Search ASCD EDge
I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.
My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.
Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.
My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees? The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.
This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone? Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.
Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.
If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose. A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.
Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?
Many school districts in America have a Service Learning requirement. An idea well-intentioned but poorly implemented in most schools. Teachers and Administrators who have never even done volunteer work now demand that their students do what they have never done. Needless to say these administrators offer nothing but lip service to the cause. We set the requirement but then we back off, we want nothing to do with these service learning requirements. "That's your problem kiddo" go get it done. And by the way stop whining about it, just go do it. The teenager is now left to fend for themselves with little help from the adults in their world. Oh, sure we offer the opportunity for the students to meet after school with their counselor or the service learning coordinator to discuss upcoming opportunities but what about the adults who stand in front of them every day? Where are they? They are nowhere to be found.
Let's be honest we forced this requirement upon our students because we believed it's so damned important but the truth is we do not walk the walk and talk the talk. If teachers and administrators truly believe that service learning is so damned important (and even if they do not) it is about time educators began to support the service learning agenda. It is about time educators stopped hiding behind empty rhetoric and began including service learning into the curriculum.
Every single requirement for students is supported at school except service learning. Driver’s education is supported with classes and books, so is physical education, the constitution exam, health, sex education and the arts. But when it comes to service learning we kick the kids to the curb and wish them luck. Then we blame them when the appropriate number of hours is not met in the given time frame. If schools are going to make service learning mandatory then it's about time these educators began supporting this requirement with more than slogans and suggestions.
The solution is simple. Every teacher at school must include two service learning projects into their unit plans every year. If the subject you are teaching is relevant then there must be some practical way to integrate this into your instruction. If you cannot do this then your subject is not worth teaching.
Schools exist to prepare our young to be productive members of society. How is this possible if we do not demonstrate how the topic presented in class each day applies to a real world situation? Service Learning is the only graduation requirement we throw at students with little or no support. If we really believe in the value of service learning then let's start supporting that requirement in deeds not just with words. Let’s bring service learning into the curriculum front and center. Let’s give everybody a stake in the responsibility to complete and implement the service learning requirement
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html
How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention? As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching. In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone. However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth.
During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential. My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development.
It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.
1. Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.
Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating. Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood. Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking. Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.
2. Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.
Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices. Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action. Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below). These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered.
3. Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.
Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish. Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.
4. Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.
Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students. Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks. Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.
5. Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice - and reflect with them afterward.
Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration. Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved. In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” ― W.B. Yeats
As a high school teacher, I used an array of diverse assessments to measure and evaluate student achievement and success. Many varied components would go into each student’s grades and narratives – test and quiz results, the quality of projects, writings and self-reflections, observations of students, and judgments regarding effort, growth, and class participation. Given the multiple student cognitive abilities, attitudes, character traits, and strengths and problems, it would have been foolish of me to use only one type of measure to determine a students’ success in my class.
Given that multiple types of assessments such as the ones I used above are used by most teachers, one would expect that appropriate, multiple assessment approaches would be also used to assess school and district success. Thus, it is surprising that “one size fits all” standardized tests, with their major emphasis on multiple choice-short answer questions, are touted as the major, and often the only way to judge school success, student achievement, and even teacher effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the sole use of these traditional tests pose many problems for assessing actual student knowledge, skills, abilities, talents and interests. First, many educators and lay people suggest that standardized tests often do not do a good job of measuring the purported skills associated with them. For example, as recently pointed out by a New York State teacher in a NY Times op-ed piece, the New York English Language Arts test questions do “a poor job of testing reading comprehension”. A student’s answers to the questions on this test have “little bearing on [his or her] reading ability and yet [have] huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools”[i]. Some students also might be good readers but do poorly on the reading test because of their poor test-taking skills.
Second, standardized tests have limited use in evaluating whether students have learned many of the most important skills required for college work or for living in a 21st century world, such as interest in learning, motivation to learn, research and study skills, coherent writing abilities, effective oral communication skills, project and problem-based development skills, problem finding and question asking, the ability to apply learning to authentic situations, scientific investigation skills, “deep” thinking, student “grit”, and the development of each individual student’s talents and abilities.
In addition, the tests usually provide schools and teachers with limited, if any, feedback to help them figure out how to improve teaching and learning. And, unfortunately, they also have a number of negative side effects, such as increasing sterile test-prep activities, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student anxiety and frustrations, and reducing student interest in learning. Many of our best teachers write about how the emphasis on testing plays havoc with their curriculum, the interest and motivation of their students, and their joy of teaching. Some have even left the teaching profession altogether because of their school or district emphasis on preparing for standardized tests.
As opposition to the use of these tests increases, and a greater understanding of their limitations and negative consequences develops, it is imperative that opponents to standardized testing suggest alternatives. In fact, there should be many varied assessments used to determine school and district success, just as there are many and varied types of educational goals, results, and students. This is a very different paradigm from the “one size fits all” standardized testing results model of measuring success. So, described briefly below are some examples of types of measures that might be combined into an assessment plan useful for judging district and school success, student achievement, and the school or district conditions that limit or reinforce success. The first number of measures are designed to measure output – achievement and successes of students, their involvement and participation in multiple types of activities, perceptions of stakeholders in how the school is meeting their needs, and so on. The second set of measures focus on input: characteristics of student population, conditions under which students learn, amount of resources available, the quality of curriculum and teaching, and others.
Achievement, Successes, Activity Involvement, and Perceptions
Student graduation data
What do students do when they graduate, where do they go and how successful are they both during their time with us and after they leave us?
In analyzing school success, data should be regularly collected on the % of students who graduate and what they do after graduation (types and names of colleges and universities attended, financial aid obtained, military enlistees, technical school attendees, etc.); what % of those who attend college graduate and why do they drop out; college majors. Student data also should include surveys and interviews with graduates to find out their levels of satisfaction with their K-12 school programs;
Mission-related achievement data
How well do our students meet the mission of our school or district?
Student data should be collected and analyzed that demonstrate achievement and success based on mission-related goals. For example, a school specializing in the visual arts might collect data on the type of artwork students complete and a sampling of student portfolios; a school with an emphasis on music may focus assessments around the types of student performances given by students and the skill level of its music students. Vo-Tech schools might collect data on the types of training received by each student, their post high school plans and career goals, their job placements and acceptance levels into advanced programs.
Report card results
How successful are our students, based on the results of their daily and yearly work?
We know that the best predictors of student achievement and success lie with how well students do in their classes and in the recommendations of teachers and others in the school. We therefore need to make sure that each school or district develop specific, “standards-based” report cards, built around measures of 21st century goals, that reflect how well students succeed and grow in their classes and courses. Report cards should be broken down into specific cognitive and social expectations, with ratings that use levels of achievement as well as grades. Narrative comments convey specific information to parents-guardians about the strengths of individual children and areas that need improvement.
Report card data can be summarized to provide a picture of how well the school or district is doing to meet the needs of its students. Randomly selected report cards, along with narrative comments, can also be collected and shared.
Cornerstone-graduation project(s) results
How well do our students complete “cornerstone” projects that both develop and assess core 21st century skills?
