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In 2014, the Common Core State Standards are being attacked by politicians, parents, business leaders, civic organizations, and religious groups. If you are running for office, take a jab at the Common Core State Standards. It will get a good laugh from the audience and may win a few extra votes. If you are on Facebook, forward one of the hilarious visuals about Common Core Math standards and your post may go viral. Does this mean that the math standards are ridiculous or does it mean that math is being taught differently than it was when you were a child?
It is easy to make jokes about things we do not understand. How many people who claim they are ready to have a standards-burning party have read the Common Core State Standards?
Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have. 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. Standards are not the only thing that is needed for our children’s success, but they provide an accessible roadmap for our teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
Early in my career, the Arkansas Department of Education contacted me and asked me to write educational standards for K-12 social studies. When I arrived at the meeting room for one week of standards writing, with teachers from across the state, we were handed standards from Indiana, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, California, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and more. By the end of the week, I had reviewed standards from all fifty states. Some states had standards for economics in the sixth grade, while other states had the exact standard in the third grade. I remember thinking, ‘Why would each state write their own standards?’ I have observed in K-12 classrooms and there are different ability levels, but a third grader in Missouri is similar to a third grader in Michigan. When the Common Core State Standards were written and adopted across the United States, I thought it made common sense. Why would every state write similar standards in order to have bragging rights on the most rigorous or well stated standards? As an American, I want all students to graduate from high school prepared for the next level.
While you may laugh about Common Core jokes, the real joke is 50 states competing against each other to write the best standards. When our students enter the world, are they prepared to compete for jobs or do they cross the state line to discover they were prepared with watered-down standards?
The Common Core State Standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best interests of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education. It is easy to find Anti-Common Core articles. Anti-Common Core articles may be trending the next time you search for the Common Core. Take a moment to read one or more of the articles below to develop a deeper understanding of the Common Core State Standards. The standards may not be as bad as you thought.
The following articles address standards, college and career readiness, the role of standards in supporting teaching and learning, and the importance of common standards in the United States.
Ten Resources To Support a Deeper Understanding of the Common Core State Standards
1. Getting Curriculum Reform Right
By Thomas Guskey
2. What’s the Difference? Standards versus Curriculum
By Janet Hale
3. I Hate Testing, Not Standards
By Erik Palmer
4. The Problem is Not the Standards
By Michael Fisher
5. From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas
By Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins
6. Rigor Redefined
By Tony Wagner
7. 50 States, 50 Standards
By Diane Ravitch
8. The Case For Common Educational Standards
By Jeb Bush and Joel Klein
9. North Carolina Businesses Have Critical Need For Common Core Success
By Jim Whitehead, President and CEO of Red Hat, Inc.
10. Common Core: An Educator’s Perspective
By Steven Weber
As an educator, I am often surprised by the things I hear other educators say. You hear these comments at conferences, read opinions shared on Twitter, overhear opinions shared at other schools, and possibly even hear one of these statements at your own school. These statements make me cringe. When we are working with students, it is difficult to understand the statements that some educators make.
Ten Statements That Make Me Say, "Shut The Front Door!"
"Those students can't go to college. We should just prepare them for a career, starting in middle school."
In 1903, Saunders, a professor at the University of Mississippi, described the perspective of many Americans at the turn of the century. He wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (p. 73).
In 2014, several Americans still share this perspective. The recent move towards College and Career Readiness is a positive move in education. This movement does not guarantee that every student will enter a four year college. It is the idea that every student should be provided with the opportunity to learn (OTL) key skills and concepts. Furthermore, adults should not determine a child's plans after high school when the child is in the seventh grade.
"Our seventh graders made a PowerPoint, so I would say that I am proficient with technology integration."
I am not offended by teachers saying that they require students to make a PowerPoint. However, it should be a red flag to administrators if any teacher hangs their hat on one project that incorporates technology. Technology integration should become seamless. In other words student projects will require technology integration, but the focus is on student understanding, not the device or program. After all, did you ever hear a teacher say, “My students used a pencil and paper today?”
"The Common Core State Standards are not new ideas. I have always taught this way."
Regardless of your stance (for or against) the Common Core State Standards, there are obvious changes in the way teachers should approach curriculum development, instruction, and common formative assessments. "These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step” (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5). Be aware of teacher teams and administrators who claim, “This is how we have always done it.”
The new standards will not fit into your state’s old standards like a jigsaw puzzle. The Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity to change how teacher teams communicate, collaborate, and reflect on standards. In the absence of ongoing communication, it will be easy to revert back to teaching in isolation and struggling to understand each standard. “Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in ‘same old, same old’ teaching with only superficial connections to the grade level Standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012).
"I require the gifted students to do double the work. They can handle it, because 'they are gifted.'"
You do not hear this myth as often as you did at the turn of the century. However, there are still misconceptions about rigor and about homework for gifted students. Giving gifted students more work does not support student understanding. If you hear a teacher bragging about giving the gifted students double the work, you should refer them to resources such as (Edmonds, SERVE) and Rigor on Trial (Wagner, 2006).
"How do you expect me to read a journal article or blog. There's no time for that."
The field of education is changing and professional growth is not optional. Online journal articles, blogs written by teachers and administrators, Twitter chats, webinars, and teaching videos provide educators with a multitude of resources. As a professional, I grow frustrated when someone claims that there is no time for continuous improvement. As educators, we should continue to grow and seek to understand best practices. It is professional malpractice to claim that there is no time for learning.
"Those aren't my students."
Teachers in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) change from saying ‘those kids’ to ‘our kids’ (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). If the goal is to prepare all students to graduate College and Career Ready, then the teachers and staff members in the school district must collaborate to support students. Principals within the same school district should share ideas and discuss instructional strategies. Competition is good when it comes to athletics, marching band, academic clubs, and science fairs. It is also appropriate to see which school has the highest graduation rate, lowest dropout rate, and highest number of students enrolled in advanced courses. The idea that “Those aren’t my students” should be a thing of the past. As adults, we should share ideas within our school district, across state lines, and even around the globe. When more students graduate prepared for college and careers, the world wins! These are “OUR” students!
"Do we get credit for attending this meeting?"
Have you ever heard a colleague whisper, “I hope they are giving us credit for this.” Most school districts require a number of credits over the course of one year or a five year span. If a teacher is more focused on receiving credit than learning, it is a red flag. Have you ever attended a meeting until lunch and then your co-worker goes to the mall, because the credit was given in the registration packet? It is a shame that some educators view the credit as the purpose for attending. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that educators should receive credit in order to renew their license. I also believe that more school districts should begin recognizing blogging, Twitter chats, and webinars as ways to earn credit. Asking for credit is similar to the following scenario:
A high school basketball coach asks the starting five to run a play in practice, one day before the game. The starting point guard pauses before running the play and asks, “Will we all five get to start in the game if we run this play right?”
Running the play several times is part of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the reason for professional development, not credit or a certificate.
"We are no longer teaching during the last nine weeks. We have started benchmarking and test prep."
