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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
One of my favorite arcade games is Whac-A-Mole. When you drop your token in the machine, you have a limited amount of time to ‘whac’ as many moles as you can. In the beginning of the game, one or two moles pop their heads up and it is fairly easy to hit each one. About twenty seconds into the game, the moles start popping up three at a time and when you smash a mole with the mallet it may pop up again.
Whac-A-Mole is similar to the daily routine of a principal. From the time you arrive at school in the morning until late in the evening, moles pop up. Your job is to address each mole and to prioritize which one is most important. In this article, I am going to describe the ‘Six Moles’ a principal must address in order to be a good leader.
Six Moles A Principal Must Address
Principals receive phone calls, emails, and face-to-face messages from families. If you work in the car rider line at an elementary school, a parent or grandparent may share a concern with you as they drop their child off at school. When you check your email, you may have an email from multiple families with a concern about something that happened the day before. There are times when a family member has a concern about something that is a district level concern, but it is the principal’s job to advocate for families and contact the central office or assist the family in navigating communication with the central office. Families are not ‘moles’, but concerns pop up frequently and the principal cannot ignore family concerns. It is not wise to ‘whac’ a family member, but the concern must be addressed.
A principal wears several hats and the instructional leadership hat is critical to the success of the school. If a principal is focused on email, returning phone calls, developing professional development, and attending meetings, he or she will not be able to focus on the main thing. When a principal visits classrooms for formal or informal observations, it helps him or her get a pulse for student achievement and curriculum implementation. A principal should be a coach, cheerleader, critical friend, and more! If a principal does not visit classrooms on a regular basis, then the school will not continue to grow. Instructional rounds cannot be something that a principal does when the ‘mole’ pops up. This important leadership role must be part of the principal’s regular schedule.
Student Discipline pops up unexpectedly. There may be a student issue on the bus ride to school. Students may have a dispute on the playground. A student may break a school rule on the way to the next class. Handling student discipline is one of the main roles of principal leadership. Teachers and staff assist with student discipline, but when this ‘mole’ pops its head up, the principal cannot ignore it and move to the next three moles that pop up. Some of you reading this article may be thinking, “If student discipline is a mole, then ‘whac’ it.” You cannot use a hammer to hit every problem. When you use the Whac-A-Mole approach to student discipline it means you handle the problems as they arise, rather than waiting for more problems to pop up.
One of the most challenging ‘moles’ for a principal is email. If you sit at your desk from 8:00 am – Noon, you will see multiple moles pop up on your screen. More building principals are carrying a personal or school assigned smart phone on their hip. At one point, it was easy to avoid email because you could walk away from the computer. Principals have the ability to check email in the hallway, in meetings, while they are off campus, at home, and any time day or night. If principals focus on each email as it pops up then they will get distracted and miss out on other important leadership duties. Email is a great analogy to the game Whac-A-Mole. When you reply to email it continues to pop up. Time management is important and Whac-A-Mole Leadership involves more than whacking each email, hoping to bop all of the ‘email moles.’
Leading professional development is important. When a school staff stops learning, they stop growing. It is easy for principals to spend several hours developing a video, presentation, or hands-on learning activity. Quality professional development requires planning, learning goals, and materials. Principals are wise to develop a teacher leadership team who can assist with professional development. This will allow the principal to have a role in leading professional development, without having to plan the entire session. This year, our school has conducted professional development on the Six Instructional Shifts (Common Core State Standards), Technology Integration, Literacy, and School Safety. If the principal ignores professional development, then it may not happen. However, a building principal cannot sit in the office and develop every PD, while ignoring other ‘moles’ throughout the school.
Communication is an important responsibility and it cannot be ignored. Principals need to communicate through the school website, email, newsletters, video, blogs, face-to-face meetings, PTA meetings, Coffee Hour, phone calls, and informal meetings in the parking lot. Principals need to be intentional about communication. Principals need to communicate with classroom teachers through classroom observations, email, blog, faculty meetings, notes, and informal meetings. A principal could spend his or her entire day developing communication documents or preparing a speech for the next meeting. It is important to see communication as a mole that you ‘whac’, but also as something you plan for. If you are not communicating and marketing the great things about your school, then who is marketing your school? You cannot afford to let the ‘communication mole’ pop its head up too many times.
Whac-A-Mole Leadership is a humorous way to describe the day of a principal. We can all laugh and relate to the moles that pop up throughout the day. You can probably describe several more moles that principals must address if you reflect on your past week. “Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to think big. But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, and they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism” (Sanborn, M.). If the goal of leadership becomes whacking the next mole, we may miss the most important things. Stephen Covey shared the Leadership Matrix (as shared by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership). Principals must ask, “Is this mole important and urgent?” or “Is this mole urgent, but not important?” As the moles pop up at your school, I wish you the best. Keep whacking moles, but make certain you are focused on the right mole.
As an elementary school principal, I recognize the importance of teacher leaders. Teacher leaders play multiple roles in a school and they serve in leadership positions outside the school. Harrison and Killion (2007) described ten roles for teacher leaders in Educational Leadership. In the past month, I have observed multiple teachers serving in leadership roles.
Car Rider Duty
At an elementary school, it takes several adults to help students during the morning and afternoon car rider line. While this may not seem like leadership, it is an important role. Standing in 28 degrees or the rain is not a skill that you learn as a student teacher. Any role that supports the school and student safety falls under the category of leadership.
In the national best-selling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2002) described the importance of ‘Connectors.’ Gladwell says that Connectors have the gift of bringing the world together. Connectors are important on grade level teams, in faculty meetings, during crucial conversations, during times of change, and on a daily basis. Teacher leaders who are connectors bring out the best in their co-workers. They help connect the school with families and community leaders. They can be very important in securing grant money for a school. Who are the ‘Connectors’ in your school?
“Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether this role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009). Curriculum leaders have played an important role as our school has transitioned to the Common Core State Standards. They have the ability to create curriculum individually and with a team of teachers. I have witnessed teachers from our school share strategies with teachers across the district and state. Curriculum mapping, alignment, and revision require strong curriculum leaders. When teacher leaders are involved in designing and revising curriculum, you will have a strong product. High performing schools have multiple curriculum leaders.
Recently, I have observed teachers from our school serving on district teams such as ELA Curriculum Mapping, Science Curriculum Mapping, and Math Curriculum Mapping. Serving on a district leadership team gives teachers a voice in the process and the opportunity to impact student achievement across the district. In The 360 Degree Leader (2005), Maxwell wrote, "You will develop the ability to be a 360-Degree Leader by learning to lead up (with your leader), lead across (with your colleagues), and lead down (with your followers).” High performing school districts have teacher leaders who have the ability to lead up, down, and across.
