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I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I will never forget why I teach.
I teach because I care.
I know there is always someone who needs my help, support, guidance, time, and love.
I give my best effort because I want society to reflect my efforts.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I began teaching because I enjoyed working with children and their parents. That will never change.
No one taught me about those who didn't want my help, but I learned. I help them anyway.
Whenever I hear students or their families being negative, I remind them of all the small steps it took them to get where they are. A lot of small steps no one sees equals the big steps people do.
When I teach my students to persevere, take risks, and hard work will pay off sometime, I cannot forget those lessons, either. Because, we know they're true.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am energized and nod my head enthusiastically when I hear the passion exude from my peers.
I feel excited when I hear, read, or see a good idea that I want to modify and use.
I love talking education, with anyone, at any time. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
I did something else for a living. I can't imagine making that mistake again.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I teach, I learn, I lead with all of my fellow educators. Every day. As hard as I can. Because we're all worth it.
This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.
The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.
A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.
The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.
As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.
Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.
What a message.
In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.
Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?
What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.
When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.
During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.
I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.
I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.
The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.
For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.
It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.
So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.
Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'
However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.
So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.
An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children. And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.
I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"
As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.
And learn from it.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a corrected version of the originally posted commentary. An earlier version stated that the potential number of required Keystone exams in Pennsylvania is ten. The actual number is five. The new Pennsylvania regulations will require students to eventually pass five exams, and, if the legislature approves funding for an additional five, those five will be administered on a voluntary basis by Pennsylvania school districts.
(The author of this commentary, Elliott Seif, is a former social studies teacher, Professor of Education at Temple University, and Director of Curriculum-Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. He is currently an educational advocate, author, trainer, and Philadelphia School District volunteer. More of his commentary can be found at ASCD Edge, http://bit.ly/13sMIUZ, and on his website, www.era3learning.org.)
Introduction and Overview
The new Chapter 4 regulations, recently adopted by the Pennsylvania State Board, will require all Pennsylvania students to pass new Keystone exams in order to graduate. Initially, three exams will be required for graduation (English, Biology and Mathematics). Two others will be added in the next few years (English Composition and Civics and Government) for a total of five required exams. If money is appropriated by the legislature, five additional exams will be added in future years, but will be voluntary for school districts to administer.
The purpose of this commentary is to make a strong case in opposition to the implementation of these regulations, using the following arguments:
I also suggest a number of alternative ways that the funding for the Keystone exams can be used more effectively, and also suggest a possible way to implement the Keystone exams, focused around the Keystone Academic Honors Diploma, that would be a much better vehicle for implementation and provide much greater incentives for taking and passing the exams.
Five arguments as to why these exams should not be required
1. The Keystone exams will have a significant negative impact on schools
Contrary to popular belief, Pennsylvania’s schools do a decent job in educating students to be college and career ready. Over 83% of students in Pennsylvania graduate from high school, and a large percentage go on to some form of higher education. While the graduation rates for Blacks and Latinos are lower (about 65% each) the graduation rate for whites is 88%. Often the problem today for students who go on to complete a college degree is not that they are not prepared for career and work, but that there are too few jobs waiting for them that demand the high level skills that they now possess.
However, even with these successes, schools do need to improve what they do to prepare students for a 21st century world. There are still too many students who drop out of school or are apathetic about learning. K-12 schools need to do more to get students to engage in learning, make learning more relevant, develop the talents and interests of students, promote thinking and problem solving, improve student comprehension skills, and develop connections to the outside world of work and citizenship. There is too little emphasis on writing clearly and effectively. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on engaging students in becoming interested in and understanding core concepts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Also, in some school districts, the sports culture is significantly more important that the culture of academics.
Will the Keystone exams help to solve these problems? NOT LIKELY. Exams such as these do not help to engage students in learning and make learning more relevant – in fact, they will most likely lower motivation to learn, since the types of questions asked on the exams are divorced from real world issues and problems (see sample questions in the appendix). Requiring that all students pass all the Keystone exams will probably increase the dropout rate. The exams will not broaden the educational experience of students, improve thinking or writing, or help reduce apathy towards learning. In short, the required exams will do little or nothing to improve the educational climate, curriculum, and instruction practices necessary to help prepare students for a 21st century world. In fact, they will be a drag on making changes that would really help students prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s world.
In addition, administering and implementing Keystone exam requirements will be difficult, complex, and costly. Staff members will need to find the time to administer and monitor each test three times a year as required by the law. Once the five required exams are in place, fifteen tests will need to be administered each year. The school is expected to offer the tests as final exams, a complicated process, since many courses in these subjects are offered at many different grade levels (for example, algebra in some districts is offered as early as sixth grade to some students). The school will need to develop and maintain a complex record keeping system in order to track who passes and who doesn’t pass the several modules within each test. The school district has to arrange for tutoring time and supplemental instruction if a student doesn’t pass a test or a module. If a student fails a test twice, he or she must develop a project that could take 15 hours to complete (probably on line which means more computers in each school) that must be developed in the presence of a district test administrator, and will be scored by educators across the State through the Department of Education. All of these requirements will take a great deal of time and money. The more courses that are added, the more time and money!
It is also unlikely that these tests will become a substitute for all final exams. They will probably be offered for some courses at times awkward for use as final exams (such as before a course is completed). The results will probably not be returned to a teacher in time for him or her to use the results in lieu of a final exam. And the different levels of courses offered by high schools (for example, academic and honors) in all three subjects make it unlikely that the same standardized test can be used for every course.