Cornerstone projects consist of research projects and “authentic” performance tasks that culminate in presentations and exhibitions and demonstrate in-depth understanding of ideas, the ability to use 21st century skills, and the ability to transfer and apply learning. Students who are able to develop questions around their interests or suggested topics, conduct research, read and comprehend, write essays and research papers, and make presentations to others demonstrate an understanding of content and competence in using significant skills.
Cornerstone project results at different school levels demonstrate progress towards the development of these skills as well as final mastery of them.
Student plans for the future
What are student plans for the future?
Every student should be required to develop a plan for his or her future, indicating their next steps after graduating from high school and their more visionary goals for the future. Part of the development of a plan should include research about future educational goals, career options and choices. A summary of these plans is an important indicator of school and district success.
What is the comprehensive nature of individual student work?
Portfolios - collections of student work - help us to assess actual student work and incorporate “real learning” into the assessment process, not the artificial, “out of context” kind of learning assessed through standardized tests. Portfolios are also individualized and customized to demonstrate an individual’s nuanced and varied skill levels, talents, abilities, and interests. Today, with Internet capability, an individual student’s best writing and/or artwork, project results, tests, self-reflections, plans for the future, and other student work can be scanned and placed electronically into portfolios.
Students should be asked to develop portfolios of their work throughout their K-12 experience. Sample portfolios, or parts of portfolios, can be used to illustrate the types of work students are doing within the school or district, and how well a school or district is helping students master key 21st century knowledge and skills.
Survey-focus group data
What do parents, students and teachers think about us?
In this day and age of the Internet, it is relatively easy to develop, post, and summarize survey data. Every school and district should collect data from parents, students and teachers at least once a year, and then use the data to review its programs, applaud its strengths, and figure out ways to improve what it does[ii].
What do graduates and dropouts think about us?
Once students leave school and move on to colleges and other post high-school experiences, they have greater perspective on their experiences and can often provide valuable insights into the strengths of a school program and “needs improvement” areas. Data from graduates should be sought after, even if it is often difficult to collect.
Attempts should be made to collect and analyze data from dropouts, even if this data might be difficult to collect, in order to indicate why they dropped out of school and therefore suggest ways to help other students stay in school.
How do students view our school? What do they see as our positive and negative features?
Students who will be leaving one school to go to another school within the district (e.g. from elementary to middle school) or leaving a school to transfer to a school outside the district, or graduating from high school should be the focus of special attention when it comes to surveys and data collection. These students should be asked to reflect on their school experiences and focus on what they perceive as the strengths of the school they are leaving, the major learnings resulting from their school experiences, and suggestions for improving their learning experience. This data should be collected, analyzed and shared.
Community service and field-based activities
What are our students’ opportunities to connect with and apply their learning to the outside world?
How do students provide service to the community? How do students connect with the outside world via field trips, career days, and so on? How do outside individuals and groups provide services to and work with students within a school? These and other similar questions should be part of data collection that is shared and used to provide feedback on connections to real world, outside resources.
Extra-curricular, support, or enrichment activities
What opportunities are there for students to participate in extra-curricular, support and enrichment activities? How much do our students take advantage of extra-curricula, support and enrichment activities?
“Extra curricular” activities provide opportunities for students to explore and learn about a variety of options that are beyond academics. What extra-curricular activities are available? Data should be available that indicates which students are partake of which extra-curricular activities, and how often they do so.
In a similar vein, are their support and enrichment activities available for students? Data should indicate which students participate in these and why.
Conditions, Culture, Teaching, Curriculum, Resources,
School and district student population, resource availability and conditions
What are the characteristics of our student population? What resources do we have available to support our teachers and students? What school or district conditions help or hinder us in meeting achievement goals?
This data helps us to understand the characteristics of the school, district and student population, and resource adequacy, needs problems and challenges. The data include information about student populations, such as ELL, special education, identified gifted populations; the number of students on free or reduced lunch. Other data includes the % of students who drop out of a school or district before graduation and the reasons why they leave; % who are “lifers” within the same school or district, % of students who are absent 10 or more days a year, % of students given suspensions and other discipline data, and mobility rates.
District and school information include, among other things, resources available for technology, supplies, materials and other needs; class sizes; adequacy of library-media centers, art-music, and extra curricular programs; and support personnel available (NTA’s, nurses, counselors, community laiasons).
Curricular programs and instructional activities
What are the common types of curricular programs and instructional activities used in classrooms?
One part of a school or district assessment plan might include examples of the kinds of curriculum, teaching and learning experiences that are incorporated into classrooms and other activities. Suppose, for example, that the school or district promotes inquiry learning. Do teachers in the district use an inquiry learning model in their classrooms? If yes, what does learning look like? What are the essential features of the mathematical curriculum? The reading-language arts curriculum? Are there any special programs in place (e.g. leveled books, writing process, deep learning, competitions) that provide the opportunity for a different type of learning experience for students?
School and program reviews
How can we increase the amount of “objective” assessment data in order to determine our successes and improve our programs?
When I was on the staff of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency in Bucks County, PA, we conducted a number of program reviews for our constituent districts each year. We would enlist a number of teachers, administrators, and experts from across the county and the area to spend three days in a district examining and analyzing all or part of the district’s program. Our final report would list the strengths and needs of the program, and also make suggested recommendations for improving the program.
These types of reviews are extremely valuable for a school or district, especially since an outside agency is conducting the review. It provide a wealth of objective information and data, along with suggestions for improvement, that help to assess a program and provide the impetus for making changes.
Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP)
Just as we should expect teachers to build a comprehensive assessment plan to measure student success and achievement in their classes, so should we expect schools and districts to build a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP) that measures both output and input: a broad array of types of achievement, successes, involvement, perceptions, conditions, culture, and resources. The plan should both assess student achievement, growth, and development, and also be useful in improving school conditions and success in the future.
The selection of a set of a core set of assessments, built into a Comprehensive Assessment Plan, may be best determined by each school or district, depending on its resources, options, and viewpoints. My own view is that a combination of student population and school and district conditions-resource data, strong report card and student portfolio data, cornerstone project results, and surveys of and reflections from current students and graduates will provide significant and important data on how well a school or district is doing as well as the conditions under which schools, districts and teachers operate.
In today’s world of e-mails, Internet surveys, smartphones, computers, tablets, much of this data would be relatively easy to collect. Many of these measures, taken together, can become part of a holistic school-district annual report card, presented by a principal or superintendent to school boards and available to the general public. They can be used to identify problems that need to be addressed. They present a much more nuanced picture of how well a school is doing, the qualities of student graduates, what issues a school or district are facing, and what steps need to be taken to improve the results.
Unfortunately, a broad, varied array of assessment data just doesn’t get collected and developed by itself. A school or district needs to assign someone who is responsible for the development, collection, and analysis of this complex data. The person responsible might even be part of a collaborative, regional effort. The development of this more comprehensive approach will also take time to develop, and a long-term goal should be to enable every school and district to develop a significant assessment process for judging success with students and the conditions and resources necessary for success.
