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As we go through a nation-wide educational reform, the word inclusion is being used everywhere. What does inclusion truly mean? I find that the word is being used loosely and applied to students with IEPs (Individualized Education Program) being placed in classrooms with students without IEPs. Well that is partially correct.
Although many districts are fighting to reduce their special education rate by placing students in classes with their non-disabled peers, many are struggling with supporting teachers and school leaders with adequate resources to support inclusion. I am fully in support of students with IEPs learning alongside students without IEPs when provided adequate resources/supports. As research indicates, higher student achievement and self-confidence for students is reached when students with IEPs are educated with students without IEPs. True inclusion requires school districts or school leaders to examine the needs of their population. Although the goal of special education is to decertify, every student may not be ready for a large class setting. On the flip side, not every student needs to remain in a self-contained classroom or travel in clusters just because they have an IEP.
After assessing the needs of your population (students with and without IEPs), begin looking at the amount of time a student may need to spend in a self-contained classroom vs. an inclusion class or a general education classroom. What does this mean? It means you need to identify the student’s strengths and identify the appropriate class where that student can grow academically, socially and mentally. For example, after assessing students, you may find that a student may be struggling with reading but is strong in math or science. When this occurs, then the student should be placed in a general education or inclusion class for math and science and may possibly still benefit from receiving reading instruction in a self-contained classroom or a pull-out/ smaller group service.
Once the decision is made to place a child in an inclusion or general education class, the supports MUST follow--- I repeat, the supports MUST follow! There needs to be sacred time for certified special educators to consult or plan with the general educator. They must understand the IEP and how to implement the needs stated, or this “marriage” is heading straight for disaster which ultimately affects the student and their ability to perform well. Teachers also need training from specialists on how to group students, actually include them in the inclusion class, and support their learning style and needs.
Please note, when I use the word inclusion, I also use this term for students that are in a general education, non-integrated co-teaching classes only---Why? Because there are students with mixed abilities in a general education class as well. The challenge and differentiation is not only for students in an integrated, co-teaching class, but for students who are in general education or even a gifted class who has varied abilities and have not been diagnosed with a disability or given an IEP. We can no longer teach to the middle and must provide adequate training and resources to teachers who can deliver well-developed lessons to all students.
The point here is that students should always be educated in the least restrictive environment, first! It should not be retro-fitted into their schedule. An IEP is a fluid document and should be updated, minimum, once a year. As students make progress, that should be acknowledged and reflected in their IEP. Students should not be sentenced to special education for life---it is a service, NOT a place! It is a service, NOT a place! It is a service, NOT a place!
An intriguing viewpoint posited in the article, “Rethinking Learning,” found on www.3gSelling.com, is that we often base our decisions more on what we are accustomed to than on what really works best. This is a useful perspective from which to examine expections and decisions that are made with regard to curriculum use and teacher evaluation.
It is not unusual for the directions on how to use a curriculum to include an admonition that in order to be used effectively, the curriculum must be followed as is. Doing this is often problematic because though learning takes place within a process, learning itself is not linear.
Hence, a teacher might opt to complete a particular aspect of a lesson based on what she knows about her students and not on a stipulated timeframe or, manner stiuplated by the curriculum. This type of professional judgment is integral for meeting specific needs through such vehicles like diversity, personalized learning and differentiation; all of which focus on meeting individual’s needs.
Given this recognition of varying individual needs, it is equally important to understand and accept that even when different instructional methods are used, not all students will grasp concepts at the same time. Similarly, a teacher will not always be able to address learning deficiencies during one lesson. Being able to do this is highly dependent on the nature of the lesson and student effort.
This is an especially important issue for evaluators during classroom observations. Conclusions about a teacher's practice should not be based on how many students did not grasp a particular concept at one point and time but rather they should be centered on what the teacher does subsequently and how effective it is in moving students towards mastery. This is in keeping with the true nature of learning, which occurs overtime and at a different pace for each person.
Unrealistic expectations and unsound decisions easily become the norm because they sound great and because changing them entails some discomfort. However, for learning to thrive, these habits need to be laid to rest.
I remember the moment clearly when my mindset changed. I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old two weeks ago. We were both happy. Him watching Toy Story 2. Me sitting next to him. He reached out and grabbed my hand. For the next 3 minutes he held it. We didn't say a word. We didn't need to. We just shared a blanket, enjoyed each other's company, and what was on TV.
As an often nervous parent, I am prone to overanalyzing situations involving my children. (I hear others are prone to this). I run through a litany of questions, chief among them: are my boys happy? Are they safe? Am I doing the right thing as a parent? These, and a multitude of other questions often blind me to what's in front of me -- two healthy, happy little boys, eager to experiment with the world and all the things within it. It is my neurosis that gets in their way.
