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Student feedback can be heavy. I know that it can be an invaluable tool in improving instruction, but collecting, interpreting, and using the feedback can be grueling nonetheless. First, it is scary to be judged (especially by learners that may harbor grudges from you upholding the policy on "no late work" or even from the younger, hormonal teens that are driven by their emotions). Second, student opinion becomes a part of your official teaching record/standing when the student evaluations are submitted to the school administration. Finally, it is difficult to know how to interpret the overall meaning of the evaluations (void of your emotions) and then PRODUCTIVELY use the data to inform your teaching.
In hopes of making the student feedback process more bearable this semester, I decided to focus on specific ways to use the feedback. Typically as teachers, we invest a huge amount of time in collecting student opinions. for example, english teachers may focus on the thoughts/actions of literature characters. Similarly, science teacher may focus on getting students to share their view of a particular theory. As teachers, we really need to dedicate just as much time (if not more) to exploring student feedback. Below are 5 ways that may help in critically examining student feedback:
1. Table the Issue
I love the organizational properties that tables provide for data. When examining student feedback, try to create tables to house the information. You can use an "Affect vs. Action" table that will show your emotions toward particular student feedback and how you will respond to that comment. For example recently on a feedback sheet, a student wrote that it seemed like I jumped from one idea in the text book to another. In the "Affect vs. Action" table I would write that "I felt that I did move quickly from one concept to another, but in the future, I would provide an outline for the notes in addition to the basic daily agenda in hopes of guiding the student better."
Another option would be creating a table of the themes that become evident from the feedback. When you review the feedback, what patterns seem to emerge or jump out at you? If you find multiple comments about curriculum organization, practice time, or assessment, then these ideas should be highlighted in your table.
2. Identify the Circle of Control
Do you remember the movie "Meet the Fockers" and how Deniro kicked his future son-in law Ben Stiller out of his 'friend circle'? The idea is that there are things that we as teachers control and there are things that are beyond our control. In that movie, Deniro had the ability to be friends (or become an enemy) to his son in law. As teachers we have a great deal of power. We can choose particular aspects of our curriculum (dependent of course on our district), but we have to acknowledge that we can not control everything in our classroom. For instance, on a recent feedback form, one student reported the expense of the textbook as a barrier to learning (university text books can be 100 dollars or more typically). I can not control the price of the text (that is required through the university), thus this was a factor that was beyond my control.
3. Highlight Student Voice
More than likely, your evaluations will include both positive and not-so-positive feedback. Embrace both. In the past I have saved student comments and displayed them at home for quick reference. Of course, I enlarge and use flashing lights to frame the postive comments (just kidding), but the point is, that I continually revisit the student's words in order to stay focued on growing as an instructor.
Another option is to use the student's comments during parent conferences to provide feedback about your current teaching style. You can format the feedback in a table or even compile a series of comments and create testimonials regarding how students feel about your instructional methods.
4. Explore Alternate Explanations
No evaluation process is perfect. Even though we try our best to collect valid and reliable data, sometimes extraneous variables get in the way (review number 2 on this list). If you obtain negative comments about your teaching, the odds are that factors outside of your teaching ability/effort are involved. For instance variables such as the frequency of data collection, the student response rate, and social desirability (or the need to rebel) contributed to the feedback that your students provided).
5. Stay in the Know
For years we have heard about the research to practice gap in education. Don't fall into this gap. Stay abreast of the research and information regarding student feedback. The New Directions for Teaching & Learning Journal is a great resource for information on collecting and using student feedback (This journal's volume 2001 issue 87 is dedicated to student feedback).
There are websites that offer pdf's and other resources to help teachers make sense of student feedback. The Teaching Channel website (www.teachingchannel.org) includes a video "Improving Practice: Learning From My Students". In addition, The Center for Teaching & Learning offers a document titled "Interpreting and Working with your Course Evaluations" (www.ctl.stanford.edu).
Yes, student feedback can cause anxiety, but it does not have to. Try the strategies listed above and let me know how they work (if they work for you). I would love to know how you survive student evaluations at your school. Please leave any teacher eval survivor tips in the comment section below.
*Please note that this is the final post in the 3 part series on student perception.
When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.
The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.
We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.
Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.
That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.
Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master? Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?
A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.
Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.
It seems like over the past several years, general search engines like Google and Bing have gotten less capable of delivering results free of spam or junk, or complete commercialism. After all those search engines use machine learning and evaluation far more than human judgment to determine what gets shown for a specific search term.
So, I was thinking. Would a "search engine" that incorporated more human judgment be better? In fact, would a search engine that included ONLY hand picked, but only the best sources to search work better?