How Federal and State Officials Can Help This Assessment Process
Here are some ways that state and federal officials can provide support for a the use of a much more comprehensive assessment process:
Ultimately, a trust in a decentralized assessment process, a belief in the value of multiple, diverse assessments to measure school and district success, along with a combination of strong leadership at all levels, will provide the necessary impetus to move us away from the primary reliance on standardized tests to assess student, school and teacher success. We should be moving towards the use of varied sets of data that provide nuanced, helpful pictures of success and student achievement and help to improve the conditions of learning. Let us hope that we move in the right direction soon, because the current direction is leading us away from the kinds of education that our students need to prepare for living in a 21st century world.
Elliott Seif, Ph.D. is a long time educator, author, consultant, educational advocate, and trainer. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, read more his blogs on ASCD Edge and go to: www.era3learning.org
[i] Elizabeth Phillips, We Need to Talk About the Test: The Problem With the Common Core, The New York Times op-ed page, April 9, 2014.
[ii] A High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) is available free of charge from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Go to:
This op-ed piece in the NY Times is an important article about standardized tests...
Read it at
At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.
I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.
I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.
I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.
Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.
Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.
Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.
Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.
It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.
Do you remember the film “Starman" (Jeff Bridges plays a being from another planet)? There is one scene, where he is in the car with the leading lady and observes her speeding through a yellow traffic light. Unsurprisingly, he learns to respond the same when he encounters a yellow light later in the film. There was no intricate lesson plan or core curriculum involved, but Jeff Bridges’ character learned something from his environment nonetheless. Let’s use this example to begin our exploration of the hidden curriculum-the learning that occurs as students are shaped by their environmental experiences.
A big part of understanding the hidden curriculum concept boils down to the word "hidden". First, let’s focus only on this term. It is necessary to debunk the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” when we think of the hidden curriculum. Although hidden implies that something is beneath or under the radar, this does not mean forgettable. Further, when we don’t see things physically, this does not indicate insignificance. For example, think about all the important health risks associated with lead (most commonly found in paint and toys) BPA (material found in some baby bottles) or bacteria. In contrast, let's acknowledge the benefits of some of the things invisible from the naked eye-such as ultra violet light (detection of counterfeit bills, signals food on flowers for insects, sterilization of equipment).
After considering the value of hidden material, I wondered about its impact on my students. I decided to try an informal experiment to get a better idea. Typically, I begin each of my classes with a question, thus a couple of weeks ago I asked my students to share (in writing) their thoughts on their learning outside of class work and homework. Below is a few of their responses:
"We were able to use all of our notes on a final test in high school. So that taught me how to stay organized."
"In my chemistry class, you could sell a Cadillac converter for $80."
"During a highschool play, even if it's funny, its known backstage to be quiet and nobody has to tell you..."
"During the group activities I learned to come to an agreement without taking total control."
My student’s responses spurred interested as to how other students would define their experience with the hidden curriculum. I soon discovered a student blog on hidden curriculum. There were various accounts on how the hidden curriculum provided insight about others. For example, I was fascinated to see what the students learned about teacher behavior (the students concluded that teachers could be more punitive-based than thought provoking). In addition, the hidden curriculum was a great resource in learning about their peer’s needs. For instance, both physical survival lessons (such as when classmates ate large food portions at lunch because of the lack of food at home) and rules for academic survival (such as students storing items in classrooms because the school could not afford lockers) were imparted by peer behavior.
In addition to learning about others, the hidden curriculum provides self-awareness as well. I found a powerful article about a medical student's schooling experience, that highlights the struggle of going against the rules dictated by the hidden curriculum. The student retells the process of confronting his feelings (conflict of instinct versus hidden curriculum expectations) as a necessary step in developing as a learner, a professional, and a member of society.
After a while, it occurred to me that the hidden curriculum's impact on students is huge. It varies with the culture of the learner (think again of the film "Starman" and how the adjustment to a new culture made him more prone to follow). It differs with the ability of the learner (or inability to pick up on environmental cues such as students with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, or those with cognitive-based learning disabilities). Further, teachers may need help in guiding students through the unwritten or unspoken rules for success in the classroom. Strategies such as the use of scripts to assist in getting the needed information, identifying a safe person to approach for help, and exploring commons idioms are all ways teachers can help.
I will conclude with an excerpt from a radio ad that allows us to hear the consequences of forgetting to address the hidden curriculum in our classrooms:
In Biology, I learned I’m fat, stupid.
In English, I learned I’m disgusting.
In Gym, I learned I’m a joke.
The only thing I didn’t learn is why no one ever helps…
To hear the complete radio ad please visit Public Service Announcement Central Website.
So, am I wrong about the impact of the hidden curriculum? The next time you develop a lesson plan for your students, why not take a second or two and consider the hidden learning that may accompany your lesson? Let me know what secret lessons are embedded within your classroom/school-and how your students successfully rise to the hidden curriculum challenge.
As an educator, I am often surprised by the things I hear other educators say. You hear these comments at conferences, read opinions shared on Twitter, overhear opinions shared at other schools, and possibly even hear one of these statements at your own school. These statements make me cringe. When we are working with students, it is difficult to understand the statements that some educators make.
Ten Statements That Make Me Say, "Shut The Front Door!"
"Those students can't go to college. We should just prepare them for a career, starting in middle school."
In 1903, Saunders, a professor at the University of Mississippi, described the perspective of many Americans at the turn of the century. He wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (p. 73).
In 2014, several Americans still share this perspective. The recent move towards College and Career Readiness is a positive move in education. This movement does not guarantee that every student will enter a four year college. It is the idea that every student should be provided with the opportunity to learn (OTL) key skills and concepts. Furthermore, adults should not determine a child's plans after high school when the child is in the seventh grade.
"Our seventh graders made a PowerPoint, so I would say that I am proficient with technology integration."
I am not offended by teachers saying that they require students to make a PowerPoint. However, it should be a red flag to administrators if any teacher hangs their hat on one project that incorporates technology. Technology integration should become seamless. In other words student projects will require technology integration, but the focus is on student understanding, not the device or program. After all, did you ever hear a teacher say, “My students used a pencil and paper today?”
"The Common Core State Standards are not new ideas. I have always taught this way."
Regardless of your stance (for or against) the Common Core State Standards, there are obvious changes in the way teachers should approach curriculum development, instruction, and common formative assessments. "These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step” (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5). Be aware of teacher teams and administrators who claim, “This is how we have always done it.”
The new standards will not fit into your state’s old standards like a jigsaw puzzle. The Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity to change how teacher teams communicate, collaborate, and reflect on standards. In the absence of ongoing communication, it will be easy to revert back to teaching in isolation and struggling to understand each standard. “Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in ‘same old, same old’ teaching with only superficial connections to the grade level Standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012).
"I require the gifted students to do double the work. They can handle it, because 'they are gifted.'"
You do not hear this myth as often as you did at the turn of the century. However, there are still misconceptions about rigor and about homework for gifted students. Giving gifted students more work does not support student understanding. If you hear a teacher bragging about giving the gifted students double the work, you should refer them to resources such as (Edmonds, SERVE) and Rigor on Trial (Wagner, 2006).
"How do you expect me to read a journal article or blog. There's no time for that."
The field of education is changing and professional growth is not optional. Online journal articles, blogs written by teachers and administrators, Twitter chats, webinars, and teaching videos provide educators with a multitude of resources. As a professional, I grow frustrated when someone claims that there is no time for continuous improvement. As educators, we should continue to grow and seek to understand best practices. It is professional malpractice to claim that there is no time for learning.
