generational. Used to be a major night owl back in my younger days. Hated mornings. Now, I’m in bed by 9:30-10 p.m. because I’m up at 5:30 for work. I like to get in early- 6:30 or so, plan, think, and pray that God gives me the wisdom and the words to help every single kid I encounter. I pray for certain students who I know are in turmoil. And I pray for good cycling weather.
Do you have any pets or kids (names and ages)?: I have one kid. She’s black, has four legs, never changes clothes, and she’s an obedience school dropout, but I love my dog Holly, a black lab-weimaraner mix.
Next city/country you want to visit: I’m headed to England and Scotland in April with a group of students on an EF Educational Tour. Just got back from Paris, France in November (Thanksgiving). Paris blew my mind. It’s a jaw-droppingly gorgeous city.
Favorite vacation place: It’s simple enough, but hard to get there (from the northeast, USA)- Maui, Hawaii. Went there a few years ago and did not want to come home. Don’t ever go there during February break. It will seriously mess you up for life. It really is paradise on earth. Why anyone would want to live anywhere else is beyond me.
Favorite book: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is my all-time favorite. You hear about “Macondo” and the house of mirrors and you wonder what is going on, and why all these people in the novel have the same names over the generations, and then, in about the last 50 to 100 pages, it hits you, and you can’t put the novel down until you’re finished. And then your mind explodes with reverence for Garcia Marquez’s genius.
Favorite song: Right now, Joe Pug’s “Hymn 101.” He’s picked up Dylan’s crown, shined it up, and it fits.
Do you have a Twitter account we can follow you on?: I have a twitter account: @mrhamlinewg but because Twitter is blocked in our school (I’m behind the Iron Curtain) I don’t use it very often. Yeah, I need to get writing.
Many educational scholars and practitioners, including me, have written extensively about teaching students from underserved populations. The focus of this work has included has included students living in poverty, from diverse cultural and racial experiences, and who are English learners. These are made more relevant by an ever-increasing population of students and families living in poverty, the significant rate of school absenteeism among our nation’s poor, and an increase in racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity among the nation’s populace. While it’s critical to understand underserved student populations, it is especially important to look at the type of language and literacy that are needed to perform successfully in school. Some students come to school with a deep foundation in the language system that is used in school while increasing numbers do not. These differences represent what many refer to as the achievement gap. We might think of it as an academic language gap between students who come to school with this foundational language and those who must learn it while simultaneously attending school.
In the United States, the federal definition of the abilities that an English learner must obtain to be considered proficient in English sheds some light on the type of language and literacy that is needed by ALL of the nation’s students. It includes the following:
(i) the ability to meet the State’s proficient level of achievement on State assessments;
(ii) the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; and
(iii) the opportunity to participate fully in society (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
An important characteristic of the federal definition is that students must be highly fluent and competent in the language that is used in school and across all subject matters to be successful in it. To remedy the differences between students who carry academic language like a literacy suitcase wherever they go (in school, at home, and elsewhere) and students who are learning academic language while simultaneously attending school, we must intentionally transform the ways in which we build programming, policies and practices for the nation’s students (Zacarian, 2013).
To do this calls for a four-pronged literacy framework (Zacarian, 2013) in which we understand academic language learning as a
(1) a sociocultural process that must be grounded in our students and their families’ personal, social, cultural, and world experiences;
(2) a developmental process that calls for understanding the literacy levels of each of our students and targeting instruction a little bit beyond that level so that it is obtainable and reachable,
(3) an academic process that is built on our students’ prior learning experiences and where the learning goals are made explicit; and
(4) a cognitive process in which higher-order thinking skills are intentionally taught and practiced.
We also have to understand that each of the four prongs is akin to an electric outlet in which all of the prongs must be plugged in for learning to occur. When we do this, we have a much better chance for closing the achievement gap and better ensuring that our students can flourish in school and beyond (Zacarian, 2013).
This article should be referenced as: Zacarian, D. (2014). Understanding the achievement gap as an academic language gap. zacarianconsulting.com. It has been drawn from from Zacarian (2013) Mastering academic language: a framework for supporting student achievement.
We are discussing the history of education in one of my courses and thus exploring teaching philosophies (such as progressivism, essentialism, existentialism, etc.). As part of our discussion, I asked the students to identify advantages and disadvantages of each philosophy. A student shared that one drawback for using real world conflicts (the social reconstruction philosophy), was that it was “uncomfortable”. When probed further, it was determined that fear, anger, or sadness could result when discussing controversial current events and thus hinder the learning process for students. For instance, it may be frightening for students to discuss how the homicide rate for the first two months of 2014 (in some states) is slowly approaching the total homicide rate for the entire year 2013. Similarly it may be alarming for students to acknowledge the news story of how the “knock-out” game (an assault act that may end in death) targets unsuspecting pedestrians for no rhyme or reason.
I agree that discussing current events has its challenges, but I could not deny my discomfort with my student’s “uncomfortableness”. Maybe omitting real life events from classroom discussions is the best thing to do in terms of safeguarding student’s feelings?
I tend to think that it is within these “uncomfortable” topics that teachable moments are made. I wish to help students learn from the uncomfortable current events that surround them every day. For instance, the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law (the right to defend oneself during times of conflict) has been in the news after two separate conflicts resulted in the death of African American teen boys. In response to the two cases, strong emotions about racial relations and the legal system have ensued. The following curriculum ideas illustrate 9 classroom activities that may help students use the highly publicized law to reflect on themes such as effective communication, conflict resolution, and sensitivity to differences. Although the activities were developed with the ‘Stand your Ground’ law in mind, they can be adopted for use with any current event:
1. Discuss the term “threat”. Explore the different types of threats (physical and psychological) that students may hear. Debate various mechanisms to address threats such as bully awareness strategies. Websites such as bullyhelp.org and stopbullying.gov are great resources for this.
2. Ask students to journal about consequences that may ensue from defending oneself such as:
a. Physical consequences
b. Emotional consequences
c. Short-term consequences
d. Long-term consequences
3. Encourage the students to visit websites that focus on conflict resolution approaches and present their findings to the class. The National Crime Prevention Council offers great resources for this.
4. Invite the students to share funny videos (they can search online using Youtube or Vine) regarding problem solving strategies that are imaginative and outside of the box.
5. Hold a contest for students to find the best quote that illustrates reconciling differences.
6. Request students bring in song lyrics (or play a clean excerpt from the song) that emphasize themes in negotiation, compromise, or appropriately communication of differences.