Inner Circle Leadership
As a principal, you need to have an Inner Circle. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998), Maxwell described The Law of the Inner Circle. The Law of the Inner Circle states, “A persons potential is determined by those closest to him.” In some schools, this group of teacher leaders serve on the School Improvement Team. Sometimes, the inner circle consists of a group of individuals who carry out the role without a title or committee. A teacher leader can make or break a principal. If you are a school administrator, you cannot lead alone. You need the input and feedback from one or more teacher leaders.
Maxwell (1998) gives us five questions to ask when considering who should be in our Inner Circle:
If you have this type of teacher leader in your organization, then you will see his/her impact throughout the school. Teacher leaders are critical to a school’s success. By reviewing the five questions above, you can see that a principal needs this type of leader. The principal who tries to lead without teacher leaders will fail.
Leader as Facilitator
This year, teacher leaders have led professional development (PD) at our school. They have developed PD related to the Six Instructional Shifts outlined in the Common Core State Standards. It is difficult to plan and lead staff development in front of your peers. One thing that makes this such a difficult task is the different needs of a kindergarten teacher and a fifth grade teacher. Our teacher leaders have developed PD which meets the needs of all teachers. We have also had a series of technology integration sessions, led by teacher leaders. When a school has multiple teacher leaders they feed off the creativity and experiences of each other. Having multiple teacher leaders also allows each person to utilize their strengths.
Technology leaders can wear several different hats. A technology leader could be the best one on the team at developing technology integration units. The technology leader that I am describing is the teacher leader who uses Google Docs, serves as the note taker, develops an online discussion thread, starts a school wiki, or reminds the group that planning can take place online. The technology leader is similar to a ‘Connector.’ The teacher leader who connects others through online tools is valuable to a school district. Face-to-Face meetings are still important. The teacher leader who connects others understands that communication never ends in the online world. Wesley Fryer (2005) wrote, “Technology has broken down communication barriers connecting teachers and students around the world and supporting collaboration in ways that would have seemed impossible even a decade ago” (p. 27).
Most teachers have developed a teacher website. However, some teacher leaders are more skilled than others. Google, Weebly, WordPress, and other sites are used to create websites. Teacher leaders utilize websites to share curriculum updates, post videos about how to help your child with mathematics, share links to videos related to the topics being studied, and more. Some teachers have designed a blog within their teacher website. A blog allows teachers and families to have two-way communication. Teacher leaders are leading the way and the product is much more elaborate than a wrinkled letter in the bottom of a third grader’s backpack. Teacher leaders understand the importance of communicating with families in real time.
Who are the teacher leaders in your building? What are you doing to develop teacher leaders? What are you doing to help leaders grow? “Teacher leaders are most often the missing piece of education reform” (Ratzel, 2012). If you don’t have teacher leaders in these roles, there may be one or more teachers waiting for you to recognize their talents. Maxwell (2008) wrote, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I would argue that everything rises and falls on Teacher Leadership.
"What was taken away from my children's education
in order to make them better at taking standardized tests?"
- Alfie Kohn (USA Today, 2001)
Parents send their children to kindergarten full of hope, dreams, creativity, and energy. Teachers don’t use the term “joy of learning” in kindergarten, because students are curious and naturally enjoy discovery at learning centers. Students smile and laugh in whole group, small group, and independent settings. School is a place to learn with friends and to explore how things work. In the third grade, most states begin administering high-stakes tests to students. This is when anxiety begins and students discover that “The Test” is the main thing.
Test Anxiety creates feelings of fear, hopelessness, depression, low self-esteem, and resentment. Some students are naturally anxious and they would develop Test Anxiety on their own. Parents, community members, teachers and administrators are the reason a majority of students develop Test Anxiety. This article will address ways that adults have created a fear of testing and what can be done to redirect the way we prepare for the annual high-stakes tests.
Test Prep Boot Camp
What comes to mind when you hear the term “Boot Camp?” I think of a drill sergeant yelling at the troops, push-ups, and training camp. It does not seem like something that would motivate an eight year old to increase performance. Some schools purchase camouflage t-shirts and the staff walk around in fatigues. There are companies which profit off the Boot Camp mentality by selling camouflage pencils, stickers, certificates, and t-shirts. The final two months of the spring are spent in drill and kill review sessions. While this approach may sound like something from a movie about education, it happens each spring in a school near you.
Test Pep Rally
As a fifth grade teacher, I remember leading our K-5 students in a Beat the Test Pep Rally. We had cheers, songs, and skits like a high school pep rally. At a high school pep rally, students cheer and work themselves into a frenzy as their team prepares to slay their archrival. One year, my students designed a banner to run through (i.e., Friday Night Football). While the Test Pep Rally sounds like a positive approach, it raises anxiety and sends a message to students that this is very important! Don’t let your team, your teachers, or your family down with a low test score.
Test Survival Kit
When I think of the term survival, I think of a hurricane, fire, snow storm, loss of power, poverty, and being stranded in the middle of Mt. Everest without any food. I struggle to see how a Test “Survival Kit” motivates students to do their best on the test. In some schools, the PTA or the teachers create survival kits with a ziploc bag, snacks, a pencil, candy, and a motivational quote or poem. The San Diego Unified School District has directions for creating a Test Survival Kit. What is the opposite of survival? Do we want students to “survive” a high-stakes test or do their best on any assessment that they face in life. Using terms like courage, perseverance, and success to prepare students for a test may be the reason so many students end up discouraged and feeling like a failure.
Test Prep Packets
In the spring, teachers across the U.S. begin making photocopies of sample test items and preparing students for the “big test.” Have you ever noticed how often the copy machine breaks in the spring? Teachers use test prep books, released items from other states, teacher created items, and district assessments to prepare students for the “big test.” As a parent, I have witnessed test prep packets that are over twenty pages long. Teachers tell students, “Don’t worry. We don’t have to complete the packet this week. We will spend the next two months working through the packet so you will rock the test!” In some schools, there is pressure from parents to provide test prep packets. If you are the only teacher not providing a test prep packet, some families may see you as a weak teacher. Test anxiety can be created by families.
Test Prep Strategies
It is sad to see how many days are spent teaching third grade students to completely bubble in the circle. Our students have Instagram, XBox 360, Skype, and iPhones. Do we really think they need more than one class period on filling in the circle? Test prep strategies include the process of elimination, reading for the main idea, using your scratch paper to solve problems, pacing yourself throughout the test, and searching for the ‘best answer.’ It is inappropriate to send students into a test unprepared. However, I believe most of these skills can be taught throughout the year, rather than during the final two weeks prior to the test. All students need to have access to test strategies.
‘Curricular Reductionism’ is another popular method of improving student test scores. Curricular Reductionism is a narrow focus on the tested subjects or exclusion of certain skills and concepts because they cannot be measured on a multiple-choice test. This frequently means that science, social studies, and the arts are taught bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or not at all in elementary and middle schools across the United States. This type of instruction does not support student understanding.
Parent Pep Talks
I have seen more harm from parent pep talks than any other form of test prep. Principals place pressure on teachers to perform and teachers place pressure on students. When parents receive survival kits, notes from their teacher, test prep packets, inspiring poems and breathing techniques, they receive the message.