"Those aren't my students."
Teachers in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) change from saying ‘those kids’ to ‘our kids’ (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). If the goal is to prepare all students to graduate College and Career Ready, then the teachers and staff members in the school district must collaborate to support students. Principals within the same school district should share ideas and discuss instructional strategies. Competition is good when it comes to athletics, marching band, academic clubs, and science fairs. It is also appropriate to see which school has the highest graduation rate, lowest dropout rate, and highest number of students enrolled in advanced courses. The idea that “Those aren’t my students” should be a thing of the past. As adults, we should share ideas within our school district, across state lines, and even around the globe. When more students graduate prepared for college and careers, the world wins! These are “OUR” students!
"Do we get credit for attending this meeting?"
Have you ever heard a colleague whisper, “I hope they are giving us credit for this.” Most school districts require a number of credits over the course of one year or a five year span. If a teacher is more focused on receiving credit than learning, it is a red flag. Have you ever attended a meeting until lunch and then your co-worker goes to the mall, because the credit was given in the registration packet? It is a shame that some educators view the credit as the purpose for attending. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that educators should receive credit in order to renew their license. I also believe that more school districts should begin recognizing blogging, Twitter chats, and webinars as ways to earn credit. Asking for credit is similar to the following scenario:
A high school basketball coach asks the starting five to run a play in practice, one day before the game. The starting point guard pauses before running the play and asks, “Will we all five get to start in the game if we run this play right?”
Running the play several times is part of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the reason for professional development, not credit or a certificate.
"We are no longer teaching during the last nine weeks. We have started benchmarking and test prep."
Test prep is one of the worst things that teachers can do during the last nine weeks. Did you ever try to cram for a test in college? It usually does not result in transfer or understanding. There are multiple approaches that educators can take which will virtually guarantee instant gains or increases in student achievement. Curricular reductionism is a test prep strategy that eliminates arts education, social studies, character education, and soft skills. If it’s not tested, then it’s not taught during the last nine weeks (or even semester in some schools).
Taking shortcuts to improve the data at an individual school is akin to a professional athlete taking steroids. When our students graduate from high school, we do not want them to reflect on their K-12 experience and see that the shortcuts adults took created long-term detrimental effects.
When educators choose to give students multiple assessments that look like the high-stakes test, eliminate subjects, and create a test prep boot camp atmosphere, then students lose. High-stakes tests have changed the way some teachers and administrators approach teaching and learning.
"I would assign more project-based learning, but it interferes with the pacing guide."
Pacing guides provide students with a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ (Marzano), if the curriculum is implemented in each classroom. Pacing guides can support teaching and learning. Alignment in a school district is important and pacing guides can provide an outline of what should be taught to each student. Pacing guides should allow for flexibility in pacing and the readiness level of each student.
The statement above is often overheard at high schools that teach on a block schedule. While there may be 90 minute periods, some teachers cannot overcome the fact that a one year course is taught in one semester. If student understanding is improved through project-based learning (PBL), then teachers should identify days of the week and units of study that provide students with time for PBL.
I say, “Shut the Front Door” to this comment, because it is an example of putting the needs of adults in front of the needs of students. We are paid to prepare each student for the next level of learning. Some educators say, “Research be damned, I am going to get through the pacing guide and make sure that I cover the content.”
"I believe that soft skills are critically important, but they aren't tested by the state."
Soft skills include, but are not limited to, teamwork, decision-making, and communication (America’s Promise Alliance, 2007). “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).
Employers seek applicants who are problem solvers, communicators, team players, and have perseverance. These skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are needed by all high school graduates to ensure that they are college and career ready, regardless of whether they plan to complete an apprenticeship after high school or attend a two-year or four-year college. While employers are seeking students with strong academic skills, they are having trouble finding applicants who can collaborate, create, think outside the box, and communicate. When educators focus on tested subjects at the expense of soft skills, students pay the price. If test scores are the reason for teaching and learning, then someone forgot to tell the employers who are seeking qualified applicants (Wagner, Seven Survival Skills as described by business leaders in their own words).
I believe in instructional leadership, teacher leaders, the Common Core State Standards, curriculum alignment, professional learning communities, and College and Career Readiness. When teachers and administrators make statements that you disagree with, you should challenge the statement. As a professional, you owe it to students and to the profession to challenge broad statements or beliefs that are not in the best interests of students or the profession.
Share your thoughts below:
What makes you say, “Shut the Front Door?”
Steven Weber is an elementary school principal in North Carolina. During his career, he has served as the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools, High School Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, K-12 Social Studies Specialist with the Arkansas Department of Public Instruction, and as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the West Memphis School District. Weber blogs on ASCD EDge. You can connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog.
On Sunday, March 30, 2014, the New York Times published an important article about the opt-out testing movement In New York City and State: “Standing Up to Testing”. Here is the URL to the article:
Perhaps a movement such as this can get our Federal and State officials to understand how deep seated the feelings are against standardized testing, how much they distort educational practice, and how each individual can make a difference in determining the direction of educational policies and practices in the future.
Leading a school as assistant principal or even as an instructional coach (my previous job) was never in my career path. In fact, until a few years ago, I could not imagine myself in a role defined by any leadership definition. I would have to say that life has taken me on some unpredicted journeys with some major twists and turns. At the time, these unfavorable moments in life seemed like some pretty hard-luck. Today, looking back, those hapless situations have played a huge part in directing me to where I have found so much passion and joy. You see, hardship sometimes brings out the best in us. I had to gain a lot of personal confidence before ever reaching a point in my life where I had enough faith to lead others. I had to let go of inner thoughts that often plagued my mind about what others thought of me. I lived most of my life through the lenses of how others perceived me. Outward affirmation from others far outweighed my inner desire to be happy with who I was. I am now certain that many unpleasant circumstances occured in my life to build patience, confidence, courage, and other characteristics that leaders often get branded with so readily. Today, I can say I've grown in tremendous ways! I am definitely a work in progress, but I have been able to break many of the negative strongholds in my life.
About a year ago now, I started to see how personal experiences, learning opportunities, and desires were leading me down an uncharted path of becoming a school administrator. Feeling a bit risky, I jumped in head-first and decided to be adventurous instead of taking my normal stance, which is standing with others on the observation deck. At the time of this revelation, I was attending grad school. I changed my whole graduate plan from curriculum (which I still love) to administration. New doors began to open, and I felt on fire to really lead for the first time ever. I can honestly say I made the BEST decision of my life to apply, interview, and accept a position as an assistant principal. My true passion was finally ucovered!
Who knows where this career will take me, but I will never look back and say, “I wish I had.” I have said that only a million times in my life with regrets. Along my new journey, I hope to inspire others who feel like they do not have much to give. The truth is, we all do. Leading does not mean you always have to stand and shout from a mountain-top. You can lead even in the trenches. In fact, the best leaders are at the bottom serving those who follow. Leaders show empathy and know how exhausting and cruel the road can be at times. They lift their people up and quench their thirst with support, sincere affirmations, and encouragement. The best leaders, in my opinion, have been shaped and formed from a raw state.