As Jake held my hand and we watched the movie, the whispers I often hear did not creep into my consciousness. I didn't think: is he watching too much TV? Am I just being a lazy parent? Instead my thoughts kept drifting back to one feeling, that I was truly content. I didn't want to be anywhere else. And, neither did my son. It was a simple moment, and it was beautiful. I wondered, how can I hold on to this? Recreate it for others?
All people should have the feeling I did, especially when it relates to being in school. Too often I hear of friends who have had less than positive experiences as former students. That saddens me. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn in a positive environment, to enjoy the learning process, and feel comfortable and content within it. To think to themselves, as I did when watching TV, that this is a perfect moment and I don't want to be anywhere else.
So, now I ask myself each day: how can I capture this moment and keep it with me wherever I go? How can I use this as the driving force within my teaching, so no matter how challenging it gets professionally, I can always come from this place of contentment, of love? And, how can I share this with my students, their families, and my peers so they identify their own moments, their own love, and utilize their own 'moments on the couch' to drive them forward? Because if I don't, I've wasted the moment Jake and I shared on the couch. That would be sad, too.
A friend of mine who is not an educator told me recently that he felt badly for me. He cited the usual challenges I hear (students, parents, expectations, government, etc). My reply was quick, "I've never been more positive about my field and my role in it." I think he thought I was full of it. And he'd be right, I was full of it: full of joy and happiness, all because of one moment on the couch.
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
As a novice in certain areas of life, I have learned a lot about what I expect from experts. For example, I trust my doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc to stay up-to-date with relevant research & experience that informs the advice they give me. I trust their expertise and I choose to work with these experts because of their approach and knowledge.
On the other side of the coin, I'm aware of my expertise, training, & experience in aspects of education. I have learned from being both a novice and an expert. As an expert who leads, I have learned it's my responsibility to (1) help others understand the current landscape by cultivating the need and (2) lead KISS interventions.
Cultivating the Need
It's important for experts to present data to inform decisions. I visited my doctor the other week and he performed a few tests, printed out information about a potential diagnosis, and explained my test results to me in relation to the symptoms listed for potential concerns. In the end, everything ended up just fine with my health. Through this experience, though, I realized the process my doctor went through with me is what needs to happen on a regular basis in education.
Educational leaders must present information and data about potential concerns before beginning interventions. This can help create a shared understanding of the need. On top of that, just as a farmer cultivates the soil to make sure crops grow each season, leaders must continually cultivate the need with stakeholders.
This makes me wonder: How are we, as educational leaders, purposefully identifying & communicating needs to change/intervene/update antiquated systems with stakeholders? How are we using data to inform our cultivation of a shared understanding about the need? How are we using data to inform how we communicate with stakeholders on a regular basis? How are we connecting our work back to our strategic plan in a relevant way for stakeholders, leveraging a data informed and results driven approach?
Example: My school has been studying the 90-90-90 schools approach over the last few years. Teachers looked at the data and interventions. They've discussed the need for ongoing, job-embedded professional development (PD) and a shared understanding of this need was created. Then, when a PD Plan that involved monthly PD instead of occasional inservice days was voted on, teachers passed it this fall. We continue cultivating this need by developing PD that's responsive to shifting needs, collecting feedback from teachers about PD, aligning our work with research, & communicating about the PD with stakeholders.
Keep It Simple & Sustainable (KISS)
I met with an educational leader the other month who told me many leaders say interventions should involve KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. In his district, however, KISS stands for Keep It Simple & Sustainable. Two things I've learned about sustainability are to have a "Who else?" mindset and to move ahead with clarity amongst stakeholders. Keeping It Simple supports these pieces.
Sustainability means consistently thinking "Who else?" on a regular basis. Who else...in our feeder pattern/region should we involve? ...should we connect with from our community organizations on this? ....should we communicate progress updates with? ...should vet this before we send it out? ...is passionate about this topic? ...is knowledgeable? Who else?
Once we live with a "Who else?" mindset, we can focus on clarity- around the need, intervention, monitoring system, evaluation timeline/protocol, communication plan, etc. All of our stakeholders are potential marketers and we can generate an even deeper sense of sustainability if stakeholders understand the need for an intervention, the intervention itself, & why we're going with a certain intervention. Again, this understanding must be cultivated as stakeholders turnover, new research emerges, and data on the evaluation of our intervention develops.