More specifically, would it work better for say, a teacher searching for some free lesson plans, or learning activities to search only sites that have been vetted by a human. Since the technology for building something like that exists, I decided to give it a shot.
The Teacher's Search Engine just kicked off yesterday, but the premise is simple. Cut down on the number of sites to be searched, and include only the really good ones. And, introduce human judgment to eliminate the spam sites, sites that bait and switch, or are simply there to display ads.
I'm just testing out this little project to see whether it's worth pursuing, but I'm liking things so far. And, the best way to get a feel for it is to try it.
You can access it at http://parents-teachers.com/search/ and comments are welcome. Is it helpful?
I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.
Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.
Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:
I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.
This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.
The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.
Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.
Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them most every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #11)
“A time of peace.”
The more I explore a topic and subject it to the mental scrutiny of reflection, the more I come to understand the iceberg that it truly is. The term “peace” has captured me in recent days. Like many others, I have seen and/or heard the word “peace” almost everywhere I go. “Peace” is personalized in the most heartfelt moments and commercialized by the season. This week, after the loss of one of our students, I found myself using the word in my silent prayer for the family. Almost immediately, I was paralyzed by the reality of how hard peace is to come by and what a gift it truly is. Peace: freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.
In the complexity of investigating and defining a topic like peace, one comes to understand that peace is not only the daily interactions with others but also one’s interactions with self. The absence from disturbance of emotional and physical pain and suffering is extremely difficult to come by. The freedom that silence and tranquility bring to the human spirit may be the greatest gift. In life it is impossible to eschew disturbance completely. Our culture is in a constant state of “becoming”, it is not finished and this change will often cause a disturbance for some. However, my personal optimism rests on my belief in the individuals’ infinite possibility to develop peace within in themselves. You see, I have come to realize, peace cannot be bought, sold, or even an appeal to the brain. Rather it must be cultivated by the heart. In our daily work, for our students, for our society, we must relentlessly seek to find other caring individuals that understand our work. We must teach them that it is not only our job to cultivate learning but also cultivate peace, a quiet and tranquil heart among those we serve. In a time when gifts are exchanged to show our appreciation for each other, may peace be with you, those who you live for, and those who you serve by and with.
Finally from The Dalai Lama,
May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy.
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.
May the frightened cease to be afraid,
And those bound be free.
May the weak find power,
And may their hearts join in friendship.
What is the narrative of his life?
Why is he so famous?
What was happening in SA during his lifetime that made him and his South African countrymen so angry?
After so many of his countrymen in SA were tortured or murdered, and after he spent 27 years of his life in prison, how did he “keep his hatred in check” and work out a negotiation with white South Africans?
What was Mandela’s moral vision? Why is it so important today?
When he came to power, Mandela supported the South African rugby team. Why was that such an important symbol for South Africa? What was its meaning?
Why is it so important that Mandela only served for one term as president of South Africa? What example did this set for South Africa and all of Africa?
What can we learn about compassion and forgiveness from Mandela?
Do you agree with his views about compassion and forgiveness?
How did he and others put these views into practice?
What was Mandela’s message about “hope” and “change”? Why was it so important?
What lessons can he teach us in today’s America? What personal lessons can you learn from his life?
In fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. K. She was a no-nonsense kind of lady, but like any master teacher, she was able to maintain a perfect equilibrium of toughness and tenderness. She demanded excellence, but she also knew when it was time to pull back and nurture. That’s a rare and special talent.
Two decades later, I can still remember things Mrs. K said, or the way that she could effortlessly transition between teaching long division and improvising songs on the piano—songs, I might add, that included the vocabulary and spelling words we were studying.
I wager that most of us have warm feelings about at least one teacher. We may not have seen this teacher in decades, but the impression made by him or her never quite leaves us. Excellent teachers come in all forms, but I’d like to share five things about my teacher that not only inspired me as a student, but turned me into an aspiring educator.
5 Lessons I Learned From a Master Teacher
She demanded excellence
Mrs. K knew how to have fun, but that never stood in the way of her demand for excellence in both our conduct and work. Anything less than the best and most urbane was not tolerated. We learned this quickly and rose to the occasion—and she did too.
She knew that there was a time for play
The first time Mrs. K joined our recess kickball game—ankle-length dress and all—surprised all of us. At our school, the teachers rotated recess duty: two would supervise while the others ate lunch in the cafeteria or prepped for the rest of their classes. On several occasions, Mrs. K gave up her prep time so that she could join in on whatever game her students were playing. When this happened, large groups of students would migrate to the baseball field to watch. Like us, they were impressed by this playful side of Mrs. K. I’m sure they also found it odd that the same woman who scolded them for dawdling, or marched them to the gym with the precision of an army sergeant, actually owned tennis shoes and knew how to thrown down on the kick ball court.