I am more excited now than ever about education. It is incredible how rapidly it is moving and shaking. I yearn to do so much more to make learning for students and teachers the best it can be! So, why am I leading? Well, I am leading because I have the passion to do so now, along with the faith and confidence in my ability to do it. Those beliefs about myself were born from hard work, heartache, and even a broken spirit. I am leading because I know it is the thing I am called to do. I am leading because I want to create other leaders as passionate as me. I am leading because I love what I do so deeply that I don’t want this passion to be wasted. I am leading because I care for people, for children, and finally for me and what brings me true joy. I lead because I want to make a difference!
If there is one subject that most bloggers have written about, it is probably the act of blogging. I know for me, as well as many of my blogging friends, it is nothing like we imagined before we were immersed in the “blogosphere”. Bloggers start their blogs for many different and personal reasons. One step common to all however, is that it does take an act of courage to publish that first blog post.
When I first started, I thought that I would do apiece here and there for a little while, but that I would eventually run out of things to say. Three years later, after 237 posts, I am still waiting for that time to arrive. My areas of interest include education and social media. I guess as long as each of those areas continue to evolve, I will always have something to write about.
Another factor that affects what I blog is the continuing change in the audience. In order to access blog posts, a reader must be involved in some way with technology. That is a growing audience especially among educators. Most people use technology in everyday life, but more and more, educators are using technology for professional development in larger numbers. In order to access the most relevant information on the profession of education, educators are relying more on blog posts for relevancy. Many thought leaders and education authors are blogging their thoughts to share, test, and try out new ideas in education.
Twitter, which is considered to be micro-blogging, has lured many people to blogging. It limits the author to 140 characters, but it does however, enable one to blast out ideas for quick responses. Success on Twitter leaves some people with a need to do more. There are ideas that need to be placed in explanations longer than a string of 140 character tweets may allow. Many ideas are introduced and tersely discussed in tweets and chats on Twitter, but they demand more reflection and more explanation, which leads to blogging. The biggest effect of Twitter chats is often reflected in the blog posts following, and resulting from the chats.
Blogging changes the way many people think about new, and old ideas. The difference between writing a Blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections. The blogger will not rush the idea in print, but develop it, so that it evolves before the reader. It is less a reaction, and more of a transparent reflection of thought, benefitting the writer as much as the reader. This will begin to carry over into the way the writer approaches almost everything.
For a blogging educator, as a teacher, or administrator, student or even a parent, there becomes a transparency in their thinking and reflecting. Before technology enabled us, this process had never been available, or had so much access to an individual’s thought process been given. Before the technology, books and magazines enabled us to view it in only a few people who were privileged to media access. Today the computer is the publisher. Good or bad, anyone can publish at anytime.
The stunningly apparent, positive take-away from blogging is that it gives voice to the blogger. A thoughtful, reflective, considered post can be picked up by an audience and sent out to thousands, or millions of readers through technology.
Blog posts can also be used for propaganda, or mindless ranting. As educators we need to emphasize critical thinking in our classes for that very reason. We need to model for our students how to responsibly question. We need to teach them how to comment and respond to blog posts. If blog posts are part of our ever-evolving, technology-driven culture, we need to educate our children in their use.
As educators we must also be learners. We need to model learning for our students who need to understand the necessity to be a life long learner. Educators are also people who work with ideas and share. It takes courage to put one’s self on the line to be scrutinized by others. Teachers do it every day in schools. The most effective way to have one’s voice recognized in sharing ideas in order to consider, reflect, modify, and improve with the greatest audience possible is through blogging.
We need courageous administrators blogging to give transparency to their thoughts and leadership. We need educators to have the courage to experiment with blogging placing them squarely in the conversation of education from which they are too often blocked. Educators need to be models for their students. We need our students blogging to follow their teacher models. Blogging provides an audience for students’ work. It is an authentic audience and not an audience of one, as have been most of their previous writing experiences. It gives voice to their concerns, and it shows them direction for their personal learning. We need parents to blog to give voice to their concerns in directing the conversation for the needs of their children.
Since becoming a blogger, I view things differently. I question things more. I try to understand things well enough, so that I can explain them simply. Most importantly I have been recognized as a person to be taken seriously, because I have a voice. These are things I wish for everyone to experience. What good is education, if we do not have a voice to share what we have learned in order to benefit all?
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.
How can teacher leaders be identified and cultivated?
In a school setting, it is important that leadership does not come only from the administration, but from all aspects of the school community. As peers, we can identify and cultivate teacher leaders through paying attention to each others’ strengths and skills (including our own), and by seeking information and feedback.
Teachers are leaders when their influence extends beyond their own classroom. This influence can be a simple as working with a colleague to improve teaching practice through observation. It could be more involved, such as working as part of a curriculum development team. Leadership could even be quasi-administrative, such as serving as department chairperson or as a mentoring teacher.
No matter the role of teachers, we can identify leaders by paying attention to their strengths. Are they good listeners? Do they work to include all participants in meetings? Do they think “outside the box” to help solve problems? These are all skills that can serve well in leadership. When we are with our colleagues, we should pay attention to these types of skills, and should point them out to each other. Additionally, we should pay attention to our own strengths. If we find that we are effective at meetings, at talking to others, at helping all members contribute, we should hone these skills and improve them to increase our leadership.
Seeking information and feedback can help cultivate a fledgling leader – even if that leader is ourselves. When there are areas of concern, such as an unproductive team member, we should look for resources to guide us to effective communication. We can ask our peers to give us feedback about our effectiveness in different areas – especially our communication. We can honestly give feedback to our colleagues if they seek it.
Leadership needs to be cultivated throughout a school community. Even if we have terrific administrators, we are a stronger organization when we can pool our talents and skills. Identifying and cultivating leaders is a task for the entire school, because it benefits the entire school.
By Lisette Morel, Colleen Tambuscio, Lynne Torpie, and Joanna Westbrook
Rather than being daunted by the literacy demands posed by PARCC and the Common Core, three teachers at New Milford High School have embraced the challenge. This semester, they collaborated with a 9th grade ELA teacher to develop critical literacy across the curriculum. What arose from that collaboration was rich and pushed students to interact with text and present their ideas using the discourse of each discipline.
These teachers worked to create tasks that foster the investigative, critical thinking and written communication skills that embody real-world endeavors. Though literacy skills are the foundation upon which these outcomes are built, these teachers felt unsure about assessing critical literacy and needed guidance in building clear rubrics. With the support of an ELA colleague they were able to develop activities to engage students in authentic writing tasks as they analyze and synthesize content.
The Science Task
Infographics in Science: To connect the cognitive learning goals in science class to the cognitive learning goals in ELA Mrs. Torpie worked with Mrs. Westbrook to create the Infographic Project. For this project, students collected data then presented it graphically using Infographics such as bar graphs, a column graph, a pie chart, or a hierarchy. In addition, students compared their data to other representative data, drew conclusions, and made specific recommendations.
Click HERE for the assignment and rubric.