Example: I've learned a great deal about developing sustainable systems from my work at the district and site level. Several years ago, I started at a district office working as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for instructional technology. I quickly realized a professional development (PD) program developed around my skills and expertise wouldn't last long - we needed both an intervention to the current setup and a system of support. I worked with district administration to develop a train the trainer program for teacher leaders. In order to maintain high quality PD, we created a gradual release protocol where trainers collaborated with me to co-write PD lesson plans, co-trained/presented with me several times, participated in coaching sessions with me, and eventually engaged in a monthly PLC with other teacher trainers. We implemented program evaluation best practices to support the analysis of feedback from PD participants and determine the value added by the PD system. Our trainers used PLC time to examine data that informed their decisions in moving forward with strands of PD. Although I am no longer working with the district instructional technology program, I'm happy I see the PD system continues to support teachers and leaders in a sustainable manner.
Just as I trust the experts in my life - doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc - stakeholders trust us (educational experts) to provide visionary leadership and to lead the best educational systems possible. They trust us to prepare the students of today as leaders for tomorrow. Each day, it is our responsibility to do just that through cultivating the need and utilizing a KISS approach.
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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.
As a coach, it can be frustrating sometimes when you are coaching novice teachers who want instant answers to solve problems that seem to be the bane of their existence. Coaches, you have to understand and reflect back when you were a teacher, how much you longed for the same thing. As I go into schools supporting teachers and even administrators, I realized that you must leave them with some right now answers. Please know that everything does not lend itself to “right now” answers, but most do. So here are three quick tips to coaching novice educators.
Highlight the Positive: Often when a person is new to teaching, they have many questions around their pedagogue. It’s imperative that you affirm and highlight the positive things in their practice by explaining what makes what they are doing effective. Face it, everyone at some point wants to know if they are doing a good job, or not. This process also will support teacher retention because there is a cyclical process of support that highlights the positive rather than the negative. Just like we do with students, a coach should use that teacher’s strengths to build on areas of concern.
Tangible Quick Tips: It’s almost inevitable to give a novice teacher some quick tips to solve some problems they might be facing. Although every teacher has to find their way, we will often lose good teachers if they are not supported with tangible resources that will impact immediate change. For example, a novice teacher may have difficulty managing student behavior. One quick tangible tip you can provide that teacher is creating a behavior chart or classroom incentive program. Another quick tip can be providing classroom jobs. I used to teach my fifth graders how to apply for a classroom job. I gave them an application and walked them through the process and they had to interview for the job. They loved it! Believe or not, students want to be responsible, and sometimes teachers struggle with this if they see undesirable behavior(s) displayed by that student.
Effective Feedback within 24-48 hours: When providing feedback, it should be done within 24-48 hours; anytime past that starts to become gray and irrelevant. Keep in mind when providing feedback, try to get the recipient to talk first and share what they thought about the lesson or interaction that you (the coach) observed when visiting him/her. Feedback does not only involve you providing next steps, but also you listening to the teacher you are coaching. Often at times, novice teachers will need to talk about their teaching experience and will use your ear for support. This is okay, as long as you are connecting it back to students and how they can continue to grow using the information to become an effective practitioner. Remember, when you are providing next steps, always connect it to research or why this next step is important for the teacher to implement. If they don’t have an understanding of what they are implementing, then how can they do it effectively?
In a recent post adapted from Kate Rousmaniere's The Principal's Office, The Principal: The Most Misunderstood Person in All of Education in The Atlantic describes the evolution of the principal since the early 1900’s. As a current school principal, and a veteran principal of 14 years, I was able to make connections with this post and I was also able to see how other people have formed opinions of the principal’s role over time. That being said, there was one particular point I disagreed with in the article.
Kate Rousmaniere points out in her post that, “Most contradictory of all, the principal has always been responsible for student learning, even as the position has become increasingly disconnected from the classroom.” If anything, I believe that skilled leaders are working harder than ever to stay connected to classrooms and students.
Within the current state of education, which has seen some of the greatest upheaval ever, it is true that the principal continues to be responsible for student learning. That should not change. Schools need strong leadership in principals to help navigate changes and keep a steady focus on why we are here; children and learning.
There are many ways to stay connected both in and out of the school house, which ultimately, keeps principals connected to classrooms. As an educator, I have the good fortune to connect through my PLN with many other administrators, principals, teachers and educators using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIN, Facebook and About.me. The rise of technology as a tool for professional development helps many of us not be disconnected from the classroom.
Twitter alone provides a forum where other educators raise questions, share experiences, and offer advice. Contrary to the belief that principals are disconnected from classrooms, these fellow educators continue to keep me connected to my own school’s classrooms through their advice, questioning and insights into best practice and education reform. I often find myself reflecting on my own work and learning more that I bring back to my school, to my classrooms, and to my students.