7. Ask students to read, write, or respond to blogs that highlight uncomfortable conversations about conflict management. Invite teachers to share their experiences for how they learn (blogs, or professional development) to use current events within their curriculum.
8. Offer incentives for students to get involved in conflict resolution on a local level. Assist students in contacting the local police office or the local legislative office to gain further education regarding local rules and policies for those engaged in conflict.
9. Help students get involved in conflict resolution outside of their community. Assist students in a letter writing campaign to support the families of individuals that were unable to successfully defend themselves in times of conflict.
*Please note that this article was originally posted on teachersnet.gazette Vol. 11 No. 3
In a recent post, Personalizing Professional Development, I shared our plan to personalize an upcoming professional development day by having teachers indicate which target goal they wanted to focus on and what activities they would like to engage in to further their learning outcomes in that area. The experience proved largely successful and respectful of teacher autonomy and specialization. When we anonymously surveyed teachers to obtain their feedback, we were able to reflect on the effectiveness of the day and were even able to learn more about our individual team members. Here’s what we learned…
100% of teachers found the experience at least as enjoyable or more enjoyable than a more traditional professional development experience, with 85% of teachers reporting a more enjoyable experience. Many expressed gratitude for the ability to customize the day with comments such as this one: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to tailor the PD to our individual goals. The time allowed me to really focus and make progress on the goals I set earlier this year. It felt positive and productive.”
100% of teachers found the experience at least as valuable or more valuable than a more traditional PD day, with 78% of teachers indicating a more valuable outcome.
Preparation was key for the greatest outcome. One teacher shared the benefit of pre-planning, “I feel the planning for the day went well. We were able to meet prior to our trip off campus, allowing us to set goals for the day. We also met after the experience to discuss the experience and work on putting a plan in action” while another pointed to the need for more pto maximize the experience, “The only change to our experience could have been a little (30-minutes) pre-planning so we could have hit the ground running.”
Some teachers indicated the value of both types of experiences in reflections such as, “The reason I chose "about the same" is I think our PD's this year have been very good!” A few even suggested that having an option of a more traditional workshop as a learning path on a choice-based day would be helpful “in case plans fall through” or simply because they enjoy shared learning, “It would have been nice to have one topic/ article to discuss and learn together as a team.
As an leadership team, we are very grateful for the reflective feedback. It was clear that teachers put in a great deal of thought into their responses, and we plan on incorporating some of the great ideas into our next professional development day.
I’m inspired to continue searching for innovative, personalized approaches to professional development. It seems that the more validated people feel in their professional endeavors and the more opportunity they have to engage in meaningful, passion-based learning, the more invigorated about their profession they feel. For teachers, as winter endures and the year grows longer, energy is especially precious!
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play by William Shakespeare that chronicles two pairs of lovers: Benedick and Beatrice (the main couple), and Claudio and Hero (the secondary couple). By means of "nothing" (which sounds the same as "noting," and which is gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful. At the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples. (Much Ado About Nothing. Captured from Wikipedia. February 28, 2014.)
What is currently taking place across the United States regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Much Ado About Something, does not bring to mind a comedy; rather, it brings to mind a tragedy. Before I continue, I must state that my post is not an “I’m on this side or I’m on that side” commentary. It is simply a personal and professional reflection based on working intimately with the CCSS and scores of teachers K-12 across this country and overseas coupled with what I have observed regarding those who are making “much ado”. My hope is that I mirror Benedick and Beatrice’s desire to set things right.
Whether it be politicians, parents, or people in educational circles commenting, I most-often hear them not making comments about the standards themselves – the basic, no-frills standard statements that convey what students need to know and be able to do. For example, let’s take a Reading Literature standard for Grade 7:
CCSS.RL.7.7 Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
This standard, here as it appears in the CCSS ELA Progressive Continuums App I created to aid teachers in collaboratively designing systemic curriculum that uses italic font to represent learning from a previous grade or grades and boldfaced text to indicate new learning in a grade, speaks directly to 21st-century (modern) learners needing to not only become literary literate, but media literate as well, as my colleague, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, promotes in her new book, Mastering Media Literacy (Solution Tree, 2013).
Before one can compare and contrast, one must know these two literacy forms as stand alones, which generates interesting conversations with teachers I work with as we develop content and skills because they were not taught media literacy when they were growing up (even younger teachers). Our conversations usually result in the seventh-grade teachers realizing they need to become deep learners themselves to best design content and skills associated with media literacy. And, as you can visually see represented in the standard above, comparing and contrasting written works to media is in italics, which means this process and learning about media-based versions has been learned in at least one previous grade (actually, starts in Grade 4 and is expanded on in Grades 5 and 6). Therefore, not only do seventh-grade teachers say they need media-literacy professional development, but fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers share they want to be included as well.
Common Core State Standard RL.7.7 is not saying specifically what must be read, what must be watched, or what the focus must be when read and watched, which is what I find many unhappy-with-the-CCSS commentators are up in arms over (excuse the film pun). While myriad companies and non-profits have developed recommended reading/media lists, units of study, and lesson plans that “are align to” the CCSS, these resources are not the standards. These aligned documents, programs, textbooks, etc., are how tos (instruction and assessments) based on someone or some group’s interpretation of the standards. For example, based on this standard, groups can have a wildly different take on what is an appropriate text versus movie/staged production for seventh graders – one group choosing a very liberal text and film and another group select a very conservative text and staged production.
Regardless of the selections, it is not the standard that is making a selection, human beings are. If studied closely, standard RL.7.7 is asking students to be critical thinkers and reason deeply regarding the nuances in a selected text and audio-visual representation, which is exactly what 21st-century students need to be doing – critically thinking and problem solving as well as reasoning and providing text and media evidence for their claims (e.g., requirements also found in standards RL._.1, RI._.1, W._.1). And, if we are truly trying to engage learners and wanting them to own their own learning, how about allowing students to select the text and film or staged production they will analyze?
What I often find interesting is that if you ask someone who is knocking the CCSS (let’s say in reference to a unit of study that is for some reason “inappropriate”) to tell you specifically what standard or standards he or she does not like (e.g., W.7.1a. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.), the person will hem and haw and can’t state the standard. And, when shown the aligned standard he or she most often comments that the standard is fine, it is the reading or film selection, the activity, or assessment item or task that is not liked. Evidence once again that it is not the standards themselves that is truly the concern.