Common Core Standards Addressed: WHST.9-10.6; WHST.9-10.8; WHST.9-10.9
The Social Studies Task
Curating an Exhibit in History Since students often experience history through museum learning, either within the walls of a museum or through online exhibitions, the Become a Curator assignment provided an authentic method for engaging social studies students in learning. Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Tambuscio built this task using an advanced text on the subject of Nazi ideology. To begin, students utilized a specific chapter in Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust by The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to research their assigned cluster of non-Jewish victims of Nazi oppression. The goal was to allow students to understand the many layers that encompass Nazi ideology while citing specific artifacts and evidence to support their conclusions.
Click HERE for the assignment and rubric.
Common Core Standards Addressed: RH.9-10.3; WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.5; WHST.9-10.8.
The Art Task
Artist Statements The task created by Mrs. Morel and Mrs. Westbrook asked students to write Artist Statements to accompany their finished pieces for exhibition. Mrs. Morel provided mentor texts from the art class MOMA fieldtrip which students used to create their own statements. These statements mirrored the professional standards of the art world. This assignment gave them experience in articulating their process and in writing clear statements to describe their intended effect.
Click HERE for the assignment.
Common Core Standards Addressed:WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.9
What these teachers learned from their collaboration is that writing in the content areas can no longer be centered on tired, recycled 5 paragraph essays students write year after year – the idea of making the content classes into extensions of the English class just does not have traction. What does have traction is work that couples real content with real literacy and that threads reading/writing opportunities throughout the curriculum.
Leaving work at work is truly an art form—especially when you’re a principal. Sure, the stress becomes easier to manage with time and experience, but it never completely goes away, no matter how competent or passionate we are about our job.
Whether you’re a new or veteran principal, odds are that you could benefit from a few stress-fighting tips. Below, you’ll find 7 that work for us.
Play your favorite record
You may not be able to leave the office, but you can shut your door, lean back in your chair, and crank up your favorite song. Make this a meditative experience. Close your eyes, tune out everything else, and focus on the music.
Save positive notes
One of the best ways to counteract your feeling unappreciated is to look through cards, notes and emails from parents and teachers. Print your emails, save your notes and put them in a file folder. Reading through these is a great way to reaffirm that yes, there may be bad days, but you are still making a difference and reaching a lot of people.
Browse your favorite website or blog
The Internet can be an incredible time-sucker—but sometimes “wasting” time on Pinterest and eBay is the best cure for a bad day. If you feel the need to justify your web browsing, look for lesson plans, articles or YouTube videos that some of your teachers might find engaging. This will distract you, but still keep you productive.
Eat lunch with students
When we’re stressed, often our first instinct is to shut down, close the office door and be alone. But that’s usually the last thing we need. Get out of the office, sit in on a class, join in on a recess game, or find a table and eat lunch with students. This will benefit both you and the kids.
Read and read for pleasure
When you read, you want to make it count, so you may tend to read about leadership, curriculum and scholarly articles related to education. That’s admirable and necessary—but you should also read for pleasure. Read to decompress. Read books that you can’t put down. Stephen King? Yes, please. Dean Koontz? Definitely. John Grisham? Of course you should.
Work from home
The office can be a refuge, but it can also be a source of distraction, especially when we have to catch up on major reports and other projects. Between the meetings, incessant phone calls, emails and visits from random visitors, it can be challenging to get anything done. If you can get approval from the board, we suggest taking an at-home work day once or twice a year.
Take an hour
There’s always more to do, right? There are meetings, reports, phone calls…but it can wait—all of it. Set boundaries; set aside a specific time every day to do something that nurtures you physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. Go home! Revere this time like you would any after-school tutoring session or faculty meeting. The world and all its reports can wait—at least for one hour.
*These ideas have been adapted from an Education World article; you can find it by clicking here.
Google Apps are a set of high leverage tools that help teachers connect with their students, as well as, save time on common teaching and planning tasks. The key to getting started with Google Apps is to take it slow and play with the many applications and features as they fit into one’s schedule and workflow. Here are three easy steps for teachers to get started with Google Applications for Education.
1. Download Google Chrome
Chrome is Google’s web browser and works seamlessly with all Google Apps and extensions. Chrome allows for painless downloading and uploading with Google Apps.
2. Explore Google Drive
Many district provide teachers with a networked ‘P Drive.’ A great place to test out the functionalities of Google Drive is to upload one’s P Drive to Google Drive. In a matter of seconds, teachers will be able to access all of their files from any internet browser or mobile device. Additionally, teachers will be able to test the sharing functions and conversion capabilities of Google Docs.
3. Join Google+
Google+ allows teachers to integrate all of their Google Apps in a fun and easy social media platform. Many teachers use their Google+ account to replace their traditional webpages to share files and assignments with students. With Google+ teachers can use Google Hangouts to video chat with up to ten people while viewing Google Docs. You can also place free Google Voice calls via Google+.
Robert R. Zywicki is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction of the High Point Regional School District. He is completing his Ed.D. at Saint Peter's University. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZywickiR.
This is the second in an ongoing series of posts inspired by How I Work, a 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 week we’ll be featuring a new interview with a new teacher. This week, we’ll hear from Clint Walters, a Computer Information Technology teacher from Stewartstown, PA.
Location: I live in beautiful Stewartstown, nestled at the bottom of South Central PA, just north of Baltimore MD.
Desired location: I love it here, but I’m willing to live wherever I can pursue my passion for teaching in the Computer Information Technology field, support my awesome wife and family, and ultimately where ever God and my career take me.
Current work title (administrator/teacher/school technologist, etc.) Also, what grade do you teach?: I am a Computer Information Technology teacher for grades 7 & 8. I occasionally facilitate online courses for Graduate students. I recently conducted a gaming literacy workshop for undergraduates at a local university.
Area of expertise (subjects you teach or have an interest in):
My area of expertise is hard to articulate. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Game Based Learning, Game Design, and Gamification, which are big areas of interest. That is my current passion, and what I most often teach online and speak on. Design is a big part of what I teach from graphic design to design thinking. I’m getting more into the areas of Coding and Programming for my students because I feel that that is an essential tool for my student’s future. When it all comes down, my goal is to teach students to be “awesome”. I want them to be fluent users of technology, sure, but the ultimate goal is to make them expert project managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and world-changers. There’s not enough of that happening in the school day. I don’t think we became a world power by producing great test-takers, and I don’t think that’s enough to keep us there.
Do you have a specific long-term career goal?:
My current goal, as lame as it sounds, is to continue doing what I am doing, and remain open to what comes next. Currently, who I am fits what I am doing. When there is a disconnect there, it’s time to change.
I do, of course have dreams and aspirations. I would love to develop relationships with entrepreneurs and companies in the education technology field. I would love to get involved with a company that promotes serious epistemic games or game-based-learning, while still staying connected to the education field. I really admire the work of companies and organizations like Institute of Play, E-line Media, Games for Change, BrainPop and the Games Learning Society, to name a few. There’s a new company in Baltimore, called Immersive 3d that’s doing some really impressive work with Baltimore County Schools. I just think that it would be incredibly engaging and rewarding to get involved with one of these projects or something like it.
In my heart of hearts, I would love to make my school into a Quest school. I would settle for being part of starting something like that somewhere, locally or otherwise. I want to see the whole concept of systems thinking, design thinking, STE[a]M learning, and 21st Century skills become available to more students in more places. I want to engage policy makers, teachers, administrators and most of all, parents in demanding more for our kids than rigorous testing, useless trivia, and constant remediation.