Within my school, I am continually tethered to classrooms, teachers, and most importantly, students. My goal is to know as many students in the school as possible and to know something about each one. Parents and staff often comment on how many of the 500 students I know. There are times when I’m surprised myself, as to how much I know about the kids in my school. I can often be found greeting students at arrival and dismissal, visiting them during lunch, interacting with them in the hallways, and in class, asking them what they are learning about, reading, and working on. My assistant principal and I also have lunch with twelve students every two weeks as well. We are thoughtful and intentional in the ways we stay connected to students.
It is also very important to me that I know what my staff are teaching children. The intent of knowing is not about micromanaging, but as a way to support learning. That may happen through walk-throughs, observations, participating in professional development with teachers, and talking to students when I visit classrooms. My connectedness to learning helps me keep my focus so that I support both students and teachers.
Do I think it is easy to become disconnected from classrooms? Absolutely! The demands of the principalship are such that I could be in meetings frequently, interacting with staff outside of the classroom, and doing paperwork and reading responding to emails continually throughout my day. So what can I and other administrators do to stay connected to classrooms and student learning? My recommendations would be:
No principal enters into their leadership role with the intent on becoming disconnected. The demands of the job are such that it could happen easily though. By actively engaging in the role of educational leaders, I hope that principals and school administrators work in ways that provide a level of transparency to the public and the school communities that they serve. By doing so, it will help with public perception and contribute to the position being more understood, and while doing that, it will help maintain a level of connectedness to students. After all, isn’t that why we do the work of the principal?
When Collins-Maxwell began a 1:1 iPad initiative for all students in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2012, one of the largest concerns among teachers, parents, and board members was the management of the device. Teachers were worried that students would be off-task in class, refusing to do the assigned work. Parents felt that students would bring the devices home and fill them full of games, songs, and inappropriate pictures. Board members felt that teachers would not know how to manage the new technology in classes AND that parents would be frustrated that taxpayer dollars were spent on devices so kids could listen to Pandora while playing Angry Birds.
Yes, it all happened. Everything we feared would come true did to some degree. We had students that got off task in class and missed the assignments or the lecture or the project. We had students download music in the hallways between classes so they could listen to it in the next period. We had students at home not doing the work they didn’t do in class because they were playing games, or on Facebook, or tweeting, or listening. Yes, it all happened.
But not for every student. And not for every teacher.
We had our students who followed the rules to the letter. They never downloaded anything that was not teacher approved. They never got on the iPad in class unless there was a reason explained by the teacher. And they certainly did not use the iPad at home inappropriately. It was only used for schoolwork, and then charged for the next day.
And we had teachers that had no problems with students off task. Here is the success of the management of iPads. We had teachers treat the iPad like any other tool in the classroom. For the past few years, we have allowed cell phones in school for student use. Many students have used them to take photos of problems on the board, use calculator functions, or text answers to an online poll. The teachers who have used cell phones in this manner in the class were the same ones who had little problems with the iPads. They realized the iPads were tools to help students learn, so they worked to see the iPads as supports for learning. Now, those teachers did not feel the need to use the iPads every day, just to use them. They used the iPads only when it suited the learning. When the iPads were not in use, they were turned off and put under the desks or set aside in the classroom. Those teachers who saw the iPads as possible improvements to learning also knew when they would be impediments to learning, so they created clear rules for engagement in using the iPads.
Other teachers who were not as comfortable with iPads struggled to see how to use them in their classrooms. Therefore, they used them for artificial purposes thinking the administration wanted the iPads to be used a lot in classes. The truth was the administration never gave a clear expectation for how often the iPad was to be used in a class. We wanted it to be a natural extension of support for learning. For some teachers, that was a good idea. For others, they felt like they were not using it enough and that would be a disappointment to the administration. When those teachers tried to integrate the iPad into a learning activity that did not suit it, problems occurred. Or if the teachers tried to ignore how to use the iPads in class, then the students had them out and engaged in off-task behaviors. Interestingly, by not addressing the iPad as a tool that may or may not support learning in specific instances, the teachers inadvertently allowed the iPad to become a bigger obstacle to learning in every instance.
From the various viewpoints of the teachers implementing iPads in their classrooms, the administration began to notice a unique paradigm: there were some that were truly trying to manage the iPad while others were trying to lead learning with the iPad. It became clear to the administration that those teachers who used the iPads to lead – or support – learning were more successful in using the iPads. Those that tried to manage the devices seemed to have more struggles with students. The administration also noticed that learning tasks began to change. Many teachers found that using iPads to do the same type of work before their introduction caused more problems and off-task behavior. When teachers changed the learning target or asked students for their input in how to use the iPads, there was greater student engagement, higher quality learning, and greater teacher satisfaction.