In sum, these tests will not help schools to improve what they do. They will not raise standards, but have significant negative effects on schools. Their implementation will create significant personnel and staff difficulties due to the need for administering, monitoring, recording test data information, tutoring, and using the tests effectively within the high school.
2. The exam requirements will have a significant negative impact on students
During their high school years, students take a variety of courses and programs. Students are involved with many different teachers and experiences that provide both a standardized and customized quality education. By graduation, major differences appear. Some students are good at math; others in English. Some demonstrate their talents in the arts; others in sports; some have a lot of trouble in some subjects, but excel in others. Some get high marks and honors, while others do less well. In other words, there is great variety among students in their skills, their talents, their interests, and their achievements. All this is consistent with a 21st century American society that has highly diverse, varied, and complex career and college paths.
In order to graduate, students must overcome many hurdles, including passing courses in many different subjects, taking tests, doing research projects, and so on. They are usually required to pass core courses and take final exams in subjects that overlap with the initial Keystone exams - science, mathematics, and English. In most schools, students are offered elective courses that they can take to help them develop their interests or build academic desires.
Some schools today are “themed” schools. Students choose to go to these schools, and the elective work that students do there is usually concentrated in certain areas, such as the arts, culinary arts, technical careers, communications, science, math and engineering, and politics and law. Some “alternative” schools enable students to focus their learning around relevant, interesting, authentic projects, or to go back to an individualized school experience that helps them to complete a high school program after they have dropped out of school, or to develop a customized learning experience that fits their special needs.
Currently, all Pennsylvania high schools today are required by Chapter 4 to have students do a major project in order to graduate (note: the revised Chapter 4 regulations eliminated this from the Chapter 4 requirements).
If they successfully navigate all these hurdles, then they get a diploma and go on to a myriad of post high school experiences – a four-year university or college with different emphases and majors, two-year community colleges, technical or specialized schools, or the armed forces are the usual routes.
Now along comes the State Board and Department of Education and they say – wait!! It is not enough to succeed through four years of high school with these varied programs and customized learning experiences. We need to make sure that every single one of our students graduate with exactly the same “high standards”, starting with science, math and Literature subjects, by passing State-developed high stakes tests. These standardized tests, using multiple-choice and short answer formats, will guarantee that every one of our students who graduate can do algebra; that they know the ins and outs of biology; and, finally, that they can read out of context passages from literature and answer questions, answer vocabulary questions, and the like. Once we get those in place, we’ll add some more, such as exams in composition and civics and government. We will stipulate that if any student fails to pass any one of the required tests, they will not get a degree. All their four years of hard work is out the window. Period. They might pass two of the three exams (or later four out of five), or miss passing one because they missed two questions below the proficient cutoff score. It won’t matter.
Now some students will not be bothered by these new exam requirements, and will pass them with ease. But many others will struggle. The many diverse types of students across the State, in a variety of types of high schools, courses, and programs, will take a test, or part of it, twice in order to pass, and some will fail twice and then be required to do a project in order to pass. There will be a number of students who will not pass one, two or three tests, even with the three tries, and even if they work hard at their high school courses and pass them, they will not be able to graduate.
If you want to see the great folly of this, you might also want to look at the sample test questions in biology and math that I took from the Department of Education’s sample question booklets and included in this appendix. You might ask yourselves whether answering these questions is really necessary in order for a student to be “career and college ready”. Think about whether every single student across the great state of ours should be required to know the answers to these types of questions in order to graduate. Think about whether you have had any need to know the answers to these questions in order to be successful in your own chosen field. Think about whether college and career success depends on whether a student is able to score proficiently on these exams.
To illustrate what I mean, currently, in a school in Philadelphia that I volunteer in, between 65-75% of the students now pass the English PSSA exam. But 90% of the students go on to college. Some of those who pass the PSSA exam don’t make it through college, while others who do not pass are successful. In other words, the current PSSA results do not predict how students will perform in college when they graduate! Thank goodness they are not required for graduation.
Imagine that your own children were in high school, suddenly confronted with a new set of gatekeeper tests, and your child had trouble passing one of them. Think about the frustrations and anxieties that would ensue. Would your child begin to give up on school? Would you be frustrated for your child? Imagine that your child was able to do the work in his or her courses, that he or she was an average student, but simply had trouble with one of those subjects. Would you want that to happen to your own child?
Ironically, according to a May article in USA Today, several other states are now beginning to move to eliminate their graduation testing requirements because of the problems they have caused for many of their students.
3. The Keystone exam requirement will significantly increase costs to the State and individual school districts
The development and implementation costs and resulting fiscal consequences for both Pennsylvania and its school districts will be high, and, especially in these difficult fiscal times, will divert monies from the real needs of schools and students. The State’s costs include the continued development and scoring of these tests every year, along with the scoring of the tests and the projects that result when students fail the test twice (probably thousands of students across the state). Start-up costs have already been estimated to run into close to two hundred million dollars, with additional millions to maintain, develop, update and score the tests in future years. When additional tests are added, the costs will significantly increase.
In addition, there will be significant, mandated, unfunded costs and personnel requirements in every school district in the State with a high school, due to the need for administering, monitoring, recording test data information, tutoring, and using the tests effectively within the high school. Imagine what it will take in a large high school with 2500 or 3000 students to cope with this new requirement! What about the costs to a District like Philadelphia with so many large and small high schools. And all this happening at a time when education budgets, programs and services are being cut all across the State.