With this said, I need to make one comment at this juncture: the CCSS are not perfect. There are definitely some flawed standard statements, but the flaws are minimal when compared to the total number of CCSS K-12.
The bashing or knocking of the CCSS, which is getting louder in some states with each passing month, is frustrating to me as a curriculum-design consultant who has worked extensively with the CCSS since they were in draft form and officially adopted in 2010. I know the standards inside and out from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I have spent hundreds of hours of meaningful conversations with teachers concerning the vertically articulated standards. These teachers care passionately about their students’ learning as they develop collaborative, systemic curriculum.
My passion and work has been, and will continue to be, dedicated to aiding teachers in designing curriculum maps with the students’ best interests in mind. The CCSS are our curriculum-design building “codes”, much as an architect uses codes to design blueprints, which Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Jay McTighe, and others have used as an analogy for many years. For the first time ever the largest number of independent United States have chosen to have the same building codes. This does not mean that each state, district, or school has to build the exact same home – one can choose to design a modern two-story, another a log cabin, another a green home, and another a ranch-style hacienda. The point here is that the infrastructure of the home design remains the same regardless of where the home is built. I grew up in the military and lived around the world before I was 15 years old. Today, given our ever-growing mobile society, chances of having a similar (and thankfully not exact) blueprint-based curriculum for a K-12 education is better than it ever was when I was in my formative years.
Academic standards are not the curriculum (Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Erickson. Sage, 2007. p.48). I whole-heartedly believe this is true. And while it absolutely takes time and commitment to develop a worthwhile systemic curriculum (oftentimes two to three years to fully develop and implement), I remind myself and others that curriculum mapping is a verb and the deep conversations and collaborations across grade levels immediately impact student in positive ways through teachers who are reconsidering the learning, teaching, and assessments while embracing what is new in the CCSS content and process standards. This immediate and on-going process validates why I have been involved in this specific field of work for over 15 years. Designing CCSS-based curriculum involves a two-phase process: studying and breaking apart the standards systemically to first develop learning based solely on what the standards (and critical ancillary documents, such as the CCSS Math Progressions) explicitly and implicitly require; and secondly, develop meaningful units of study that combine the learning, teaching, and assessment tasks based on a current program or encouraging teachers to create their own program.
Well, I may have not set things right, but hopefully a little bit right, in that it is not the CCSS themselves that are the problem; instead, it is CCSS-based interpretations made in the form of instructional choices and assessment practices, as well as one area I chose not to get into here: teacher evaluations.
As I previously mentioned, I will continue to work diligently with districts and schools who have a like passion – looking collaboratively and critically at the CCSS and systemically designing curriculum that aids their students in experiencing meaningful learning journeys K-12+.
(reprenting from Vicki's Rethinking Education blog)
APPR has created a tremendous amount of change in our districts and buildings. It has also increased the amount of work principals have to do on a daily basis, let alone the amount of stress. Staying positive is key to the success and survival of these demands. As a 13 year administrative veteran, here are some top tens I would like to share (In no particular order!)
1. Keep Your Door Open and Be Visible: Your staff, students and parents need to see you as the leader and you need to be accessible. Keep your door open, listen, listen, and listen even more. Give encouragement to your staff who are working hard to embrace a new curriculum and create engaging lessons for students. Be in their classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. Greet the buses and parents in the morning. Get on the announcements daily and say the pledge, your school pledge and your belief statement. It's powerful, it resonates, and starts the day on a positive note.
2. Use a Scheduler: If you don't write it down on your schedule to do a walk through, be visible, orthat observation, then it will not get done! I use Google Calendar and live by it. I have shared the calendar with my secretary who schedules my observations and meetings with staff when needed. Using an online calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook will help you organize YOU. The best part is that it notifies me of my schedule in the morning, and notifies me 10 minutes in advance.
3. Provide Mini-Observations: Teachers want feedback on how they are doing. When you do a walk through or mini-observation give them honest, constructive feedback. I like what Kim Marshall has listed in how to do mini-observations the right way: Unannounced, Frequent, Short, Face-to-face, Perceptive, Humble, Courageous, Systematic, Documented, Linked to Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, 2nd Edition, 2013.) Marshall suggests to do 10 mini-observations on each teacher, throughout the school year.. That would be 1 mini-observation per month. In our district, we do 5 mini observations for tenured, 2 formal observations and 3 mini-observations for 1st year teachers, and 1 formal observation and 4 mini-observations for 2nd and 3rd year non-tenured teachers. What it has accomplished for me is having powerful, professional conversations about what is occurring in the classroom, asking questions of the staff, and coaching best practice. It is also building trust and it is so important to have those face-to-face conversations about what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s about growth and should not be about a “gotcha”.teamwork and improvement, Linked to end-of-year teacher evaluation, and Explained well. (Kim Marshall,
4. Share The Leadership: I am the sole administrator/lead learner at East Side, with a student population of 463 and about 60 staff members. There is no way I can do this job alone and I rely on the staff to help run the school. Give leadership roles to your teacher's. Give them opportunities to work together so they can manage the Common Core. They are the ones in the trenches and will help boost school morale and provide great education for our students.
5. Be the Lead Learner: Rather than being "the principal", be the Lead Learner. Joe Mazza, Lead Learner of Knapp Elementary School in the North Penn School District, PA, coined this term and it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Join your teachers in professional development. Share your learning and what you find. Get on Twitter people! (Social media networking is huge and you should be embracing this venue.) Gone are the days of the principal sitting in the office, managing discipline and minutia. We need to be visible, be a part of what is happening in our schools, and be in the classrooms.
6. Your Hour of Power: Tony Robbins says that we have to have a daily ritual of physical and emotional . This means having time for you. Are you experiencing an extraordinary life? He also says to put in some type of physical activity. I try to power walk the hallways of my school and examine student work displayed and in turn, see the pride in our students’ accomplishments. This also gives me an hour to reflect on the day and plan. Give yourself this hour to rejuvenate and reflect.
8. Climate and Culture: How is the climate of your building? Have you given a culture survey? Are you dealing with lots of discipline issues that boggle you down? Maybe it is time to implement a social and emotional curriculum such as Responsive Classroom or PBIS. If you don't address the social and emotional aspects of students and get to know your kids, forget about the academics. Programs such as these change the culture of your building not only for students, but for the adults. The social and emotional curriculum is just as important as the academic curriculum. Once you have the social and emotional curriculum in place, academics are a breeze. It is about the relationships we develop not only with our students, but also with adults.