Test prep is one of the worst things that teachers can do during the last nine weeks. Did you ever try to cram for a test in college? It usually does not result in transfer or understanding. There are multiple approaches that educators can take which will virtually guarantee instant gains or increases in student achievement. Curricular reductionism is a test prep strategy that eliminates arts education, social studies, character education, and soft skills. If it’s not tested, then it’s not taught during the last nine weeks (or even semester in some schools).
Taking shortcuts to improve the data at an individual school is akin to a professional athlete taking steroids. When our students graduate from high school, we do not want them to reflect on their K-12 experience and see that the shortcuts adults took created long-term detrimental effects.
When educators choose to give students multiple assessments that look like the high-stakes test, eliminate subjects, and create a test prep boot camp atmosphere, then students lose. High-stakes tests have changed the way some teachers and administrators approach teaching and learning.
"I would assign more project-based learning, but it interferes with the pacing guide."
Pacing guides provide students with a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ (Marzano), if the curriculum is implemented in each classroom. Pacing guides can support teaching and learning. Alignment in a school district is important and pacing guides can provide an outline of what should be taught to each student. Pacing guides should allow for flexibility in pacing and the readiness level of each student.
The statement above is often overheard at high schools that teach on a block schedule. While there may be 90 minute periods, some teachers cannot overcome the fact that a one year course is taught in one semester. If student understanding is improved through project-based learning (PBL), then teachers should identify days of the week and units of study that provide students with time for PBL.
I say, “Shut the Front Door” to this comment, because it is an example of putting the needs of adults in front of the needs of students. We are paid to prepare each student for the next level of learning. Some educators say, “Research be damned, I am going to get through the pacing guide and make sure that I cover the content.”
"I believe that soft skills are critically important, but they aren't tested by the state."
Soft skills include, but are not limited to, teamwork, decision-making, and communication (America’s Promise Alliance, 2007). “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).
Employers seek applicants who are problem solvers, communicators, team players, and have perseverance. These skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are needed by all high school graduates to ensure that they are college and career ready, regardless of whether they plan to complete an apprenticeship after high school or attend a two-year or four-year college. While employers are seeking students with strong academic skills, they are having trouble finding applicants who can collaborate, create, think outside the box, and communicate. When educators focus on tested subjects at the expense of soft skills, students pay the price. If test scores are the reason for teaching and learning, then someone forgot to tell the employers who are seeking qualified applicants (Wagner, Seven Survival Skills as described by business leaders in their own words).
I believe in instructional leadership, teacher leaders, the Common Core State Standards, curriculum alignment, professional learning communities, and College and Career Readiness. When teachers and administrators make statements that you disagree with, you should challenge the statement. As a professional, you owe it to students and to the profession to challenge broad statements or beliefs that are not in the best interests of students or the profession.
Share your thoughts below:
What makes you say, “Shut the Front Door?”
Steven Weber is an elementary school principal in North Carolina. During his career, he has served as the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools, High School Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, K-12 Social Studies Specialist with the Arkansas Department of Public Instruction, and as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the West Memphis School District. Weber blogs on ASCD EDge. You can connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
Throughout the United States, the Challenging Teacher Leader has been labeled as a contrarian, pessimistic, and even a barrier to change. Quite often the Challenging Teacher is not nominated for Teacher of the Year or district committees. Tha Challenging Teacher is viewed as an outlier or a loose cannon. As we continue to discuss Teacher Leadership on the ASCD Forum, consider tweeting or blogging your thoughts regarding The Challenging Teacher Leader. You may post your thoughts by replying to this blog, write your own blog, or tweet your thoughts #ASCDForum.
Who is the person on your staff you can predict will say, "Yeah But?" When the principal says, "We are going to implement a new math program to support our gifted students" this teacher responds on que, "Yeah But!" When the assistant principal says "I would like to send you to a national conference for social studies teachers" - the teacher replies, "Yeah But.....I am having a guest speaker that week." As a principal, I get frustrated with the "Yeah But" response. However, there are teacher leaders who respond, "Yeah But!" I believe we could support more students if we.......
A teacher who challenges the process and forces everyone in the organization to think is serving as a techer leader. One of the most popular leadership books over the past 25 years is a book titled, The Leadership Challenge (1987). Kouzes and Posner (1997) wrote that leaders Challenge the Process. A teacher leader who challenges the process, may provide valuable input for school improvement or implementing school programs.
Schelchty (1993) wrote an article on teacher leadership titled, On the Frontier of School Reform with Trailblazers, Pioneers, and Settlers. "Settlers need to know what is expected of them and where they are going" (Schlechty, 1993). Who are the Settlers on your staff? A settler could be a strong teacher leader, but they may resist until the details of the program are clear and they feel confident that this will not become the "Flavor-of-the Month" initiative. School administrators can identify the settlers on staff and seek out their input prior to making an announcement about a new program or goal. With the input of a settler, the principal can have a deeper understanding of what reservations staff members have and can develop FAQs, offer additional information, or adjust the implementation timeline.
When we think of teacher leaders, we often view a "Yes, Man!" Does leadership mean that we say yes to everything in order to avoid conflict? Patrick Lencioni (2002) wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He described the "Fear of Conflict"as one of the dysfunctions. School administrators must be open to conflict and willing to listen to multiple perspectives. Many principals view the person who asks questions as a challenging teacher leader and may not value the challenges as much as the teacher who is willing to say yes and move forward with any project or school improvement goal.
Questions for Teachers and Administrators to Consider:
1. Do Challenging Teacher Leaders add value to the school/school district?
2. Do I view the Challenging Teacher Leader as a teacher leader or a contrarian?
3. How can a principal or superintendent utilize the expertise of the Challenging Teacher Leader?
4. Should the Challenging Teacher be required to provide a solution to his or her "Yeah But" comments?
5. Is the Challenging Teacher Leader less valuable to the school than the "Yes Man"?
6. Should we say yes to every new initiative and avoid conflict?
Teacher Leaders are critical to the success of a school. Recently, I wrote about some of the examples of teacher leadership (Weber, ASCD SmartBrief) I observe in our school each day. A teacher leader does not need to have superhuman power or be a leader in all areas of the school. As a matter of fact, I believe that some teachers shy away from leadership roles because they feel like the principal will ask them to serve on every committee and create professional development for early release days. Let's look at some of the ways a teacher can serve as a teacher leader.
Early Childhood Advocate
Formative Assessment Queen
Gifted Education Advocate
High School Readiness Guru
Joker and Morale Booster
Key Skills and Concepts Identifer
Local Education Agency (LEA) Representative
Online Learning Facilitator
PTA Teacher Representative
Quality Assurance Team Leader
Response to Intervention Grade Level Representative
School Improvement Team Chair
Technology Integration Coach
Understanding by Design Coach
Virtual Professional Development Provider
XYZ.......Well, those letters are a little bit more difficult. If you can find teacher leaders to fill A-W, then I am sure X, Y, and Z can be filled by someone else in the school.
