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This weekend, my family and I visited the Oregon Coast. As I stared at the ocean, I thought: Ocean waves are one of the most powerful phenomena on Earth - they shape the Earth's coastlines. Similarly, educational systems are powerful forces that prepare students to grow up and shape the future of our economy and society.
This got me pondering how ocean waves are made and how they crash against the shore 24/7. From a scientific perspective, waves are imparted from a combination of wind blowing over the surface of water and currents running under the water. I'm always amazed that when I simply look at the ocean, I don't see the system of wind and currents - I see their byproduct as the ocean waves crest and fall.
Just as nature puts a lot of energy into shaping waves all day every day, a multitude leaders at every level strategically create & cultivate systems that shape high quality educational outcomes on a daily basis. The educational systems that yield the highest outcomes and maintain sustainability result from a collective approach to shared responsibility and leadership that's cultivated by lead learners.
I invite you to join me in personalizing this idea by contemplating: What are the strategic approaches that lay the foundation for your educational system to generate high quality educational outcomes? How do you articulate these educational outcomes to different stakeholders? What is your role within this system?
On March 15, 2014, a friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Allison Rodman, and I had an opportunity to present at the ASCD Annual Conference in Los Angeles, California. The topic was "Teacher-Leadership" and the goal was to organize our ideas in the Ignite format.
While we were both used to speaking at conferences and in front of large groups of people, neither of us had experience with this format. Ignite limits the presenter to 20 slides, each on a 30-second timer. This organizes the presentation to a manageable five minutes, but forces the presenter to remain focused in order to efficiently convey the true message of the presentation. The task at-hand was exciting, challenging, and daunting. Could we actually do this and be successful?
Allie and I live about an hour away from one another, but our crazy schedules did not allow us to meet in person to organize our ideas or to practice. We worked through google docs and phone calls to compile the PowerPoint, divided up ownership of the slides, then finally were able to practice together just 30 minutes prior to the actual session.
Other Emerging Leader-friends were also part of this session, presenting their own insights into Teacher-Leadership. We jested that we'd be the only ones to show up to the session but that at least we'd be there to support one another. Our jokes became obsolete when the room filled to capacity of 150 people and others had to continually be turned away due to lack of seating and safety regulations. Needless to say, our nerves were getting the better of us!
I am incredibly proud of the work that Allie and I did leading up to that presentation, as well as the actual presentation itself. We shared our professional experiences with one another, divulged our fears with one another, laughed with one other, learned from one other, and ultimately, achieved success together. We challenged ourselves, stretched beyond our comfort zone, and drew on the wisdom of others for guidance (shout out to Alina Davis!). Now we have a story to give back to those who come after us.
We are teacher-leaders.
P.S. Allie organized our slides and spoken words into a beautiful blog post on her site, The Learning Loop. Please visit and enjoy!
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #18)
“Are you OK, Am I OK?”
How do I ensure that today I am wiser, calmer, and more relentless than yesterday? As I continue to learn, I find that leadership in its easy silence of my thoughts, is truly as simple and complex as – “to be or not to be”. I have found that in this time of year, we are both tired and excited. It is an interesting time for educators, communities and most importantly our students. During the spring many would like to rest. Some lose their urgency and others may never have had it. Yet, I see others that thrive during this time. I am left to wonder if urgency is lost or mistaken for crisis when we are tired. How do we continue to be urgent until the very last minute? As an organization, can we handle relentless urgency?
For our students, this time of year is filled with the realities of time running out and excitement of the unknown. What will I do this summer? What will next year be like? What will my next school be like? What will it be like after graduation? Will I make it this year? Will I make it today? Additionally, there is a sense of running out of time. I heard one student recently say, “It is isn’t because they (staff) haven’t been telling us too, we just haven’t done it.”
As a leader how do you “check yourself”? How do you know if your vision is just? How do you know if those who you are trying to serve value your service? We are in the final stretch of the school year, we will blink and we will be headed into summer. As we relentlessly drive forward, we must be clear. For those who put their own interest ahead of the students that we serve, we must have no time. Amid the doubt and unknown, we must relentlessly put our trust in our students’ abilities and in our staffs’ commitment to serve each of them. Am I Ok? Are we Ok? Our pain and our struggle is our everyday life. I pray that we never become numb to them, for I know that we will have given up. The time is now to become urgent, one last push, our best effort, and I am confident that we will ensure student success.
Finally from, “Edmund Vance Cooke”
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way?