Parents can create test anxiety by saying:
1. Are you ready for the test? You really need to do your best.
2. This test will impact the teachers you get next year.
3. You have never had a test this big. Please do your best.
4. Are you nervous; because mom is nervous?
5. I am going to pray for you, because this is a really big test.
Test anxiety is a plea for help. We claim to provide a safe learning environment for students. Safety should include mental health and the joy of learning.
The ASCD Whole Child tenants are:
When we review the key terms in a Whole Child school, they do not sound like Boot Camp, Pep Rally, Survival Kit, Test Prep Packets, Pep Talks, or Curricular Reductionism. If students are taking standards-based tests, then schools will be able to prepare students through unpacking the standards and teaching the key skills and concepts outlined in the standards. There seems to be hysteria each spring. Together, adults can support the Whole Child and we may be able to cure test anxiety.
In an article titled Five Characteristics of Highly Productive Logistics and Operations Teams, the author wrote “For those with jobs in logistics or transportation jobs, productivity is a word we’ve all heard too often.” High performing logistics and operations teams have determined ways to increase efficiency, communication, and the quality of service to customers. In the same way, educators have started to operate as a Professional Learning Community. According to Mike Schmoker, productivity “starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels” (Schmoker, 2005, p. xii). It’s Logistics.
In a video titled Logistics: It’s Only A to B, Right? it is evident that world class logistics require a clear set of steps to happen “in a very choreographed manner.” Are schools intentional about their work or do they still allow each teacher to operate as a freelance contractor? “Schooling at its best reflects a purposeful arrangement of parts and details, organized with deliberate intention, for achieving the kinds of learning we seek." (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). It’s Logistics.
I am struck by the following quote – “The school leaders who embrace, design and implement customer-driven systems will be the ones who thrive in the future” (Toothman, 2004). What does a customer-driven system look like in the field of education? Rick DuFour (2011) answered this question: “Schools committed to higher levels of learning for both students and adults will not be content with the fact that a structure is in place to ensure that educators meet on a regular basis. They will recognize that the question, ‘What will we collaborate about,” is so vital that it cannot be left to the discretion of each team’” (p. 61). It’s Logistics.
Your elementary school may not ship packages across the globe on a daily basis. You may not unpack shipments when they arrive, but you should unpack standards. When you move students from middle school to high school, you won’t have an airline, eighteen wheeler, train, or moving van. The logistics that you deal with are people and those people will eventually impact the world. As a Professional Learning Community ask the nine questions that guide the work of a high performing team (Solution Tree Reproducible). Consider your school a Regional Distribution Center. The packages are passing through, but you have an important role to play! In logistics, employees try to eliminate lost profits. In education, the goal is to increase the number of students who graduate college and career ready and eliminate the number of dropouts. It’s logistics.
As I child, I looked forward to the class valentine’s party. I passed out valentines to my classmates, ate pink cupcakes, and chewed candy hearts with messages like, “Be Mine.” This month, I am going to share some of the things I love about education. I hope you find a wealth of resources that will support your professional learning goals. Feel free to reply to this blog and share a few resources you love. Share the Love in February!
1. Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap in Leadership
By Surinder Kahai
2. Occupy the Present Moment
By Susan Deitzel
3. How To Turn Your Team Around in Six Stages
Leadership Now: LeadingBlog
4. Six Traits of Extraordinary Achievers
By Mark Sanborn
5. Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse
By Roland Barth
1. The 360 Degree Leader
By John Maxwell
2. Schooling by Design: Mission, Action and Achievement
By Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
3. The Six Secrets of Change
By Michael Fullan
4. Understanding by Design
By Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
By Patrick Lencioni
All Things PLC
Saturday Morning Chat
Social Studies Chat
Connected Principals Chat
4. Tweet Deck
1. Adding Value to People
2. 4 C’s of a Great Team Member
3. What is Creative Leadership?
Center for Creative Leadership
4. Great Leaders Grow
Ken Blanchard Companies
5. What is 21st Century Education?
Smithsonian Student Travel
1. ASCD EDge
Is it possible for school leaders to announce their presence with authority? This year marks the 25th anniversary of the classic movie Bull Durham. While playing for the minor league Durham Bulls, a pitcher with a million dollar arm and a five-cent head shakes off the catcher. The catcher asks the umpire to call time. As the catcher approaches the pitcher’s mound, the young prospect yells, I want to “announce my presence with authority!”
In 2013, some school leaders still try to announce their presence with authority. Titles do not matter as much as they did in the 1980’s. A Superintendent, Curriculum Director, Principal, Counselor, School Secretary, Teacher Leader, Teacher Assistant, or PTA President, can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Collaboration takes place in law firms, hospitals, business marketing, and the airline industry. It is difficult to find many organizations that do not encourage collaboration. Early in my career, the principal would make announcements and top-down leadership was a sign of a strong principal. Superintendents rarely consulted with teacher leadership teams or parent committees, because the Superintendent called the shots. Recently, I have seen the role of high school department chairs change. For over seventy years, the role of the department chair was to conduct the meetings and provide updates to his or her co-workers. Recently, I have witnessed a transition from department chairs who announce their presence with authority to professional learning communities where teacher teams co-create curriculum, share ideas, practice new strategies, support each other, and cheer for the success of their colleagues.
School leaders can insist on throwing the heat, like Nuke LaLoosh in the movie Bull Durham. While there is nothing wrong with creative leadership and making decisions as a leader, today’s school leaders need to work with people. Social media has made it possible for school leaders to communicate and collaborate within and across schools. If we desire to support student achievement, it will not matter who has the original idea. Implementing the Common Core, Preparing Students for College and Career Readiness, and Closing Achievement Gaps require teamwork, not a leader who calls the shots. Collaborative Leaders are needed. When you enter your next meeting, leave your title at the door and focus on the goals of the team.
Do you remember your first year in the classroom? It was an adrenaline rush everyday! We wanted to change the world, inspire students to become great, support struggling students, establish our own reputation as an excellent teacher, and earn the respect of our colleagues. I would not trade my first year of teaching for other opportunities. Whether we recognize it or not, the first several years of teaching and administration focus on personal development.
Personal development leads educators to attend conferences, view webinars, participate in Twitter chats, serve as a leader on district initiatives, make recommendations to policy makers, develop new programs to support students, and more! It has been said by leadership authors and educators, “When you stop growing, you stop.” While there is nothing wrong with growth for an educator, there comes a point in our career where we must focus on other educators. When you take other educators on the journey, you will find that you continue to grow while helping others to grow. Tony Dungy wrote (2001), “By touching the lives of the people right around us, and by replicating leaders who in turn can replicate more leaders, we can create value far beyond the small sphere that we can reach and touch directly” (p. 201).