9. Celebrate: Celebrate the joys of being a team, a school family. We just finished our Holiday stocking stuffing exchange and what amade for the staff. We also celebrate baby showers, weddings, birthdays, you name it. Again, as adults, it's about the relationships and working together to be the best we can be. I always say to the staff, "You are the best of the best." You say it often, and it starts to become a part of you, and we show our pride.
10. It's People, Not Programs: Todd Whitaker says it best that it’s about the teachers, the people, not the programs. “We can spend a great deal of time and energy looking for programs that will solve our problems. Too often, these programs do not bring the improvement or growth we need. Instead, we must focus on what really matters. It is never about’ programs; it is always about people.” (Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently, 2003.) have new Common Core State Standards and those modules, but if you are not putting the time into your people, your staff and teachers, giving them time to plan, collaborate, reflect and giving them ownership, then it will be a tough road ahead. Empower your teachers and your staff, and you will have a better school. You know that if you have great teachers, you will have a great school. “The program itself is never the the problem.” (Todd Whitaker)
In the end, it is all about teamwork. As the lead learner, create those opportunities for collaboration, leadership, reflection and rejuvenation. You are the lead leaner and remember to remain positive!
In my recent column in Educational Leadership, I drew upon some studies synthesized in a new book from Newsweek and New York Times journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, which provides a slew of fascinating insights, including the importance of framing problems as challenges versus threats.
In sports, for example, professional soccer players are more apt to kick a tie-breaking goal when they are kicking to win—that is, to give their team the lead in a shootout—than when kicking in a sudden death situation to avoid a loss. In addition, Bronson and Merryman point to a study conducted at Princeton University, which invited two groups of students from high schools under-represented on the prestigious campus to answer questions about their backgrounds (to remind them of their outsider status) and then take a short math test.
The tests the two groups took were nearly identical, with just one subtle, yet important difference. For one group, the exam was a framed as an “Intellectual Ability Questionnaire;” for the other, it was called an “Intellectual Challenge Questionnaire.” The differences in performance were striking; the students taking the “challenge” test answered, on average, 90 percent of questions correctly; the students taking the very same test labelled as an “ability” exam answered, on average, just 72 percent of the questions correctly. In effect, framing the test as a threat rather than a challenge resulted in a two-letter-grade drop in performance.
Consider yet another study included in Top Dog. It found that the size of the venue in which students take the SAT test has a tremendous effect on performance—the smaller the venue, the higher the score. Certainly, many explanations might be offered for this finding. One likely culprit, though, is that being surrounded by a large group of fellow exam takers can be threatening. As Bronson and Merryman observe, “These kids know darn well that the entire country is taking the test that day; however, having so many at the same place, often in the same room, is intimidating. It’s a stark reminder of just how many other students are competing with you for college spots."
Bronson and Merryman connect these findings with yet another dot: business research that shows that companies whose CEOs create a “promotion focus” (i.e., set ambitious goals and encourage innovation) are more likely to outperform competitors than those led by CEOs who create a “prevention focus” (i.e., cautiously fixate on preventing errors).
In my column, I related these insights from Top Dog to the current environment in many schools, which for nearly half of all educators, according to a recent MetLife survey of educators, is characterized by high levels of stress, due in no small part to ongoing pressure to raise student performance while enduring budget cuts. In short, what many educators appear to be facing are tantamount to threat conditions that are likely not conducive to kind of the creative and collaborative thinking that is required to develop better learning environments for students.
That’s not to say pressure and competition are always bad. On the contrary, Top Dog identifies conditions under which competition spurs higher performance and even, surprisingly, creativity (for example the rivalry between Renaissance painters Michelangelo and Rafael). Along these lines, the pressure created by the last two decades of reforms hasn’t been all bad; it has focused attention to helping all students succeed, relying upon data to make decisions, and looking for bright spots and best practices.
That said, we need extrapolate only a little to question the current direction, and underlying theory of action, beneath the continued press to tighten the screws on the package of high-stakes testing, school accountability, and educator performance evaluations tied to student achievement scores (which, as I noted in a previous Educational Leadership column, researchers caution is fraught with concerns of its own).
For starters, if simple tweaks to tests, such as reframing them as challenges, reducing the number of fellow test takers in the room, or, as I noted in an earlier blog, offering students small rewards, can dramatically alter how students perform on them, one wonders if we’re really assessing what we think we are. Moreover, one might wonder whether the threat conditions we’ve created for many schools with high-stakes accountability are serving us well, or if it may be time to begin to reframe accountability in terms of a challenge condition that encourages educators to harness their collective ingenuity to create better learning environments for all students.
I’ll write more about what these efforts might resemble in future blogs and columns. For now, though, I’d encourage readers to absorb the many surprising insights from Top Dog (of which I’ve barely scratched the surface) and consider how this science of competition, adeptly captured in the book, might point us toward a more enlightened approach to school improvement.
Just as we posted a blog about five of our favorite virtual field trips, Richard Byrne went and outdid us. Apparently, he stumbled upon the holy grail of virtual field trips: a website called AirPano. We didn’t discover the site, but we’ll be darned if we’re not going to share it with you anyway.
AirPano is a site jam-packed with high-resolution, spherical panoramas shot from a bird’s eye view. In addition to the 200 panoramas, you’ll also find 360 degree videos, a photo gallery and news stories.
To take a virtual field trip of the Roman Colosseum in Italy, click here or on the image below.
They respond to texts differently than you do
One of the most exhilarating things about teaching reading and discussing texts is that they can be viewed through a variety of lenses. Texts, like language, are malleable: they mean different things to different people.
There are too many students who share this experience: At the teacher’s request, students prepare a response or opinion piece on a book, but receive low marks because they did not give the “right opinion.” If you’re asking for an opinion piece, hold up your end of the bargain and accept it for what it is. Reward students for their efforts, allow them to revise their work, and help them develop their ideas.
They can’t read as fast as their peers
Why are we always in such a hurry? Slow down and allow your reluctant readers to set their own pace, even if it means they “fall behind.” They may be slower than their peers, but one thing is for sure: pushing them to read faster isn’t going to help build their confidence, their comprehension or their enthusiasm for reading.
