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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
Normally, I am not one to write on controversial issues, but there is freedom in the provocative, and the time is now (or yesterday) for action in education. Although this speaks to one state's journey through the massive budget cuts and the looming additional injustices, I think that most educators in the nation have experienced a degree of this. I humbly share my thoughts with legislators considering budgets for next school year and the community of ASCD advocates:
How will your child suffer? We must stop this ridiculous abomination of a proposed budget now. The incessant and continuous hit that education has taken in the last 5 years has been beyond reason. However, this year's proposals fall just shy of criminal. As a voter, a parent of children in the school system and a school principal, I have many perspectives to offer. First, as a voter: We elect officials into office who we believe will stand for the things that we hold close to heart. Public schools are the birthplace of some of the best minds in America. What does it mean to be American? Please ask yourself this, as our elected representative. Americans value critical opinions and diversity but stand united when someone attacks our home or our community. To my esteemed elected officials, I say: We are under attack. Make no mistake... this is a war of interests. We must not let the future of our children and ultimately our country falter to other priorities. We know that you are under pressure to invest in the political interests that got you into office, but we beg you not to sacrifice our children, your children or the future of our great nation in doing so. As a parent: We cannot provide quality schools without adequate funding to do so. Should we settle for mediocrity? Would you settle for mediocrity for your own child? Absolutely not. I want my children to get access to teachers with skills that will challenge their minds and inspire their hearts. Teachers deserve pay worthy of the countless hours they spend planning. Let Principals hold them accountable to that. I want my children to have adequate support in their classes as they are acclimated to the rigor of public schools. Teacher Assistants provide this support. They are educators, advocates and probably teach your child in a center or reading group. I want my child to have access to the equipment, books and materials needed for 21st century learning. As a school principal: Is the public aware that kids in most counties are still using outdated books, so teachers have to develop their own curriculum materials to match the new standards? And what justice do we pay teachers when they do this with a smile on their face and protect our children from the perils of society? We cut their support (TAs), cut their pay (furlough), cut their money for supplies (instructional money), increase their class size (class size waiver elimination), increase their insurance premiums and cut their access to resources and support (district funding going to charter/private schools). Teacher Assistants are not just secretaries for the teacher, and I wonder if the public realizes that. They are instructional assistants... they help your children and grandchildren learn. Also, as a school administrator, one of the ways in which we can provide a duty-free lunch for teachers (which is a state requirement) is through the use of teacher assistants. Similarly, I wonder if the public understands the correlation between effective instruction and the number of students in a class. There is an inverse relationship between time for critical learning and the number of students in a class. This state and this nation is in a dire place of certain demise, if we cannot commit to providing safe, quality schools for our children today, so they can solve nationwide and worldwide problems tomorrow. With the proposed legislation about class size, harsh cuts to public schools (again), elimination of Assistants, sequestration at the federal level, and funneling the leftover pocket change to charter/private schools rather than public schools... I must ask the question... how will your child suffer?
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?" To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
In a perfect world (or at least my perfect world), teacher effectiveness would be measured with a simple rubric. The rubric would have a four letter title, and three simple check boxes. It would look a little something like this:
Pillars of Effectiveness
Whole Lotta Love!
Where’s the Love?
Working with Others
Belief in Oneself
Ideals of Education
The rubric would be completed by all educators (whether teacher, teacher-leader, building leader, or other educational staff). An educator who could not honestly check “Whole Lotta Love” for each category would leave the profession and use their strengths somewhere else.
Realistic? Unfortunately, not in today’s world.
With the emphasis on in-depth evaluations and constant collection of data, we rarely take the time to truly ask, “What, in its simplest form, does an effective educator do? What values must an effective educator have?” After reading this week’s Forum topic (and a recent article in the New York Times), I can’t help but think these three “loves” are at the epitome of effective education. After all, if you ask an effective educator if they feel deeply passionate about these three areas, all will say, “Yes.” At the same time, if an educator doesn’t exhibit a true love for these strands, then chances are, that educator is not effective.
So, what makes these three areas so imperative when talking about effective education? Here are my thoughts; feel free to add yours in the comments section
Imagine if. . .
. . .rating teacher effectiveness was this simple.
. . .a process like this was used across the country.
. . .rating systems were built on “love” and not “punishment.”
. . .our educational system truly wore its heart on its sleeve.
If you’re proud to be an educator now, imagine how filled with pride you would be then.
Anderson, Jenny. (2013, March 30). Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/education/curious-grade-for-teachers-nearly-all-pass.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&
One of my favorite arcade games is Whac-A-Mole. When you drop your token in the machine, you have a limited amount of time to ‘whac’ as many moles as you can. In the beginning of the game, one or two moles pop their heads up and it is fairly easy to hit each one. About twenty seconds into the game, the moles start popping up three at a time and when you smash a mole with the mallet it may pop up again.
Whac-A-Mole is similar to the daily routine of a principal. From the time you arrive at school in the morning until late in the evening, moles pop up. Your job is to address each mole and to prioritize which one is most important. In this article, I am going to describe the ‘Six Moles’ a principal must address in order to be a good leader.