Other costs include the need to retool the curriculum to align with each test, purchase new textbooks, add more test-prep services and courses, assure that there are enough computers on hand for students who need to complete a project, and so on.
In order to estimate the cost, I am assuming at least $50 million dollars a year at the State level will be spend on these tests (I think that the costs will be much more). In addition, let us assume that there are 400 high schools in the Commonwealth (a low figure), and that each spends an average of about $200,000 to administer, monitor, record keep, and provide supplemental instruction for these tests (a low figure). Multiply 400 by $200,000 – that comes to $80,000,000 dollars across the State. That means that it will take at least $130,000,000 (a very conservative estimate) every year to develop, score, administer, support, and record information about these three tests and projects. The figure will increase significantly as more exams are added.
Is this what we want our education money to be spent on? Are these exams worth the costs, personnel time, energy, and additional resources that it will take to implement them?
4. Less high school innovation will result from adding the Keystone Exam requirement
Another disadvantage and serious consequence of this law will be to stifle innovation at the high school level. We live in a rapidly changing world that often requires significant innovations and changes to maintain strong educational programs. For example, some schools in the State have moved to create a more integrated science-math-engineering-technology (STEM) approach to curriculum. Mathematics is sometimes taught not by each individual math subject, such as algebra and geometry, but through an integrated mathematics approach focused around real-life, more authentic problems. There is major diversity and continual changes in the literature read in English courses throughout the State. Up-dated science courses often reduce the emphasis on teaching the knowledge of science, but instead motivate and interest students by emphasizing the science inquiry and investigation skills associated with scientific discovery. More focus on test-prep could mean less time and opportunities to be involved in sports, in the arts, or to take interesting electives. Project based learning, one of the key innovative sets of practices in today’s age, are endangered if subject-based multiple-choice short answer tests are required for graduation. In some innovative high schools, comprehensive portfolios of student work have been developed to assess students over time – these will be less likely to be implemented when standardized tests become a requirement for every student to pass in order to graduate.
5. The new regulations eliminate the graduation project requirement that has strengthened school programs over time and insured that students have developed important skills associated with living in today’s world.
There is another problem with the changes to Chapter 4 – the elimination of the graduation project requirement that required every student to develop a project in order to graduate. This requirement made sense! Many districts in the Commonwealth use the project requirement to insure that students could ask good questions, solve problems, conduct research, communicate with the outside world, read a wide variety of material, think clearly, write a good paper, and communicate by making a presentation to others. There was great flexibility in how Districts implemented the project requirement, including some who integrated projects into their courses. Students across the state developed projects around their interests, used multiple resources, demonstrated their writing skills, and share their results through presentations to members of the community and professional educators. Some put the results on line for others to see. This requirement often meant that skills that are not normally assessed through the course of high school work, and that are very important, were assessed. Now this project requirement is gone. It should be put back into Chapter 4 before the regulations are completed.
Alternatives to the Keystone exam requirement
How we could improve educational programs and put the money that will go to develop, score, and administer these tests to better use? Here are some examples.
First and foremost, most districts in the Commonwealth have cut their programs and services to students, and they could use this money to bring back programs in their districts that make a difference. But I can also think of many other, better ways to spend the money at the State level to improve educational practice. Here are some:
If the State were to bring back the graduation project requirement that has been an important requirement for more than fifteen years, then the money could also be used to help strengthen the required project and make it a more meaningful and significant for all students.
But here’s another idea. I would prefer not to offer these tests at all, but, given the fact that many believe that these exams are important, I would support this alternative if it were included in Chapter 4. Suppose, instead of requiring that all students pass these tests, the Commonwealth developed a Keystone Honors Academic Diploma. School districts could offer these tests to those students who wish to take them, and, if they passed all of them, they would be given this diploma. Instead of making the tests a forced and required hurdle that must be passed, the tests would become a badge of honor, an incentive for those who wished to use them that way. What a difference that would make in how the tests would be viewed and used within Pennsylvania!
Another option that should be included in Chapter 4 is the development of an alternative assessment system to the Keystone exams. In New York State, a consortium of high schools has developed portfolio assessment systems that are focused around varied student work. The current Chapter 4 regulations make it virtually impossible to create an alternative portfolio assessment system similar to the Consortium model.
Some Final Thoughts
The Chapter 4 regulations that require Keystone exams in order to graduate are bad for students, bad for schools, and bad for the Commonwealth’s educational policy. The tests may initially seem like a good idea, a way to strengthen education in the State, but, in reality, they would do little or nothing to strengthen overall high school programs and prepare students to be college and career ready. They would add another student barrier to graduation, cause more students to drop out of school, reduce student motivation and interest in learning, and do little to help provide the kinds of skills students need for college and career. They will require significant additional funding from both the State and high school districts. They will reduce the level of innovation and change needed in today’s world, add a complex administrative and personnel burden, require more test-prep, and reduce time spent on other, more valuable high school experiences. They will, in general, weaken, rather than strengthen, high school programs in the Commonwealth.