Languages you have studied or currently speak:
I’ve studied French in high school and college, but I currently know more Japanese than French. That may be misleading, though. I only know enough Japanese to survive on the mat at the Aikido dojo I attend. I’ve studied a fair amount of html and css, though I can’t really speak those languages.
The project you’re most proud of:
Currently, my pet projects are my classroom and curriculum, my workshops and presentations, and my online course writing. I take pride in all of these. Mostly, I take pride in my students, who make and do awesome things in my room.
The classes that I teach are my ongoing project. I’m constantly re-thinking, revising, and re-iterating curriculum, activities, and even classroom layout. I inherited a 7th grade class in MS Office and an 8th grade class in technical drawing and digital photography. Now my seventh graders publish blogs, participate in social networking, design engaging graphics, make their own video games, learn coding and programming, and explore the nuances of project based learning. My 8th graders go deeper by experiencing 9 weeks of project based learning, which requires them to develop unique solutions and select and use computer applications effectively and productively, seamlessly transferring created objects between selected computer applications and other tools. Both of these classes focus heavily on design and systems thinking and employ a generous amount of gamification and game based learning.
Favorite time of the day:
That depends on the day…
Favorite technology gadget for the classroom:
I’m not sure how to answer this. I have a lot of software that I like to use. I have a lot of techniques that I like to teach that are made easier with technology. I have access to several gadgets that do things well, but I do not have a favorite. It’s all in the application.
Next conference/professional-development event you’re planning to give or attend:
Whatever and wherever I can. I just attended EdSurge Baltimore, and I just missed SXSWedu (tears). Being a public school teacher does not afford one the opportunity to attend such events. The funding is barely there to retain teachers, let alone provide them with any real and meaningful professional experiences. This is one of the reasons why I wish to develop more relationships (and see teachers in general be more connected) with entrepreneurs and companies in the education technology field. In order to get out of one’s duties, let alone cover travel expenses, one practically needs to represent a company.
How many hours per day do you usually work?:
That depends. Some days I work in my sleep. Typically I’m on the clock from 7:30 to 2:50, but I’m at work from 6:30 to 3:00 most days. Then I come home and devote myself to my family. After my kids go to bed, I typically put in an hour of work on my blog, any freelance design work I may have, or facilitating online classes. I also tend to spend between two and four hours on these pursuits on the weekend as well.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?:
I am an extreme extrovert. I really dislike being alone. I recharge in the presence of others. I dwindle and wither in isolation.
Are you an early-riser or a night-owl?:
I am neither. I like to get to bed before 10:00 when possible. I wake at 5:00, though I can’t say that I am particularly joyful at waking. I think that I used to be a morning person... before children. Now, I spend a lot of time feeling tired.
Do you have any pets or kids (names and ages)?:
I am blessed with an awesome family. My wife, Lanette, and I have two kids. Hudson, age six is in Kindergarten, and loves Legos, Games of all kinds, and building stuff out of anything around the house. Eliza, age 2, loves climbing, demolishing whatever Hudson builds, and using mommy’s iPad.
My wife, Lanette, is a K-5 technology integrator in a 1:1 iPad school and is now the Digital Curriculum Reviewer for Kindertown.
Next city/country you want to visit:
Here, I don’t have a strong preference. I recently went to Boston, which was not on my radar at all, but I loved it. I enjoy visiting new places. I would love to go to Japan someday. That would be cool.
Favorite vacation place:
My favorite vacation spot is anywhere my family is. Lately I enjoy Bethany Beach, DE because that is where my family goes on vacation. I would be as happy vacationing in Maine or Florida or my back yard.
My favorite fiction book is JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, which I discovered in 11th grade. Thank you, Mrs. Smith. My favorite non-fiction title is Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.
I’m a musician. I play the drums and world percussion. I love music. I do not have one favorite song. Today, I am enjoying Cake’s rendition of Mahna Mahna. I consistently enjoy music by the Black Keys, Mofro, and Jack White. I tend to enjoy everything from the Ting Tings to Mavis Staples. I have eclectic tastes.
Where we can find your website/blog/classroom blog:
http://www.clintwalters.com (my main website)
http://mrwaltersdesk.blogspot.com/ (my education blog)
Do you have a Twitter account we can follow you on?:
Response to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African
Americans: Strategic Diversity Plan Executive Summary for African American Males in the Arkansas Delta.
If we continue to call the institution that our children attend to acquire an education “school” we must begin to demonstrate some evidence of learning. Names can be very misleading; the name of an entity should match its purpose and accomplishments. Based on the ineffectiveness of most school in the nation, to call our institutions for learning “school” is a misnomer. Locally, our students continue to score low on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP); we continue to sustain the employment of incompetent teachers. We continue to use the same instructional strategies that have failed to advance students achievement even though there are alternatives that have proven to advance academic achievement available. The key to success in diverse classrooms is selecting and implementing powerful instructional methods that simultaneously address a variety of different learning needs (Voltz, Sims, & Nelson, 2010). The students in this district are mostly African American; we have about two percent of other groups. Yet, we still have a diverse group with in the African American student culture. Diversity refers to differences in persons. It incorporates skin color, gender, age, abilities, economic-status, sexual preferences, religious preferences and language to name a few.
African American male students should learn to identify with their own culture before they can be expected to respect other groups. There is a profound diversity within the African American culture. Because of insufficient grammar/language skills and lack of travel experience our African American youth are English Language learners in their own Nation. We cannot justify nor expect the community to accept and support our failure to educate African American males. When I compare data from the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) test scores and academic progress in class over the last five years, I find that African American males in this district have not received the encouragement they need to be successful. These students are not aware of the history of cultural racism. Cultural racism is the practice of recognizing the activities and contributions of one racial group in preference to others within a multiracial society (Koppelman, 2013). Black males need to know and understand why their present conditions are as they are. By exposing them to their history, we can help them gain such valuable insight. Without this understanding, they will continue to accept incarceration as a natural condition rather than as the consequence of centuries of racism (Kafele, 2009). It is the responsibility of this district to provide these students with the means to navigate through obstacles and master academic challenges.
Students spend more time at school than any other place that they venture. I foresee a school climate where students are interested in learning. This comes about with motivation and encouragement from administrators, staff, teachers, community patrons and parents. Also students are more productive when they experience success; therefore I envision teachers that model high expectations and reach out to students with total acceptance; we must work to ensure that all students have a sense of importance in the school environment. Some students do not feel valued in their home. The response they receive at school can fill that void and improve their self-esteem; when students feel safe they achieve more in class. Also children lack sufficient physical and emotional support in their homes; we must put agencies in place to help with issues of food supply and heat/air conditioning when needed. Children are experiencing crime in their neighborhood; fears begin to grip their minds leaving little room for academic function. A positive culture inspires optimism and hope; a negative culture promotes cynicism and defeatism (Danielson, 2006). Since the school/community is laced with apathy, poverty, Black-on-Black crime and violence, it is easy to see how the children in the public schools adopt the motto, “none of us will learn.”