Joining in on our games showed us that our teacher could cut loose, laugh at herself, and that she genuinely liked spending time with us.
She found a way to incorporate her talents into the curriculum
Mrs. K wasn’t a virtuoso on the piano, but that never stopped her from playing “Happy Birthday” or banging out an improvised song that included creative ways to spell vocabulary words. Not only were these sing-alongs fun, they taught us something.
The lesson I took from this: Use your talents creatively, share them with students, and find a way to bring them into the classroom. This will keep things engaging for both you and the students.
She was forgiving
I’ve never given them a lie detector test, but I know a couple teachers who claim they never cheated in school. I happen to be one that did and, as you might have guessed, Mrs. K was the teacher who caught me. The details of the incident probably aren’t that important, but Mrs. K was no pushover; she knew there was no way I could have calculated the math problems she assigned our group in my head.
Once the rest of the class left for recess, Mrs. K called me up to her desk, handed me my paper and said, “You have the right answers, but I don’t see any work. Where is it?” Before I could answer, she added, “I just want you to be honest with me about this assignment.” I fessed up and to my surprise, she smiled, held out her hand, shook mine and said, “I admire your honesty.”
I didn’t receive a detention and I didn’t fail the assignment. Instead, she allowed me to redo the assignment for homework.
What did I learn from this? When I eventually had my own students, my classroom was not exempt from cheating. After weeks of going over plagiarism and proper citation, I would always find that two or three students had copied large sections of articles they found on Google and pasted them into their own papers. I felt betrayed, insulted and frustrated with these students. I may not have always handled these situations as gracefully as Mrs. K did—but I always strove to.
She made a big deal out of greeting us
What I always appreciated about Mrs. K was the way she greeted us every morning. As we would come into the class, she would stand outside the door, smile and greet us by name. This showed the class not only that she was pleased to see us, but that she was ready and eager to explore a day of learning with us. It was a simple, but important gesture that still sticks with me.
Dear Colleagues and Bloggers,
Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
I remember all the times that I have asked my children for their opinion. I have asked, "How do I look?" before a trip to the movies. After spending hours in the kitchen, I have also asked "How was the home made soup?" To no surprise, I was not thrilled with their feedback (my daughter typically begs me to change my outfit immediately. As for the soup, I interpret their addition of much salt to represent the need for more flavor).
I didn't go through many changes, or much preparation before asking for my children's opinion, but I tend to think that for the classroom, asking our students for feedback should require a system or at least a plan. We understand the value of student feedbakc, but now, lets focus on how we can begin the process. Because I am a believer in the learning potential within mistakes, I will identify considerations to avoid when pursuing student perception.
1. Don't Reinvent the Wheel.
There is research available to show you the different ways to gather student opinion. There is no need to start from scratch and develop your own system. There are online surveys (survey monkey) or online polls that you can use to measure student perception of a lesson (polleverywhere.com). In addition, there are ways to get more personal feedback with the use of group conferences or individual conferences. You can indirectly obtain feedback through the use of a classroom profile by examining trends in your classroom such as attendance, submissions of late work, extra credit, and the frequency of visits to your classroom blog. Keeley (2012) in a pulication called Science and Children illustrates a great example of creating a classroom profile as a means of collecting information about your students.
2. Dont Overlook the element of Time.
Typically teacher evaluations are completed at the end of a year, but think about the drawbacks to this approach. If you approach your students early and often, there is a greater likelihood of utilizing the data to inform your teaching practices sooner and more frequently. There is a great article in the New York Times (Lewin, 2012) that discusses how professors that wish to go the extra mile collect feedback weekly.
3. Dont Be Vague.
Try to be very specific when aksing for feedback. Instead of asking what the students "like" or "dislike", require the students to share what they found particularly "useful" or what may have created "barriers" to their academic success.
4. Don't Sit on the Sidelines.
Even though you wish to focus on student feedback, allow the students to ask you questions as well. This is an opportunity to share your thought process on how you developed your curriculum map. Also, based on the questions that your students ask, you can learn what elements of the class they desire to have a voice or a role in the decision-making process.
5. Dont Personalize the Information.
It is likely that the student evaluations will yield some negative comments. That is fine. Remember that the focus of the eval is your teaching practice, not you as an individual. The goal is to learn specific things about your teaching that you may improve upon in the future. So, yes, it hurts my feelings when my daughter slams my outfit, but at the same time, I am able to learn a little about fashion (and hopefull learn to later present myself as a fashionista later) due to her feedback.