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
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
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
Would you like to participate in the candidates selection process for next year’s Board members election? Several positions will be open on the 2014–15 Nominations Committee; application information will be available in the May L2L newsletter.
Leaders in Action
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All Rights Reserved.
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:
The Importance of Protocol
Jonathan T. Jefferson
Ineffective leadership is reactionary. There are other forms that ineffectual leadership takes, but this essay will focus on reactionary people in leadership positions who do not understand the importance of protocol. Protocol can be defined as “the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.”
The following scenarios are based on true accounts, but the perpetrators will remain nameless. A school district superintendent recommends cuts to the school district’s budget for the following school year. He explains to his board of education that the cuts come from every department to be fair. Student participation, and per pupil cost, are taken into consideration. A parent of a child on the middle school bowling team is disappointed that the bowling team has been cut. This parent speaks to a board of education member who happens to be her neighbor. Said board member calls the superintendent to inquire about the bowling team. Instead of explaining the legitimate reasons why the bowling team was eliminated, the superintendent feigns ignorance, and directs his business administrator, and athletic director, to reinstate the program. Clearly, this is not leadership, but reacting in fear to one voice from the community.
What would proper protocol have been in the above scenario? Firstly, board members have no authority acting independently. Board members must act as a unit (board of education) to monitor, and set, school district policies that do not violate their state’s department of education mandates and laws. The board member could have told the parent that he would revisit the issue the next time the board met. The superintendent could have reminded the board member that his budget was approved by the board, and that the matter could be readdressed during their next budget meeting. The manner in which the superintendent reacted led to the reinstatement of another team later that school year when one parent inquired about that team at a PTA function. Leadership requires making decisions that will not please everyone, and having the conviction to defend those decisions.
In this scenario, a teacher learns that she is being transferred to another school, and decides to fight the transfer by speaking with a board member who happens to be a retired principal of her school. This board member speaks to the superintendent, and the superintendent immediately calls his assistant superintendents, and department director, to tell them to reconsider the transfer. The department director, who does have the courage to defend his decisions, explained to the superintendent that the decision was made in the best interest of instruction after meetings with the principals of both schools.
Once again, a weak reactionary person in a leadership position can cause chaos by ignoring protocol. If this teacher were to be successful at thwarting a transfer, what authority would her principal or directors have in future dealings with her? Especially disturbing is the fact that a former principal (now board member) would act in a manner that would undermine the current principal. This board member should have told the teacher that the decision was within the unilateral purview of the school administrators. An effective superintendent would have politely reminded the board member of the proper protocol in place (if any) to appeal such decision in this instance.
As a school district administrator, the most effective superintendent I have had the pleasure of working with was a former Marine. She believed fully in the benefits of protocol, and held everyone to it. If a member of the community raised an issue at a board meeting, she would redirect them to the appropriate administrator and through the appropriate channels for such matter to be addressed. She was a stickler for following through with her decisions, and never backed down or shied away from the procedural soundness of her decisions when questioned. Through courage, conviction and commitment to community (rather than personal) objectives, this former marine more effectively managed a nine member board than the inept superintendent worked with his five.
A hot buzzword in education is the term ‘connected educator.’ For the past year, I’ve gone to unconferences, EdCamps, and had countless Twitter interactions. We always talk about what a ‘connected educator’ is.
Well, what about an ‘obsessive educator’?
It’s important to recognize this type of educator, too, as they are a strand of the ‘connected educator’. An obsessive educator is eternally hungry for teaching and learning knowledge. So hungry, that they’re never full. They’ll attend Saturday free conferences the weekend before Thanksgiving because they want to learn something, be inspired, meet others like them, and go home with their passion ablaze. Snow on a Saturday in Philadelphia? No problem for the obsessive educator. The pros way outweigh the cons. The obsessive educator burns the candle at both ends, only because there isn’t a third end.
The default setting for an obsessive educator is to communicate. Once an obsessive educator learns something new, they need to try it out immediately. And, then share out: not to brag or show off, but to deconstruct what just happened -- so more learning can occur. They want to break down why something worked, why something didn’t, or what they can do better.
They also want to help others get better. Making an investment in someone else by sharing new knowledge makes the obsessive educator happy. They know at some unknown future point, their investment will pay a dividend because a student will learn. And, that’s in their job description..
