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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).
I recently returned from Hunterdon Central’s Holocaust Overseas Study Tour. Our group of twenty students and four educators traveled to Czech Republic and Poland to visit Terezin, Lidice, the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a transformative experience for me as an educator, parent, and citizen.
I thought I would be prepared, at least intellectually, for what I would see on our trip. I grew up in a city with large Jewish and Polish populations. From my earliest years I heard the stories of neighbors and close family friends who had survived Nazi camps. Beginning in the first grade I was exposed to annual Holocaust education programs. As a social studies teacher I taught about the Holocaust for over a decade. Each camp is a visceral confrontation with the worst depravity known to humanity. All I can say is that you don’t really know the enormity of the Holocaust until you go and visit the sites.
I hope more educators launch programs like Central’s Holocaust Overseas Study Tour. Holocaust education is citizenship education. The benefits are not just historical knowledge of the Holocaust. It is an opportunity to reflect upon what it means to have rights as a citizen and a reminder that we must be eternally vigilant to protect human rights.
The inscription on the mausoleum at Majdanek in Lublin, Poland reads “let our fate be a warning to you.” The twenty students on the trip who come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds were in a word – inspiring. Their desire to study the Holocaust and return to present to their peers and the community about their experience is at the heart of everything we aspire to instill in students. Tonight, our students will share their experiences from our trip and bear witness at the Flemington Jewish Community Center.
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?
I have seen a blaze of anti-Common Core sentiment sweep through certain states. These groups that are protesting the Common Core are counting on you not doing your own research and thinking about the Common Core in-depth. There are several FALSE claims you will hear in relation to Common Core that you need to think about. You can verify this at www.corestandards.org.
First, the Common Core is not a national curriculum. The full name of Common Core is “Common Core State Standards” (aka CCSS) meaning they are benchmarks we want our children to achieve, but how to achieve them is left up to individual states and local communities. Many, many companies are competing for schools’ dollars by offering diverse and varied curricula if schools don’t want to write their own. The feds are not driving Common Core for implementation or for assessment.
Second, the Common Core does not dumb down the curriculum (the same people claiming we are dumbing down the curriculum also gripe that we are introducing difficult concepts too early—which is it?). On average, we see rigorous standards applied 1 year earlier than we were applying them under the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. Missouri has consistently had the 2nd and 3rd most rigorous state achievement test (MAP) in the nation and now we see an even more rigorous test coming next year. In fact, we just piloted the Common Core assessment in the district and students and teacher alike commented on how much harder the test was than the MAP. One question I saw was substantially different than the MAP test. On MAP, a kid would be asked a math problem and then given a set of choices: A, B, C, or D. On the Common Core test, I saw a 5th grader answering questions that went something like this, “Suzy was given the following math problem.” A word problem followed. “Suzy read the problem, formed a plan to answer the problem with six steps.” A numbered list of 6 steps followed. “Suzy got the following answer which was wrong. Find which step in Suzy’s method was wrong, explain why, and correct her answer.” Folks, a kid has to think a lot deeper to answer that type of questions than a multiple-guess test.
Third, there is a lot of other mumbo-jumbo being tossed around, but opponents keep piling up argument after argument against it until you aren’t even sure what they are referring to anymore. The argument expands to gripe about socialism, anti-Christian movements, abortion, tracking, cost, and I don’t know what else. But those things are other policy and legislative concerns that activists are lumping in with Common Core because they don’t understand it.
In a nutshell, here is a Common Core kindergarten standard:
RF.K.2(a): Recognize and produce rhyming words. The standard then recommends “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne and “Singing Time” by Rose Fyleman although districts can use “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, or any other district approved literature. The concept can be further developed through artwork, song, science, math, and vocabulary. The curriculum is developed at the local level while the assessment will be used to determine if a student can indeed recognize and produce a rhyming word.
Let’s try another one in 3rd grade:
RI.3.9: Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic. The standard recommends “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “The Storm” although districts can choose any literature they want to have students compare and contrast. By the way, this is something we were trained heavily in during my doctoral program in order to conduct academic research…and here it is in 3rd grade Common Core!
L.5.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. Exemplar texts include “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Little Prince.” Informational texts include, “Who is Neil Armstrong?” and “Women Explorers of North and South America.” If we don’t like any of those, we can choose any literature we want.
Can you feel Obama’s fingertips reaching for your children’s minds yet? If you are confused where the socialist agenda is, I’m with you. But then again, no one has shown you what the real standards look like. Any standard can be written to reflect local control, with local lessons, local activities, and local formative assessments. The board will approve any curriculum that is generated by our own local teachers and reviewed by our own local administrators, myself included.