In all, we also worked to tighten our security of the iPads to limit downloads, added some consequences for how to use the devices, and supported parents to better understand how to use the iPads at home. But our greatest discovery in managing iPads was learning to not manage them, and instead lead learning – where appropriate – with them. Now, teachers and students are making better decisions about how iPads support student learning. Our philosophy to technology – and not the iPads themselves – are helping our students be better prepared for the 21st century of learning, earning, and living!
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Policy Points Highlights Funding Sources for Educator Professional Development
Despite shrinking education budgets, there are still opportunities to pursue funding for educator professional development. Check out the latest issue of Policy Points (PDF), which provides links to these resources.
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Leader Voices
Welcome University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter
ASCD is pleased to announce a new ASCD Student Chapter, started by ASCD emerging leader Eric Bernstein. Please join us in welcoming University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter to the ASCD community!
2013 ASCD emerging leader Melany Stowe was recently appointed director of communications and community outreach for Danville Public Schools in Virginia.
OYEA winner Bijal Damani is one of 250 educators chosen for the Microsoft Expert Educators Program. She is also a finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teacher of the Year award, and will be sharing her experiences at their global conference next month in Hong Kong.
Throughout November on www.wholechildeducation.org: Supporting Student Success and the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in each student’s success. How are we designing course content, choosing appropriate instructional strategies, developing learning activities, continuously gauging student understanding, adjusting instruction accordingly, and involving parents and families as partners to support our students’ success?
A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on supporting student success as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. Guests include Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in New York, author, and Education Week blogger; Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., author, and ASCD Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community facilitator; and Rich McKinney, an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tenn., and Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do? Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.
What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?
Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.
As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.
With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.
Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.
Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.
Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.
Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to get there.
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
The other day I told my principal I was pondering what to write about for my upcoming Leading & Learning blog post. He turned to me and said, "Well, you've been here a while now. Why don't you write about what makes you a successful leader here?" Great idea! He and I quickly brainstormed the key points below. This is dedicated to all the deans and assistant principals out there as I share what's been working for me.
Communication & Relationships
Communication with my principal, office staff, our specialists & family liaison, paras, teachers, students, and families is key. I've learned to differentiate the mode of communication (face to face, email, phone) based on the situation and individual(s) with whom I'm communicating.
Example: Adults, sometimes get stressed out around testing and I've learned part of that has to do with a concern about student progress reflecting on our work as educators. It can be a challenge to hold test scores up as a mirror to reflect the impact of our instruction! That's why, when we administered the STAR Test on computers for the first time this year, we was particularly conscious of our methods used to communicate updates. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were faced with a challenge the Friday afternoon before our week of testing. Thankfully, we'd been in face to face contact with teachers all week to provide clarification and support. So, when our team sent out the revised testing schedule for the upcoming week, my principal and I made ourselves available by being visible and we checked in with classroom teachers to answer questions. We were able to clarify & confirm updates on the spot. Our initial round of testing ended up running pretty smoothly and we continued face to face/email communication throughout the week.
Follow-Through & Support
One of the most important roles a leader plays is that of "support". People deserve to have leaders follow through with protocols, next steps, goals, values, etc.
Example: Last spring, our staff updated our Professional Code of Conduct (norms) and made a commitment to live out these professional agreements on a daily basis at work. One of the norms we created is: Go to the source. When colleagues comes to me with a wonder or question that is really for someone else (early childhood team, instructional coach, principal, etc.), I generally give a brief response based on my knowledge and encourage them to go to the source/leader/individual who is coordinating the work they wonder about to gain in depth clarification. I then follow-up with both the person to whom I sent them and the individual(s) asking the question. By doing this I am following-through on living our Professional Code of Conduct, while also following-through with support for teams and individuals to make sure questions are answered.
Questioning for Clarity
As a leader, I represent a lot of perspectives, teams, and initiatives. In order to fully understand, lead, and represent, different aspects of our school, I've developed a "seek to understand" mentality.
Example Questions: What is the goal? What do we hope to accomplish? What might success look like? How might we measure success? How does this make a difference for students? How might we know it made a difference for our students? How does it impact different stakeholders? How could we communicate with stakeholders? What supports might be needed? What existing supports do we have? How does this support other initiatives? How might we need to shift our allocation of resources (fiscal/human) to support this work?
I've learned to try and get enough sleep, eat healthy, participate in weekly joint immediate/in-law family dinners, volunteer within my community, walk my dog, & use online resources (ASCD free webinars, articles via Twitter, etc.) to develop as a professional. Surprisingly, maintaining Self Care is quite the challenge! It takes a conscious effort on a daily basis in terms of scheduling and communicating. I continually go back to Covey's work, however, around balance to help remind me of the importance Self Care has.