Teacher Leadership is a term that is thrown around by teachers, administrators, and central office staff. In the early 1990's, educational leadership was viewed as the principal, assistant principal, department chairs or grade-level chairs, and the school improvement team chair. Today, several schools operate as a professional learning community. In a high-functioning professional learning community, it does not matter who receives the credit. Implementing the Common Core State Standards, preparing more students than ever before for college and careers, and integrating technology with multiple devices will require strong leadership from school administrators and 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. Teacher leadership is the fuel that drives high-performing schools. Who are the teacher leaders in your school? How can you leverage the existing leaders and multiply teacher leaders, rather than adding followers?
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson told the media he was "the straw that stirs the drink." As a principal, I feel the same way about teacher leaders. A teacher leader provides coaching, feedback, professional development, new ideas, professionalism, and more! I don't rely on one or two teacher leaders. As a leader, I try to develop new teacher leaders and I encourage our existing teacher leaders to do the same. School improvement is not a solo act.
3 Ways Teacher Leaders Support School Improvement
360 Degree Leadership
Teachers and administrators who want to understand the importance of teacher leadership should read The 360 Degree Leader (Weber, ASCD EDge). Maxwell (2005) wrote, "the reality is that most people will never be the top leader in an organization. They will spend their careers somewhere in the middle" (p. 17). Leadership author John Maxwell describes how [teacher] leaders can use their experience and voice to influence school board policy, curriculum development, vertical alignment, school planning, and important decisions made at the building level. Who are the 360 Degree Leaders in your school?
A teacher leader is a mentor to other teachers. This person sees leadership as a way to add value to others. When a younger teacher has a difficult parent-teacher conference, the teacher leader is there to offer support and listen to her colleague. A teacher leader also encourages professional development and growth through serving as a role model and lifelong learner. Unlike a teacher who closes the door and focuses on "my students and my classroom," the teacher leader reminds staff that great schools focus on "our students and our school." The Center for Creative Leadership has a video which highlights the importance of the Mentor Leader (also described in a book with the same title, written by former NFL Coach Tony Dungy). Leaders Develop Leaders outlines five questions to consider as you begin to develop leaders (Weber, ASCD Whole Child).
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. If you are a school administrator, you cannot lead alone. You need the input and feedback from one or more teacher leaders.
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. The principal who tries to lead without teacher leaders will fail.
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.
One year ago, Jesse Lewis went to school and entered his kindergarten classroom. According to his mother and friends, he was a happy six year old who loved life and had a radiant smile. He loved horseback riding. Following the events that took place on December 14, 2012, Jesse's mother left the school and went to her mother's house. While she gathered her thoughts, she noticed her son's handwriting on a chalkboard. The chalkboard read "Nurturing, Healing, Love." These words, scribbled on a chalkboard in a six year old's handwriting, became the inspiration for Scarlett Lewis to write a book titled, "Nurturing, Healing, Love: A Mother's Journey of Hope and Forgiveness." 100% of the proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.
While the nation remembers Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Newtown community this weekend, I want to take a moment to remember Jesse Lewis. I never had the privilege of meeting Jesse, but I can tell he was a student who loved school and was a great friend to his classmates. As an education blogger, I often write about the whole child, teaching students citizenship, and the importance of a positive school climate. The world will miss all that Jesse had to offer. However, in six short years, he was a positive light in his community and he continues to inspire teachers and administrators. We know that every school in the world has a Jesse who is creative, curious, passionate about learning, and wants to have a positive impact. We have to tap into each student's talents and passions and help them see how they can make a difference in the world. Through the book that Ms. Lewis wrote, Jesse continues to make a difference in the world.
On this day, I choose to celebrate Jesse Lewis. From now on, December 14th will be a rememberance day for me. On behalf of the Hillsborough Elementary School (NC) staff, we remember Jesse Lewis, the teachers, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We remember this tragic day in our nation's history and we think of your school community often. We know the important role you have in preparing students for College and Career Readiness and we pause to remember the Sandy Hook students, staff, and families this weekend.
Instructional leadership is essential in K-12 schools. What is an instructional leader? A second grade teacher can serve as an instructional leader. Principals and assistant principals should also be viewed as instructional leaders. A central office staff member may have the title of Chief Academic Officer or Curriculum Director, but that does not mean they are the only instructional leader in the school district. Once teachers begin communicating with teachers in the same grade level and make connections with the next level (i.e., middle school and high school transition), students will benefit from increased clarity on the essential learning outcomes.
“One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized” (Glatthorn, 1987, p. 4).
How do you 'maximize' the learned curriculum? Developing the local curriculum, curriculum alignment, analyzing assessment data, and meeting in job-alike teams are important activities. However, meetings can often become a weekly ritual that do not lead to increased student understanding. An instructional leader is constantly focused on 'maximizing' student understanding. During the No Child Left Behind Era, student achievement was defined in most schools as passing a high stakes test. When instructional leaders define test results as student achievement, most meetings focus on test prep, curriculum reductionism, and closing gaps. Closing gaps is critical and ethical work. Closing gaps should not mean teaching to the middle or ignoring our gifted students who need challenging work. Schools throughout the United States have witnessed artificial gains in student test scores by eliminating science, social studies, art, music, PE, and other non-tested subjects. Glatthorn's question is one that drives the work of instructional leaders. Does test prep or curriculum reductionism 'maximize' student learning?
3 Ways To Grow As An Instructional Leader
1. Join a Twitter Chat
I have been participating in Twitter chats for the past two years. When I describe Twitter chats to other educators, they often look at me like a deer in headlights. Why would someone teach school all day and then join a Twitter chat at 9:00 pm on a Thursday night? How could a one hour chat with educators across the world support teaching and learning in my school? I have met educators in all 50 states. As a principal, I learn from principals, teachers, superintendents, university professors, education consultants, and others who are passionate about teaching and learning. Educators share links to their blogs, school websites, curriculum maps, school goals, presentations, family resources, and more! A Twitter chat is similar to attending a national conference. You will be exposed to multiple perspectives and it will challenge your own views on education. The conversations are lively, but professional. If you ask a question, you may get answers from New York, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. Twitter chats will inspire an instructional leader and will offer multiple opportunities for professional growth.
2. Join and Become Active in a Professional Learning Community
According to Schmoker (2006), "Mere collegiality won't cut it. Even discussions about curricular issues or popular strategies can feel good but go nowhere. The right image to embrace is a group of teachers who meet regularly to share, refine and assess the impact of lessons and strategies continuously to help increasing numbers of students learn at higher levels" (p.178). Schools throughout the United States are operating as a Professional Learning Community (PLC). If your school still allows teachers to operate in isolation, you can learn more about a PLC at http://www.allthingsplc.info.
“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’” (DuFour, 2011, p. 61). Instructional leaders believe in growth. Continuous improvement is possible when each instructional leader is a member of a PLC.