Finally, there are some real nice components of Common Core that I want to point out:
Reading is broken down into Literature, Informational Texts, and Foundational Skills. Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language are strands of the standards. Reading and writing aren’t just isolated to classic works, but standards are given for reading to be taught in Social Studies classes, science, and other technical subjects.
Here is an example of the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” in grades 9 and 10. Standard RI.9-10.9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts. These are four powerful, patriotic, truly American pieces of history that our kids should be grappling with. The teacher moves from the “sage on the stage” lecturing about what these pieces mean to the “guide on the side” helping students hold democratic readings and discussions about what these authors may have intended and what they were dealing with from a historical context. Students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.”
The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a framework of standards that are Internationally Benchmarked, rigorous, and broad enough to allow states and local boards of education create a locally controlled curriculum designed to meet the needs of local children. Go to www.corestandards.org and read through the standards to see for yourself. Nothing is perfect. Education is a practice. Common Core is another step forward in that practice. It isn’t evil, destructive, or anti-American. It is an opportunity for people with an axe to grind to use it as political smoke and mirrors to advance their own agenda. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.
Five aspects of complex systems help define internal structure. Internal diversity keeps the system flexible. Redundancy keeps small fluctuations from rippling into chaotic, destructive change. Decentralized control allows innovation and creativity to emerge from the complex interactions between diverse agents. Organized randomness keeps the system moving along cohesively without limiting where it will go. Neighbor interactions keep the system in check in relation to the environment and local fitness peaks (Davis et al., 2006).
Structure is important to complexity because “a hierarchical, building-block structure utterly transforms a system’s ability to learn, evolve, and adapt” (Waldrop, 1992, p. 169) by giving systems an opportunity to move subsystems around to increase complexity and creativity without having to try out every possible combination of agents and schema. Order is a byproduct of structure through routines and clear structures, rules, and procedures (Marzano et al., 2005). The structure itself is “influenced by social, economic, and political factors; created and socially constructed; learned; and dialectical” (Church, 2005, p. 48). Practices are determined by structures as well as construct structures (Swartz, 1997). Reflective practice gives individuals and groups the iterative vehicles to change complex organizational structures.
Despite the structures present in complex systems, “it is not possible to separate complex adaptive systems into neat categories based on whether and where selection is operating. In most systems, selection is manifest on multiple interacting scales” (Levin, 2002, p. 4). Structure cannot be permanent because agents reorganize themselves in response to internal and external stimuli so that renewal is continual (Fels, 2006). Complex systems can move along a continuum ranging from order to chaos with complexity sitting at the edge of both simultaneously (Waldrop, 1992).
“Since the boundaries of complex systems are difficult to determine, it is impossible to draw tidy lines between these organizational layers” (Davis & Simmt, 2006, p. 296). Fuzzy boundaries in the school as a complex system are especially evident when talking about differences in social class, the curriculum of a school, and the schemas used in the school community (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Lareau, 2000; Weiner, 2006). The unique sociocultural capital of diverse social classes determines alignment of groups of agents with the capital present in a school. “School practices and assumptions emerging from the deficit paradigm often hide student and teacher abilities” (Weiner, 2006, p. 1). Deficit thinking comes from either the recessive schema of the marginalized system or the dominant schema of the legitimate system depending on the context the school currently finds itself. The curriculum itself emerges from and as part of the emerging, iterative structures of the school community with “formal, informal, and even ‘hidden’” aspects (Barr & Parrett, 2007, p. 141).
The subsystems of complex adaptive systems are the legitimate and recessive systems with agents interacting according to schema with dominant and marginalized parts respectively. Paradox exists multi-dimensionally as well at the system, agent, and schema levels. Ordinary management techniques drive legitimate processes while the recessive system requires extraordinary management. Stacey (1996) claims that the boundaries of the legitimate system are “clear-cut” while the recessive system’s boundaries are “fuzzy”; however, the fact that the legitimate system is aware of and ignores much of the activity of the recessive system makes the legitimate system’s boundaries fuzzy even if they are less permeable than the recessive system.
The legitimate network in an organization plans enculturation and avoids surprises by using the dominant schema to control interactions keeping them linear (uniform, conformed, repetitive) resulting in proportional response to stimuli, balanced input/output, and in the end, the system equals the sum of its parts. The recessive system, a subsystem of the legitimate system, can also stop renewal and maintaining stability by resisting change; however, changes to the legitimate system are actualized through processes in the recessive system. Efficient legitimate systems are stable with the equilibrium to actualize the mission of the organization. The recessive subsystem’s schemas lead to diversity in the system which is an integral part of complexity and “comprises all social and political interactions that are outside the rules strictly prescribed by the legitimate system” (Stacey, 1996, p. 290). Conversely, power is relative and can exist in either the dominant or marginal ideology. Social change can be brought about by activating power and negotiating interests in the margins (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006).