Six Moles A Principal Must Address
Principals receive phone calls, emails, and face-to-face messages from families. If you work in the car rider line at an elementary school, a parent or grandparent may share a concern with you as they drop their child off at school. When you check your email, you may have an email from multiple families with a concern about something that happened the day before. There are times when a family member has a concern about something that is a district level concern, but it is the principal’s job to advocate for families and contact the central office or assist the family in navigating communication with the central office. Families are not ‘moles’, but concerns pop up frequently and the principal cannot ignore family concerns. It is not wise to ‘whac’ a family member, but the concern must be addressed.
A principal wears several hats and the instructional leadership hat is critical to the success of the school. If a principal is focused on email, returning phone calls, developing professional development, and attending meetings, he or she will not be able to focus on the main thing. When a principal visits classrooms for formal or informal observations, it helps him or her get a pulse for student achievement and curriculum implementation. A principal should be a coach, cheerleader, critical friend, and more! If a principal does not visit classrooms on a regular basis, then the school will not continue to grow. Instructional rounds cannot be something that a principal does when the ‘mole’ pops up. This important leadership role must be part of the principal’s regular schedule.
Student Discipline pops up unexpectedly. There may be a student issue on the bus ride to school. Students may have a dispute on the playground. A student may break a school rule on the way to the next class. Handling student discipline is one of the main roles of principal leadership. Teachers and staff assist with student discipline, but when this ‘mole’ pops its head up, the principal cannot ignore it and move to the next three moles that pop up. Some of you reading this article may be thinking, “If student discipline is a mole, then ‘whac’ it.” You cannot use a hammer to hit every problem. When you use the Whac-A-Mole approach to student discipline it means you handle the problems as they arise, rather than waiting for more problems to pop up.
One of the most challenging ‘moles’ for a principal is email. If you sit at your desk from 8:00 am – Noon, you will see multiple moles pop up on your screen. More building principals are carrying a personal or school assigned smart phone on their hip. At one point, it was easy to avoid email because you could walk away from the computer. Principals have the ability to check email in the hallway, in meetings, while they are off campus, at home, and any time day or night. If principals focus on each email as it pops up then they will get distracted and miss out on other important leadership duties. Email is a great analogy to the game Whac-A-Mole. When you reply to email it continues to pop up. Time management is important and Whac-A-Mole Leadership involves more than whacking each email, hoping to bop all of the ‘email moles.’
Leading professional development is important. When a school staff stops learning, they stop growing. It is easy for principals to spend several hours developing a video, presentation, or hands-on learning activity. Quality professional development requires planning, learning goals, and materials. Principals are wise to develop a teacher leadership team who can assist with professional development. This will allow the principal to have a role in leading professional development, without having to plan the entire session. This year, our school has conducted professional development on the Six Instructional Shifts (Common Core State Standards), Technology Integration, Literacy, and School Safety. If the principal ignores professional development, then it may not happen. However, a building principal cannot sit in the office and develop every PD, while ignoring other ‘moles’ throughout the school.
Communication is an important responsibility and it cannot be ignored. Principals need to communicate through the school website, email, newsletters, video, blogs, face-to-face meetings, PTA meetings, Coffee Hour, phone calls, and informal meetings in the parking lot. Principals need to be intentional about communication. Principals need to communicate with classroom teachers through classroom observations, email, blog, faculty meetings, notes, and informal meetings. A principal could spend his or her entire day developing communication documents or preparing a speech for the next meeting. It is important to see communication as a mole that you ‘whac’, but also as something you plan for. If you are not communicating and marketing the great things about your school, then who is marketing your school? You cannot afford to let the ‘communication mole’ pop its head up too many times.
Whac-A-Mole Leadership is a humorous way to describe the day of a principal. We can all laugh and relate to the moles that pop up throughout the day. You can probably describe several more moles that principals must address if you reflect on your past week. “Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to think big. But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, and they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism” (Sanborn, M.). If the goal of leadership becomes whacking the next mole, we may miss the most important things. Stephen Covey shared the Leadership Matrix (as shared by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership). Principals must ask, “Is this mole important and urgent?” or “Is this mole urgent, but not important?” As the moles pop up at your school, I wish you the best. Keep whacking moles, but make certain you are focused on the right mole.
As an elementary school principal, I recognize the importance of teacher leaders. Teacher leaders play multiple roles in a school and they serve in leadership positions outside the school. Harrison and Killion (2007) described ten roles for teacher leaders in Educational Leadership. In the past month, I have observed multiple teachers serving in leadership roles.
Car Rider Duty
At an elementary school, it takes several adults to help students during the morning and afternoon car rider line. While this may not seem like leadership, it is an important role. Standing in 28 degrees or the rain is not a skill that you learn as a student teacher. Any role that supports the school and student safety falls under the category of leadership.
In the national best-selling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2002) described the importance of ‘Connectors.’ Gladwell says that Connectors have the gift of bringing the world together. Connectors are important on grade level teams, in faculty meetings, during crucial conversations, during times of change, and on a daily basis. Teacher leaders who are connectors bring out the best in their co-workers. They help connect the school with families and community leaders. They can be very important in securing grant money for a school. Who are the ‘Connectors’ in your school?
“Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether this role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009). Curriculum leaders have played an important role as our school has transitioned to the Common Core State Standards. They have the ability to create curriculum individually and with a team of teachers. I have witnessed teachers from our school share strategies with teachers across the district and state. Curriculum mapping, alignment, and revision require strong curriculum leaders. When teacher leaders are involved in designing and revising curriculum, you will have a strong product. High performing schools have multiple curriculum leaders.
Recently, I have observed teachers from our school serving on district teams such as ELA Curriculum Mapping, Science Curriculum Mapping, and Math Curriculum Mapping. Serving on a district leadership team gives teachers a voice in the process and the opportunity to impact student achievement across the district. In The 360 Degree Leader (2005), Maxwell wrote, "You will develop the ability to be a 360-Degree Leader by learning to lead up (with your leader), lead across (with your colleagues), and lead down (with your followers).” High performing school districts have teacher leaders who have the ability to lead up, down, and across.
Inner Circle Leadership
As a principal, you need to have an Inner Circle. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998), Maxwell described The Law of the Inner Circle. The Law of the Inner Circle states, “A persons potential is determined by those closest to him.” In some schools, this group of teacher leaders serve on the School Improvement Team. Sometimes, the inner circle consists of a group of individuals who carry out the role without a title or committee. A teacher leader can make or break a principal. If you are a school administrator, you cannot lead alone. You need the input and feedback from one or more teacher leaders.
Maxwell (1998) gives us five questions to ask when considering who should be in our Inner Circle:
If you have this type of teacher leader in your organization, then you will see his/her impact throughout the school. Teacher leaders are critical to a school’s success. By reviewing the five questions above, you can see that a principal needs this type of leader. The principal who tries to lead without teacher leaders will fail.
Leader as Facilitator
This year, teacher leaders have led professional development (PD) at our school. They have developed PD related to the Six Instructional Shifts outlined in the Common Core State Standards. It is difficult to plan and lead staff development in front of your peers. One thing that makes this such a difficult task is the different needs of a kindergarten teacher and a fifth grade teacher. Our teacher leaders have developed PD which meets the needs of all teachers. We have also had a series of technology integration sessions, led by teacher leaders. When a school has multiple teacher leaders they feed off the creativity and experiences of each other. Having multiple teacher leaders also allows each person to utilize their strengths.
Technology leaders can wear several different hats. A technology leader could be the best one on the team at developing technology integration units. The technology leader that I am describing is the teacher leader who uses Google Docs, serves as the note taker, develops an online discussion thread, starts a school wiki, or reminds the group that planning can take place online. The technology leader is similar to a ‘Connector.’ The teacher leader who connects others through online tools is valuable to a school district. Face-to-Face meetings are still important. The teacher leader who connects others understands that communication never ends in the online world. Wesley Fryer (2005) wrote, “Technology has broken down communication barriers connecting teachers and students around the world and supporting collaboration in ways that would have seemed impossible even a decade ago” (p. 27).
Most teachers have developed a teacher website. However, some teacher leaders are more skilled than others. Google, Weebly, WordPress, and other sites are used to create websites. Teacher leaders utilize websites to share curriculum updates, post videos about how to help your child with mathematics, share links to videos related to the topics being studied, and more. Some teachers have designed a blog within their teacher website. A blog allows teachers and families to have two-way communication. Teacher leaders are leading the way and the product is much more elaborate than a wrinkled letter in the bottom of a third grader’s backpack. Teacher leaders understand the importance of communicating with families in real time.
Who are the teacher leaders in your building? What are you doing to develop teacher leaders? What are you doing to help leaders grow? “Teacher leaders are most often the missing piece of education reform” (Ratzel, 2012). If you don’t have teacher leaders in these roles, there may be one or more teachers waiting for you to recognize their talents. Maxwell (2008) wrote, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I would argue that everything rises and falls on Teacher Leadership.
Over the past nine years I have had the pleasure of hiring (and the displeasure of firing) new hires into their teaching careers. In watching teachers come into the profession some just "have it." Some seem to be innately programmed to be teachers. For others, it is a much more difficult road to travel. Additionally, there has been much awareness brought up about "teacher burn-out" and teachers not being able to survive this profession.
We know that teaching is a demanding, busy, spontaneous profession. Thriving in it is possible when we understand that those who thrive are reflective and coachable.
Lori also blogs at www.attheprincipalsoffice.com Click on the link for more great information.
"What was taken away from my children's education
in order to make them better at taking standardized tests?"
- Alfie Kohn (USA Today, 2001)
Parents send their children to kindergarten full of hope, dreams, creativity, and energy. Teachers don’t use the term “joy of learning” in kindergarten, because students are curious and naturally enjoy discovery at learning centers. Students smile and laugh in whole group, small group, and independent settings. School is a place to learn with friends and to explore how things work. In the third grade, most states begin administering high-stakes tests to students. This is when anxiety begins and students discover that “The Test” is the main thing.
Test Anxiety creates feelings of fear, hopelessness, depression, low self-esteem, and resentment. Some students are naturally anxious and they would develop Test Anxiety on their own. Parents, community members, teachers and administrators are the reason a majority of students develop Test Anxiety. This article will address ways that adults have created a fear of testing and what can be done to redirect the way we prepare for the annual high-stakes tests.