Over the next five years, we must decrease the number of African American males attending alternative schools. This is not because alternative school is detrimental, but due to the fact that in society there is no reward for not being able to conform to the norm. Lack of respect and outlandish behavior can result in a prison sentence or an early grave in the real world. Young men must learn to control their behavior and respect authority to avoid dire consequences. Alternative schools should service students that need a legitimate alternative. We service students that refuse to participate in class, blatantly disrespect teachers and instigate chaos all day. We will focus on engaging these students in grade-level appropriate, authentic, purposeful curriculum that reflects their interest, culture and academic needs.
Absenteeism is a hindrance to academic achievement. Many students skip school because they feel so unappreciated and cannot demonstrate competence in grade level subject matter. These students need a curriculum that addresses their interest and moves them from underachievers into the arena of successful grade level accomplishments. Students who see themselves in the curriculum will want to attend school; we must provide them with the proper curricular. This is a major issue for third through sixth graders even though attendance is not a profound problem at this age group; parents still have the control to make them go to school in the lower grades. We must draw these younger students into our present so that we can administer the instructions for the strong foundation they need in order to be prepared for upper grade level proficiency. On the other hand, high school students cannot perform well on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) unless they are in attendance when instructions are being given. Eleventh grade literacy, tenth grade biology, algebra I, and geometry scores reflect the necessity for increased attendance rates.
Our Black males are struggling to write a single paragraph; we must give them authentic purpose for writing and using correct grammar. For black adolescent males, in order to offset resistance that occurs because of cultural differences and to develop their identities, it is essential to establish culturally responsive instructional practices and infuse the curriculum with culturally relevant materials. (Tatum, 2005)
African American Males need competent male teachers. Poor achievement among our neediest students is the result, at least in part, of a lack of strong, positive black educators in the classrooms. This nation needs to move swiftly to engage more African-American men in teaching. No longer can we simply be OK with black men representing less than 2 percent of our teacher workforce. It is unacceptable (Nicolas, 2014). He continues, “I have also seen the tremendous impact an effective black male educator can have in the classroom. Notice I use the word effective; this is because an effective black male educator can have a more detrimental impact on a school than perhaps a teacher from any demographic.”
Our mission is to prepare students for college, careers and life. All district and school personnel are equally responsible for the success of students. In order for us to move high school students from fifty five percent basic to fifty-five percent advanced we must create and implement a shared vision that all of us will support. School security guards, secretaries, nurses, custodians and cafeteria workers are all a viable part of the organization. All these internal patrons will interact with students in a way that reflects acceptance, and respect. It is the responsibility of the Principal to set the tone for the school culture. With support from the principal the teachers will receive professional development that takes the needs of the students into account. Teachers must learn to focus on the emotional, physical, psychological, social and academic needs of the students. They must also learn to reflect on their own personal prejudice and strive to be fair to all students by eliminating inconsistences that hinder the performance of students. There is a requirement of innovation, concern and educational reform to increase the academic performance of our students. The district administration office must support the principals and provide finances, resources and technical support as the schools engage in transforming students from kindergarten to twelfth grade into lifelong readers, learners and American Citizens.
By the end of the 2014-2015 school years the district personnel as well as the local community will be aware of the vision, objectives, mission and other components of the strategic diversity plan. Successful schools are much more than a list of strategies or activities. At their core, each of the “breakthrough” high schools demonstrates a belief that every student in the school can be academically successful (Westerberg, 2009). The district office will contact Mr. John Hoy, Assistant Commissioner Division of Public School Accountability for information on equity monitoring at the school.
Administrators and the stakeholder will have met together to create, distribute and implement the goals and objectives. This will include the community patrons, parents, students, staff and teachers. The plan will be posted on the school web-site, also. School leaders will ensure that teachers have begun professional development and will have already begun to revert to instructional strategies that are proven to ensure academic excellence for the targeted students. The literacy coaches will meet with the K-12 teachers periodically to vertically align the curriculum. During the 2015-2016 school year administrators will monitor this process ensuring that teachers are following the instructional strategies that match the school vision. Teachers will be responsible to participate in professional learning communities that include community patrons to collaborate and share in the planning and implementation of the identified goals. Administrator will work with teachers to clarify problems or misconceptions that they may have encountered. In 2014-2019 the administration and teachers will use the data to identify students and procedures that require special attention including academic, social and emotional growth of the students. In the 2014-2019 school years the administrators will assess title one funds as well as other state funds to plan the expenditures for resources to cover the needs of the district. Individual school will submit their school plans to the Federal Program Director for access to funds to support their programs.
Task Force for School Diversity Plan
(Pseudo names to demonstrate how we will select a task force)
Diversity Strategic Plan
1.1 K-12 teachers will use instructional strategies and curricular that’s researched and proven to increase student performance of African American males.
1.2 Staff, teachers, and community patron will exhibit a school culture of safety, acceptance and high expectation for all students.
1.3 Parents will be included in developing and implementing a vision for the school that supports the emotional, social, cultural, and academic needs of the students.
1.4 Teachers will have on going professional development and collaboration that support the vision and mission of the school.
1.5 Incorporate frequent surveying to assess the students’ opinion of the school culture
2.1 The cafeteria will provide a nutritious breakfast and invite parents and community
Patrons to serve students.
2.2 Provide weekly incentives for students that come to school every day.
2.3 Allow students to visit the elementary school as peer tutors during the morning hours.
2.4 Modify instructions to allow reasonable success.
2.5 Allow students to use their personal I phones to research in class.
2.6 Conduct bi-weekly recognition of attendance and academic progress.
2.7 Allow students to use their talent such as singing, playing musical instruments, and
3.1 Provide professional on effective classroom management
3.2 Train students to handle conflict resolution
3.3 Provide counseling/medication
3.4 Connect students with police officers as mentors
3.5 Create a culture that encourages parents to visit classrooms
3.6 Arrange for convicts to come in as resource/scared straight tactic
3.7 Arrange for former successful residents to return as a resource speaker
3.8 Model/role play appropriate behavior
Writing/grammar mini lessons.
4.1 Read and write using technology/online portals
4.2 Use culturally appropriate interesting fiction/nonfiction text
4.3 Teach writing/grammar skills in context of literature
5.1 Develop curriculum that reflects the cultural social, emotional, physical, developmental, and Cognitive needs of African American students.
5.2 Raise the bar/rigor to accomplish grade level reading proficiency
5.3 Teach African American history/inventions
5.4 Visit colleges (3-12)
5.5 Keep a personal portfolio of graduate credits (9-12 grades)
5.6 Employ competent African American male teachers
Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership That Strengthens Profession Practice.
Alexandra, VA: ASCD.
Kafele, B. K. (2009). Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School & in Life.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Koppelman, K., L. (2014). Understanding Human Differences Multicultural Education for a
Diverse America. (4th ed). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Nicolas, Donald G. (2014). Where are the black male teachers? Education Week, 33(22), 28
Tatum, A. (2005). Teaching Reading to black Adolescent Males. Portland, MA: Stenhouse
Voltz, D. L., Sims, M. J., & Nelson, B. (2010). Connecting Teachers, Students and Standards
Strategies for Success in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Westerberg, T. R. (2009). Becoming a Great High School 6 Strategies and 1 Attitude That
Make a Difference. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.