They are anxious about reading aloud
Students are often asked to read aloud; less often are they given the opportunity to silently read the text first. This might be worth reconsidering.
If you’ve ever agreed to read publicly, chances are that you requested the opportunity to review the text before you stood in front of an audience. Why? Because you didn’t want to stumble over words or make silly mistakes. Naturally, our students feel the same. Most real-world reading happens silently, so doesn’t it make sense to allow our students the opportunity to read silently before shining the spotlight on them?
They are preoccupied by “The Test”
You may not be able to completely abandon the multiple-choice test, but when given the chance, allow students to respond to what they’re reading. With your guidance you can help readers make connections and actually discover themselves in a text. Instead of posing questions that have predetermined answers, try some of the following:
They read texts that adults don’t value
We’ve been using the phrase “reluctant readers,” but the fact of the matter is that we don’t really believe any of our students are reluctant about reading.
All of our students read—they read all the time, in fact. If you need proof, give something a try: Ask your students if they text. Ask them if they update their Facebook pages or write on their friends’ walls. Do they like gossip magazines, comic books, blogs, and foreign films? We bet they do.
If we want our “reluctant readers” to shed their reluctance, we must acknowledge that their “texts”—no matter how low-brow we consider them—are legitimate forms of reading.
Teacher Appreciation Week Comes Early to Snowbird at #ECET2
During the closing address of the Gates Education Foundation’s (@gatesed) Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (#ECET2) Convening, participants were asked to share one word with an elbow partner that summed up their feelings about the conference. I struggled to convey the thoughts in my head using the words “expanded” or “broadened.” I needed a lot of explanation to go along with my response, all the while getting further and further away from the one word challenge. With time to reflect, what I really was trying to get at was the idea that this experience, and the teachers that I had the privilege of coming in touch with, truly opened my mind. Without knowing it, I came to the table with narrow definitions of the idea of teacher leader, of how to reach all learners, and of the implications of common core. Furthermore, I came with a limited view of my own place within the context of this amazing group of teachers and the impact I might have. I was nominated to attend through my work with ASCD and the Whole Child Network, which as many of my peers have stated, seems like being recognized for simply doing what our job requires, but it is never that simple.
When it came time to share out with the whole group, Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4) asked people to stand and call out their words. A common theme quickly emerged from the chorus of responses: refreshed - inspired –invigorated – energized - and an array of synonyms that expressed similar sentiments. As I sat there listening, the inadequateness of the word I came up with during the turn and talk became apparent, and a new one came to mind . . . appreciated. I shouted it out just in time to make the final cutoff for sharing, and quickly leaned over to my partner telling her not to give away the secret of my switch.
Appreciation is such a simple sentiment, and one that I’m sure most teachers will agree we often don’t feel. Much of the press likes to embellish the negative connotations that are associated with our profession. Education as a system has a pass-the-buck type of mentality, and usually that buck stops at the head of the class. I am always critical at the beginning of the year, when our district special education department calls us together to say what a great job we are doing before following with a laundry list of all of the things we aren’t doing well. There are endless examples any teacher can give you. By the very nature of the youth we serve, and through no fault of their own, a thank you is not something I here every day (Although I dream of the students that come to me to say, “Hey Mr. Russo, thanks for teaching me the elements of plot. That was mind-blowing!”) And it was clear, through discussions with other attendees, that being a teacher leader, especially an unofficial one, doesn’t always come along with an eager group of followers hanging on your every word. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
Having said all that, the name of this incredible event gets lost in the simplicity of the acronym. It truly served to elevate and celebrate the work that we do. For the first time in a long time, I feel appreciated, and in turn want to show some of my appreciation. I am appreciative to ASCD and the group from the Whole Child Network for thinking that I am worth it. I am appreciative to my co-presenters, Kristen Tolsen Cons, Barry Saide (@barrykid1), and Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy), for considering me an equal when in fact they are miles ahead of me (and again to Barry and Suzy for inadvertently inspiring me to write this post). I am appreciative to my colleague circles, especially those in the “Reaching All Learners” circle, who reminded me that it’s not just about the high flyers and the strugglers, but it’s about boys and girls, about race, about special education, about socioeconomic status, and it’s about the kids in other people’s classes that do not have the privilege of sitting in our classrooms on a daily basis. I am appreciative to my principal (especially after hearing some horror stories) because she has fostered my growth from the moment I stepped in the building as a first year teacher four years ago. I am appreciative for everyone that shared with me and listened to what I had to share. I am appreciative for all of the comments and links and hash tags on the social network surrounding this conference (#ECET2). I am appreciative of the Gates Education Foundation for holding this convening and living up to it’s promise. I am appreciative of my family, who often take the backseat to grading, planning, or IEP writing on the weekends. But most of all, I am appreciative of my students, who push me to be better daily, who, upon my return, showed that they missed me in a variety of different ways, but most simply when one student, Paulina, said “Welcome home, Mr. Russo.” I am truly at home in the classroom. I am where I belong, and I am appreciative of the opportunity to serve kids through all of the highs and lows that come with the responsibility.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
The best leaders, the ones who truly understand what it means to lead, know that from the minute they step into a leadership position, they have to have one foot already on the way out.
This doesn’t mean leaders are thinking about retirement or leaving the profession; far from it. Rather, what it means is that the best leaders lead for the future, knowing that organizations need to have a leadership scheme in place if they want to be successful for generations.
This means that a leader needs to begin thinking about those who will come next even as she is reflecting on the work of her predecessor.
What is so interesting about this idea is that a leader is always in transition, even those leaders who have been in their current position for quite a while, and most interestingly, even for those who began their leadership position today.
How do we keep one foot grounded while building capacity for the future with the other foot? Here are three ideas:
As silly as it might sound, any leader worth his salt needs to always be thinking about transitioning, if for no other reason than the future of his organization.
So celebrate that new position for a minute. Now start preparing for when you have to leave.
I work in the dark. I mean, it’s not pitch black in my office, but I only flip the switch to those eye-melting fluorescents when I absolutely have to.
It’s unusual, I know—but the fact of the matter is that I work better in dim light. I can’t think or write otherwise and according to a recent study, my quirk may actually have a drop of science to it.
According to the findings of a 2013 study by German researchers Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, darkness may actually reduce feelings of constraint and spark creativity. Here’s what they reported in The Journal of Environmental Psychology.