Test Prep Boot Camp
What comes to mind when you hear the term “Boot Camp?” I think of a drill sergeant yelling at the troops, push-ups, and training camp. It does not seem like something that would motivate an eight year old to increase performance. Some schools purchase camouflage t-shirts and the staff walk around in fatigues. There are companies which profit off the Boot Camp mentality by selling camouflage pencils, stickers, certificates, and t-shirts. The final two months of the spring are spent in drill and kill review sessions. While this approach may sound like something from a movie about education, it happens each spring in a school near you.
Test Pep Rally
As a fifth grade teacher, I remember leading our K-5 students in a Beat the Test Pep Rally. We had cheers, songs, and skits like a high school pep rally. At a high school pep rally, students cheer and work themselves into a frenzy as their team prepares to slay their archrival. One year, my students designed a banner to run through (i.e., Friday Night Football). While the Test Pep Rally sounds like a positive approach, it raises anxiety and sends a message to students that this is very important! Don’t let your team, your teachers, or your family down with a low test score.
Test Survival Kit
When I think of the term survival, I think of a hurricane, fire, snow storm, loss of power, poverty, and being stranded in the middle of Mt. Everest without any food. I struggle to see how a Test “Survival Kit” motivates students to do their best on the test. In some schools, the PTA or the teachers create survival kits with a ziploc bag, snacks, a pencil, candy, and a motivational quote or poem. The San Diego Unified School District has directions for creating a Test Survival Kit. What is the opposite of survival? Do we want students to “survive” a high-stakes test or do their best on any assessment that they face in life. Using terms like courage, perseverance, and success to prepare students for a test may be the reason so many students end up discouraged and feeling like a failure.
Test Prep Packets
In the spring, teachers across the U.S. begin making photocopies of sample test items and preparing students for the “big test.” Have you ever noticed how often the copy machine breaks in the spring? Teachers use test prep books, released items from other states, teacher created items, and district assessments to prepare students for the “big test.” As a parent, I have witnessed test prep packets that are over twenty pages long. Teachers tell students, “Don’t worry. We don’t have to complete the packet this week. We will spend the next two months working through the packet so you will rock the test!” In some schools, there is pressure from parents to provide test prep packets. If you are the only teacher not providing a test prep packet, some families may see you as a weak teacher. Test anxiety can be created by families.
Test Prep Strategies
It is sad to see how many days are spent teaching third grade students to completely bubble in the circle. Our students have Instagram, XBox 360, Skype, and iPhones. Do we really think they need more than one class period on filling in the circle? Test prep strategies include the process of elimination, reading for the main idea, using your scratch paper to solve problems, pacing yourself throughout the test, and searching for the ‘best answer.’ It is inappropriate to send students into a test unprepared. However, I believe most of these skills can be taught throughout the year, rather than during the final two weeks prior to the test. All students need to have access to test strategies.
‘Curricular Reductionism’ is another popular method of improving student test scores. Curricular Reductionism is a narrow focus on the tested subjects or exclusion of certain skills and concepts because they cannot be measured on a multiple-choice test. This frequently means that science, social studies, and the arts are taught bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or not at all in elementary and middle schools across the United States. This type of instruction does not support student understanding.
Parent Pep Talks
I have seen more harm from parent pep talks than any other form of test prep. Principals place pressure on teachers to perform and teachers place pressure on students. When parents receive survival kits, notes from their teacher, test prep packets, inspiring poems and breathing techniques, they receive the message.
Parents can create test anxiety by saying:
1. Are you ready for the test? You really need to do your best.
2. This test will impact the teachers you get next year.
3. You have never had a test this big. Please do your best.
4. Are you nervous; because mom is nervous?
5. I am going to pray for you, because this is a really big test.
Test anxiety is a plea for help. We claim to provide a safe learning environment for students. Safety should include mental health and the joy of learning.
The ASCD Whole Child tenants are:
When we review the key terms in a Whole Child school, they do not sound like Boot Camp, Pep Rally, Survival Kit, Test Prep Packets, Pep Talks, or Curricular Reductionism. If students are taking standards-based tests, then schools will be able to prepare students through unpacking the standards and teaching the key skills and concepts outlined in the standards. There seems to be hysteria each spring. Together, adults can support the Whole Child and we may be able to cure test anxiety.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it” (Albert Einstein).
Friday, March 1st is Anti-Bullying Day in Baltimore County Public Schools. It was coordinated by BCPS students. While many schools, including the one at which I am a principal, do not have a pervasive bullying problem, it is still an issue of which we need to be aware and take action to prevent. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about bullying behavior is the long-term effects it can have both on the bully and the victim of bullying. Students who are bullied are much more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. This is certainly scary considering that about 30% of our students are reported to be bullies or are victims of bullying (www.bullyingstatistics.org).
My vision for the school I am fortunate enough to work in every day is that the climate, especially among our children, is so disgustingly positive that bullying behavior sticks out like a disappointed student on a snow day! I encourage teachers to exalt the positive in their classrooms, and to find the good in every student with whom they have contact. One of our recent professional development sessions facilitated by the Kennedy Krieger Institute revealed that negative stress causes the hippocampus to get smaller, which makes learning less likely. The presenter also showed us that serotonin, which is produced by positive experiences, gets the hippocampus back to normal size and opens the door for extensive new learning. While giving consequences will necessarily be a part of any effective behavior management program, let’s give the brains of our potential bullies a serotonin bath!