In complex systems, team-based units allow for structure without being overly so through redundancy in the form of organic fractals. Teams exhibit characteristics of open systems with permeability and high information flow; nonlinear responsibilities and interests; self-referencing knowledge and redundancy; organic in the self-selection of members; and share vision, culture, and meaning as possible strange attractors (Gilstrap, 2005). Creativity also resides in the redundancy that teams allow “for the repetition of different ideas and experiments in slightly different ways, and…means that the organization will be more resilient in the face of inevitable failures” (Stacey, 1996, p. 280).
The principal acts as the recognized leader of the legitimate system; however, leaders operate as participants in the recessive system helping contain anxiety in the face of change through urgency and assurance at the boundary while observing processes in the organization. Leadership shifts from ordinary management in structured times to extraordinary management in phase transitions as the school moves along the continuum between order and chaos (Stacey, 1996).
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Newest Policy Points Revisits A Nation at Risk
ASCD’s newest Policy Points (PDF) takes a closer look at A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report on the state of U.S. education that launched a spirited and ongoing debate about the quality of our public schools. This issue of Policy Points examines the specific recommendations of the report, the accuracy of its dire prediction about “a rising tide of mediocrity” undermining the nation’s well-being, and the evolving school reform debate the report kick-started three decades ago.
Throughout May on www.wholechildeducation.org: The New Poverty
In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. These “poor kids” don’t fit the traditional stereotypes—two-thirds live in families in which at least one adult works and the percentage of poor students in many rural districts equals that in inner-city districts. In the United States, the economic downturn has dramatically changed the landscape, and districts that were previously vibrant are now dealing with unemployment, underemployment, and more transient families.
Join us as we share what new—and old—solutions we are using to support learning and ensure that each child, whatever her circumstances, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the current economic downturn; its result that many families and children face reduced circumstances; and implications for schools, many of which have seen drastic changes in the populations they serve and their communities. Guests include Deborah Wortham, superintendent of the School District of the City of York, Pa., and former assistant superintendent for high schools and director of professional development for Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools; Felicia DeHaney, president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; William Parrett, director of the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies and professor of education at Boise State University; and Kathleen Budge, coordinator of the Leadership Development Program and associate professor in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies Department at Boise State University. Parrett and Budge are also coauthors of the 2012 ASCD book Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools.
ASCD Leader Voices
Arkansas Governor Signs Whole Child Legislation
Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe signed a new bill into law that promotes a whole child approach to educating the state’s children. The legislation (PDF) establishes a Whole Child Whole Community recognition program and aims to measure the comprehensive well-being of children and how well stakeholders are meeting their needs according to the five whole child tenets and their indicators as identified by ASCD.
The recognition program will acknowledge and highlight the work of Arkansas educators, parents, community members, and policymakers who support the whole child. The legislation also indicates that one purpose of the recognition program is to help spur systemic collaboration and coordination within and beyond schoolhouse doors and to promote a shift from narrowly defined student achievement and traditional education reform to broader, more comprehensive efforts that recognize the crucial out-of-school factors that influence teaching and learning. A diverse state working group will work over the course of a year to recommend a framework and process for recognizing exemplary whole child and whole community successes.
Congratulations to Arkansas ASCD, which played a crucial role in supporting the bill’s development and introduction!
Rhode Island Passes Whole Child Resolution
The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution (PDF) supporting a whole child approach to education that ensures each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
The resolution affirms that to educate Rhode Island’s children effectively, the state must pay attention to factors within and beyond its school buildings as well as integrate efforts among schools, families, and communities. In addition, the resolution expresses the assembly’s intent to model whole child concepts in its own work and to join with other stakeholders who support the whole child.
Congratulations to Rhode Island ASCD(RIASCD), which worked hard to have this joint resolution introduced into the Rhode Island legislature!
To help the state fulfill its commitment to whole child education, ASCD and RIASCD offered some initial steps (PDF)—organized by the five whole child tenets—for educators, parents and community members, and policymakers to take. RIASCD also highlighted some of ASCD’s free resources to help the state put its whole child vision into action.
South Carolina 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 seventh post of the series, South Carolina ASCD leader Josh Patterson writes about the challenges and successes that South Carolina has had with CCSS implementation.