All educators will reach a point in their career where climbing the career ladder seems empty. Have you been recognized as the district teacher of the year? Have you earned National Board Certification? Did you recently write your first journal article? Have you moved from the principalship into a role in the Central Office? Have you taught courses at a local university? Have you served as the president of a state professional organization? At some point in your career winning recognitions, climbing the career ladder, and hanging another plaque on your wall will become less motivating than earlier in your career. What should educators do when they reach a plateau? John Maxwell shares the difference between Goal Oriented vs. Growth Oriented. Early in our career, we strive to win the next award, earn the next promotion, and build our resume’. There is nothing wrong with growth and striving for excellence. When we strive for excellence, it supports the students and organizations we work with. The empty feeling comes when we focus on the goals and our checklist has been checked off. View this short inspirational video on Goal Oriented vs. Growth Oriented (1:44).
The story of the Turtle on a Fence Post has always inspired me. If you are driving down a country road and you see a turtle on a fence post, you know that he did not climb there on his own. Someone placed the turtle on the fence post. Who are the people who have placed you on a fence post? If you reflect on your career, you will recall the inspiring words of a parent, teacher, college professor, mentor, or colleague. Once you reach the point in your career where you have been elevated to the fence post, it is time to start taking others on the journey. John Maxwell provides guidance for educators in a video titled, Developing the Leaders Around You (2:00). He states, “When you lead followers, you add. When you develop leaders, you multiply.” Educators focus on adding value to students and mentoring students throughout their career. At some point, educators determine to lead and mentor other adults. Developing the leaders around you does not require a degree, award, or title. Developing the leaders around you requires an outward focus rather than an inward focus.
Questions to Consider As You Begin To Develop Leaders
1. Who invested in my career?
2. What are my strengths as an educator?
3. Who can I invest in and support?
4. How will developing other leaders help me continue to grow as a leader?
5. How will our school or school district benefit from multiple leaders?
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
- President George W. Bush,
Florence, South Carolina, January 11, 2000
Does technology integration improve student achievement? If your child is entering kindergarten in 2013, you may see a SmartBoard instead of a chalkboard. Your child may come home with a blog, rather than an essay. Animoto, Doodle Buddy, Glogster, Story Buddy, Symbaloo, Tagxedo, and VoiceThread may require parents and guardians to purchase a dictionary just to understand the teacher’s assignments. It is an exciting time in education and students are entering classrooms with opportunities that their parents did not have. As teachers continue to use technology as a tool to teach students key skills and concepts, it is important to focus on the learning targets rather than the technology or online tools.
In 1949, Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. In the introduction to the book, Tyler outlined four fundamental questions which should be answered in developing any curriculum and plan of instruction.
Tyler’s Four Fundamental Questions:
1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
2. What educational learning experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?
These questions are just as important in 2013 as they were in 1949. Tyler never had the opportunity to Skype or create a VoiceThread, but he had a clear understanding of curriculum design. It is easy for teachers to get wrapped up in the activity and teaching students how to use the online tool. “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 21)? If teachers desire for students to have an Alphabet Soup vocabulary of Web 2.0 tools, then they should focus on teaching every tool that looks fun and kid-friendly. However, if teachers want students to understand key skills and concepts outlined by standards, then Tyler’s four questions will support curriculum planning. Prior to mobile labs, 1:1 initiatives, SmartBoards, and Web 2.0 tools, teachers designed lessons which led to student understanding. While the tools available to teachers and students will continue to multiply, the basic goals of teaching for understanding remain consistent. President Bush may have been right. Parents and teachers need to ask, “Is our children learning?"
Recommended Resources Which Support Technology Integration and Teaching for Understanding:
Ferriter, W.M. (2013). Digital immigrants unite. The Tempered Radical.
Ferriter, W.M., & Garry, A. (2010). Teaching the igeneration: 5 easy ways to introduce
essential skills with web 2.0 tools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fisher, M., & Hale, J. (Coming in Feb. 2013) Upgrade your curriculum: Practical ways to
transform units and engage students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design: Expanded 2nd edition.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
American educators are big advocates for the "Workshop Model." Elementary schools throughout the United States begin each morning with Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop. Math Workshop is starting to become more prevalent, since the workshop model makes sense and seems to support student understanding. With a required number of minutes for each workshop model, social studies has been squeezed out of the curriculum in many elementary schools. As I have recently observed the benefits of the workshop model, I have reflected on what the "Social Studies Workshop" would look like in a K-12 classroom.
Possibilities for Social Studies Workshop:
One of my favorite resources for Social Studies Workshop involves reading, writing, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and communication. K-12 Social Studies teachers need to take adavantage of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Document Analysis Worksheets. OMG! Worksheets? I know, I dropped the 'W' word. You may cringe at the term worksheet. These interactive forms will help students develop the critical thinking skills that they need as they continue to advance through school and become an informed citizen. These are the skills that I use when I visit a museum, attend a Broadway play, read the news on an app, review a tweet about a political issue, compare three news reports, process what my co-workers heard on NPR, try to make sense of a current event, or make an informed decision.
The Social Studies Workshop has a place in every K-12 classroom. The skills that are learned in a high-quality social studies classroom can shape how a student views the world. We still need critical thinkers, problem solvers, communicators, researchers, collaborators, elected officials, community leaders, digital citizens, and change leaders. Social Studies deserves a place in the curriculum and adults should push for more social studies throughout the K-12 experience. You can call it workshop or you can call it preparation for life. This is not your social studies classroom, where you memorized key dates, events, leaders, and major rivers. This is the social studies classroom that students need. Consider what you would add to my list. What would a Social Studies Workshop look like at your grade level? What are the benefits of a Social Studies Workshop, modeled after a Reader's and Writer's Workshop?
As we enter 2013, teachers and administrators will reflect on the school’s existing strengths and weaknesses. High performing schools ask questions such as, “Which students are struggling? What will we do to support them in 2013?” New Year’s Day is a time when people around the world establish new personal and team goals. Among the most common personal goals are weight loss, financial goals, spending time with those you love, and volunteerism. How can school leaders capitalize on this transition from 2012 to 2013? How can goals drive the work of teachers and schools?
New Year’s goals and resolutions are shattered annually. In some cases, creating a goal on New Year’s Day is a ritual and follow-through is an afterthought. If school leaders want to move their students and staff to the next level, then they need to adopt a 3D School Leadership mindset. 3D School Leadership includes Direction, Differentiation, and Dedication.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new year and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
School leaders often boast that they have a mission and vision statement framed in the front office. While there is a time and a place for mission and vision, 3D Leadership defines the ‘What’ and the ‘How’. What are we going to commit to as a school staff between January and June 2013? How will the direction of the school impact our grade level/course? Based on my teaching assignment or administrator role, how can I help the team stay on course in 2013? DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in most schools. When teachers and staff return in 2013, revisit the school’s direction.