"I was provoked to think.
I was challenged to stay away from the ordinary.
And I did" (Esquith, p. 188).
The above quote is from a book I read on a plane from Seattle to Baltimore one Saturday last year. The book is called Lighting Their Fires, and is written by Rafe Esquith, the famous 5th grade teacher and author of the popular book entitled Teach Like You Hair is on Fire. I had the honor of hearing Mr. Esquith speak at the aforementioned conference, and was inspired to buy his newest book.
The short quote at the top of this blog is from a college admissions essay written by one of Esquith's students. It summarizes the purpose of his book quite nicely. While Esquith's first book was geared toward educators, the primary audience for this newer publication is parents. Although the skills and behaviors of the parents with whom we interact are largely outside our circle of influence, I bought this book for each parent on my PTA executive board in hopes that they would embrace the ideas within and share them with those who co-labor in the difficult work of raising children who are "provoked to think" and "stay away from the ordinary."
The format of this book is refreshing as the author rejects the typical laundry list of character traits for an engaging trip to a Los Angeles Dodgers game with a few of his students. The inherent inning structure of the game provides an intriguing framework that Mr. Esquith uses to explore important life lessons that he believes children need to learn in order to one day be extraordinary. He uses the traditional facets of a baseball game, like cheering fans and hot dogs, to illustrate, in a less traditional way, how we as parents can light the fires of our students. At the end of each inning, Esquith shares practical tips that we can put in our kids' “backpacks” that will prepare them to choose and navigate the "road less traveled."
In this book as well as his first "fire story," I have been inspired by Mr. Esquith’s obvious commitment to maintaining a growth mindset (see Dweck’s book entitled Mindset). Make no mistake; this popular teacher is not afraid to confront the "brutal facts" that come in the form of high stakes testing, dysfunctional families, and educational disabilities. However, realizing that much of these forces are out of his control, he never allows them to stymie his efforts to provide his kids with the tools necessary to be on fire and extraordinary.
In an article titled Five Characteristics of Highly Productive Logistics and Operations Teams, the author wrote “For those with jobs in logistics or transportation jobs, productivity is a word we’ve all heard too often.” High performing logistics and operations teams have determined ways to increase efficiency, communication, and the quality of service to customers. In the same way, educators have started to operate as a Professional Learning Community. According to Mike Schmoker, productivity “starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels” (Schmoker, 2005, p. xii). It’s Logistics.
In a video titled Logistics: It’s Only A to B, Right? it is evident that world class logistics require a clear set of steps to happen “in a very choreographed manner.” Are schools intentional about their work or do they still allow each teacher to operate as a freelance contractor? “Schooling at its best reflects a purposeful arrangement of parts and details, organized with deliberate intention, for achieving the kinds of learning we seek." (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). It’s Logistics.
I am struck by the following quote – “The school leaders who embrace, design and implement customer-driven systems will be the ones who thrive in the future” (Toothman, 2004). What does a customer-driven system look like in the field of education? Rick DuFour (2011) answered this question: “Schools committed to higher levels of learning for both students and adults will not be content with the fact that a structure is in place to ensure that educators meet on a regular basis. They will recognize that the question, ‘What will we collaborate about,” is so vital that it cannot be left to the discretion of each team’” (p. 61). It’s Logistics.
Your elementary school may not ship packages across the globe on a daily basis. You may not unpack shipments when they arrive, but you should unpack standards. When you move students from middle school to high school, you won’t have an airline, eighteen wheeler, train, or moving van. The logistics that you deal with are people and those people will eventually impact the world. As a Professional Learning Community ask the nine questions that guide the work of a high performing team (Solution Tree Reproducible). Consider your school a Regional Distribution Center. The packages are passing through, but you have an important role to play! In logistics, employees try to eliminate lost profits. In education, the goal is to increase the number of students who graduate college and career ready and eliminate the number of dropouts. It’s logistics.
As I child, I looked forward to the class valentine’s party. I passed out valentines to my classmates, ate pink cupcakes, and chewed candy hearts with messages like, “Be Mine.” This month, I am going to share some of the things I love about education. I hope you find a wealth of resources that will support your professional learning goals. Feel free to reply to this blog and share a few resources you love. Share the Love in February!
1. Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap in Leadership
By Surinder Kahai
2. Occupy the Present Moment
By Susan Deitzel
3. How To Turn Your Team Around in Six Stages
Leadership Now: LeadingBlog
4. Six Traits of Extraordinary Achievers
By Mark Sanborn
5. Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse
By Roland Barth
1. The 360 Degree Leader
By John Maxwell
2. Schooling by Design: Mission, Action and Achievement
By Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
3. The Six Secrets of Change
By Michael Fullan
4. Understanding by Design
By Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
By Patrick Lencioni
All Things PLC
Saturday Morning Chat
Social Studies Chat
Connected Principals Chat
4. Tweet Deck
1. Adding Value to People
2. 4 C’s of a Great Team Member
3. What is Creative Leadership?
Center for Creative Leadership
4. Great Leaders Grow
Ken Blanchard Companies
5. What is 21st Century Education?
Smithsonian Student Travel
1. ASCD EDge
Is it possible for school leaders to announce their presence with authority? This year marks the 25th anniversary of the classic movie Bull Durham. While playing for the minor league Durham Bulls, a pitcher with a million dollar arm and a five-cent head shakes off the catcher. The catcher asks the umpire to call time. As the catcher approaches the pitcher’s mound, the young prospect yells, I want to “announce my presence with authority!”
