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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
As an aspiring educator, I knew exactly what kind of teacher I would be: I would facilitate dynamic discussions; the students would not only read all of the assigned texts, they would devour them. Sure, teaching would be work, but I mostly saw myself as a facilitator—someone who would ask all the right questions and look on as my students marched towards intellectual victory.
You can probably see where this is going. Once I was handed the keys to the classroom, I was surprised when things didn’t magically fall into place like they were supposed to. (Does this sound familiar?)
It wasn’t that things were disastrous, but they just weren’t the way I imagined. Why weren’t students talking? Why weren’t they as excited as I was about what we were reading? Why weren’t they making connections and thinking critically about what they read?
It wasn’t until later that I discovered that I (not the students) was the reason our discussions fell flat. To spark discussions and critical inquiry, I asked my students a lot of questions. Questions are good, but most of the questions I asked students were what we would call nonessential questions.
To give you a clearer sense of what I mean by essential and nonessential questions consider the following examples from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ book, Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.
Essential question: “How do the arts shape, as well as reflect, culture?
Nonessential question: “What common artistic symbols were used by the Incas and the Mayans?”
Essential question: “Is there ever a ‘just’ war?
Nonessential question: What key event sparked World War I?”
Essential question: “What does it mean to be a ‘true’ friend?”
Nonessential question: “Who is Maggie’s best friend in the story?”
As you may have noticed, unlike nonessential questions, essential ones are timeless. Some can even be grappled with indefinitely; they are neither immediately apparent nor can they be answered with a fact or a simple yes or no response. Essential questions force us to interrogate our presuppositions, dig in, explain, defend, question and—hopefully—grow.
If you still sketchy on the difference between essential and nonessential questions, here are seven of McTighe and Wiggins’ defining characteristics of a good essential question.
A good essential question:
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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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.
I taught English for 16 years. I love English. I love English teachers. I don't want to upset anyone. I do occasionally challenge current practices and try to get people to rethink old habits. I'll give you a quiz that I hope prompts more questioning.
Question One: Name one non-English teacher adult you know who reads Shakespeare, undisputedly the world’s greatest author, for enjoyment.
Now let’s talk about some imaginary people. We’ll name one Skippy and one Muffin. Skippy never had one class about Shakespeare in school. Never heard of the guy. Muffin had several classes in high school that required reading Shakespeare. She read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. She was taught about iambic pentameter.
Question Two: After schooling ends, will Skippy be less successful in life professionally and socially than Muffin? A) No; B) Well, in my life Shakespeare has never come up so no; C) Just cuz it never comes up doesn’t mean you aren’t a better person by knowing about him.
Question Three: How often will Skippy’s lack of knowledge about Shakespeare negatively affect his life? A) Never; B) Almost never; C) I teach English so I have to believe that there is a third choice. There has to be!
Add a new detail: Skippy is given instruction during his school years that helps him develop oral communication skills. He becomes confident and impressive as a speaker whether one-to-one, in small groups, in large groups, in person, and digitally (webinars, video conferences, podcasts, and videos). Muffin receives none of that instruction but remembers that Macbeth includes something about witches and Hamlet has something about “Alas poor Yorick”—about all that anyone remembers about those plays two years after high school.
Question Four: After schooling ends, what are the odds that Muffin would trade her Shakespeare knowledge for Skippy’s abilities with oral language? A) 100% chance; B) 99% chance? C) But ya gotta know Shakespeare! Ya just gotta!!
We are not dealing with an either/or proposition here: you don’t have to teach either Shakespeare or oral communication. But in reality, we do make choices and there are things we Don't Have Time to Teach, therefore...
Question Five: If you had to make a choice for your child, which would you choose, developing his/her speaking skills or developing his/her Shakespeare skills?
I mention this because I am attending the NCTE national conference in Boston. For decades now, NCTE has failed to recognize the importance of speaking well and the value of effective verbal communication. This year, I counted 16 sessions about Shakespeare and one about speaking (it was combined with listening and debate). Is teaching about Shakespeare 16 times as important as developing effective speakers? (Sessions about poetry outnumbered speaking 15 to one. As adults, do we write poems 15 times as often as we speak?) If all students were obviously competent communicators; if all students were comfortable in front of the class; if all reader’s theater presentations were powerful and engaging; if all student poetry recitations were terrific; if all book reports were riveting and wonderful; if all biography presentations were enthralling and appealing; if Socratic circles were full of well spoken comments; I could understand the oversight. But that isn’t the case, is it? And in a world full of digital tools that display oral communication skills, becoming well spoken is more critical than ever before. Students will become better speakers only with direct instruction. Teachers will not be able to give that instruction without help. That help is not given at any teacher preparation program or district workshop or organization conference—sadly, even a conference about the English language, a language spoken far more than written. Maybe next year? www.pvlegs.com
We love our job, but that doesn’t mean that teaching is easy. There will be bad days and classes that don’t go the way we planned them—there may even be days when things go so wrong that we question whether or not we are in the right profession.
We want to remind you that you are not alone.
To help you put things into perspective, we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share words of encouragement and their best pieces of advice for recovering from a disastrous day.
15 More Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
“Tomorrow is another day. I remember that even the best rock star teachers have disastrous classes, disastrous days, and even disastrous weeks and semesters! I know that I'll examine the class to figure out what went wrong and take steps to remedy the situation, whatever it was.”
“I remind myself why I'm doing this in the first place and that there are going to be bad days...they are part of life. AND prayer...definitely.”
“Take a deep breath.......realize that those students are gone (and you won't have to deal with them the rest of the day!), that a new set is coming in and they need you to be at your best.