3. Identify Essential Learning Outcomes
It is difficult to maximize student understanding if you do not know the goals. Learning targets help instructional leaders know if students are reaching the goal. Is your goal college and career readiness? An instructional leader must define what the path to college and career readiness looks like for a ninth grade student. Is your goal to increase the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes? Once you define the end in mind, it will be easier to determine the skills and understandings that students need to be prepared for advanced courses. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), "The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often" (p. 55).
Instructional leadership supports teaching and learning. It is easy to focus on standards, assessment, school safety, school improvement plans, faculty meetings, high-stakes tests, developing your next meeting agenda, technology integration, curriculum alignment, and state mandates. While none of these topics can be neglected, it is easy to lose sight of the goals of an instructional leader. Instructional leadership should not take the backseat to meetings, planning, or activities. Parker (1991) cautioned instructional leaders to avoid motion mascquerading as improvement.
Saturday in September means College Football. No matter who you cheer for on game day, you understand the importance of the fourth quarter. Teams prepare their players for the fourth quarter through conditioning drills, sprints, weights, diet, and practice. An overthrown pass, a kick wide to the right, or a missed block can mean the difference between winning and losing. As I reflect on college football, it reminds me of teaching and learning.
What does the fourth quarter look like in your classroom? The traditional calendar is divided into four quarters in U.S. schools. We can wait to push students and accelerate in the fourth quarter, but that would be too late. Reflect on the last twenty minutes of class each day. What happens on Friday in your classroom? Another example of the fourth quarter is the end of each nine weeks. When you reach the fourth quarter, what does teaching and learning look like? University of South Carolina Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier said, “We try to win the fourth quarter around here.” Do your students have this mindset? What are you doing as a teacher to prepare students for the fourth quarter?
What does winning look like in your classroom? Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2007) wrote, “To maximize learning, learners need multiple opportunities to practice in risk-free environments, to receive regular and specific feedback related to progress against standards, and timely opportunities to use the feedback to re-do and improve.” This description of maximizing learning sounds like the five days of practice which prepares players for any given Saturday in America. The best football teams receive regular feedback about their performance and players are measured against a standard (i.e., speed, strength, explosiveness, vertical jump, tackling, etc.).
“You hear about how many fourth quarter comebacks that a guy has and I think it means a guy screwed up in the first three quarters” said, Denver Broncos QB, Peyton Manning. As a teacher you may relate to the humor of NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. How often do you see students who don’t give their best effort or who struggle to understand the skills and concepts in your class? Great coaches and great teachers know not to give up on players or students. This quote lends itself to conversations about grading practices. If you have unfair or unrealistic grading practices, a student will be ready to quit before the fourth quarter.
In the college football and the NFL, the fans go wild when a quarterback leads the team down the field during the two-minute drill. It doesn’t matter if the quarterback threw three interceptions in the first three quarters. Finishing strong and winning the game is what matters to fans. In K-12 schools, we want students to finish College and Career Ready. If the student struggles along the way, but finishes strong then teachers should reward student understanding rather than penalizing the student for a poor average.
The University of Alabama has built a tradition of winning under head coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2009 and then won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012. Coach Saban’s “Fourth Quarter Conditioning Program” has been attributed to the success of the Alabama football program. What would a “Fourth Quarter Conditioning Program” look like in your classroom? The Common Core State Standards require teachers to teach perseverance. In addition to perseverance, students are required to demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, use technology and digital media strategically and capably, and come to understand other perspectives and cultures. By building these skills and understandings into the curriculum, students will be better prepared to finish strong in the fourth quarter. “The one thing our program is based upon is finishing. Finish games. Finish your reps. Finish your running. Finish practice strong. Finish the fourth quarter,” said Alabama OL Will Vlachos. What can teachers do to help students finish the fourth quarter strong?
Six Points For Teacher Teams To Consider:
1. Do We Have A Fourth Quarter Mindset?
What do we want students to know and be able to do by the fourth quarter?
2. What Does Our Conditioning Program Look Like?
How can our assignments condition students to be prepared for the fourth quarter?
3. Do We Have A Standard Or A Measure Of Success For The End of Each Quarter?
How do we assess student understanding?
4. When Students Are Winning In The Fourth Quarter (i.e., Already Performing At or Above Grade Level), Do They Know How To Finish Strong?
Do students know how to finish strong? Do students let up in the fourth quarter because they feel overconfident with their grade or with their ability to perform? How do we get the best out of students in the fourth quarter?
5. When Students Are Behind In The Fourth Quarter, Do We Have A Game Plan For Supporting Student Understanding?
How do we respond when students are struggling? What interventions and support does our school provide to struggling students? Do we provide the interventions in the fourth quarter or can students access interventions before the fourth quarter?
6. What Does Winning Look Like?
Do we share the game plan with students?
Do we have “I Can Statements” or Student-Friendly Learning Goals?
Do students have a clear understanding of what it takes to win?
Recently, our elementary school designed a Learning Commons. The Learning Commons is an extension of the media center. We remodeled a traditional computer lab, with straight rows and desks. School staff replaced the desks and computers with student friendly furniture, carpet, a futon, neon signs, and a space that encourages the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity). Laptops and iPod Touches will be used in the new space. Students will be able to have Socractic Seminars, create videos, mentor younger students, and more.
According to Linton (2012), a Learning Commons must meet several criteria such as the following: the space must be flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical. Recently, I gave some parents a sneak peek at the new Learning Commons. One family asked, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?" This is a powerful question for a parent to ask a school administrator. I did not need to share the theory behind the room or distribute journal articles about learning space or instructional strategies. This parent immediately understood that the new room looked like the real world. She said, "Children don't recognize desks and metal chairs."
How Is Your School Creating Classrooms That Are:
What does a flexible classroom look like? Furniture that is flexible allows students to work in different groups or teams throughout the day. The teacher has placed students in charge of their learning (November, 2012). Procedures are in place to assist students with staying on task, yet meeting the learning goals in their own way. While this may look much different in an AP U.S. History class than it does in a first grade class, I have seen flexible furniture and grouping at both levels.
Open spaces are unconfined. When you walk in the traditional classroom, it is difficult to walk around the classroom. The classroom furniture is bulky and heavy to move. One look at the furniture would tell you that the furniture was designed for different educational goals. I read a great article this week by John Kotter, Change Leadership guru. Kotter (2013) wrote an article that describes the difference between Knowledge Workers vs. Knowledge Networkers (Forbes, 2013). When you visit software companies, website design studios, corporate headquarters, and modern university libraries, you will find open spaces. Clients and co-workers are inspired to collaborate with one another based on the open space. When you look at classrooms in your school ask, "Does this space encourage Knowledge Workers or Knowledge Networkers?" As Kotter described, the workforce is seeking Knowledge Networkers. If your school claims to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, then we should redesign classrooms to look like the real world.
Wireless classrooms are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. Gone are the days of going to the back bookshelf to look up your answer in a World Book. A classroom with three computers is helpful, but a wireless classroom opens new doors for teaching and learning. There are issues with chat rooms, blogging, and searching the Internet for appropriate content. However, this is where teaching Digital Citizenship is important. A wireless classroom is like the real world for most students. Have you ever seen a two year old in a shopping cart at the grocery store? Chances are the child was playing a game or using an app on a SmartPhone.