In 2013, some school leaders still try to announce their presence with authority. Titles do not matter as much as they did in the 1980’s. A Superintendent, Curriculum Director, Principal, Counselor, School Secretary, Teacher Leader, Teacher Assistant, or PTA President, can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Collaboration takes place in law firms, hospitals, business marketing, and the airline industry. It is difficult to find many organizations that do not encourage collaboration. Early in my career, the principal would make announcements and top-down leadership was a sign of a strong principal. Superintendents rarely consulted with teacher leadership teams or parent committees, because the Superintendent called the shots. Recently, I have seen the role of high school department chairs change. For over seventy years, the role of the department chair was to conduct the meetings and provide updates to his or her co-workers. Recently, I have witnessed a transition from department chairs who announce their presence with authority to professional learning communities where teacher teams co-create curriculum, share ideas, practice new strategies, support each other, and cheer for the success of their colleagues.
School leaders can insist on throwing the heat, like Nuke LaLoosh in the movie Bull Durham. While there is nothing wrong with creative leadership and making decisions as a leader, today’s school leaders need to work with people. Social media has made it possible for school leaders to communicate and collaborate within and across schools. If we desire to support student achievement, it will not matter who has the original idea. Implementing the Common Core, Preparing Students for College and Career Readiness, and Closing Achievement Gaps require teamwork, not a leader who calls the shots. Collaborative Leaders are needed. When you enter your next meeting, leave your title at the door and focus on the goals of the team.
Do you remember your first year in the classroom? It was an adrenaline rush everyday! We wanted to change the world, inspire students to become great, support struggling students, establish our own reputation as an excellent teacher, and earn the respect of our colleagues. I would not trade my first year of teaching for other opportunities. Whether we recognize it or not, the first several years of teaching and administration focus on personal development.
Personal development leads educators to attend conferences, view webinars, participate in Twitter chats, serve as a leader on district initiatives, make recommendations to policy makers, develop new programs to support students, and more! It has been said by leadership authors and educators, “When you stop growing, you stop.” While there is nothing wrong with growth for an educator, there comes a point in our career where we must focus on other educators. When you take other educators on the journey, you will find that you continue to grow while helping others to grow. Tony Dungy wrote (2001), “By touching the lives of the people right around us, and by replicating leaders who in turn can replicate more leaders, we can create value far beyond the small sphere that we can reach and touch directly” (p. 201).
All educators will reach a point in their career where climbing the career ladder seems empty. Have you been recognized as the district teacher of the year? Have you earned National Board Certification? Did you recently write your first journal article? Have you moved from the principalship into a role in the Central Office? Have you taught courses at a local university? Have you served as the president of a state professional organization? At some point in your career winning recognitions, climbing the career ladder, and hanging another plaque on your wall will become less motivating than earlier in your career. What should educators do when they reach a plateau? John Maxwell shares the difference between Goal Oriented vs. Growth Oriented. Early in our career, we strive to win the next award, earn the next promotion, and build our resume’. There is nothing wrong with growth and striving for excellence. When we strive for excellence, it supports the students and organizations we work with. The empty feeling comes when we focus on the goals and our checklist has been checked off. View this short inspirational video on Goal Oriented vs. Growth Oriented (1:44).
The story of the Turtle on a Fence Post has always inspired me. If you are driving down a country road and you see a turtle on a fence post, you know that he did not climb there on his own. Someone placed the turtle on the fence post. Who are the people who have placed you on a fence post? If you reflect on your career, you will recall the inspiring words of a parent, teacher, college professor, mentor, or colleague. Once you reach the point in your career where you have been elevated to the fence post, it is time to start taking others on the journey. John Maxwell provides guidance for educators in a video titled, Developing the Leaders Around You (2:00). He states, “When you lead followers, you add. When you develop leaders, you multiply.” Educators focus on adding value to students and mentoring students throughout their career. At some point, educators determine to lead and mentor other adults. Developing the leaders around you does not require a degree, award, or title. Developing the leaders around you requires an outward focus rather than an inward focus.
Questions to Consider As You Begin To Develop Leaders
1. Who invested in my career?
2. What are my strengths as an educator?
3. Who can I invest in and support?
4. How will developing other leaders help me continue to grow as a leader?
5. How will our school or school district benefit from multiple leaders?
Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today. -- Tony Wagner 
Problem solving has been identified as an essential skill for success in the 21st Century . I certainly agree. Problem solving is high on my list of essential outcomes we need to cultivate for students to be productive, engaged citizens. After all, we live in a world that is constantly changing. The challenges we face are complex, requiring a delicate balance between multiple, and often divergent, perspectives and competing needs. Who could dispute the self-evident fact that problem solving is a critical skill? It seems so straightforward. Or so I thought.
Then, I encountered Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators and Pink's To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Both authors really pushed me to think more deeply about the meaning that I attach to "problem-solving" and how I apply it to my vision for 21st Century Learning.