If you have been in a faculty meeting, participated in a webinar, or served on a School Improvement Team, it is likely that someone has offered differentiation as a strategy for supporting student achievement. 3D School Leadership emphasizes differentiation for students, families and staff. A one-size fits all approach to education is not going to work any better in 2013 than it did in 2012. Differentiated instruction, assignments, and assessments will increase student engagement and achievement. Tomlinson, Brimijoin, and Narvaez (2008) highlighted the non-negotiables of differentiation: “respecting individuals, owning student success, building community, providing high-quality curriculum, assessing to inform instruction, implementing flexible classroom routines, creating varied avenues to learning, and sharing responsibility for teaching and learning” (p. 3).
How can a school leader differentiate for families? In 2013, a 3D School Leader can provide communication to families through Facebook, Twitter, Email, Phone Messages, Blog, and the traditional newsletter. If you are not reaching all of your families through existing communication strategies, you may benefit from a differentiated communication plan. Another way to involve families in school events is online through surveys, responses to social media posts, and a Twitter Chat with a unique hashtag. You may find that families are more involved in the school when they have a voice in determining the events at Open House, PTA meetings, and school events. Utilize a differentiated approach in 2013 and see if you are able to reach more families.
One final focus of the 3D School Leader will be differentiation with staff. Flipping the Faculty meeting, meeting individually with grade level teams, creating a school discussion thread or corkboard.me, and encouraging teachers to lead professional development are a few strategies for differentiation with school staff. You may be surprised with the results!
It is difficult to find classroom teachers who aren’t dedicated to their students. I am amazed by the time, creativity, and teacher leadership that I see on a daily basis. 3D School Leadership requires the entire staff to dedicate their time, talent, and efforts to the school’s goals. Classroom goals should be aligned to the school’s goals. In education, it is easy to focus on my class and my students. 3D School Leadership will embrace the abilities of each staff member and use their strengths to support school goals. One strategy for increasing dedication is for each grade level team, or course (at the high school level), to develop S.M.A.R.T. Goals. A template for developing S.M.A.R.T. goals is available at All Things PLC.
Increase the number of students who graduate College and Career Ready
Increase the number of students who are reading on grade level
Support my co-workers in implementing the Common Core State Standards
The S.M.A.R.T. goal template will help your team become dedicated to the goal, rather than having an awareness of the goal. Use your collective skills and abilities to make a difference in 2013.
3D School Leadership is more than establishing goals or identifying existing weaknesses. Once teachers and administrators embrace 3D School Leadership, they will begin to move in the right direction. Too often, schools approach goal setting like many individuals approach New Year’s Resolutions. Purchasing a gym membership, buying an alarm clock, reading a motivational author, and using a day planner or Google Calendar are all great ways to start the new year. It’s not where you start in January, but where you are as a school team in June.
Determine to make 2013 different than the rest. Identify the school’s direction. Use differentiation with students, families, and staff in an effort to meet your school goals. Remember that dedication to a goal is much more important than having a goal. Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens [educators] can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Steven Weber is the principal at Hillsborough Elementary School located in Hillsborough, NC. He blogs at ASCD EDge. Recently, his blog titled A Bucket List for K-12 Students made the Top 10 Blogs of 2012 on ASCD Edge. Connect with Weber on Twitter @curriculumblog.
Have you ever had a bad experience at a retail outlet, restaurant, or hotel? When someone has a bad experience you often hear the phrase, “That wasn’t very professional.” We expect to be treated in a professional and courteous manner when we are shopping, dining, or paying money for an overnight stay. Tax payers also expect professionalism from school staff. What does the term professionalism look like in education? Professionalism in its most basic definition is treating others the way you would like to be treated.
A Professional Has Strong Content Knowledge
When you observe a master teacher, it is evident if they are confident in the subject(s) they are teaching. Possessing strong content knowledge does not mean that the teacher is the “Sage on the Stage.” Teachers who use essential questions, guide students to deeper understandings, encourage students to collaborate, and teach with the end in mind (UbD) typically possess strong content knowledge. If you have the privilege to observe this type of teacher you walk away saying, “He/she is a professional.”
A Professional Provides a Whole Child Approach to K-12 Schools
While most parents and families want their children to have a teacher with strong content knowledge, they would be thrilled to have a teacher who possesses a deep understanding of the Whole Child tenants outlined by ASCD Whole Child. The Whole Child tenants are:
Whole Child Tenets
· Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
· Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
· Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
· Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
· Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
If an educator strives to be professional, then you cannot omit any of the five tenants. Some schools do well with the first four tenants, but they struggle to challenge each student.
A Professional is a Team Player
My colleagues and I frequently discuss the meaning of the term professional learning community. When we observe a dysfunctional PLC, we note that there is a lack of professionalism. While it may not surprise the reader to learn that you cannot have a professional learning community if you take away the "p" for professional, this does not seem to be as obvious to some teacher teams. A professional learning team is only as good as the professionals who meet on a regular basis. A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
A Professional is Respectful to Families and Community Members
Treating the customer with respect should be a given. How are guests treated when they enter your school? Do families feel like an interruption to the school day or are they treated like a dignitary when they arrive? When a family member has a question or concern, does the school staff respond in a timely manner? Does the school utilize email, Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, and phone call systems to communicate with families?
"The school leaders who embrace, design and implement customer-driven systems will be the ones who thrive in the future” (Toothman, 2004). The teachers in a school can have strong content knowledge, but a school’s customer service is equally important. In our school district, we often discuss the type of customer service you receive at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. Does your school staff make the customer feel like, “It’s my pleasure” to serve you?
A Professional is a Lifelong Learner
I am impressed with teachers who started teaching with an film strip or an overhead projector and they have learned how to integrate technology into the units. When I see a teacher who has spent her own money to attend a summer institute in order to grow as a learner, I am humbled. There are professional educators who learn on Twitter and participate in Twitter Chats. Some educators write assessments or support documents for the state department of education. Teacher leaders serve as the president or vice president of state organizations. Teachers write blogs and share ideas with international educators. Teacher teams reflect on essential learning outcomes and develop assessments to analyze what students know and are able to do throughout the nine weeks. Lifelong learning is evident in a professional educator. This is the type of educator I want to surround myself with, because they continue to grow and improve.
A Professional Prepares All Students for the Next Level
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2010) said, “High schools must shift from being last stop destinations for students on their education journey to being launching pads for further growth and lifelong learning for all students.” Roland Barth (2006) highlighted the importance of professional learning teams in K-12 education when he wrote, “A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another. Without these in place, no meaningful improvement - no staff or curriculum development, no teacher leadership, no student appraisal, no team teaching, no parent involvement, and no sustained change - is possible” (p. 13). A professional has a focus on preparing all students for the next level and this includes operating as a collaborative team.
The great NFL coach Vince Lombardi said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.” The same could be said about PROFESSIONALISM.
Professionalism is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t act professional once in a while; you don’t do what’s right once in a while; you do what’s right all the time. Professionalism is a habit.”