This is the most difficult part. Unless you are building a brand new school, you probably don't have the funds to purchase new furniture, lamps, or accessories. Our school received a $2,000 Matching grant from our PTA and the Board of Education. The funds allowed us to purchase dorm room-style furniture, a used futon, lamps, cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars and Monsters U characters. The furniture and the accessories are in neon colors, which is in style. The room looks like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, but a little louder. The cheapest accessory we purchased was international clocks. We purchased wall clocks for $4 per clock. Each clock is set to a different country and time zone. The center clock is a neon clock and we paid $20 for the center clock. It reads HES - Eastern Standard Time.
Teachers are great at finding bargains. You will also be surprised how many families will donate items or support you with creating a comfortable space. Recently, a parent donated five large pillows to our new room. Another parent went to Wal-Mart and was able to secure a $100 gift card to purchase additional items. Garage sales, Craig's List, and Going Out of Business Sales are additional ways you can create a comfortable classroom. I struggle to imagine how we could fund another classroom with a $2,000 renovation, much less every classroom. However, I know it can be done.
Inspiring students is easy. Teachers do this everyday. If you follow the other guidelines listed in this article and referenced by Linton (2012), you will create a more inspiring classroom. What inspires students? Neon colors, a graffiti wall, art, collaboration, technology, a green screen, interacting with students in other countries, blogging, Twitter, The 1970's, music, a lounge theme, zoo animals, student created posters, video games, challenging puzzles, books, e-Readers, and multimedia are examples of things that students find inspirational. The easiest way to find out what inspires students is to ask students what they would like to see in a classroom. Let students design the learning environment. Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you sit on the couch? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when we/they design inspiring spaces.
There is no need to turn your classroom into a theme park, purchase a flat screen tv for all four corners of the room, or take out a student loan to redesign your classroom. In 2000, I observed a middle school English Language Arts teacher who purchased four lamps for her classroom. She paid $25 total for the four lamps. The lamps were mood lighting for the classroom. Some teachers use motivational quotes in the classroom. Practical is difficult for teachers, because teachers are constantly spending their own money to support teaching and learning.
I recommend that you start small and redesign your classroom in phases. Can you afford dorm-room furniture this year? If you cannot afford 25 chairs, can you afford three dorm-room style beanbag chairs? Music is another way to change the mood and feel of your classroom. I have seen an elementary teacher effectively use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when they face each other. Another teacher used children's beach chairs. Beach chairs are low to the ground. How many people went to the beach this summer and bought beach chairs? These chairs are often sold in garage sales or placed by the curb, following the vacation. There are several ways to redesign your room. Once again, ask the students to design a dream classroom with the existing furniture.
Teaching has changed. I see instructional strategies that are inspiring and I see teachers working hard to integrate technology across the curriculum. Mathematics and science are not taught the same way that they were twenty years ago. Teacher collaboration and the use of common formative assessments have also improved teaching and learning in the United States. Teachers and administrators are using Twitter as a way to learn about new instructional strategies and are communicating with educators around the world. Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. We need to look at our schools and ask, "Is this classroom flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical?" As the parent asked me, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?"
As we begin a new school year, it is an exciting time for educators. We understand that our influence will have a positive or negative impact on students. The main goal of education is student achievement. However, some educators place such a heavy emphasis on student achievement that they end up forgetting their purpose. In today's K-12 setting, the purpose of K-12 schools has been defined as preparing each student to graduate college and career ready.
Recently, policymakers, educators, and national education organizations have called for a shift from increasing high school graduation rates to a new goal of College and Career Readiness for all students graduating from high school (Achieve and The Education Trust, 2008; ACT, 2008; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009; Career Readiness Partner Council, 2010; Common Core State Standards, 2010; National Governors Association, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010; The White House, 2010; United States Department of Education, 2010; ConnectEd, 2012; Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012; North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 2013). According to the National Governors Association (2012), “There is a national consensus that schools should focus on students’ college and career readiness” (p. 3).
How can educators inspire all students, accelerate the gifted students, remediate and accelerate the struggling learners, focus on student understanding, and teach life skills? A narrow focus on skills or test prep will no longer support the goals of teaching and learning. The following recommendations will promote lifelong learning, while teaching the standards. Educators want to make a difference. Here are five ways they can in 2013-2014!
Focus on the Whole Child
According to ASCD Whole Child, schools should develop school goals around the following tenants: Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged. What does your school do well? Are all students challenged? Do you have school policies in place which promote healthful living? Do students in your school feel supported? Some schools claim to have high expectations. The only problem with this declaration is that they base their rationale for being excellent on last year's test scores. Some high schools may focus so much on their AP and IB programs that they overlook the rest of the student body. If teachers and administrators focus on the Whole Child, it will change the way they make decisions at faculty meetings, in school improvement meetings, at PTA meetings, and during conversations about interventions.
Revisit Your Norms
When educators begin a new school year, the focus is often on unit planning, assessments, curriculum alignment. During the first faculty meetings of the year, administrators review school and district policies, introduce new programs, and provide an overview of the school goals. Most teacher teams begin the school year so focused on students and procedures, that there is little time for establishing or revisiting team norms. Team norms are critical to the success of a grade level or content area team. If the science department has goals for students, then the team will need to have a clear understanding of the goals and team norms. Team norms are evident in schools who have embraced professional learning communities. However, even in these schools some teams struggle due to the absence of team norms. Student achievement can be the goal in each classroom, but a teacher team needs to have clearly established and agreed upon norms.
Remove Barriers for Students
Goal one addressed the tenants of a Whole Child School. Barriers can be financial circumstances for a family, a lack of food for a student, or a learning disability. Another barrier could be when a student enters the ninth grade and struggles with reading. School staff need to identify ways for the student to get additional reading support and intervention. Some students enter high school with a low self-esteem. Educators who focus on GPA, Class Rank, and SAT scores alone may overlook the opportunity to provide the student with a mentor or help the student find a club which assists with a positive self-esteem. When you look at your class of 25 students, you can probably identify a barrier that needs to be removed for each student. You don't need to remove barriers alone. Utilize your counselor, social worker, assistant principal, band director, coach, student resource officer, principal, club sponsors, and more. Once barriers are removed for students, learning will accelerate. Establishing College and Career Readiness for all students means that barriers need to be removed.
Be A Risk Taker
Teachers and administrators need to be 'Risk Takers.' When I observe classroom teachers, I enjoy seeing teachers who take risks and push students to do the same. When we take risks, we grow as learners. For some teachers, technology integration comes easy, but for others it involves Risk Taking. Be a Risk Taker. Some schools may be implementing Understanding by Design for the first time. Curriculum development can be a carbon copy from one year to the next, but risk takers reap the benefits. Be a Risk Taker when you develop new units. Teachers across the United States are implementing the Common Core State Standards. Some teachers say, "This is the way I have always taught." Risk Takers approach the Common Core State Standards with excitement about new units and new ways of assessing student learning. Be a Risk Taker. When you take risks, you are modeling what you want students to do with their assignments and when they enter the workforce. Multiple choice tests don't require risks, unless you take the test blindfolded. Teaching and learning in 2013-2014 requires risk taking.