Example: Making sure my body gets the nutrients it needs (beyond a multiple vitamin), is essential. I schedule time on the weekends to go grocery shopping with my husband. Then, we come home and make lunches for the week. This weekend we bought frozen soup in bulk - just add water, boil for 40 mins., & you have a lot of soup that can be eaten and frozen! I look forward to feasting on tomato basil or cream of broccoli soup for lunch each day alongside crackers, cheese, & fruit. For breakfast, I buy disposable cups in which I put non-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola each morning. Sometimes I feel guilty about using disposable cups, but I know this keeps me on track with getting the nutrients my body needs. On that note, a friend of mine found washing her "to go" mugs from coffee each day became too much to keep up with so she bought paper disposable cups + lids. She now puts coffee from her Keurig in a low-cost disposable cup every morning. This reduces the urge to stop by a coffee stand and provides similar convenience.
Whenever I hear the word Grit I think of the John Wayne movie True Grit. I see John Wayne's character helping the young lady find the person who took her father. And nothing was going to stop him from achieving his goal. Thomas Hoerr takes this same point of view in his ASCD Arias book, Fostering Grit. As he points out learning is more than our core subjects that students need to succeed. Learning means developing Grit. This is the tenacity, perseverance, and willingness to take risks and learn from failure.
In this Arias, Hoerr lays out the 6 steps needed to teach students to have grit:
Establish The Environment
Teach The Vocabulary
Create The Frustration
Monitor The Experience
Reflect And Learn
Accompanying each of these steps are real-classroom examples of how to achieve this. For example in "Create The Frustration" Hoerr points out that when completing tasks it is easy for frustration to take over when we fear failure or don't have the correct knowledge set to complete the task. Hoerr offers suggestions to ease students into the frustration like focusing all effort for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 mins if success is had, keep going. If it isn't, step back and reflect on what different effort is needed.
Also included is a ready-to-go lesson plan that can be modified to be used in most every grade level to help students understand grit and how to use grit to their advantage.
I absolutely love the Arias because of their short yet fully covered subject matter. Fostering Grit does not disappoint. At 38 pages its a quick read but the takeaways are immediate and impactful. And while Hoerr focuses on fostering grit in students there is something here that could be used by teachers and administrators as well. It is definitely a multipurpose book.
You can check out Fostering Grit here. At $7 for the eBook I think the cost is well worth the learning. Definitely check it out!
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I will never forget why I teach.
I teach because I care.
I know there is always someone who needs my help, support, guidance, time, and love.
I give my best effort because I want society to reflect my efforts.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I began teaching because I enjoyed working with children and their parents. That will never change.
No one taught me about those who didn't want my help, but I learned. I help them anyway.
Whenever I hear students or their families being negative, I remind them of all the small steps it took them to get where they are. A lot of small steps no one sees equals the big steps people do.
When I teach my students to persevere, take risks, and hard work will pay off sometime, I cannot forget those lessons, either. Because, we know they're true.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am energized and nod my head enthusiastically when I hear the passion exude from my peers.
I feel excited when I hear, read, or see a good idea that I want to modify and use.
I love talking education, with anyone, at any time. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
I did something else for a living. I can't imagine making that mistake again.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I teach, I learn, I lead with all of my fellow educators. Every day. As hard as I can. Because we're all worth it.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “And where were the parents?” or “What’s going on with parents these days?” You may have even said this yourself a few times.
We may not always understand parents, but we never doubt that the majority of them want what’s best for their child. And even when parents are difficult, we know how important it is to maintain positive relationships with them.
Since challenging parents are never going to completely go away, we’d like to share a few tips—courtesy of educational leadership experts Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore—to help you better navigate these relationships.
Connecting with Parents: 5 Tips for Principals
Call parents—all of them
You’ve already hosted back-to-school night, but extending a personal invitation to any major school event is a great way to connect with parents.
Round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to back-to-school night. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.
Dare to give parents your number
At an event where you have a large audience of parents, encourage them to call you in both the office and at home if they need to. We agree, giving out your home phone number sounds a little unorthodox, perhaps even foolish, but here’s Whitaker and Fiore’s rationale:
This approach makes everyone in that auditorium feel that someone cares about them and their child. Years later parents would tell me that they always remembered that. The other benefit was that teachers began doing the same thing.
Irrational parents will always find a way to get your home phone number and will call you regardless. It may come as a surprise, but Whitaker and Fiore explain that they are consistently approached by parents who say, “I was going to call you at home. I know you said we could, but I figured you get so many calls that I decided that I did not want to ever bother you at night.”