As you reflect on 2012 and prepare for 2013, analyze the professional behavior in your school. The school website is the new front door. How does the school website welcome visitors? Does the front office staff treat a guest the same way they treat the Superintendent or Governor? Do teachers respond to parent concerns in a timely manner? Does the school welcome parent and community input or host meetings where school staff leads a PowerPoint presentation? What does professionalism mean to you?
How often have you heard a co-worker say:
Baseball is Timeless. Unfortunately, school begins in August and ends in June. Teachers have second jobs, serve as Girl Scout Leaders, volunteer on the weekends, coach soccer, teach children's church, serve on district and state-level curriculum committees, lead professional development, write blogs, serve as advocates for education policy, raise their own children, run marathons, and develop innovative units for the next semester. Some presenters and education consultants promote the idea of a "Stop Doing List." In recent years, a "Stop Doing List" creates a chuckle from teachers and administrators. You can't stop any of the following: Teaching the Common Core State Standards, Administering and Analyzing Common Formative Assessments, Planning Units, Attending Faculty Meetings, Watching Required Webinars, Report Cards, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Providing Students With Quality Feedback, Modifying Instruction to Meet the Needs of Each Learner, or Implementing Local Initiatives.
Is there a solution to having no time? One of my favorite videos on the topics of time management and priorities is an old video by Stephen Covey. Covey asks a participant in the audience to Identify the Big Rocks in her life. Consider your personal life and the decision-making process you use to identify your daily routine and which things you will choose to eliminate. Is exercise important? Do you skip your son's basketball game, because you would like to type three more emails at work? Do you miss your anniversary because there is a great webinar with your favorite speaker? Do you skip church on Sunday so you can work on curriculum mapping? Do you let the grass grow for three weeks, because you don't have time to mow it? Do you let your three year old daughter put herself to bed, because you are enjoying grading papers? Do you spend your paycheck on the first day of the month because it is easier than trying to develop a budget? These scenarios may seem ludicrous, but it is similar to a teacher saying, "I don't have time to read a journal article."
John Maxwell wrote a book titled, Today Matters. Maxwell asks, "How does today impact tomorrow's success?" If you look at professional development, a PLC meeting, reading a blog, attending professional development, working on a district initiative, developing a new unit with your grade level team, or scoring common assessments through this lens, you will see that today's activity is not a waste of time, but an investment. Maxwell shares more about Today Matters at John Maxwell on YouTube. He states that many people look for quick fixes. "You don't win an Olympic Gold Medal with a few weeks of intensive training." Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller recently wrote a book titled, Great Leaders Grow." In a video that highlights Great Leaders Grow, The Blanchard Companies state, "Personal Growth is not a 'Nice to Have.' It's Essential to Your Career." Are you growing as a professional or is there no time to grow?
As 2012 comes to an end, reflect on how you spent your time. Are there areas in your life where you could create more time by making better choices? Are there things that are preventing you from maximizing the time you have each day? School administrators can help teachers by creating opportunities to learn, opportunities to collaborate, and designating time for professional development. Teachers can also assist administrators by offering suggestions for supporting the professional development goals of teachers. For example, is Thursday the best day to meet? Could someone offer to do morning duty, so three teachers could have an additional 45 minutes to collaborate? Are there obvious barriers in the current schedule that could be moved or removed in January? Could Flipping the Faculty Meeting (see Bill Ferriter's article on this topic) create additional time? Simply stating, "I don't have time" without looking for possible options may hinder student achievement or professional growth. Legendary UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden told audiences, "I’m not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I’m going to be, But I am thankful that I’m better than I used to be." At the end of January, will you be better than you were at the end of December 2012?
The role of the classroom teacher is changing at a rapid pace. In the 1980's, teachers were encouraged to teach in isolation. In 2012, teacher teams understand the importance of collaboration. In earlier years, technology integration included using the Overhead Projector or a VCR. Sorting and selecting students based on their ability was easier than preparing all students for College and Career Readiness. Great teachers define what each student should know and be able to do. It is easy to focus on what students should be learning and applying. What should every teacher know and be able to do?
Three Things Every Teacher Should Know and Be Able to Do
1. Create a Twitter account and Participate in an Education Chat
Twitter is a great way to grow and share ideas! If you are new to Twitter, you can join a chat for educators. Two of my favorite education chats are #atplc and #satchat. #atplc focuses on Professional Learning Communities. Teachers, Principals, Curriculum Directors, Asst. Superintendents, Education Consultants, and College Professors share ideas. Each Thursday night, a different educator facilitates the online conversation from 9:00 - 10:00 EST. #satchat is hosted on Saturday mornings. I enjoy participating in this group because it includes educators from all levels and across the United States. The topics that are addressed are broad, so a teacher or an administrator can participate. When you have a question, answer, or comment, you simply insert the hashtag #satchat and your tweet is posted for the group to view. For more information on #atplc visit Thursday Twitter Chat. For more information on #satchat visit SAT Twitter Chat (which meets at 7:30 am EST and 7:30 am PST). Cybrary Man has organized several Educational Chats on Twitter. If you try a Twitter Chat, you will be hooked. You will have trouble closing your laptop at the end of the chat, because you will have so many new resources to review and the conversation often continues after the chat ends.
2. Utilize Online Tools to Communicate
Communication tools support teaching and learning. There are several tools available to help educators communicate within and across buildings. These tools make curriculum mapping and the ability to communicate available 365 days a year. Teachers can use Moodle, LiveBinders, Corkboard.me, Twitter, TodaysMeet, TeacherTube, Google Docs, surveys, interactive templates, blogs, wiki-based programs, websites, curriculum mapping software, and more to communicate. Thousands of teachers started their careers before it was possible to have computers in the classroom. Today, educators have the opportunity to create, share, collaborate, communicate, and reflect on the latest lessons and instructional strategies. Educators can make decisions like Jack Bauer, "In Real Time." I get frustrated when I hear teachers say, "We don't have time to meet with each other." While face-to-face meetings are beneficial, online tools have made teaching and planning more efficient. Rather than having a meeting to plan the next Early Release Day, you can plan using an online tool. If you need to have a "parking lot" or a place to save your team's best ideas and online resources, use on online post-it note, a discussion board, or a Google Doc.
In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes? If Cool Hand Luke came to your school would he say, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."?
3. Create a Blog or Share Your Ideas on ASCD EDge
Blogging is a great way to reflect and share your experiences! When I started my first blog in 2009, I didn't know what to say. I knew that teacher leaders had their blogs, literacy gurus wrote and posted articles, and Web 2.0 authors shared information that was timely. At the time, I was a curriculum director and I wanted to find a way to share resources and ideas with educators. Hundreds of articles later, I can tell you that it is best to go with something you are passionate about. It is like learning to walk, you take it one step at a time, or in this case one blog at a time. You will develop your own writing style.