One key experiment featured 114 German undergraduates who were seated in groups of two or three in a small room designed to simulate an office. The room was lit by a single fixture hanging directly over the group’s desk. The amount of illumination varied with each group: some received only 150 lux (dim light), others 500 lux (the recommended lighting level for an office), and still others 1,500 lux (bright light).
After a 15-minute acclimation period, each group was asked to work on “four creative insight problems” that required creativity to find a solution. After two minutes, groups were asked to report their level of self-assurance, how free from constraint they felt and the degree to which they felt externally controlled. Here’s what the researchers found:
Those in the dimly lit room solved significantly more problems correctly than those in the brightly lit room. They also felt freer and less inhibited than their intensely illuminated counterparts.
Interesting business. I wonder what would happen if we dimmed our classroom lights during testing, problem-solving exercises and group work. Could it make our students more creative?
To read more about Steidle and Werth’s study, you can find a summary here.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
Before forging ahead with plans to identify and cultivate teacher leaders, principals need to reassess whether they themselves fully understand what leadership is, whether their brand of leadership is still relevant, and whether they can identify how leadership is exhibited. Paying attention to these factors will evidence whether or not a “leadership gap” exists and determine if it is okay to move on with the process of selecting teacher leaders.
The Leadership Gap
The leadership gap refers to the lack of leadership skills that are needed to lead effectively. It is one of the factors that is said to contribute to the overall “skills gap,” that is, the lack of a skilled workforce needed to meet labor demands; an issue that has been blamed chiefly on educational institutions.
Leadership for the Future
In “Bridging the Gap,” a report based on a 2009 American Society for Training (ASTD) poll, 50 percent of the respondents stated that there was a lack of leadership skills in organizations. Similarly, the report “Understanding the Leadership Gap,” based on results from a 2010 survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to compare leadership skills that are deemed important “now” to those that will be deemed important in the future, found that leaders lack the skills that they need to be effective. Leadership skills that were identified as being important for the future include:
It is important to note that in the 2010 survey “employee development,” which was not listed as being an important leadership skill for now; it was added to the list as an important leadership skill for the future. This skill, together with another, that of employing participative management, are directly related to how teacher leaders can be identified and cultivated. For instance, in its white paper entitled, “Re-imagining Teaching: Five Structures to Transform the Profession,” the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) writes of one type of participative management, which is referred to as “distributed leadership.” This involves giving teachers the chance to take on leadership roles among peers and allowing them to participate in making school wide decisions including decisions about instruction. Principals would have to relinquish some control in order to put this type of initiative in place; in essence they would be required to change their leadership style.
In fact, the results of a 2013 study conducted by the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) entitled, “The Leadership Deficit” also suggest that there is a leadership skills deficit and that this it is chiefly due to outdated leadership styles and insufficient resources employed to develop potential leaders.
Close the Leadership Gap, Close the Skills Gap
These studies offer insights into best practices when it comes to what skills leaders need in order to effectively identify and cultivate other leaders. Perhaps armed with such insights, educators can make a dent in the leadership gap, which may in turn have some bearing on the skills gap.
There’s been an awful lot of ink spilled on the benefits of building a positive school culture—and just as much on the importance of nurturing positive relationships with students. All that ink leads me to the conclusion that these things are important to educators.
But if building better relationships and creating positive schools matters to us, why aren’t more schools positive places?
According to Jon Gordon, author of The Positive School Manifesto, the answer is simple: Building a culture of care is hard work. Not only that, it requires a special breed of leadership—the kind that’s determined and passionate enough to make positivity contagious.
Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture
Positive leaders required
Positive school cultures are created by principals who make the health of their organization a priority, lead the initiative, and are engaged in the process—even when it’s a struggle. Many of us start off with good intentions, but find it difficult to remain positive in the face of resistance and skepticism. Do not tolerate negativity! Weed it out and press on.
Build a positive leadership team
While principals can certainly be the spark for creating positive energy, they’ll need teachers and staff to fan and carry the flame. Invite your leadership team on the bus by setting up a workshop where you create a vision, a road map, an action plan, and a set of initiatives to move the school in the right direction.
Develop a fleet of bus drivers
You’ll be driving the bus at first, but you’re eventually going to need a fleet of bus drivers to join you. To recruit drivers, start talking. Share the school’s vision with everyone.
Conversations should happen between principals and teachers, teachers and staff, staff and students, students and parents. Each person needs to understand the school vision and identify how their personal vision, job and effort contribute to the overarching vision.
Tend to the roots of the tree
In a world driven by test scores, budgets and short-term results, it’s easy to be distracted by outcomes rather than the process. Don’t fall into this trap. Tend to the roots of your tree and you’ll always be pleased with the fruit it supplies. If you ignore the root, eventually the tree will dry up—and so will the fruit.
Weed out negativity
To create a positive school culture, you must deal with the cost of negativity head on. Ask yourself the following questions: How are we going to deal with negativity, challenges and energy vampires?
Dwight Cooper, the CEO of a nurse staffing company that was voted one of the best places to work by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), asked himself this question; his answer was a company policy he called The No Complaining Rule. This rule states that “Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers. If they have a complaint, they can take it to a manager or someone who can do something about the problem, BUT they must also offer one or two possible solutions.”
Give this rule a try: it may lead to new ideas, innovation and success.
Stay tuned for part II; we have five more tips to share with you next week!
Listening well—actively and deeply—is a skill that requires both attention and intention. It starts with our ears (making sense of words as well as the speaker’s tone) but also involves our eyes (body language says a lot). In a world increasingly cluttered with information, getting students to listen mindfully is a challenge. Julian Treasure suggests in a TED Talk that we are actually “losing our listening.” Teaching students to listen better will help them to succeed in your classes, as well as to engage more deeply with the world.
When you want your students to explore a specific topic or question, here’s a small group strategy to use that encourages active listening (along with offering all the advantages of collaborative learning).
Before starting this activity, review the following guidelines with your students:
First, you must listen with openness: suspend your judgments and biases and listen for those things with which you agree as well as those you might challenge.
Second, listen with curiosity: engage your desire to learn and understand, rather than to try to fix anything or simply offer your own point of view.
Third, listen respectfully: listen without asking questions that interrupt the speaker; jot these down and save them for later.
Fourth, listen schematically: listen for patterns, trends, and for what is not being said.
Fifth, listen intentionally: decide what you intend to do with the information you’ll learn.
There are only two rules:
Step One: Break the students into small groups of four or five.
Step Two: Give them the topic or question that you would like them to discuss.