Citing The Conference Board's 2008 Research Report, "Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?"  Pink highlights the divergency between 155 public school superintendents and eighty nine private employers' rankings of essential skills for the 21st Century workplace. When asked what was the most important skill for future success, superintendents placed problem-solving at the top of their lists (private employers ranked it eighth); on other hand, employers ranked "problem identification" as the most critical skill. 
What is going on here? I began to question the way that I tend to think about "problem-solving." I realize that have used this term as shorthand for the process...well, of actually solving problems. The concept of "problem-solving," as I have thought about it, places more emphasis on the result, on the outcome -- the solution. In short, arriving at the correct answer, based on what one knows.
Pink's analysis of "problem identification," calls upon deeper thinking and a much more complex process of "asking questions, uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems." It is the difference between the "creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills of artists" versus "the reductive, algorithmic, problem-solving of technicians." 
Pink and Wagner link creativity and working through the process of solving new problems. It is not superior knowledge used to arrive at the right answer, but rather how to apply knowledge to discover new perspectives and to think creatively about real world challenges.
Their work has nudged me to develop a more complicated notion of problem solving as the creative process of thinking -- asking questions, gathering and evaluating information, looking at issues from different perspectives, discovering unexpected possibilities along the way.
What do you think is the most essential skill for our students to become productive, engaged citizens of the 21st Century? Please feel free to share your comments, questions, and perspectives.
 Wagner, Tony (2012-04-17). Creating Innovators (Kindle Locations 2830-2832). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
 http:// www.artsusa.org/ pdf/ information_services/ research/ policy_roundtable/ readytoinnovatefull.pdf. Pink, Daniel H. (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (Kindle Locations 3186-3187). Riverhead Hardcover. Kindle Edition.
 Pink, Daniel, (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human (Kindle Locations 1709-1710).
 Pink, Daniel, (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human (Kindle Locations 1715, 1672)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of real-life lessons for educational leaders, unfortunately many times separate from what we receive in methodology courses or workshops. As I was dropping my daughter off at preschool last week, I started reflecting on how just much of what is experienced during a normal day of life for toddlers is extraordinarily relevant for the work we do as adults. With that in mind, here are four lessons that we should readily learn from our youngest leaders:
We can’t learn everything from nursery school, but we can learn quite a bit. We must remember that for most of our students, they are closer in age to these toddlers than in many times, to ourselves. It stands to reason that what prepares our students for the microcosm of schooling can just as easily prepare them for the great big world out there.
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
- President George W. Bush,
Florence, South Carolina, January 11, 2000
Does technology integration improve student achievement? If your child is entering kindergarten in 2013, you may see a SmartBoard instead of a chalkboard. Your child may come home with a blog, rather than an essay. Animoto, Doodle Buddy, Glogster, Story Buddy, Symbaloo, Tagxedo, and VoiceThread may require parents and guardians to purchase a dictionary just to understand the teacher’s assignments. It is an exciting time in education and students are entering classrooms with opportunities that their parents did not have. As teachers continue to use technology as a tool to teach students key skills and concepts, it is important to focus on the learning targets rather than the technology or online tools.
In 1949, Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. In the introduction to the book, Tyler outlined four fundamental questions which should be answered in developing any curriculum and plan of instruction.
Tyler’s Four Fundamental Questions:
1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
2. What educational learning experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?
These questions are just as important in 2013 as they were in 1949. Tyler never had the opportunity to Skype or create a VoiceThread, but he had a clear understanding of curriculum design. It is easy for teachers to get wrapped up in the activity and teaching students how to use the online tool. “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 21)? If teachers desire for students to have an Alphabet Soup vocabulary of Web 2.0 tools, then they should focus on teaching every tool that looks fun and kid-friendly. However, if teachers want students to understand key skills and concepts outlined by standards, then Tyler’s four questions will support curriculum planning. Prior to mobile labs, 1:1 initiatives, SmartBoards, and Web 2.0 tools, teachers designed lessons which led to student understanding. While the tools available to teachers and students will continue to multiply, the basic goals of teaching for understanding remain consistent. President Bush may have been right. Parents and teachers need to ask, “Is our children learning?"
Recommended Resources Which Support Technology Integration and Teaching for Understanding:
Ferriter, W.M. (2013). Digital immigrants unite. The Tempered Radical.
Ferriter, W.M., & Garry, A. (2010). Teaching the igeneration: 5 easy ways to introduce
essential skills with web 2.0 tools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fisher, M., & Hale, J. (Coming in Feb. 2013) Upgrade your curriculum: Practical ways to
transform units and engage students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design: Expanded 2nd edition.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Have you have ever wondered how some schools get grant funding? The answer is simple... School administrators and teachers who invest time into finding and writing proposals are likely to receive funding eventually, even if not on the first try. Those who keep trying are more likely to secure funding, as the writing team learns how to write a proposal that matches the goals of the solicitation. Here are a few quick tips for school leaders who wish to obtain grant funding for their school.
1. Stay tapped into common sources of funding.
You can sign up on many websites to be notified when new funding opportunities are released. Government agencies (both federal and state) are common sources of funding. However, there are many large corporations which invest a lot into grants for public education. It's a good idea to make a list of major contributors, as well as potential local corporations that have contributed to schools before. Foundations and organizations with local ties are sometimes more willing to contribute to a cause that will impact the local population, which provides their sales base.