The current Chapter 4 regulations should be redesigned and overhauled to eliminate the exam requirement for all students. The graduation project should be returned to Chapter 4. If required exams must still be included in the regulations, then I suggest that the regulations make it easier to develop alternative assessment models that match 21st century student needs. If exams are kept in place, then a better alternative to requiring their passing by every student is to use the Keystone Honors Academic Diploma approach, described above. The money spent on developing and administering these exams would be better spent on Pennsylvania helping schools and districts ramp up their programs and assessment systems, and for strapped school districts to use the money to strengthen their programs and services to students.
SAMPLE KEYSTONE QUESTIONS, MATH (1-4) AND BIOLOGY (5-8)
1. Which of the following inequalities is true for all real values of x?
A. x3 ≥ x2
B. 3x2 ≥ 2x3
C. (2x)2 ≥ 3x2
D. 3(x – 2)2 ≥ 3x2 – 2
2. An expression is shown below.
For which value of x should the expression be further simplified?
A. x = 10
B. x = 13
C. x = 21
D. x = 38
3. Two monomials are shown below.
What is the least common multiple (LCM) of these monomials?
4. The results of an experiment were listed in several numerical forms as listed below.
5–3 4/7 √5 3/8 0.003
A. Order the numbers listed from least to greatest.
B. Another experiment required evaluating the expression shown below.
1/6 ( √36 ÷ 3–2) + 43 ÷ I–8I
What is the value of the expression?
C. The last experiment required simplifying 7 √425 . The steps taken are shown below.
step 1: 7 (400 + 25)
step 2: 7(20 + 5)
step 3: 7(25)
step 4: 175
One of the steps shown is incorrect.
Rewrite the incorrect step so that it is correct.
D. Using the corrected step from part C, simplify 7 √425 .
7 √425 =
5. Living organisms can be classified as prokaryotes or eukaryotes. Which two structures are common to both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells?
A. cell wall and nucleus
B. cell wall and chloroplast
C. plasma membrane and nucleus
D. plasma membrane and cytoplasm
6. Which statement best describes an effect of the low density of frozen water in a lake?
A. When water freezes, it contracts, decreasing
the water level in a lake.
B. Water in a lake freezes from the bottom up,
killing most aquatic organisms.
C. When water in a lake freezes, it floats, providing
insulation for organisms below.
D. Water removes thermal energy from the land
around a lake, causing the lake to freeze.
7. Which statement correctly describes how carbon’s ability to form four bonds makes it uniquely suited to form macromolecules?
A. It forms short, simple carbon chains.
B. It forms large, complex, diverse molecules.
C. It forms covalent bonds with other carbon
D. It forms covalent bonds that can exist in a
8. A scientist observes that, when the pH of the environment surrounding an enzyme is changed, the rate the enzyme catalyzes a reaction greatly decreases. Which statement best describes how a change in pH can affect an enzyme?
A. A pH change can cause the enzyme to change
B. A pH change can remove energy necessary to
activate an enzyme.
C. A pH change can add new molecules to the
structure of the enzyme.
D. A pH change can cause an enzyme to react
with a different substrate.
I joined my ASCD state level executive board this past April. I hadn't planned on it. When I made the decision to pursue administrative openings, I thought I needed to take outside professional development. Make sure my mindset was globally relevant. Make certain my educational philosophy meshed with the current research on best practice. Maybe talk to educators outside my district, gain a different perspective, perhaps make a friend or two.
What I found from the two April professional development workshops I went to were people like me: looking to learn, passionate about education, and freely sharing their knowledge. There was no competition to get ahead, no elitism, just a common thread: let's learn together, share our thoughts, and then turnkey it back from whence we came. I needed more of this.
I reached out to the Executive Director of our state affiliate and was invited to attend the next executive board meeting. ASCD L2L was highlighted as an important way for us to continue to learn from other ASCD members, as well as share what we're doing (plus, they pay for your room and feed you a lot). I asked to attend, and my invitation was accepted. I didn't know what I was getting into.
|Ben Shuldiner and Amy Brennan interacting with the audience.|
I entered the hotel thinking, 'oh they have a 24 hour gym', and left two days later with my brain doing mental gymnastics and my workout clothes untouched. In between it seemed each person I met was highly credentialed, doing great work in education, and humble while discussing it (they were also likable, darn it). I thought to myself, 'big fish, big pond. Am I out of my element?' I met +Benjamin Shuldiner, the youngest principal ever in New York State, who dodged bullets in Crown Heights to visit each student's home, and created such buy-in during his 9 years there that his graduation rate (23%) and gang involvement (98%) flipped. I laughed with @BernsteinUSC about all ASCDL2L's sleeping in nearby 'unrooms' on whatever floor you happened to be in for the spirit of the unconference. I later found out Eric had a doctorate from Penn AND a law degree from UCONN, was a former principal, and a current faculty member at USC. Even my mentor and self-appointed guide, +Matthew Mingle, while reserved, was quietly driven: finishing his doctorate, about to move into a director of curriculum position, and highlighted by ASCD Executive Director, Gene R. Carter, in his keynote speech to all ASCD L2L attendees. I thought, 'why am I here?'
At two points in the conference I was able to answer that question. During our unconference brainstorming session, +Walter McKenzie, asked the attendees what were some essential questions to explore based on our morning learning session and our focus on whole child advocacy. After listening to others and channeling my anxiety, I shared my passion within education - soft skills. I asked Walter if we could consider that if the Common Core State Standards were the pinnacle, with the goal of preparing students to be successful in life as well as college and career ready, shouldn't we focus on the 1st level of that: being able to work as a member of a team, possessing a collaborative mindset, perseverance, grit, ability to learn from failure, etc.? I didn't see much reaction from my peers in the room when I shared this comment, so when Walter asked us to break into groups based on our essential questions, I didn't even go to my question group. I envisioned myself standing in an empty spot, me, next to my question posted on chart paper, just hanging out with each other. So, I hooked on with +Fred Ende and Jill Thompson, who had an interesting idea about reflecting on hiring practices for the future.