The obsessive educator is a teacher first, next, and always. And with teaching, there will be times when their peers don’t comprehend the material. They won’t see its relevance. Why do that? Who has time? Everything is already good the way it is, the obsessive educator hears. However, the obsessive educator sees a different picture than others hear. They don’t see the forest or the trees. Their vision is longer term, and it’s beautiful: a place where we are all connected and an obsession with learning becomes the norm.
But, they understand that their obsession is not the norm now. They understand that not everyone gets stoked when Tom Whitby and Todd Whitaker follow them on the same day. They understand that by taking pictures of the educational badges from the conferences they’ve attended that people they love, respect, and even marry may call them “Nerd Camp.” Because, the obsessive educator believes they get it -- the rest of the world will just catch up soon.
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.
I love finding inspirational quotes about leadership. I am often inspired by the words of others, these great pearls of wisdom that help you reflect and hopefully refine you. The only problem is there are very few I remember. “Oh, that’s a great quote. I need to remember that one.” Then, within a few hours (Who am I kidding, it’s usually only a few minutes.), it’s lost – forgotten.
One of very few that I remember is the following:
“Work for a cause, not for applause.Live life to express, not to impress.Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, make your absence felt.”
I probably had heard it before, but found it again in a gas station in eastern Washington on my way to our family cabin in Montana. I made my wife take a picture of it with her iPhone so I could refer to it later, just in case I forgot it. Knowing me all too well, my wife printed the quote and framed it for me for Christmas last year.
While I certainly agree with the quote and I think it’s a good reminder for all leaders, I can’t help but question some of the underlying messages. Of course, every leader has a cause. For us educators, our cause is a great one – make the world a better place, inspire the youth of our schools/districts, bring hope to the disadvantaged – all valiant purposes! However, leadership can be a thankless job. We often have to take appreciation in indirect, less tangible forms because we are supposed to be on some pedestal where direct appreciation for our work, time, and dedication is unwarranted, undesired, and unnecessary. While this appreciation is not the reason for our drive in leadership, we have to stop and appreciate it when it comes our direction. We should be giving applause to our teams regularly, but we shouldn’t be above receiving it, relishing it, and being motivated by it.
Leadership in the realm of education is, of course, about doing what’s best for our students – no matter what. It’s about inspiring a common mission/vision for education within a community. It’s about expressing yourself as a leader in ways that build individuals, teams, colleagues, and the larger community. Yet, I feel a good leader should also impress those with whom he/she interacts. I feel leaders should impress others with their knowledge, dedication, humility, desire to learn, and relentless pursuit to make a difference. Effective leaders impress others not through an intentional focus on being perceived as great, but as an unintentional byproduct of being great.
Finally, good leaders build capacity and try to work themselves out of a job. As effective leaders transition, they ensure that the work continues in their absence. They strive to make their departure not impact the great work happening within the school community. During my experience as a principal, I’ve transitioned to several different schools. Each time, I’ve wondered and secretly hoped that the teachers, students, and administration would miss me when I left – that my absence would be felt. If I’m doing my job well, the school will continue to flourish with students and teachers continuing to learn and improve, teams will work collaboratively around improved student learning, the community will keep a focus on the future – despite my departure. Moreover, they’ll have the tools and capacity to do this independently.
I still love the quote and will hang it in my new office next year - it’s still one of my favorites. The ebb and flow of leadership is a crazy, but awesome thing. We have to seek inspiration, motivation, and wisdom from whatever sources we have available. Sometimes, this means understanding that we can get multiple perspectives from the same thing, based on what challenges this wonderful opportunity called “leadership” brings us.
Instructionally savvy educators know that personalized learning is the heart of student success. As schools strive to customize education through instructional design, technology efforts and professional learning, highly successful schools know that these initiatives in isolation are not nearly enough to improve and sustain student learning. Strong schools know that deep levels of personalization are found in an enriching and responsive system of teaching and learning, that stretches and supports learning in individual and flexible ways. In order to achieve a truly personalized education for every student, one must articulate, architect and actualize practical ways to engage with such a system, and support the school to ambitiously strive toward a noble vision. Strong leadership, clear school structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes are vital elements that help ensure personalized success for every student. When these essential elements are employed, they create directionality for a school to reach their instructional True North.