2. Develop a grant committee.
Identify and recruit teachers who have an analytical approach to problem solving and who are good teacher leaders. Once a month they can meet to discuss needs and potential funding sources, and even write parts of proposals. With teachers vested in the process, proposals are sure to be implemented well if funded. Of course, if you are a school administrator, you will want to do some of the writing yourself also. Funding organizations want to know the leader of the school is fully vested in ensuring successful implementation.
3. Become knowledgeable about what kinds of things make winning proposals. Some of this knowledge will come with practice, but there are a few simple guidelines that can be helpful. Here are a few:
- Write the proposal to match the solicitation, if you are writing a grant. Don't be ashamed to even use their own solicitation language in your proposal description.
- Be sure to address every possible requirement or question mentioned in the solicitation.
- Make sure you address how the efforts will last beyond the funding timeline (called sustainability).
- Keep in mind potential extras you could throw in that would further the goals of the funding agency or bring positive press to that organization.
- Make sure that your scope and scale of your proposed project are appropriate and explicitly mention the scope of impact in your writing. For example, a $10,000 project that would impact five students might be less likely to get funded than a $50,000 project that would impact 500 students.
- Partnerships with external organizations look great in grant applications. Partnerships provide sustainability, vested interest and a broader scope.
There are plenty of workshops available to assist with additional tips for writing winning proposals. Also, keep in mind that grants are not the only sources of external funding. Donations made by local or even national organizations often do not carry the same stipulations and regulations as grants.
Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans earning bachelor’s degrees. Today, that gap is 45 points.
-Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski, University of Michigan (taken from article by Jason DeParle)
This past weekend I had the opportunity to read a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching piece written by Jason DeParle in the New York Times. This article depicts the rise, and subsequent fall, of three promising students from Galveston, Texas. These three young women, all excellent students, seemed to have overcome the challenges brought on by their financially poor background. They were in excellent standing within their school, had earned high marks both academically and socially from their teachers and school staff, and, by all accounts, were “college and career ready.” Yet, as DeParle goes on to describe, this designation did not, in fact, prepare them for college and their future careers.
If you were to go by the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s designation of what “college and career ready” truly means (at least for ELA) you would likely find that these three young women were quite qualified to earn this title. In their school lives, they exhibited all of the tenets necessary. Yet, as their stories exhibit, it was what was happening outside of their school (and what occurred once they entered post-secondary education) that truly put them at a disadvantage.
This article, along with an in-depth discussion with my Superintendent (my thanks to Dr. Langlois for helping to turn my reactions to the article into a blog post) helped me come to the realization that college and career readiness is all but meaningless if it is seen as an endpoint, and not a benchmark along a much longer road. The story of these three promising young ladies shows that currently, a “college and career ready” designation is as much edubabble and jargon as it is truly beneficial to students. To truly help students ready themselves for college and be prepared for the challenges once they enter the workforce, much is left to be done. Here are three steps that I believe must be taken to put us on the right path:
If we truly believe that students must be “college and career ready” to succeed in life, our education system must prove it. We can’t assume that it is only the responsibility of K-12 institutions to do this, nor can we truly state that college and career readiness is only built in the classroom. Let’s stop adding to educational jargon, and put meaning behind the terms we use. I encourage you to read DeParle’s piece and see how it makes you feel, and then think about how you would view education as a whole if you were these students or if they were your children.
DeParle, Jason. (2012, December 22). For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
National Governors Association. (2012). ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready. Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/students-who-are-college-and-career-ready-in-reading-writing-speaking-listening-language
American educators are big advocates for the "Workshop Model." Elementary schools throughout the United States begin each morning with Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop. Math Workshop is starting to become more prevalent, since the workshop model makes sense and seems to support student understanding. With a required number of minutes for each workshop model, social studies has been squeezed out of the curriculum in many elementary schools. As I have recently observed the benefits of the workshop model, I have reflected on what the "Social Studies Workshop" would look like in a K-12 classroom.
Possibilities for Social Studies Workshop:
One of my favorite resources for Social Studies Workshop involves reading, writing, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and communication. K-12 Social Studies teachers need to take adavantage of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Document Analysis Worksheets. OMG! Worksheets? I know, I dropped the 'W' word. You may cringe at the term worksheet. These interactive forms will help students develop the critical thinking skills that they need as they continue to advance through school and become an informed citizen. These are the skills that I use when I visit a museum, attend a Broadway play, read the news on an app, review a tweet about a political issue, compare three news reports, process what my co-workers heard on NPR, try to make sense of a current event, or make an informed decision.
The Social Studies Workshop has a place in every K-12 classroom. The skills that are learned in a high-quality social studies classroom can shape how a student views the world. We still need critical thinkers, problem solvers, communicators, researchers, collaborators, elected officials, community leaders, digital citizens, and change leaders. Social Studies deserves a place in the curriculum and adults should push for more social studies throughout the K-12 experience. You can call it workshop or you can call it preparation for life. This is not your social studies classroom, where you memorized key dates, events, leaders, and major rivers. This is the social studies classroom that students need. Consider what you would add to my list. What would a Social Studies Workshop look like at your grade level? What are the benefits of a Social Studies Workshop, modeled after a Reader's and Writer's Workshop?