What a learning experience it was working with Fred AND not believing in my essential question. I engaged with the other members of the group on Fred's topic. We brainstormed together, and I found my voice. There were times when my thoughts were echoed, validated, or extended by others. Other times, disagreed with and explained why. I finally felt in my comfort zone, sitting around a round table, sharing out ideas with other passionate educators. Yeah, my resume wasn't as pretty, but that didn't matter to my peers at the table. They looked at me when they spoke, addressed what I said, and could care less about what stock I came from. They only cared if I had something to say, and probably were fine with me even if I didn't. So, why should it matter to me?
Meanwhile, my essential question group formed. They were the largest group of educators. They later presented an impassioned speech about what attendees would learn if we stopped by their unconference. I first thought to myself, 'Wow, that would have been a cool group to join, too!' I then thought, 'I guess I can trust my instincts as a future leader like I can as a current classroom teacher.'
What an empowering moment this was for me. My voice was heard and accepted. My essential question was validated by another group of ASCD educators I had never even met. And when we presented, my idea for us to share our brainstorm in a larger round table discussion when we had an iPad sound glitch was embraced and enacted beautifully by Ben and @amyrbrennan. When the presentations were over, all attendees clapped for one another. I clapped, too. Not just for what everyone had accomplished, but for my new friends, and the opportunities they gave me to feel a part of something bigger.
When we were asked to reflect on what we learned from the ASCDL2L Conference, I will remember one thing most of all: as I posed for a picture with the group of educators I had previously been in awe of and uncomfortable with, I realized I had reached a new level of learning: acceptance of self and others, willingness to show vulnerability, and a deeper ability to work as a collaborative member of a group. I had increased MY soft skills. And, I had made a group of friends I was determined to stay in touch with -- until the next L2L, when I could see them again.
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
What do you do when Graduate School loands and Fellowships only cover have of your expenses and you need structure too much to wait another 2-3 months about scholarships?
I tried Crowdfunding. It's actually kind of like a social experiment. I learned so much making this project funding page.
Please read it, I'm very interested to hear what people think.
Help fund my grad degree so I can help others! I'm about begin a program in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University in NYC, but I need support.
In the long term, there is just one answer to the problem of school safety: More love. The short term solution, on the other hand, lies in the unhealthy mix of force, fear, guns, security, locks, and other devices meant to barricade our children from a small, but obviously lethal, subset of the population.
I’ll leave the short-term answers to parents and politicians. Instead, let’s support advances in education that take us closer to the ultimate goal of raising, nurturing, and educating children who feel psychologically safe. That, really, is the sole purpose of whole child education.
The formula is simple. Feeling safe is the central feature of feeling secure. Secure people do not feel afraid, except in the face of dire circumstances. In the absence of fear, positive emotions bloom. When positivity reigns, the brain responds by becoming more expansive, creative, and open to ideas. Emotions stabilize. The terrible effects of isolation, loneliness, depression, withdrawal, and other outcomes of emotional dysfunction disappear or are resolved. Many fewer people feel compelled to murder a child. Those who do receive compassionate help from a greatly enlarged safety net of understanding, emotionally mature adults.
The foundation for this transformation is love. However, I don’t mean a kind of greeting card, Valentine’s version of love, as in, “Oh, aren’t little children just the sweetest little souls? I just love all of them!” Rather, I suggest that it’s overdue to recognize the hard science informing us that care counts. It’s time, really, to get out of our own way by integrating the most recent evidence-based findings about positive emotional development into schools and make healthy emotional development the centerpiece of learning.
Until society is willing to turn that corner, unsafety will plague us. With that in mind, here’s my list of simple ideas for educators to embrace that reflect the science of the second decade of the 21st-century. These findings point us toward designing schools as havens of safety and seedbeds for stable individuals who can be beacons of love throughout society and the global village:
Emotions and thinking are not separate. The 200-year misconception that emotions and cognition are separate has been disproven. The brain is an integrated organ that processes thoughts and emotions simultaneously. In fact, positive emotions help power the frontal cortex. Rather than an academic downside, a greater focus on the emotional health of young people will result in better performance, particularly in areas like 21st century skills and critical thinking. See Barbara Frederickson’s book on Positivity for the evidence.
The brain changes with the culture. There is no greater story at the moment that brain plasticity. Neurons change every millisecond, and the neural pathways work as fast as they can (and they’re fast) to adapt to new surroundings and the incoming culture. Everything about schools should be reviewed in this light. What messages do the hallways and the classrooms send to the brain? What is the atmosphere and climate of the school? Is nurturing the norm or the exception?
Let go of the brain. Now for the flip side. Not everything occurs from the neck up. Recent science shows intricate connections between the heart, gut, and the brain. Fear registers in the heart before the brain, and then communicates via the vagal nerves. The body acts as a sensory organ for safety—and the brain follow the lead. More fear equals less activity in the prefrontal cortex, the favorite part of the brain for any teacher (that’s where attention and learning take place.) In other words, holism is a reality, not a wish.