A leader must have one foot in the vision and one foot in the reality. She must hold an almost unattainably high vision for her school, while embracing the evident truths about the school culture, data and instructional practices. An instructionally savvy leader knows how to continuously bridge the ground level reality to the top story vision in small and achievable ways. Her steady direction and encouragement is essential to regularly point the way to the instructional True North. It is widely accepted knowledge that if the leader does not believe and practice the vision, the endeavors needed to reach that vision will never take root, grow or flourish. While the instructional vision may seem distant, the leader must model and maintain a laser-like focus, that this instructional work is our moral imperative. At the same time, she is laying a solid instructional foundation and supporting schoolwide incremental footsteps toward the vision. Coaching and feedback are essential leadership tools. An effective leader uses every moment of everyday to indicate the True North, fostering the conditions for school success and celebrating visible learning.
Clear school structures
Clear school structures are the vertical frame on the instructional foundation. It is imperative to establish collaboration time and structures within the school day. Collaboration is the work of teaching and learning. One cannot effectively reflect, strategize, design, analyze, implement and monitor alone. Instead, educators must have time and structures within the school day to have continual conversations about the fine points of teaching and learning. Professional learning communities, data teams and a school leadership team are requisite to ensure a highly effective school. These particular structures are the column supports for learning; educators depend on them in order to personalize education for their students.
Collaboration takes many forms, and it must be a goal, norm and value in the organization. In establishing collaborative structures, it is a necessary first step to ensure the team norms, purpose, goals and process. For example, a professional learning community may employ a protocol that helps them look at student work. A data team may center on a progress monitoring procedure. A leadership team may use problem-solving model. Collaboration rests on clarity of structure. The absence of a clear collaboration structure leads a team to chaos or congeniality. Neither promotes learning. It is important to highlight that conflict is a natural part of the collaboration cycle. It has been said that one is not really collaborating unless there is conflict. Professional discourse reveals different points of view, and is necessary when collaborating around personalized education for a student. Often when teams fail to embrace conflict as a growth opportunity, passive forms of meeting take over, which do not result in instructional growth. There is no question that highly effective schools are steeped in collaboration as an authentic means toward personalizing student learning. In fact, highly effective schools will tell you they would not be successful without collaboration.
The success of schoolwide systems and routines depend on careful monitoring procedures. The leader must blend formal and informal processes to continually ensure that instructional efforts are helping the school advance in measurable ways. Effective forms of monitoring involve transparent efforts, such as classroom walkthroughs, data work, instructional conversations and professional reflection. Savvy educators participate in monitoring procedures for instructional feedback at the student, team, school and district levels. In turn, this helps them ensure that the student’s personalized learning is successful, while promoting their own self-reflection in the process.
Personalization as a goal and an outcome
Highly successful schools know that building and engaging in a system that adapts to students’ strengths and needs is critical in fostering personalized education. Educators in highly effective schools ask themselves, “How can I foster the conditions for success?” They embrace an ambitious vision through a shared leadership model, and actively collaborate within the school structures to design, implement, measure and monitor learning. Strong leadership, clear structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes comprise a educational direction for every school, and when properly employed, will point to the True North of personalized learning for every child.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Constructivists, like myself, in education today would agree that technology is redefining the way we think, practice, communicate, and carry out the routines of day-to-day living. In my personal and professional life, I have become increasingly dependent on my personal devices, such as my iPhone, iPad, and my Mac. I may leave home without matching shoes, but you can bet I will have all my tech gadgets. My iCali is synced to at least 4 systems and so are my reminders. My life has changed for the better due to the synchronization of my tech tools. Evernote, Drop Box, Google Drive, Live Binders, iCalendar are just a few ways I can manage my career and family. One of the best things is that my devices have afforded me the luxury of having access to personalized professional development at any time of the day or night. Because of the technology, my leadership skills, pedagogical practices, content knowledge, etc. have soared during the past two years. I have allowed social media, blogging, and other web 2.0 tools to become a consistent standard in my life.
Professional development has always been a part of the educational system. Rebore (2012) described that the main purpose for a staff development program is to “increase the knowledge and skills of employees and thereby, increase the potential of the school district to attain its goals and objectives” (p. 112). Cooper and Johnson (2013) believe learning needs are always present, therefore, educators find staff development necessary to stay abreast of current trends and practices. Many districts will perform a needs assessment to gain useful information regarding the types of professional development that should be offered to employees. Using the data from the assessments, the district pays attention to employee deficits. These shortfalls will show up as gaps in staff knowledge and/or skills in certain areas of the profession. To orient staff with new knowledge and skills, a district or campus may provide professional development to help close the learning gaps between those educators who display strengths in a certain area and those who do not (2012).