If we want to develop critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication, educators must ask questions. Essential questions are one of the best strategies for forcing students to think. When educators ask students questions with one correct answer, it discourages students to think. There are still times when teachers need to ask questions with one correct answer.
Six Benefits of Essential Questions:
1. Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
2. The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
3. Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
4. Essential Questions can be used with project-based-learning, community service learning, class debates, research, experiments, outdoor learning, and essays.
5. Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
6. Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.
Teaching and learning require educators to focus on students, while taking time to focus on the craft of teaching. It is easy for schools to teach for one semester and then realize they were focused on the wrong thing(s). In 1903, a professor at the University of Missippi wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (Saunders, p. 73). In 2013, the goals of a K-12 education have changed. College and Career Readiness is the new goal for the youth of our nation. Each teacher has a role in supporting this goal and preparing students for life after high school.
As recently as five years ago, the most common way to communicate with families was to send a flyer home in each student's backpack. Elementary school staff have shared lunch menus, letters to families, curriculum updates, field trip forms, and important school information through a hard copy document for over a century. This is known as one-way communication. The school staff send home an announcement and there is no way for a family member to immediatly communicate with the school staff.
Three Ways You Can Increase Two-Way Communication In Schools
If you are reading this blog, then you understand that you have the opportunity to reply to the article and offer your own ideas or resources. In 2013-2014, educators need to take the advantage of blogging. Once you post a story, family members can reply or add to the story. A parent may want to share the things that they enjoyed about a recent field trip. A teacher may want to add to the principal's blog. This is an example of my principal's blog at an elementary school in North Carolina.
Recently, a grandmother replied to our blog:
It is nice that you can share your student's work and school success stories with grandparents who may live in another state.
Well, Mr. Weber, as the grandmother of my one & only granddaughter, I am exceptionally impressed with your vision statement. I'm so happy my precious girl is there. I am from a family of educators & truly believe that comprehensive education is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional process, one that takes into consideration both the individual learning 'brain style' of the child & the healthy interaction of the child with lots of engaged adults. Thank heavens for you. The direction our state is taking is of some concern to me so I hope you guys will be left to follow your enlightened path!
This year, our school introduced a new app to families. For more information about our school app, visit HES: There's An App For That! The app allows people to read the Principal's Blog, mentioned above. Families can forward the articles via email or social media. Families can use the school app to contact any staff member or share a recommendation with the administrators. If an adult is at the grocery store, they can check the app for the school's lunch menu. Teacher websites and blogs can be accessed on the app. An app also allows schools to send push alerts, as reminders about upcoming events. If a website was the front door to your schoolhouse in 2000, then a school app is the front door in 2013!
"One size doesn't fit all anymore," said Forest Grove communications director Connie Potter. "In the old days, you could put something in the newspaper, send out a newsletter and hit most of your constituents. That's not the case anymore" (Melton, 2009).
Twitter allows for instant communication with families. Schools across the United States are embracing Twitter because families receive information before students arrive home. If there is an emergency message, school staff can reach families to give them directions and updates. Twitter also allows families to forward message, retweet, and reply. The reply feature empowers families and provides an opportunity that they did not have with a flyer sent home through the student's backpack. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter for schools, read Why Public School Leaders Must Embrace Social Media Now (Forbes, 8/23/2012).
How Does My School Communicate With Families?
Does your school send home several pieces of paper with students weekly? Do you have a mechanism in place for instant feedback from parents, guardians, and stakeholders? Do you send home a note and expect that it will return to school the next day? When was the last time you gave families a voice in school decisions or sought input? If you are a fan of continuous improvement, then you will love the unsolicited feedback that you receive from individuals through a blog, school app and/or Twitter.
In addition to providing families with an opportunity to post their thoughts, a blog, school app, and Twitter help you market your brand. Every school has a brand, similar to a restaurant, sports drink, or professional organization. Are you waiting for the local newspaper to print your story in six months? Great things happen in schools on a regular basis and when you use social media to tell your school's story, you will build followers. People enjoy stories, especially when it involves their grandchild, nextdoor neighbor, or favorite nephew. How can your school use social media to share school highlights?
Families live in a world where the calendar provides them with reminders, the local new gives them alert messages, and they have the chance to rank a story or reply to another person's post. Social media has increased the number of times a person can communicate with a wider community. If you are not providing families and stakeholders with a chance to communicate, then you are not encouraging a school community. Families want to have instant access to the school staff and to have a voice in school decisions. It may be time to ask, "Are we encouraging two-way communication or are we stuck in 1989?"
Winning communication is the result of making small,
insignificant adjustments in what you say and how you say it. —Paul W. Swets
“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." - Roland Barth
Schools across the United States have faculty meetings, weekly grade level meetings, and attend required professional development. What makes a great team? Aside from the required meetings, high performing teacher teams possess three common characteristics. How does your team measure up?
Successful teams establish goals and when the team begins to succeed or fail, members return to their established goals. 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).
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 reflect on how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose.
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."
A PLC that operates with trust will ask:
Which students seem to struggle with the key concepts and skills identified by the team?
Which skills or concepts do I struggle to teach?
If our students do not do well on the state writing test, then what strategies should we incorporate at our grade level? At the grade levels prior to our grade?
Some students are struggling with note taking and organization skills. What can teachers do to support students who are struggling in school, due to a lack of study skills?
Our students are struggling with Algebra I. Are there areas of the curriculum map that could be revised to support teaching and learning?
Solution Tree created an interactive survey for teams called the Trust Survey.
See if this survey helps your team rise to new heights in 2013-2014!
Teacher teams enjoy collaborating and sharing ideas. Risk taking is rarely seen in most team meetings. Often, teams follow an agenda, share ideas, give each other a high five and type the meeting minutes. Discussing grading practices involves risk taking. Developing a rubric for a student project involves risk taking. Another form of risk taking is challenging the process. In the famous leadership book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote,
They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.
If teachers are going to transform teaching and learning, then they must be comfortable with risk taking. Implementing a new unit and trying technology integration involves risks for most teachers. What if it fails? This is the beauty of a team. If the unit or lesson fails, then you have a team that can offer support, share how the same activity went in another classroom, or support you in tweaking the lesson. As education continues to change and the world requires a different type of high school graduate, educators must take risks. What would Joe Montana do in the closing seconds of the game? What would Michael Phelps do on the final lap? How would Keri Strug respond on her final vault at the 1996 Olympics? Winning teams and winning athletes take risks. Don't play it safe. Students are depending on you to think outside the box and to prepare them for the next level.