Emotions and physiology are one conversation. When you see a child in emotional distress, that means the child’s body is not working optimally. For example, stress is an over-mobilization of the natural resources of the body (too many hormones, at abnormal levels, and a high octane sympathetic nervous response.) The good news is that by calming the physiology of the body, we also alter emotional states.
Emotions are good, not bad. Research into positive emotions is shaping up as the next big advance in science. The old model of emotions, focused solely on survival mode, is a legacy from the caveman days. We’ve evolved; now science has confirmed that humans who generate and experience emotions such as contentment, joy, inspiration, and love respond by becoming more fulfilled, higher achieving people.
Relationships change emotional states. The connections between us and others alter emotional states. The mind, in fact, is not just within us any longer; it’s somewhere in that space between us, as Daniel Siegel in Mindsight shows us. The constant interplay takes place subconsciously, either through mirror neurons in the brain or energetic exchange. Regardless of the mechanism, it’s now clear that humans communicate in real time, at all times, on an emotional level. Every message from teachers, conveyed through facial expression, body language, words, or hidden assumption, carries weight.
Stress and challenge differ. Love does not preclude challenge, meaning you can still test children to figure out what they’ve learned. But it does tell us that removing the unnecessary stress of learning is a good thing. Constant testing invokes stress; a few meaningful exams pitched as a way to understand the gaps in your knowledge stirs up challenge. Here’s one clue to the difference: Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the armpits to perspire and one set of muscles in the face to contort; challenge brings a blended response of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems—and a genuine smile.
Mindfulness works. Whether you choose mindfulness, meditation, or heart-focused breathing, they all work. Each dissolves stress and liberates a calm, safe feeling that leads to positive health and better learning. It would be interesting to see the results on high stakes testing if every school day in America began with a five-minute meditation!
Love, compassion, and gratitude make you smarter. Some of the most powerful research recently shows the impact of gratitude on brain function and physiology in the body. Love calms, and the simple, yet profound, act of appreciation seems to have forceful consequences. As we move forward in schools and society, it is the job of adults to create a world in which children have ample reason to feel appreciative. If that happens, we’ll all feel safe.
Thom Markham is a psychologist and author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators, and the forthcoming book, Redefining Smart: The return of the heart. Download Tools for PBL on his website, www.thommarkham.com or contact him at email@example.com.
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.
I became a principal in a rather untraditional way. In the retirement of our school’s long standing co-principals, two other colleagues and I decide to apply as a leadership team. We had advanced degrees in education, but neither of us had formal administrative experience, although we had plenty of leadership roles in our professional work. My principal preparation was on the job and mentor supported. I am currently in the process of taking further coursework which combines educational leadership theory and practice, particularly through an additional leadership practicum at a local school. Having the opportunity to connect my work so far with this theory has provided me with further opportunity for reflection on my role and skills as a leader. The practicum has been a wonderful opportunity to also see how other schools are meeting the every day challenges we share as administrators.
In having this varied set of experiences, I offer some considerations for administration training and continued support throughout an administrator’s journey.
Investing in effective training AND providing continued support to administrators are key to a school’s success. Our classrooms highlight future leadership potential, now it remains the responsibility of the educational community on all levels to foster and sustain these leaders.
As I work with aspiring administrators, I often am asked about potential interview questions that might be asked during the hiring process. I offer a list of typical—and not so typical—interview questions that might be asked by panels who are considering school leader candidates. Of course, a hiring decision often boils down to the right fit, so questions can vary wildly depending on the needs of a particular school or the district. While this is not by any means a complete list, it does encompass a few examples of what kind of questions might be asked. As they say, there is no “right answer,” so I have tried to include a bit of rationale of what the panel might be thinking as well as a possible approach one might take. “Fit” is also an important consideration for the candidate; remember, you are interviewing them as well (though it may not feel like it!) and need to be sure that you are prepared for—and aware of—the specific leadership role that is involved.
1.) Describe great instruction.
2.) How will you support a safe and effective schoolwide learning environment?
3.) How would you resolve a conflict between two upset adults in your school?
4.) How will you ensure that staff members continue to grow as professionals?
5.) How would you work with the School Improvement Team (or equivalent) to realize change?
6.) What is a recent professional development-related book you have read recently and what did you gain from reading it?
7.) Can you describe a mistake you have made before and how you addressed it?
8.) If your life was a movie, who would play the lead role?
9.) Do you have any questions for us?
Remember, be succinct and confident. Allow the hiring panel the opportunity to ask possible follow-up questions to probe deeper regarding issues that are on their mind. Again, my thoughts and recommendations are just that—my best guess of anticipating what you might experience. You know yourself better than anyone, and hopefully, you have a sense of the organization and the specific leadership position that you seek. The important thing is that you present the real you: a competent, prepared, and caring leader who is ready to lead a team of people toward success.
William Sterrett's ASCD book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works and related study guide can be found here: http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Insights-into-Action.aspx A former principal and current member of the educational leadership faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Sterrett can be followed on Twitter @billsterrett
My school is going through an administration transition. It has been tough on everyone: staff, teachers, and students. Recent events have my considering if I should change schools or even stay in education. I reached out to a good friend for advice. I met her when she interviewed me when I flew to Chicago for my first interview to become an educator. At the time, she was the Program Director of Chicago Teaching Fellows. We have stayed in touch over the years and she has excelled in her career and become the Program Director of The New Teacher Project (The 'parent' organization of the fellows programs in the US) and is now the Program Manager at a larger but more focused educational reform group. During my initial teacher training, her drive to close the achievement gap in the US really imprinted on me and she still continues to inspire me with her dedication and wisdom as you will see in the conversation posted bellow.