Step Three: Each group should identify or appoint a group leader who will make sure the rules are followed and time is observed.
Step Four: One person begins by saying something about the topic or starting point question; the others listen using the guidelines noted above.
Step Five: Another student asks a follow-up question or comments about what has just been said.
Step Six: Repeat Steps Four and Five until everyone has spoken at least twice, or for a specific amount of time.
Step Seven: The group leader, with help from the group, summarizes the conversation and identifies any patterns or insights that emerged or developed.
Step Eight: Report out to the class.
You could follow this activity with a reflective journal entry, asking students what surprised them (it may be the difficulty of listening actively) and what new or interesting points/ideas they learned.
The first few times you try this, you may need to float around the room, encouraging students to stay on task. Once they get the hang of it, you’ll find this activity combines active listening, active learning, collaborative learning, and writing, all strategies that help students to probe and reflect on their own learning.
Artze-Vega, Isis. “Active Listening: Seven Ways to Help Students Listen, Not Just Hear.” Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. 10/1/2012. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/active-listening-seven-ways-to-improve-students-listening-skills/
Mankell, Henning. “The Art of Listening.” The New York Times. Opinion. 12.10.2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/in-africa-the-art-of-listening.html?_r=0
Thanks to Lisa Dresdner, Ph.D., Norwalk Community College, and to Dr. Judith Ableser, director of the Oakland University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, for this tip.
Following President George Washington’s death in 1799, his February 22 birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. To help you pay tribute to this national holiday, we’d like to share a few of our favorite Presidents’ Day resources.
We thought it was about time to dispel one of the most common Washington myths out there: that he had wooden teeth.
Stop by Retronaut and you’ll actually find a photo of the dentures Dr. John Greenwood created for Washington. Contrary to common misconceptions, our first president’s false teeth were not made out of wood, but hippopotamus ivory, gold and brass.
While you’re browsing Retronaut, be sure to check out photos of Washington’s life mask.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Our homes say a lot about our tastes, our socio-economic status, our accomplishments and personalities. Taking a virtual field trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is an excellent way for us to gain insight into the personality of one of our nation’s most iconic figures.
Discover George Washington: An Interactive Timeline
In addition to the timeline of major events in Washington’s life, you’ll also find photos of his personal belongings including his harpsichord, toothbrush, and even a bust depicting what he would have looked like at age 19. This bust was created by a team of scientists who worked backwards from laser measurements of Washington’s life mask and a sculptured bust, both done when he was 52.
The Portrait: An Interactive
The Lansdowne portrait—named after the Marquis of Lansdowne, an English supporter of American independence and the owner of the painting—is probably one of the most famous images of George Washington in existence.
Thanks to the Smithsonian, you can explore this portrait in detail, from three very different vantage points: the symbolic, the biographic, and the artistic.
Each filter highlights an element in the portrait and provides unique information and a distinct interpretation.
While you’re at the Smithsonian’s site, check out the Patriot Papers, a collection of puzzles, quizzes and fun historical features to learn about the life and times of George Washington.
The Papers of George Washington
Here you’ll find a collection of letters written to Washington as well as letters and documents written by him. Currently there are over 135,000 documents in the project’s collection. As you browse, take note that you can customize your search by subjects including colonial life, early American culture, Washington’s friends, Mount Vernon, Native Americans, and more.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
An administrator’s ability to identify and recognize teacher leaders is a critical factor in preparing our schools, and students, for the 21st century. Even though the way students learn and teachers teach has been evolving rapidly over the last decade or so, the evolution of teacher leadership has remained relatively stagnant in comparison. I feel many schools still operate with what I term a “traditional” model of teacher leadership. Fortunately, I think there is a large group of innovative and motivated teacher leaders that is just waiting to be noticed.
Traditional Teacher Leaders
First of all, I would like to explain the distinction I make between what I view as a traditional teacher leader and this new group of teacher leaders I am thinking of. Traditional teacher leaders are generally selected by the school or school district and are given a title such as “instructional coach”. They are charged with promoting school or district initiatives (new curriculum or Common Core State Standards, for example), helping teachers implement those initiatives, as well as leading related professional development. In this way these teacher leaders support “what is” within a school.
New Teacher Leaders
This new group of teacher leaders, however, is focused on “what can be” within a school. They are accomplished teachers first and foremost. Over and above their title of “teacher”, they can be found quietly tinkering with new ideas in the classroom, failing and learning from it. They often go unnoticed as they read articles, books and blogs about innovative approaches in their free time. Other times they are silently collaborating with a network of colleagues via Twitter. One thing is for sure, they are many and their interests are as diverse as they are. Some are passionate about technology. Others are enthusiastic about social and emotional learning. Still others are eager to implement project-based learning. Whatever the topic, there is a teacher out there, probably even in your building, who is passionate about it and is just waiting to be recognized and asked to share it.
Tips on Getting Noticed
These teachers do not walk around with a self-directed spotlight, however. They are a student-centered, not self-centered, bunch. So how can they make their passions know so their principals can identify them as teacher leaders? Fortunately, this can be accomplished with just a little bit of effort.
Here are some ideas teachers can keep in mind for helping their principals identify them:
1. Treat your classroom like a museum: Since principals are doing walkthroughs in addition to formal observations as part of teacher evaluations, take advantage of those periodic visits to make your specific area of interest known. Think of your classroom walls as a gallery. Highlight your passion through displaying student work, anchor charts and other signs of your journey. Make your work stand out and your principal will notice.
2. Align your professional goals and your passion: All teachers set yearly professional goals so make your budding expertise known by setting a bold goal in that area. Even if your principal isn’t able to experience it first-hand, you can highlight your efforts by submitting artifacts, results and student feedback.
3. Just tell them: Teachers must keep in mind that principals are suffering from a tremendous workload and lack of time just like they are. Therefore, teachers should not be amazed or hurt when their principal overlooks their inspiring service learning project or creative use of an iPad. The truth is, if they saw these advancements (or even knew about them) they would surely recognize and support them. Teachers must remember we are all working toward the same goal—student learning. If you are passionate about something that aligns with this goal, share it with your principal. It might be the only way they find out.
Both teachers and administrators acknowledge there is a real need for reform in the way we educate our students. History has proven that sustained change has always come from the bottom up. In education, this means that instead of waiting for permission from above, real change will only occur when teachers begin leading each other. In this way, identifying, recognizing and supporting this new group of teacher leaders should be among a principal’s highest priority. They need our help, though. They need to know we are here. I’m ready to talk to my principal. Are you?