In 2010, I started posting articles on ASCD EDge. The biggest difference between my blog and ASCD EDge was that a community already existed. I received feedback on my writing and that helped me grow as an educator. As a result of posting articles on ASCD EDge, I was able to meet a curriculum consultant in New York, an Asst. Superintendent in Iowa, a principal in Texas, a college professor in Maryland, and international educators. These are people I had never met before ASCD EDge. If you are passionate about curriculum mapping, you will find like-minded educators. If you are seeking strategies for English Language Learners, you will find a group of bloggers who specialize in this area. Do you want to connect with teachers who are implementing the Common Core State Standards? There is a community discussing implementation success stories and barriers.
Professional teachers are required to take risks and experiment with online tools that support their professional growth. If you don't have a strong professional learning community, you will be amazed at the number of educators who are online waiting to share their ideas with you. ASCD EDge has over 50,000 educators who blog, tweet, collaborate, connect, and share!
Opportunities to Grow and Invest In Your Professional Career
“Over the coming decades, an accelerating pace of change will test the resilience of every society, organization and individual. Luckily, perturbations create opportunities as well as challenges. But the balance of promise and peril confronting any organization will depend on its capacity for adaption. Hence the most important question for any company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us?” (Gary Hamel, The Future of Management – as cited by Chris Perry). Opportunities to learn and grow once depended on whether your principal could afford to send you to a state or national conference. These annual events provided teachers with the opportunity to learn, present, and network. Twitter, Online Tools, and Blogging provide you with the opportunity to attend a national conference daily. In 2012 and beyond, classroom teachers can continue to grow and learn. In fact, the opportunities are endless! If you are seeking to grow as a teacher, establish a learning goal for 2013. You will be surprised at how much these three recommendations impact you and support your students.
The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states. Many states are implementing the new standards in 2012-2013. Implementing standards-based education is not new for U.S. educators. In the early 1990’s, states began implementing state standards. Glaser & Linn (1993) wrote, “The standards movement is arguably a major force in education today, and some researchers assert that the significance of the standards campaign will be huge. Undoubtedly, historians will identify the last decade of this century as the time when a concentrated press for national education standards emerged (p. xiii).
Based on professional conversations, conferences I have attended, Twitter chats, and blogs posted by educators from across the United States, I have observed four implementation strategies that schools have adopted.
Four Implementation Strategies
Have it your way! (Burger King)
In several school districts across the United States, a “Have it your way!” approach has been endorsed by school administrators and teacher leaders. In teacher team meetings, you can unpack the standards if you feel like it. When you implement the standards, you can teach students the parts that you agree with or the standards you are able to squeeze into your existing pacing guide. A “Have it your way!” approach to implementing the standards is popular, because there is no need for crucial conversations or those time-consuming professional learning community meetings. At the end of the day, if you can check a few standards off your list, you have taught the Common Core (your way)!
I’m lovin’ it! (McDonald's)
One of the most common themes I have heard from educators across the United States is “I’m lovin’ it!” While this sounds like a more positive approach to the implementing the Common Core than the “Have it your way!” plan, it also has some pitfalls that educators should avoid. Have you heard a colleague say, “There’s not much new in the Common Core. This is just good teaching. I have been teaching this way for twenty years.”? The change process is handled differently in each school. If your school is not careful, you will have a majority of teachers telling the principal, parents, and Central Office staff, “I’m lovin’ it!” A good question to ask this group of educators is, “Which part of the Common Core do you love?” Once teacher teams begin to develop common formative assessments aligned to the new standards, schools will be able to identify strengths and weaknesses. Teachers and students will struggle with the new standards and with a district’s curriculum. Struggling is not the same as failure. When students struggle, it often leads to deeper understanding. Schools should create time for teachers to analyze standards, develop curriculum, create common formative assessments, score common formative assessments, and reflect on the curriculum (written, taught, and assessed). “I’m lovin’ it!” is often a way of communicating a different message in schools.
Where’s the beef? (Wendy’s)
A “Where’s the beef?” approach may be what every school needs. The Common Core State Standards were designed to improve College and Career Readiness across the United States. If your school shifts its mindset from college or career readiness to college and career readiness, it will make a significant impact in how teachers and staff view teaching and learning. Rigor has been discussed in schools for decades. It is a word that is often spoken, but sometimes only seen in advanced courses. If teacher teams are given time to work together, they should analyze the Common Core State Standards and ask, “Where’s the rigor?” The Common Core State Standards were not designed to provide a curriculum for schools. Unpacking standards, identifying essential questions, developing common formative assessments, planning professional development, and creating units of study are still done at the teacher team level. "Academic standards are not a curriculum; they are a framework for designing curriculum. A curriculum is a coherent, teacher-friendly document that reflects the intent of the academic standards" (Erickson, 2007, p. 48). An inquiry approach to understanding the new standards will support teachers and administrators. If your school believes in continuous improvement, then begin each team meeting by asking, “Where’s the beef?”
Better ingredients…..Better pizza (Papa Johns Pizza)
What are the ingredients for improving student achievement, teacher morale, and high school graduation rates? Once your staff answers this question, you will be on your way to “Better ingredients……Better pizza.” Roland Barth (2006) addressed the secret ingredient of ‘Craft Knowledge’ in Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse. In College Knowledge: Getting In is Only Half the Battle, David Conley (2009) wrote, “High schools that are designed to prepare large numbers of students for college success look dramatically different from those that prepare only a small proportion of their students for college success.” If your school improvement plan is filled with goals, but lacks strategies for reaching your goals you may need to reexamine the ingredients. What is your school or school district doing to prepare large numbers of students for college success? “College and career readiness is not something that suddenly ‘happens’ when a student graduates from high school but instead is the result of a process extending through all the years of a student’s education” (ACT, 2008, p. 3). This assertion from ACT provides inspiration for pre-K – 8th grade teacher teams. When teacher teams struggle with the new Common Core Standards and identify teaching strategies and new assessments that are aligned to the standards, they will be on the path to identifying better ingredients.
Too many schools and school leaders are ‘hoping’ that the standards will be implemented in classrooms. Teacher teams must be provided with time to analyze the standards, develop curriculum, experiment with instructional strategies, assess students, analyze the assessment results, and plan for future instruction. Implementing the Common Core State Standards will not look the same in every school. If your school already operated as a professional learning community, then implementing the new standards should be easier than in a school that still allows teachers to operate in isolation. If your school had curriculum maps prior to the new standards, the implementation process and developing new curriculum maps should make the transition process smoother. 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. While it may be cute to take a fast food jingle approach to implementing the Common Core, I recommend a Crock Pot Curriculum Development approach.
John Maxwell wrote, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." This quote applies to business, government, parenting, and schools. Reflect on the leaders you admire. Do they create opportunities for others to succeed or do they sit at their desk and hope for success? "Schools that really fulfill their potential are communities of leaders, where not just the anointed ones -- the department chairs, the heads, the assistant heads -- lead, but where everyone is invited to become, and is expected to become, a leader" (Barth, 2003). The traditional role of the principal has changed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the building principal was the 'school leader.' Teachers, counselors, teacher assistants, and other staff members were expected to follow the leader. In order for schools to meet the goals of student understanding, college and career readiness, curriculum alignment and continuous improvement, educators will need to practice the following lessons.