Hey Andrea, I hope you have been doing well! Things are not going good at my school and I need to get out of the school before the new administration fires me (I'm being 'bullied'). I am thinking about leaving teaching altogether. Do you have any inspiring words of advice?
Hi Bobby!I! It is great to hear from you- but I am SO sorry about what you have been going through- you have done an incredible job caring about each and everyone of your students, focusing on their academic growth and pushing them to aspire for greater things in the future. It really is Collin's loss if they haven't been able to provide a setting that allows you to feel supported, safe and encourages your development. It is ok to feel the way you feel. I cannot blame you for wanting to put yourself first and take care of your basic needs. Being bullied is NOT ok. When a situation becomes too harmful (emotionally, physically) you need to feel like you can walk away. If it does come to that with your school- I would just make sure you do everything you can to leave your students with a smooth transition so that your departure does not disrupt their learning. I do however want to strongly encourage you to think harder about teaching- I have seen and heard of your work and I know- and I hope you know- that you are an incredible educator. It would be a devastating loss to have you leave the profession. Don't let your experience at this school spoil your gift- if after reflecting you recognize that it was your recent experience that has you considering leaving- then take a break and find a place where you fit- where you can thrive and still impact student learning.
Thank you so much for your kind words. Reading them made me feel so much better. The last administrator that we had for the past three years left yesterday and right before he did, he pulled me aside and warned me that they are looking at every little thing and are waiting for me to make even the tiniest mistake to try to get rid of me. I guess I don't fit their profile of what an educator should look like and how an educator should educate. I don’t want to leave teaching, I really do love it, and I absolutely LOVE my kids here at Collins. I'm teaching the seniors anatomy and I taught them biology when they were sophomores. I have seen them grow so much and am doing everything I can to help them get into the college of their choice with scholarships. However, yesterday the Interim Principal who took over recently screamed in my face because I gave a couple of students a hall pass to go to their counselors to get college applications that I was going to help them fill out. So, yes, I love teaching. However, this experience this year has been so emotionally draining that so many other things seem more appealing.
Last night, I rewrote my resume and made a detailed 5 page CV detailing my experiences as an educator.But then I also started looking into schools and found this: http://www.snre.umich.edu/sites/all/files/behavior_education.pdf and this: http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/teaching/msc/admissions.php
But I just don't know what to do.
On a happy note: It was announced today that my favorite senior who I've been mentoring for 3 years got the Posse scholarship (over $240,000) and my top senior last year got it too! Both want to be doctors or scientists!
Wow- it sounds like the culture and climate at your school has really turned toxic. I'm sorry to hear that- from what you've articulated it really does sounds like there has been a dramatic change (and there was a strong difference in vision between the old and interim administrators), On a side note- the work that you've done with your kids sounds awesome! It truly is the kids that keep us going huh- too bad dysfunctional systems and admin make situations so unbearable for excellent teachers! I'm glad your heart is still in it- you've definitely done your piece in helping close the gap in Chicago and I know you have many more successes ahead of you. I think your approach is good- if it were me I'd focus on teaching within my classroom walls during the day and quietly look at other teaching jobs for this year (that way you have choices if something happens) and you find a good fit. And you try to stick it out for your kids with a solid back up plan. Looking at your links- if you want to apply for grad school- that is always an option too- I mean it's never a bad investment to continue to improve ourselves. I'd love to see you continue in education- the one piece of advice I have to give you about grad school is - instead of approaching it as "what program interests me and then I'll find a job I qualify for," map out your ideal job- then identify what education you need and work backwards. Our jobs are such a big part of our life it is important to find something that fulfills and challenges us in the long run.
How fantastic!!! We need more scientists!! That is awesome; I hope you celebrate your success with that one
Again, thank you so much for your kind and inspiring words. That is such good advice and I feel so much more at ease. I'm going to do what you said, I promised my kids when we found out the principal was leaving (two weeks later a VP left and yesterday the other VP left) that I would be here for them as long as I am able to. They have been asking me why I'm still here and why I haven't left yet and I tell them it's because of them! Half of our staff was fired or left last year and replaced with first year teachers. Your advice about grad school makes so much sense and you have answered a question that I have been wondering for about a year. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you and will always always-always be thankful for everything I've learned from you.
You're so welcome! Your dedication to your kids is always an inspiration to me! Please reach out anytime you want to talk about anything.
Thank you!!! J It’s so good talking to you.
I literally just took the deepest breath and feel much better.
Good! I’m so glad.
Few artifacts of formal learning are as iconic as the letter grade.
What can I do to get an A?
She’s a C student.
He’s always gotten As and Bs in all of his classes.
Then we turn the letters into numbers–letter grades become averages of letter grades, which, when calculated, determined whether or not a learner qualifies to play sports, get into college, or thinks of him or herself as “smart.”
She has a 4.0 GPA.
You’re not getting into Stanford with that GPA.
It is an incredibly powerful symbol that isn’t going to be erased by long-winded rhetoric. Learners and families–far and away the most vested stakeholders in education–understand them. They “get” what a B means, and what an F means.
The issue is, in all honesty they probably don’t.