“Quickly do a run through in your head and see if you need to make any adjustments to your presentation/teaching so that the next class won't go down the same rotten path. And keep in mind that they are just kids; we don't know what kind of home life they are coming from. We have to be adult and the bigger person.”
“I keep letters from former students that were given to me in years past. When I have one of those days, I will read some of the letters and remind myself that what I'm doing does matter and is touching lives.”
“You will have good days, great days, and bad days. Remember, you are there for the students, to teach them not only academics, but how to be good people. The students that are the worst need your help, love, and kindness the most. Don't take it personal.”
“I think back to some of the positive things parents and students have told me that helps reassure me I am doing the right thing. This allows me to refocus, step back up to the line and get ready for the next period.”
“A prayer for patience—and remember that tomorrow is a new start for both you and the students.”
“I find positive things that happened in the same class period. I call home about these positive tidbits. It goes a long way with the students that actually do what they are supposed to and helps me realize my small victories. I always feel tons better after bragging on students.”
“Do your best, put your heart into it, but don't take it personally when the kids let you down. You won't actually reach all of them, but work like you can.
“Do not take it personally. Reflect on how you can change the lesson or dynamics so that the students will learn. Remember, it is not about you, it is about the students' learning. Chocolate helps too, though. J”
“I try to figure out what went wrong and why, and then take action so the same thing won't go wrong the same way. And in the meantime, a deep breath and laughing with other teachers helps.”
“It is so easy to focus on the disaster and forget about the good things. Remember that you teach students, not a subject. Don't tear yourself up. We are all human. Laugh it off. Reflect, and move on. Think of it as a memorable experience and embrace the next adventure. It can only get better.”
“They need you! Just keep plugging!”
- Mrs. Oliver
“I am honest with myself and the students. Today for example, class went horrific. They were talking too much, not grasping the material, and not 100 percent focused (mainly because I have them before and after lunch). So I stopped class and told them to put their notes away. I told them that we will try again tomorrow because the cold weather has frozen our brains. We reviewed another topic and they did another activity.
I try not to force it when class is going downhill. Chances are I will have to reteach the topic again tomorrow anyway because of how the class went. So instead of everyone being frustrated or me rolling my frustration to the next class, I change up the lesson.”
Many of us have a clear sense of what we want to be—or more specifically, what we want to do for a living—from the moment we pop out of the womb. Whether or not it’s true, I know plenty of teachers who claim they knew they were going be educators while they were still walking around in diapers. Others of us, this writer included, didn’t find our niche or career path until well into adulthood.
While we do believe that kids should be kids, we would also argue that we have a responsibility to guide our students, help them hone their talents and move towards a fulfilling future. To help your students begin assessing their passions and career interests, we’d like to share three of our favorite resources with you.
3 Sites to Help Students Move from Classroom to Career
icould probably articulates its mission better than I can: “icould is about inspiration, encouragement and discovery. The idea is to help you make the most of your potential and talent by showing how others have used theirs.”
To pique your students’ interest, icould has compiled an impressive collection of video interviews with working professionals—anyone from laboratory technicians, engineers and speech therapists to music video directors, lighting cameramen and stewards.
Teachers will also find articles, classroom resources and a database of career-related articles on the site.
Unlike other career tests, Your Free Career Test is short (52 questions) and isn’t based on psychological theories. It simply asks students questions that relate to career categories; then it uses an algorithm to match their responses to careers. Upon completion, your students will receive an assessment that assigns them to a career category, recommends courses and offers a bulleted list of example careers.
In addition to interview and resume tips and career planning advice, you’ll also find a “Jobs For People Who…,” section that matches career options to your students’ interests. Also worth checking out is the “Do What You Love!” section where you’ll find a collection of interviews with anyone from animal communicators, astronauts and filmmakers to actors, musicians and LEGO master builders.
30 Years After A Nation at Risk – Risky Business
By Jonathan T. Jefferson, Ed.D.
Author of MUGAMORE…
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.” In 1983, the once internationally prominent United States education system was unceremoniously awakened. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was released by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. Politics aside, it can be said that this report lead to an assessment crazed generation.
Standardized tests of achievement (not to be confused with aptitude tests) should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work. The purpose of these tests would be to: (a) certify the student’s credentials; (b) identify the need for remedial intervention; and (c) identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work. The tests should be administered as part of a nationwide (but not Federal) system of State and local standardized tests. This system should include other diagnostic procedures that assist teachers and students to evaluate student progress. (A Nation at Risk)
At the time of this Commission’s report, the United States was still among the educational leaders on the world’s stage. Thirty years later, and our country is struggling to maintain its status in the top twenty. What is the answer now? Will Common Core State Standards (CCSS) close the gap? It remains to be seen whether or not CCSS is the answer, but already risky measures are being implemented.
Statewide assessment tests are being developed to measure how well students are meeting the CCSS. In some states (e.g.New York), the results of statewide assessment tests are being used to evaluate teachers and principals. This is quite risky indeed. There are teachers who have been previously identified as highly effective who are now reluctant to teach struggling learners. These teachers are concerned that low scores by struggling learners on state assessments will reflect poorly when the teacher is rated. Other consequences of these measures may include a rush to label students with a disability (ADD, ADHD, ED, etc.). Once deemed disabled, the onus of the student’s poor test scores is no longer on the teacher or principal.
Common Core State Standards geared toward college and career readiness is a good thing. Rushing to develop assessments for an overly assessed populous, and connecting those rushed assessments to teachers’ and principals’ evaluations is a dangerous thing. When every student K – 12 has been educated since kindergarten toward CCSS, then evaluating the impact of CCSS would be justified.