*Please note that the first post in this series is titled "There's no Crying in Baseball". For the final follow up post, I will outline important things that teachers should do after collecting the student feedback.
Grades hurt your children, and I never want to grade them again. Grades are harmful in every imaginable way, and they are inhibiting your child's learning. You may not realize this, because you have only encountered one education system, and it has always been built on measuring success with numbers, percentages and letters.
What the many educators and researchers suggest is that students are conditioned to believe that numbers and letters are the sole indicator of success. When handing out assignments, teachers constantly hear, "What's this worth?" Furthermore, in virtually all cases, these one-size-fits-all measurements are subjective, because the teacher creates the activities and the tests. Where one teacher might score your child's work an A, another teacher might score the same work a C. So, you see, this arbitrary letter says nothing about learning.
Worst of all, though, is that instead of learning for learning's sake, students strive to get a particular grade -- typically the one their parents' want. If you demand A's, they will likely do whatever it takes to get A's. If you're satisfied with C's, they will decrease their effort.
What this system breeds is children who learn to manipulate a system in order to earn a number or a letter, when what we should have is independent learners, eager to acquire knowledge and to become critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Do we really want to measure these important qualities?
The beauty of this question is that the answer is so simple. Teachers and students must evaluate learning together, using an ongoing dialogue. Teachers must provide both written and verbal narrative feedback about what students have accomplished and what may still need to be learned. This dialogue, accompanied by follow-up activities and further study can lead to mastery learning.
Until school administrators nationwide realize that any sort of grading is inherently problematic, final report card grades should be decided by both the teacher and the student, in a conversation about what was learned in a marking period. If coached properly, students will understand that self-evaluation is one of life's most important skills. In the end, your child's opinion of her work is more important than anyone else's.
So, please support me in changing how we evaluate learning. I want to eliminate grades, as much as our system will allow. I will provide ongoing narrative feedback for your children and for you. Most important, I promise, my students, your children will become amazing independent learners, who never again ask, "What's this assignment worth?"
To learn more about feedback over grades, check out Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
ASCD is venturing into a new market through their arias publications. These books are designed for the busy professional that can be read in less than an hour, but can provide resources for improvement well beyond the time spent reading. Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? by Bill Sterrett was a great read! It took me about 38 minutes to read it. I found myself hooked from the beginning.
Short on Time will help you with the following:
- Help you take action and realize change in school and professional life
- Gain insights into specific steps that you can apply to your situation
- These action steps involve teaching, innovating, and leading which will require planning, action, and reflection
Sterrett developed a 4 point acronym DISC (District, Instruction, School, Community) to help educational leaders manage their professional schedule. Each of these areas require the educational leader to determine their own allocation of time, but all are important. According to Sterrett, all of the DISC activities should be placed in your master schedule, which should be accessible to key stakeholders.
In addition to providing tips and resources for the educational leader’s own time, Sterrett spends a considerable time discussing the importance of maximizing instructional time for students and teachers. He suggests leaders develop a collaborative scheduling team to examine the master schedule to maximize time for collaboration, reflection, outdoor learning, and time for the whole child.
Sterrett posits that teachers should be provided time for their personalized and school-based learning. In order to use time effectively, leaders should provide time for teachers to improve instruction through meaningful faculty meetings, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), peer observations, and collaboration.
Understanding that we are all “short on time,” Bill Sterrett provides an amazing resource in this arias book for educators to maximize their time on what matters most. Once you read this book, you will see that becoming organized, communicating effectively, and prioritizing your day is not as hard as you might imagine. Although the book is titled “Short on Time” it is long on resources!
Unfortunately, some of my undergraduate classes are not very diverse. Maybe out of 20-25 students in an introduction education/psychology class, only a handful are black. Recently in class, durinng the time dedicated to independent practice, one of my female black students wore ipod earbuds. This really got to me. Correction. It truly bothered me. Here, I had a student that had been presented with similar experiences as myself (we were both minorities), and yet she refused to engage in the lesson/practice that I created for her. I felt betrayed. I couldn't help but think about the root of her behavior:
Was she bored with the material or the classroom routine?
Was she testing her boundaries with me, the classroom, the university?
Was she unaware of proper classroom etiquette (afterall, she was a freshman)?
Was she going through something personally and needed music to help cope/block out everything around her?
I believed that the cause may stem from something deeper. Something more personal in nature. Was it me? I began to wonder just how I may have contributed to the student's behavior:
Did my thick afro-like loosely curled hair suggest that the classroom environment would be mor lax (and thus suitable for listening to ipod music during class)?