The Failure of the Letter Grade
The letter grade fails because its job–to communicate learning results to learners and families—cannot possibly be performed a single symbol.
Further, the letter grade “pauses” learning–basically says that at this point, if I had to average all of your understanding, progress, success, and performance into a single alphanumeric character, it’d be this, but really this is over-simplifying things because learning is messy and understanding is highly dynamic.
But parents don’t want to hear about understanding because it’s grey area that doesn’t make sense. It sound like spin. It’s subjective. Complex. They want it to be distilled for them–and rightfully so, but that reduction dissolves the honesty of the learning process. Conversations with parents turn most frequently on missing work, learner temperament and/or attendance, and the letter grade, but rarely on knowledge, curiosity, or the ability to evaluate information.
So that leaves education in a tight spot. Parents need capacity as bad as the education system itself.
While standards-based grading is one attempt to reduce how subjective letter grades are–measure and report proficiency based on standards as “grades.” This is a step in the right direction–at least parents know what a grade is based on, but they still don’t know any more about their son or daughter.
The ideal “response” here isn’t a single change, but a total merging of schools and communities. But until that happens, there are options.
12 Alternatives to Letter Grades
A comprehensive systems of badges, trophies, points, XP, achievements. This uncovers nuance and is capable of far more resolution and precision than a letter.
2. Live Feedback
Here, students are given verbal and written feedback immediately–as work is being completed. Live scoring without the scoring and iteration. No letters or numbers, just feedback.
In this process, work is graded as it traditionally has been, then, through revision and iteration, is gradually improved and curated. Eventually “lesser” performance (as determined by students, peers, families, and teachers) is replaced by better work, but without the grades. Grades jump-start the revision process, and that’s it.
4. Always-on Proving Grounds (Continuous Climate of Assessment)
In this model, assessment never stops–the result of one assessment is another. Not tests, but demonstrations. It doesn’t stop, so rather than halting the process to assign a letter, the process continues on.
5. Standards-Based Reporting
This one replaces letters with numbers, so it’s really not much better, but it can reduce the subjectivity of grading.
6. “So? So What? What Now?”
Here, students are asked–and ask themselves–at the end of every assignment–So, So What? What Now? This is similar to #4 above, but leaves the next step up to the student. Okay, you’re “finished” with this work. Now:
So: What did you “do”? Summarize details and big picture
So What? Why was this work important?
What now? What is the logical next step with this assignment, idea, or topic?
7. Metacognitive Action/Reflection/Narrative/Anecdotal
This approach dovetails behind #6. Rather than halting the learning process with a letter-as-performance-indicator, instead learners are tasked with reflecting on their thinking process–not as a patronizing “tell the teacher what they want to hear” activity on an exit slip walking out the door, but as a measure of their understanding and intellectual growth. This can be based on metacognition, reflective on the progression through the content, or more anecdotal about the learning process itself.
8. Curating the Highlights
A variation of the reflective and anecdotal approach, curating the highlights amounts to the student and teach getting together to extract the highlights of an assignment, or the process of project-based learning.
No letter grade–you either pass or fail. Not a great solution to anything other than the shades of grey between an A and a D, but an alternative nonetheless.
10. P2P, S2S, or Mentor Celebration
Gather with peers within and across schools to celebrate academic and learning success. No grades necessary–just planned visibility from the start of the project with a diverse groups of peers. Peer response can also be embedded throughout a lesson or unit by design, rather than only at the end as a summative evaluation.
11. Non-points-based Rubrics
This is much like the current systems–student performance is still evaluated against a rubric, but not grade or points are ever assigned. It is up to the student and their family to determine “how they did.” The goal of the teacher is not to grade students, but rather to support learners. Students will wiggle and writhe trying to turn the rubric’s assessment into a letter grade, and that’s fine. As a teacher, you’ve moved on to taking data from that performance to plan the next steps.
Make all learning public. Publish it. It can by anonymous if necessary, but it’s visible to families, peers, and communities. Peers can collaborate on revisions, families can respond, communities can celebrate or scoff, but the process has been decentralized and, in a way, democratized.
This approach won’t work for every student every time, but the idea is sound–return the stakeholding to the stakeholders.
The more we question the effectiveness of our current public education system the more we are led to question what it is we are trying to accomplish. Granted, students should become competent in the basics of reading, writing, math and technology. However, I believe the time has come to redefine broader goals which have previously been addressed as peripheral to the core curriculum. ASCD's Whole Child Initiative has a wonderful framework that should officially become a part of public education world-wide. When I asked a group of teachers, administrators, and parents in Canada what they felt the purpose of public education was, the answers focused on the following:
Although we know that these are all important, we haven't reached agreement that these must be directly addressed at school. If not there, then where? Many families are not making time to focus on such things. A recent study indicated that young people spend close to 7 hours a day on-line. What are they learning there? Many schools have attempted to address these broader goals through character education programs. Unfortunately, these programs are often treated as being separate from the core curriculum rather than being embedded in the culture and climate of the schools.
It is time to define the place for social/ emotional aspects of student growth and development in a broad-based curriculum. This is the only way to truly maximize student learning. Once these are defined and accepted, all educators must be trained on how to create the necessary safe, caring, positive, supportive learning environments that will create confident, competent, creative, caring students. It can be done. Find out more in my book "REAL LEADERSHIP, REAL CHANGE Moving beyond research and rhetoric to create a new future for public education" available at www.impactleadership.ca.