There are other characteristics of high performing teams such as team norms, highly qualified professional teachers, a desire to learn, and more. As you begin the 2013-2014 school year, reflect on your team's strengths and weaknesses. You may be part of a new team. Perhaps your strongest teacher leader retired at the end of last year. Teacher teams provide leadership, ideas, and a strong foundation for students. In the absence of a strong foundation, students may not graduate college and career ready. That would be a shame.
"If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students."
On June 2, 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards which were implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent K-12 learning expectations in English-Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. The Standards reflect the knowledge and skills students need to be college and career ready by the end of high school. Elected officials across the United States are beginning to question the Common Core State Standards. On June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest posted a YouTube video outlining his concerns about the Common Core State Standards.
While standing in the car rider line at an elementary school, I was approached by a classroom teacher. She asked, "Are we going to align our curriculum, instruction, and assessments to the Common Core State Standards next year?" I replied, "yes." Then I said, "The Common Core is not going away." The teacher replied, "The Lieutenant Governor is discussing eliminating the Common Core." I replied, "Which Lieutenant Governor?" The teacher said, "The North Carolina Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forest."
Prior to becoming an elementary principal, I was the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools. Our school district held a Common Core Summer Institute for teachers and administrators during the summer of 2011 and summer of 2012. At the summer institutes, teacher teams planned a one year professional development plan for their schools. Hosting the summer institutes cost the school district thousands of dollars. The North Carolina General Assembly did not provide funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards. Throughout the past two school years, I have attended professional development led by teacher leaders. The average professional development requires teacher leaders (appointed or self-nominated) to spend approximately ten to twenty hours planning quality professional development and developing resources which support the implementation of the new standards.
In addition to working with classroom teachers to build awareness around the new standards, I have observed teacher leaders writing curriculum aligned to the new standards. Curriculum development has taken place through building level meetings, district meetings, and regional meetings. On several occasions five school districts in the Triangle met to support each other through the pre-implementation and implementation process. Triangle High Five is a regional partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County Schools, Orange County Schools, and Wake County Public School System. Teachers and administrators from these school districts shared curriclum maps, worked with high school math teachers to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, offered professional development, and worked with the North Carolina School of Math and Science to offer free professional development for mathematics teachers. In 2011 and 2012, SAS hosted a summer mathematics summit to support math teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. SAS has invested in the five school districts for several years. Recently, SAS provided thousands of dollars in order to support the transition from the Nort Carolina Essential Standards to the Common Core State Standards. It is expensive to provide professional development to over 400 educators from five school districts.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education did not ask North Carolina educators if we should adopt the Common Core State Standards. Once the State Board of Education adopted the standards, Superintendents and district leaders were told to implement the standards. Was the implementation process rushed? Yes. In 2010-2011, educators were anxious about the changes. To date, it is still difficult to find resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. I know 20-year veterans who stay up until midnight or later on school nights, searching for resources. Part of the reason resources are scarce is because the SBAC and PARCC assessments have not been finalized. Most vendors are still offering a blended version of old state standards and the new Common Core State Standards. This is especially true in mathematics.
When educators are told that a school board policy, state board policy, or general statute requires them to change, they begin collaborating and discussing how to make the change(s) student-friendly. In Orange County Schools, we were able to pay teacher leaders a small stipend for leading curriculum development efforts. The district used Race to the Top funds to pay teacher leaders who led curriculum development, facilitated professional development, posted curriculum maps online, and attended state conferences.
This week marked the last day of school for teachers and students across North Carolina. The Lieutenant Governor was recently elected, but North Carolina teachers have been preparing for the implementation of the new standards since 2010. Standards-based teaching has been common practice since the 1990's. Some states provided voluntary standards for educators prior to 1990. Today's students are competing with students around the globe for college admission and career opportunities. It no longer makes sense to have a Minnesota 3rd grade math standard and a Mississippi 3rd grade math standard. Students deserve to have the same standard across the United States. A common standard does not mean a 'watered-down' standard. Standards are not a curriculum.
This past year, I observed teachers differentiating instruction. Some students were two grades below grade level. They did not have the same assignment as the students who were at grade level or above. When teachers have a standard, they know the goal. Teachers provide students with multiple lessons, tasks, and opportunities to demonstrate what every student should know and be able to do. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not mean that every student will receive a perfect score at the end of the day. Teachers across North Carolina have embraced the standards and are operating with their grade level team, school team, district team, and regional teams to align curriculum with the Common Core State Standards. Standards are "the what" and Curriculum is "the how." The 'how' may look different in each classroom, but the standards are the same.
Seven Reasons Why States Should Embrace The Common Core State Standards
1. College and Career Readiness
Over the past year, I have seen teachers in North Carolina make the shift from College or Career Readiness to College AND Career Ready. The U.S. public school system was designed to sort and select students. Some students were considered 'college material' and the majority of students were workforce material. I believe that teachers in North Carolina raised the bar and raised their expectations for all students. ACT defines college and career readiness as "the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in creditbearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation." Based on my years of experience in the field of education, this is a major shift from the old mindset. This major change in philosophy and teaching is another indicator or the importance of the Common Core State Standards. The standards have forced a new conversation about the goals of education.
2. Common Standards Enable Teachers To Collaborate Across the United States.
Standards-based education requires teachers to align their curriculum, instruction, and assessments with the standards. For over a decade, teachers have disagreed with the standards. In North Carolina, teachers are required by general statute to teach the standards. A professional educator can respectfully disagree, but the law requires educators to teach the standards. Since the Common Core State Standards had some different approaches and aligned and moved standards to new grade levels it forced teachers to collaborate and design new units of study.
In Orange County Schools, I have observed professional conversations around the standards. I have seen teachers sharing resources across schools. I have seen teachers reaching out to educators in other states to discuss the standards. Regional and state meetings have been more exciting than ever, because everyone is learning the new standards. If one school district has a strong unit or curriculum resource then they will share it with our school district. I have participated in dozens of Twitter Chats with educators who are implementing the Common Core State Standards. ASCD has hosted a regular webinar series which offers educators the opportunity to learn and reflect on the Common Core State Standards. Before the Common Core State Standards, educators discussed their project or their program. The new standards have raised the bar in professional conversations. Educators have shifted from discussing the activity to sharing how the activity aligned to the standard.
3. Teacher Leaders Have Developed Curriculum Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
In North Carolina, teachers were required to implement the Common Core State Standards in 2012-2013. Teachers met on a regular basis to write, align, and implement units aligned to the new standards. Once curriculum was developed, they also created common formative assessments aligned to the standards. Alan Glatthorn wrote, “One ofthe tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment,so that the learned curriculum is maximized. This statement summarizes the work that takes place in classrooms, on early release days, on the weekend, and during the summer months. Teachers know how to align the curriculum, instruction, and assessments to standards. It takes time. If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students.