Did my wooden ethnic inspired earrings suggest that my lesson (or me as the instructor) was somehow less relevant (to the mainstream) or should be taken less seriously?
Did my conversational lecture, embedded with slang (some may say Ebonics) suggest that I was less educated than other leaders in academia and thus warranted less attention?
In short, I wondered was my young black student unprepared, uncertain, or even unwilling to receive a leader in the likeness of her own image? Further, I wondered how might I work to move my student and myself through this academic barrier? Finally, I needed to consider the "teachable moments" within this experience that would benefit other educators in the future.
In closing, I had reservations about sharing my private thoughts/experiences. I find that often race is one of those topics (like money, politics, and religion) that people shy away from talking about openly. I found inspiration to share my experience from a quote based on a radio speech by Gerritt Bolkestein that motivated the infamous Anne Frank to share her diary:
"History can not be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents--a diary... Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
There are several reasons principals should regularly conduct classroom walkthroughs.
Keep in mind that classroom walkthroughs do not need to be long, invasive or formal for them to be meaningful. If you simplify the observation process and stick to the five steps outlined in Countdown to the Principalship, your observation should really only take about three minutes.
The 3-Minute Classroom Walkthrough in 5 Steps
Observe student engagement
It only takes a split second to observe whether or not students are engaged in their work. Are they listening, writing, interacting with the teacher or other students, or working alone?
Observe the lesson and learning objectives
Assessing what is being taught and determining whether or not the objective of the lesson is aligned with curriculum and ethical standards is where you should spend most of the next couple of minutes.
Observe teachers’ instructional strategies
Now that you understand the curricular focus, you are ready to look at the teacher’s instructional strategies. Is s/he using Socratic questioning or giving feedback? Are students working alone or in groups, are they taking notes, problem solving, etc.?
Always complete the first three steps and do your best to withhold judgment; you are simply gathering data and looking for patterns in classroom instruction.
If time permits, conclude your walkthrough with the following two steps:
Does the lesson connect?
During this step, you should be looking to see if you can make any connections between this lesson and previous learning objectives. Ideally, every lesson should build upon the preceding lesson.
Observe safety and health Issues
Are there any noticeable safety or health issues that need to be addressed?
If you decide to make brief classroom walkthroughs a regular part of your routine, you’ll want to inform your staff first. Here are five things you might mention to your teachers:
As we continue to fight to keep the Arts in education, it is time to realize that the real fight is keeping the Art in education. When I first started teaching many years ago, teaching was primarily seen as an art – an innate ability to use creative skill and imagination to communicate and build relationships that facilitate learning. The curriculum guide was a small grey book covering all subjects. Now, teaching is seen primarily as a science. Attention is paid to specific teaching techniques, core curriculum, testing and narrowly focused results. Data is collected, analyzed and used more for accountability than to personalize student programs.
We need to create a balance of art and science as we nurture the students in our care. Granted, research over the past few decades has provided us with evidence of how the brain functions, how students learn in different ways and that they have multiple intelligences. This valuable information has only found its way into the education debate in limited instances. The focus has been more on defining what students need to know, how they should be taught, and measuring results. This is much easier and more scientific than using brain functioning, learning styles and multiple intelligences to empower teachers to personalize education and create safe and caring learning environments.
The science of teaching helps us to understand concepts such as that the brain remembers information when it is relevant and evokes an emotional response, that we have a basic human need for safety, and that living in poverty has a definite impact on a child’s ability to maximize his potential. Science creates the structure underlying the art of teaching.
It takes artists to see the big picture, think creatively and critically, and begin to shape the future of education. Artists celebrate human individuality. The Art of teaching requires that we:
2. Know our students as individuals.
3. Empower students to be the best they can be.
4. Understand that students must first feel safe and secure if they are to take the risks necessary for them to become the person they want to be.
5. Focus on creating positive, supportive school cultures.
6. Engage students in their learning at the deepest level possible by creating an emotional response.
7. Ensure that curriculum is personalized and meaningful.
8. Focus on building connections and relationships.
9. See the big picture by dealing with the whole child.
10.Seek the complexities and depth in the big picture.
Although this Blog may evoke a response of , “Yeah but we’re accountable for raising test scores through processes and programs that come from above…”, I hope you will let your inner artist shine through and see what you need to do as a teacher and as a leader. It is only when we find the balance between the Art and Science of education that we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of our students.
Note: This blogpost initially appeared in SmartBlog on Education on November 25, 2013.
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.