Frames or frameworks come in different forms including graphic organizers, curriculums and evaluation models. Though they are great tools for teaching concepts, learning can be stymied by their use if they are not used with elasticity.
Consider for instance using a web graphic organizer, divided into beginning, middle and end to teach sequencing. When using this frame, students can easily provide events that are linked and that give a clear picture of a whole. However, when given a blank sheet of paper and asked to write a narrative, students often lose focus, that is, stray from the topic and their writing lack coherence. One reason for this is that students become too dependent on the frame. Their thinking becomes fixed within the frame and it becomes challenging for them to use what they have learned outside of the immediate confines of the frame. One way to address this particular situation is to stretch the web frame by deconstructing the narrative into sequential parts; a sort of backward design approach.
Curriculums too need to be stretched. For instance, if teachers are fixated on completing units within the time stipulated by the curriculum, they are likely to overlook certain things like whether too much information was presented for that particular time frame and whether this resulted in cognitive dissonance, or, if some information could have been presented differently based on their knowledge of the students. Having this type of information is essential for promoting deeper understanding.
Similarly, if evaluation models are used stringently, the nuances of teaching and learning are likely to be missed. Evaluators need to be armed not only with criteria but also need to have a working knowledge of instruction in order to introduce a measure of elasticity, such as drawing on tacit knowledge and engaging teachers. Such elasticity is likely to ensure that thinking is not contained within the immediate limits of the model.
For optimum use, remember to stretch the frame beyond its immediate limit.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
Barry Saide, as per usual, is quite on to something with his post "Be Excellent to Each Other" (http://edge.ascd.org/_Be-Excellent-to-Each-Other/blog/6562298/127586.html). The lesson of “being excellent to each other” is surely one we can learn from inimitable Bill S. Preston, Esquire, & Ted “Theodore” Logan. Unsurprisingly, Barry beautifully articulates the ways teacher leaders (can and should) practice being excellent. He also aptly reminds us that, perhaps most importantly, students will do as we do, for better or worse; like Barry (and Bill & Ted), I want that replication to be for the better—and most certainly, being excellent to each other is for the better!
I’d like to extend the lessons we can learn from Bill & Ted to another pressing aspect of teaching and learning: engaging students in meaningful learning experiences to build deep and enduring understandings.
Let’s start with Bill & Ted’s learning experience before their excellent adventure. This short exchange between Bill, Ted, and Mr. Ryan (their history teacher) from the classic film might (unfortunately) parallel the social studies learning experiences of many students still today:
Mr. Ryan: So, Bill, what you're telling me, essentially, is that Napoleon was a short dead dude.
Bill: Well, yeah.
Ted: You totally blew it, dude.
Mr. Ryan: Ted, stand up.
Ted: Stand up?
Mr. Ryan: Yes, son. Stand up.
Mr. Ryan: Now, who was Joan of Arc?
Ted: ...Noah's wife?
Mr. Ryan: It seems to me that the only thing you have learned is that Caesar was a salad dressing dude.
Besides pure comedy gold, why did Bill & Ted have such a limited understanding of History? Allison Zmuda (in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership) explained what might contribute to Bill & Ted’s (and so many students like them) problem—that learning is too often about compliance, meticulously “following directions...repeating procedures on cue...and...expertly summarize[ing] other people's ideas” (p. 38) rather than engaged and authentic meaning-making. Bill & Ted surely do not “function like low-level bureaucrats” who thrive in the compliance-oriented, rote learning environment that exists in too many social studies classrooms today.
Zmuda explains that “[w]hen students have meaningful opportunities to understand, they are more likely to wisely use that knowledge in future tasks and situations” and we must provide a space for students to “ask tangential questions, wonder about things that have no space in the curriculum, pursue avenues that are dead ends, and spin their wheels with no apparent breakthrough in sight” for such meaningful understandings to emerge (p. 42).
In this exchange from later in the movie, we see that Bill & Ted no longer believe “that school is boring, that they are stupid, that it shouldn't feel this hard, and that it has no connection to the real world” (p. 41):
Bill: Mr. Ryan, fellow distinguished classmates, teachers, babes.
Ted: Our first speaker was born in the year 470 BC. A time when much of the world looked like the cover of the Led Zepplin album 'Houses of the Holy'.
Bill: We were there. There were many steps and columns, it was most tranquil. (gives a thumbs up.)
Ted: He is sometimes known as the father of modern thought. He was the teacher of Plato, who was in turn the teacher of Aristotle. And like Ozzy Osborne, was repeatedly accused of corruption of the young.
(Mr. Ryan watches them with interest.)
Bill: And since he doesn't speak English, my friend Ted here, is going to interpret for him. (Ted shrugs his consent.) So please welcome, to tell us what he thinks of San Dimas, the most bodacious philosophizer in Ancient Greece…
Bill: It is indeed a pleasure to introduce to you a gentleman we picked up in Medieval Mongolia in the year 1269.
Ted: Please welcome, the very excellent barbarian.
Both: Mr. Genghis Khan.
Ted: This is a dude who seven hundred years ago totally ravished China. And whom we are told, 2 hours ago, totally ravished Oshmans' Sporting Goods.
(Bill and Joan of Arc are play fighting.)
Ted: A most bodacious solider, and general, Ms. Of Arc totally rousted the English from France. And then she turned this dude Gofan, into a kid, and all this by the time she was 17.
By turning their rote history oral report into an excellent adventure, Bill & Ted “find satisfaction during the creation and production of work. Instead of trying to eliminate or cover up mistakes, they...evaluate the source of the error and search for a potential insight about their understanding—or their misunderstanding—of the content, the discipline, or themselves” (Zmuda, 2008, p. 41).
In addition to Barry’s discussion of the importance of “being excellent to each other,” we should also learn from Bill & Ted that learning should be meaningful and enduring for our students, that it is less about memorizing a series of right answers or factoids and more about a journey with ups and downs, a roller coaster ride filled with fascinating realization, a truly excellent adventure!
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (transcribed script). Transcribed by S. Kemp. Retrieved from http://www.angelfire.com/tx3/80schild/bill1.html.
Zmuda, A. (2008, Nov). Springing into Active Learning. Educational Leadership, 38-42. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/Springing-into-Active-Learning.aspx.