4. Professional Development Has Been Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Some school districts have spent thousands of dollars hiring consultants to provide professional development. Regional education organizations have paid $50,000 to $100,000 in order to host professional development with national consultants. Educators have participated in book studies, discussion forums, district professional development, NCDPI webinars and state conferences, and more. In 2012-2013, Orange County Schools and several other North Carolina school districts devoted the time to curriculum development or ongoing professional development aligned to the new standards. The price tag would be in the hundreds of millions if you totaled the number of hours the staff members were paid for professional development. It should be noted that they did not receive a bonus check. The money was part of their contract. Tax payers have invested in professional development aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Did North Carolina provide much assistance to educators prior to the 2012-2013 school year? No. School districts were required to use their own funds, contract with their own teachers, and develop their own resources. This was expensive. You could say that implementing the Common Core State Standards was done on the backs of the professional educators in North Carolina. I have not met many educators who disagree with the Common Core State Standards. This is another reason why I feel that politicians should let educators implement the standards. If elected officials want to provide the appropriate funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards, then that would be a step in the right direction.
5. Curriculum Alignment Is Easier With the New Standards.
It is difficult to describe curriculum alignment to non-educators. "When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122). Aligning the curriculum is an ongoing process which requires time, reflection, honesty, conflict, and a professional commitment to share what works in each classroom with specific students. The new standards provide a clear road map for educators. They do not outline every detail of what a teacher needs to do each day. Standards are a guide, not a script. If educators are beginning to align their curriculum, then policy makers should find ways to support their efforts. Curriculum alignment drives the work of a school district. When I see teachers analyzing student work and comparing it to a standard, I see excellent teaching. I entered the teaching profession in the early days of the Standards Movement. I have never seen teachers sharin their craft knowledge and having ongoing conversations about the standards like I saw in 2012-2013. Standards provide a common point of conversation, not a floor or a ceiling. The way the Common Core State Standards are written, a teacher can accelerate gifted students. This is missing from the national debate. Before we vote to eliminate the standards, let's visit schools and ask teachers to come to the State Board of Education. Let's find out what is working and how the standards are supporting teaching and learning. Let's avoid the political rhetoric and ask the teacher leaders who bore the burden of implementing the standards because the State Board of Education voted to adopt the standards.
6. The Change Process Requires Time.
Schools will continue to implement the Common Core State Standards in the summer and fall of 2013. Leading implementation requires a principal-leader who is willing to create short-term wins for the staff, provide time for the staff to reflect on the standards and to encourage risk-taking. Implementation of the new standards requires principal-leaders to honor the change process and to respect the emotions that staff will have during this change in teaching and learning. If states eliminate the Common Core State Standards, then which standards will replace them? If we fall back to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, then we are adopting an inferior set of standards. They were the best that the state could develop. That was then and this is now. The Common Core State Standards were not embraced immediately. However, after one year of developing lesson plans, units of study, and assessments, educator have given their seal of approaval. The change process was emotional and it caused all teachers to reflect on teaching and learning. If state officials continue to change the standards, it will be impossible for educators to develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). Eliminating the Common Core State Standards from public schools may win a political battle at the state or federal level. However, it is not in the best interests of teachers and students. Ask teachers in North Carolina if they think the standards should change. The standards should not be a stepping stone for someone's political career.
"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).
7. Student Achievement Matters.
The reason that educators get out of bed and go to work each day is because student achievement matters. The new standards support the goal of College and Career Readiness. Teachers recognize that the new standards require more rigor than previous state standards. One of the most compelling arguments for the Common Core State Standards was "standardization." When a 12 year old girl moves from Hope, Arkansas, to Lexington, North Carolina, she should be on the same page with her classmates. Students are moving across the United States on a regular basis. Prior to the Common Core State Standards, families had to fear that they were moving to a state with higher or lower standards. Standardization does not mean that every student learns the same thing in the same way. Technology integration, project-based learning, and other best practices allow teachers to meet the needs of each student, while aligning assignments to the standards. When students master a standard, the Common Core State Standards allow teachers to move to the next grade level. When students transfer to a new school, they need to know that the things they learned will provide them a foundation for learning at the new school. Changing standards after year one of implementation does not respect the main goal of education - Student Achievement.
Common Core State Standards: The Right Direction for U.S. Public Schools
It amazes me that one or more politicians can advocate for changing standards. I do not try to change medical practice, standards for the Interstate highway system, building codes, or taxes. The reason that I do not attempt to get involved with these things is because I am a professional educator. I would appreciate it if politicians would consult with professional educators and ask them if the Common Core State Standards support teaching and learning. A simple Google search can provide a glimpse at the groups who are rallying to eliminate the Common Core State Standards. The standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers and administrators have embraced the standards and will spend the summer months aligning their curriculum and units to the standards. Hundreds of teachers in any given state will meet on Saturday morning for an online Twitter chat, meet at a restaurant to share learning goals, or attend a summer institute. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best intersts of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education.
What can teachers do to support student achievement? How can teachers and administrators monitor the written and taught curriculum to ensure alignment? When I read about school districts and educators who are unhappy with the Common Core State Standards, I scratch my head. Standards are not a curriculum (Janet Hale, Curriculum Mapping 101). There are several things that teachers control. Curriculum and instruction involve decisions made by teacher teams. When the teacher closes the classroom door there are hundreds of curriculum decisions made, according to the readiness level of each student. The following curriculum types are important for teachers to understand as they reflect on curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The intended curriculum consists of the written curriculum or plans that have been predetermined prior to the class.
The enriched curriculum is when teachers enhance the curriculum or develop opportunities for acceleration for students who have mastered the written curriculum. Enriched curriculum involves providing multiple opportunities for students to engage in key concepts and skills at their readiness level.
Some teachers offer the enriched curriculum to the students who are prepared for acceleration and the watered-down curriculum to the students who have demonstrated low growth or who do not understand the key concepts and skills identified in the unit.
Many teachers and administrators fail to monitor the received curriculum. The received curriculum is what an individual student receives. If one student receives the enriched curriculum and another student receives the watered-down curriculum, then each student's chance for success will be drastically different. This is known as Opportunity to Learn.
All students should receive a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). If the received curriculum varies from one class to the next, then it will be difficult for teachers at the next grade level to build on prior knowledge and understandings. One of the goals of teaching is to ensure close alignment between the intended, taught, assessed, and received curricula. Opponents say the standards take away local control of education. I would argue that curriculum development is a local issue. When districts provide teachers with time to align the currriculum with the standards, student achievement will follow. Share your thoughts on ASCD EDge by replying to this article.
Questions to Consider:
1. Does your school have a guaranteed and viable curriculum?
2. How is the intended curriculum different from the received curriculum?
3. Do teachers implement the written curriculum/intended curriculum or do teachers create curriculum in isolation?
4. Ask yourself - Would I want my son or daughter to experience the watered-down curriculum and miss out on parts of the district's intended curriculum?
What the best and wisest parent wants for his or her own child, that must the community want, for all of its children.
As cited by Gene Carter, Executive Director ASCD
ASCD Education Update - December 2006, p. 2
5. What mechanism does your school have in place to monitor the received curriculum?
One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized.
Allan Glatthorn, Curriculum Renewal (1987), p. 4
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.