Personal phone calls go a long way. Try randomly calling one or two families every week—or touch base with a parent who has expressed concern over a situation in the school a week or two later to ask how things are going.
Reaching out to the community
Education and educators take a consistent beating from the media. It’s discouraging, but one way you can help change this is by contacting local television, public radio and blogs with pieces of good news about your school. If they ignore you, be vigilant and see if you can find contacts through parents.
Use technology to connect more efficiently
Most schools have a monthly edition of the school newsletter. These usually include a column in which the principal shares his/her musings, updates and reminders. This is nice, but it lacks a personal touch for a variety of reasons:
As an alternative to the newsletter, try creating two or three minute podcasts, audio recordings that parents receive every Friday in their email box. These podcasts can be conversational: In addition to the usual updates and reminders you might find in a newsletter, feature short interviews with student athletes, coaches, thespian students and teachers. Once you’re done, simply embed the recording onto your Facebook page, website or school blog and email a link to the parents who have requested to receive notifications.
Roland S. Barth shared in his seminal book Learning by Heart (2001), that schools should possess an “ethos hospitable to the promotion of human learning.” As I have endeavored through massive leadership and learning changes, Barth’s words have become a truism for me. Whether navigating a curriculum change, supporting different forms of professional learning, or problem-solving a complex issue (or usually all of the aforementioned at the same time), I ask myself, “How is what we are doing promoting an ethos hospitable to learning?” Inevitably the responses to this question have led the way to culturally transformative levels of learning in our school. Given that instructional cultures grow best organically and synergistically, (and this has been the case for mine), I would simply add that when change is nurtured with innovation, support and feedback, the rate of growth is exponential, and the direction of growth flows in intended and unintended directions.
In our schoolhouse, we believe:
Barth eloquently describes what it takes to achieve this vision. “When we come to believe that our schools should be providing a culture that creates and sustains a community of student and adult learning—that this is the trellis of our profession—then we will organize our schools, classrooms, and learning experiences differently.” (Barth, R., The Culture Builder, Educational Leadership, May 2002.)
Organizing learning differently has been both an exciting and daunting challenge. In the era of sweeping reform, striving to make this vision come to life uniquely within a school requires the science and artistry of students, faculty, staff and parents alike, who must continually partner as an interdependent team. This type of work demands mutual support, collective expertise and shared accountability. (For example: How does being affixed to one curriculum benefit students? Am I ready to share my student’s formative data with my teaching peers?) It also demands adaptive thinking, rather than technical solutions. (For example: How does this master schedule promote flexible forms of learning?) In our school’s journey, confronting shared questions have proven weighty, but worthy. While many might say strong academic achievement has been the most visible and predictable success in our trellis climb, we believe our substantive growth has mainly emanated from our collective drive for seamless collaboration and embedded forms of professional learning. In fact, I would characterize our school as relentless about setting the conditions for academic and social-emotional success. Our sustained urgency on learning, along with our instructional and cultural momentum has fundamentally redesigned the way we teach and learn. What were once individually celebrated features of our school’s educational excellence, are now deliberately interconnected and vital components of our cultural instructional identity. In essence, we teach and learn within a coherent system of meaningful moving parts.
Professional Learning Communities
Our teams practice the data cycle (Reeves, D.) within the professional learning community model (DuFour, R.). In addition to three dedicated common planning times for each team each week, our teachers also collaborate in numerous informal, horizontal and vertical ways throughout each school day. We reflect, design, instruct, assess and monitor as teams. No one teaches or works in isolation. We strive to meet and exceed commonly established goals, and our data is transparent and accessible at all times.
Response to Intervention Methods
Our faculty has studied Response to Intervention (RtI) through the work of Mike Mattos. Our Superintendent’s leadership has also helped us fully commit to giving students what they need, when they need it. We employ universal screening, core district curriculum, and progress monitoring procedures. Customized interventions and supports are architected into personal learning plans, which are designed and delivered by our expert teachers. These academic and social-emotional learning plans are monitored and refined by data teams in instructional cycles throughout the year.
Our district is deeply committed to embedded forms of professional learning. At the elementary level, we employ the workshop model of instruction, chiefly studying the work of Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project. We benefit from three literacy specialists and one mathematics specialist on our staff, who actively coach each of our teachers and teams. Our school employs a literacy and mathematics laboratory model (conducting peer observations with a coach, engaging in lesson voice overs, leading parts of a lesson, and dissecting model lessons), shared classroom walkthroughs, opportunities to look at student work, and the unconference model. Each of these forms of adult learning expands our craft knowledge and grows our shared expertise.