Traditionally, many staff development models try engaging their audience with a single presenter, who shares new knowledge centered around an idea. These models are mostly called workshops or seminars. Research has shown that these particular models are frequently presented in isolation without the motivation needed to change practices (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). This delivery style is very common in the educational world. Who needs this old-fashioned, "sit-'n-git"* approach to learning?? As a campus leader, I have the ability to move us away from tradition learning models and into the current era where there are means to personalizing PD for every single member on my staff. (* Thanks @ambercldrn for the "sit-n-git"…love it).
Research indicates that professional development is most effective when: “it involves the participants in concrete tasks; is participant driven while rooted in inquiry and reflection; is collaborative, connected to and derived from teachers work; and includes ongoing support” (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). With purposes quite the same as face-to-face counterparts, online teacher professional development (oTPD) operates using Web 2.0 tools, which have the potential to maximize principles due to flexibility and personalization for the educator. Web 2.0 oTPD engages and provides motivation for learners through reflection, review, connection, and immediate action, which are key to the constructivist experience (2013).
Our district administrators recently had the pleasure of hearing Maria Henderson, an Education Development Executive at Apple, Inc., speak to us about new and innovative ways of developing students and teachers on Web 2.0 tools. Henderson (2014) defended using 2.0 tools as an innovative way to personalize professional development for staff. I agree 100% with Ms. Henderson! Online professional development (oTPD) is not new but becoming more alive in the world of education. On my campus, I have tried using new apps and online resources to ease the time constraints that accompany traditional staff developments in an effort to deliver information. I have implemented the use of tools like Screen-Cast-O-Matic, Google Drive, Padlet, iMovie, YouTube, Teacher Channel, Blogging, Twitter, ScoopIt, Haiku Deck etc. Unlike traditional professional development, oTPD can be tailored to the professional or grade level, which increases engagement and the likelihood that the educator will apply what was learned or discussed.
With less time and more to learn than ever before, I often wonder why teachers do not embrace online learning more. Henderson (2014) stated it best when she said, “There has never been a more exciting time to be an educator or a student.” She is right! As an educator, I cannot wait to see where we go next. I am not afraid but rather anxiously await the next new, innovative tool to take us through our life's journey. #EXCITING!
We have always lived with and adapted to change; however, today’s changes are fast and furious. In education, building networks globally can help us stay abreast of current research and tools. Using Twitter, users are able to collaborate professionally with other educators about interests personalized to them (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). Books and magazines have much to offer but, once written, they stay the same and are not able to update immediately. Online venues, such a Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook provide educators with current feed with around the clock access in real-time. Almost nightly, I am able to read a plethora of new information and decide what best relates to my needs. I am able to share and learn skills and content on my own time with others who I have accepted in my professional learning network. By participating in #chats, I am able to discuss even more specifically the topics, which are more relevant to me. This method sure does beat sitting in a cold, sterile meeting where I might (or might not) walk away with something worthwhile. When I am on Twitter, I walk away with new learning each time I log off. (Which…by the way…logging off Twitter is hard…VERY HARD!).
Blogging is another user-friendly Web 2.0 feature that puts professional learning at your fingertips. Blogs are intended to prompt dialogue between people who have a vested interest in the material presented. Well…like this one!! I hope the material I am presenting makes you think. Sometimes blogs can embed other attractive and engaging features, such as YouTube videos, graphs, media clips, trailers, etc. Cooper and Johnson (2013) found that most research on blogging and teacher development has taken place with preservice teachers. New teacher bloggers have shown ability to critically reflect and interact with others in their online communities. My own Learning and Leading blog has taken me to new levels of learning. For me, it has given me a voice and a platform to speak. I also know that it has helped other educators reflect and think about their own practices in education.
Online professional development using 2.0 tools and other online resources can connect and give authentic experiences to the constructivist through reflection, review, and collaboration with network members. Not only that, but it can making learning simpler and easier. Another added bonus, as Cooper and Johnson (2013) stated in their article, “Exploration of professional development with such technologies presents possibilities for their use in the educational settings, while also engaging teachers in 21st century learning.”
Cooper, T., & Johnson, C. (2013). Web 2.0 tools for constructivist online professional development. EdItLib, 2013(1), 1923-1926. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/112231
Henderson, M. (2014, 0320).Apple learning. Lecture. Waco, Texas.
Rebore, R. (2012). The essentials of human resources administration in education.(1st ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Source for graphic: AppEducation.org
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.