Leadership is about Trust
According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust "occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible." Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz asks three questions of leaders. One of the three questions he asks is, "Can I trust you?" When leaders earn the respect of others in the school, it will be easier to have collegial and crucial conversations about student achievement, instructional practices, school culture, and other important topics. In the absence of trust, people will smile in the leaders face and give just about any answer. What are you currently doing to build trust and do your actions match your words?
Leaders Multiply New Leaders
You may be the Chief Academic Officer or the department chair, but titles don’t matter. People matter. Maxwell (1995) wrote, “If you really want to be a successful leader, you must develop other leaders around you. You must establish a team” (p. 2). If curriculum development becomes a matter of pleasing the person with the title, there will be little buy-in and that will have a negative impact on students. “A good leader has the ability to instill within his people confidence in himself. A great leader has the ability to instill within his people confidence in themselves” (Maxwell, 1995, p. 55). Who are you planning to invest in this year? How will you mentor this person and gradually provide them with leadership opportunities? Leadership development helps all parties involved grow as leaders.
Leadership Involves Risk Taking
Taking risks as teachers and students will help our schools. When we take risks, we grow as learners. The traditional classroom no longer prepares students for college and career readiness. The traditional classroom was designed to sort and select students – to help students move towards college or towards a career. “College and career readiness is not something that suddenly ‘happens’ when a student graduates from high school but instead is the result of a process extending through all the years of a student’s education” (ACT, 2008, p. 3). What risks will you and your colleagues take in 2012-2013 in order to move students closer to the goal of College and Career Readiness? One of the biggest obstacles to taking risks is the fear of failure. When you see people failing you see learning and understanding. Think of the times in life when you learned a lesson. Many of these lessons were learned through failure. Think of the day you were 0-for-3 in Little League or the time you tried to take your bike over a speed bump. Today's schools need more risk takers.
Great Leaders Take Time to Reflect and Grow
Some leaders focus on building curriculum documents, planning meeting agendas, writing speeches, developing an annual budget, preparing professional development, and conducting classroom observations that they forget to schedule time for reflection. Reflective leaders take time to analyze the last faculty meeting. They reflect on the last professional development day and feedback provided by the participants before they begin planning the next professional development. Some educators complain that there aren't enough hours in the day. Reflective leaders understand that continuous improvement is not another meeting or an agenda item at the monthly leadership team meeting. Great leaders are intentional and they understand the importance of reflection. The extra time is an investment in the school, students, staff, families, and programs that support the mission and vision of the school and district"Look at your calendar. Have you scheduled time for reflection this week or are you hoping to squeeze it in as you drive to your next meeting this afternoon?
People Don't Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care
I know....You are rolling your eyes at Lesson #5.
This may be the most understood of the five lessons, but the least implemented. When a new principal, teacher leader, department chair, superintendent, or lead office support staff are hired they frequently begin giving orders. They don't take time to meet their staff and show that they care about them as humans. Some leaders make the mistake of managing people like they are money. It has been said, great leaders lead people and manage money. When we try to manage people, we are showing disrespect and this creates a lack of trust in the organization. If you look at your calendar, you will notice meetings, deadlines, projects that need to be developed, and goals. Most leaders do not intentionally schedule time to show their co-workers that they care about them that they want to support them. "A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another. Without these in place, no meaningful improvement—no staff or curriculum development, no teacher leadership, no student appraisal, no team teaching, no parent involvement, and no sustained change—is possible" (Barth, 2006, p. 13).
Leadership begins with you. Regardless of your title, leadership matters. ASCD EDge member Amelia Hicks wrote, "There are so many types of leadership opportunities that come in different size boxes and each is equally important no matter if you are at the top or bottom of the spiral of the education hierarchy. My message to the superintendents and principals: do not be intimidated by teachers and others who show leadership, but nourish them and recognize them and guide them to success." Great schools have more than one leader and the goal is to continue to develop new leaders in each school. If you feel like you have reached a plateau as a leader or the apex of the mountain, it may be time for you to mentor an develop a new school leader.
"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep" (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5).
Back-to-school takes on a new meaning in 2012-2013. Many states will implement the Common Core State Standards. As the quote above mentions, standards are not new in K-12 education. In 1994, Dr. Andrew Porter wrote, "Almost no one believes that standard setting in and of itself will lead to school improvement. Direct efforts at school improvement, such as strengthening the teacher corps and improving curriculum materials, need to follow" (p. 446). It is important to remember that implementing the Common Core State Standards will require ongoing professional development, risk taking, communication, and a mindset of College and Career Readiness for all students. As Dr. Porter wrote in 1994, the implementation of standards will not change teaching and learning in the United States. 2012-2013 marks the beginning of a new generation of standards. Does your school district have an implementation timeline? How will teachers receive ongoing support as they implement new standards? How do you plan to measure the implementation process? What is your district's communication plan for families and stakeholders?
"Educators must decide if they will work together collectively and collaboratively to overcome the inevitable barriers they will confront or if they will simply say the task is too hard and the challenges too great for them to do what they know must be done to support high levels of learning for all students. Will they expend their energy explaining why it cannot be done in their setting, or will they work together to do it" (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2010, p. 206). I wish you and your professional learning team the best as we work together to impact the next generation.
As your school and district staff begin the implementation process, you may benefit from the following resources.
Developing a Common Core Vision
Learning Forward (as published in Education Week)
The standards are not a vision; they define outcomes. When districts and state departments of education take the time to envision what successful standards implementation looks like, it gives them a resource to measure progress, guide actions, and stay on course.
Common Core for School Leaders
Michael Fisher and Steven Weber
School leaders must create a schedule which allows for continuous improvement, rather than hoping teachers will meet before and after school. The schedule that school administrators create reflects a matter of priorities and curriculum development should be a priority.
How Will You Prepare to Make Shift Happen in 2012-2013?
As districts begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, district leaders need to develop processes and short term wins. It is easier to make shifts happen when all stakeholders can see the Big Picture.
Curriculum Developers should ask these questions in order to create a purposeful curriculum.
Learning Targets: Classroom teachers should have a great amount of flexibility when it comes to 'how' to teach key concepts and skills, but 'what' to teach should be clearly defined by the team. It is unethical to allow some students to 'end up someplace else.'
The Fear of Failure
Failure is part of the learning process. If K-12 schools are going to make the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards, then failure will be part of the implementation process.
What Are Your Three Circles?
Do educators in your school have a Hedgehog Concept? (Jim Collins) The Three Circles activity may indicate that there are numerous programs and initiatives among buildings in a school district, but many of the initiatives seem to be in conflict with each other.
Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms. Standards also help students and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success. Standards are a first step – a key building block – in providing our young people with a high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and work. Of course, standards are not the only thing that is needed for our children’s success, but they provide an accessible roadmap for our teachers, parents, and students.