Leadership For All
Our school rests upon our extraordinary teachers and staff, each of whom is a leader in his/her own right. Teachers are trusted to make important decisions about learning. While we have formal teams such as a school leadership team, a child study team and a positive behavior support team, our teachers actively lead the wealth of the instructional design, intervention plans, and assessment work. Teachers also design and lead professional learning opportunities that seed the school with innovation; modeling their own risk-taking and inspiring adaptive thinking among staff.
As Barth has eloquently pointed out in Learning By Heart (2001):
“It has been said that running a school is about putting first things first; leadership is determining what are the first things; and management is about putting them first. I would like to suggest that the ‘first thing’, the most important feature of the job description for each of us as educators, is to discover and provide the considerations under which people’s learning curves go off the chart. Sometimes it’s other people’s learning curves; those of students, teachers, parents, administrators. But at all times it is our own learning curve.” (Barth, R. Learning By Heart, 2001, p. 11).
I would be remiss if I did not comment on my own learning curve amidst this type of learning environment, where change is the norm, and as Barth points out, “learning curves go off the chart.” My experience is that one cannot be immersed in this type of work - day in and day out - without realizing the profound personal and professional effect it has on your own practice. The way I think, the way I listen, the way I reflect, the way I contribute and the way I solve has everything to do with what I have learned from my colleagues. Their work teaches me everyday. Courageously, they have helped me reach upward and outward for a truly ambitious vision, and equally have the support to lean into what can be possible for every learner. Barth reminds me time and time again, that the ethos of learning is within and among us every single day. Even in the face of tremendous change, it is our calling to climb the professional trellis uniquely and continually, in order to benefit every student and adult in the schoolhouse, including ourselves.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Estabrook School, Lexington, MA
In an economy and a society flooded up with answers,
it will be questions that will set us apart.
Only questions solve.
We have the solutions.
We need the questions.
Only questions solve.
Only questions solve.
When I think of Professional Development for teachers in the traditional sense, I am more and more convinced that being connected as an educator is more effective in accomplishing the goal of professionally developing. The biggest roadblock to teachers connecting may very well be the way teachers have been programmed throughout their entire education and career.
Any course, or workshop that a teacher has ever wanted to take for academics, or for professional development was either controlled, or in some way approved by someone in authority. Some districts put this on the responsibility list of an Assistant Superintendent, or that of a Personnel Director. The determining factor for acceptance of any teacher’s PD would be: does the course, or workshop comply with the specific subject that the teacher teaches? Some districts require that teachers stipulate how the specifics of the course will impact the subject that he or she teaches. Once the course is completed, usually some proof of seat time in the form of a certificate must be provided before permission for acceptance can be granted.
This traditional method of Professional Development has gone on in this fashion, or something close to it for decades. The question is: Does it work? Of course nothing works 100 percent of the time. I would venture to say however, that if we base our answer on an observation of the dissatisfaction with our education system, and the grass roots movement of tens of thousands of educators in search of something more in the way of PD, our current method may be failing us miserably, or at the very best, falling a bit short of the mark. Either way, PD in its current form is not making the grade.
Someone other than the learner directs the learning in this model, because it was designed around control, compliance, and permission. It would be a big plus if the needs of the learner aligned with the needs of the director, and I imagine that sometimes it does. However, that would probably be more coincidental than a planned outcome. The methodology of a majority of this PD is pretty much “sit and get” or direct instruction. Of course some teachers of the PD might use other methodology, but “sit and get” is pretty much the staple of most PD.
With the era of the Internet, came the idea of very easy-to-do self-exploration of topics. Educators could look stuff up on their own from home, or school. The idea of self-directing leaning suddenly became much easier, and I might add, a whole lot cheaper. The problem for districts however was that there was no way to control it, or to regulate it, or even give, or withhold permission to do it.
The entire self-directed learning thing was further complicated with the advent of Social Media. SM was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators, and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.
There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore, and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.
Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for Professional Development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed, but additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?
In regard to professional Development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.
The term “connected educator” may be a term that scares people. This was mentioned at a recent education conference. If that is the case, why not use the term “collaborative learner”. Learning through collaboration has been done from the beginning of education. The tools to do it however have dramatically changed and improved, enabling collaboration to take place anytime, anywhere, and with any number of people. It is done transparently, recorded, and archived. Never before in history has collaboration occurred this way. As educators, we would be more than foolish to ignore this potential. As learners we would also be remiss to ignore the personal opportunity to expand and advance.
As educators we recognize the importance of reflection and critical thinking. We need to employ those skills to examine where we are, and what we are doing with the things that we rely on as educators. We need our professional development to be useful and relevant in order to ensure that we, as educators, remain useful and relevant. We can’t have a relevant system of education without relevant, literate educators.