The Effective Principal
What we see through our research, reading, and conversations with principals and school staff is that to see what an effective principal is, don’t look at the person; look at the effects of her leadership on student achievement, school culture and climate, teacher effectiveness and satisfaction, and community relationships. As the wearers of many hats, principals are crucial to implementing meaningful and lasting school change. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In April, we looked at what qualities principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Donna Snyder, manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD; Kevin Enerson, principal of Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota (an ASCD Whole Child Network school); and Jessica Bohn, an ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
Also this month on the Whole Child Podcast, we talked with educators from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School (winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award) about how they meet student and staff needs, taking challenges and turning them into opportunities for all. Guests include principal Mark Pinder, assistant principal for curriculum Michael Ralls, assistant principal for student management Tim Taylor, dean of students Donnie Siel, and teacher leader David Adams.
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
Killeen Independent School District Deepens Professional Development Partnership with ASCD—Killeen Independent School District (ISD)—whose more than 6,100 staff members serve approximately 42,000 students—is deepening its relationship with ASCD to meet its professional development goals. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Leadership Guide on Transforming Any Teacher into a Master—ASCD is pleased to announce the release of Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom by best-selling education author, renowned educator, and professional development expert Robyn R. Jackson.
Never Underestimate Your Teachers offers school leaders a new model for understanding great teaching as a combination of skill and will, and it's the first book of its kind to support leaders as they facilitate teacher growth in both areas through differentiated leadership. Jackson shows readers how to design and deliver targeted professional development to help each teacher realize his or her potential and achieve great results for the benefit of every student. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Common Core Academy Supports School Leadership Teams Across the United States—ASCD is bringing its inaugural ASCD Common Core Leadership Team Academy to Chicago August 5–8, 2013. This intensive four-day professional leadership experience offers groups of administrators, teacher leaders, and nonprofit and higher education partners an accelerated plan for putting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into routine practice. Read the full press release.
ASCD Summer Reading List Identifies 10 Books That Can Transform Teaching and Learning—In the spirit of promoting year-round professional development, ASCD has assembled a diverse list of books essential to educators who seek to improve their practice over the summer months. These books—organized by how they help educators transform teaching and learning—offer readers the opportunity to dive deep into the hottest topics in education, including using data to focus improvement, project-based learning, child development, and neurodiversity. All books are currently available in paperback and e-book formats. Read the full press release.
Arkansas Governor Beebe Signs Education Reform Law Supporting the Whole Child—Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe has signed a new bill into law that promotes a well-rounded whole child approach to educating the state’s children.“An Act to Establish the Whole Child– Whole Community Recognition Program; and for Other Purposes” (Senate Bill 1051[PDF]) outlines a plan for the Arkansas education system that ensures Arkansas students receive a whole child education. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Staff Expand Association’s Ability to Design, Deliver, and Evaluate Professional Development Resources—ASCD welcomes three new staff members to the association’s Program Development Work Group. Dr. Andrea Muse has accepted the position of director of research and program evaluation, Jen Thompson will serve as director of program management and process improvement, and Elizabeth Thurman has joined ASCD as director of customer engagement and product support. The additions of Muse, Thompson, and Thurman expand ASCD’s capability to design, deliver, and evaluate the crucial professional development resources today’s educators need to learn, teach, and lead. Read the full press release.
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
What is the most important factor that contributes to student success? Teaching.
If you’re an educational leader, you know how important it is to have teachers feel supported or be on board with new ventures. The last thing we want to hear, or want teachers to feel, is “not one more thing” or “how can we fit it all in?” But it’s not about everything but the kitchen sink; it shouldn’t all fit. Something’s got to give. If we don’t acknowledge that and help teachers modify, we’ll get overworked teachers throwing it all in, or students who need what was left out. We need to continually reevaluate and “remodel” to make room for what’s important.
Picture this: a new teacher pulls out a curriculum guide, talks to her colleagues and creates a year-long plan to include concepts and objectives. Being new at this, it looks like a lot to fit in. She decides to start small; one unit at a time. The manuals and guides are helpful. Her team shares activities for her to use in her classroom. This is all a great start...
A different picture: an experienced teacher of more than 10 years, well respected by students, parents and peers, has just been told of a new program in her curriculum. There’s now a wrench in her well-oiled teaching. There’s no room for anything else...
When we’re busy “trying to fit it all in,” it’s easy to forget the big picture. We get caught up in planning activities, teaching concepts and moving on. If we’re honest, I think this can happen to all of us sometimes. Here are some good reminders and questions for new teachers and those of us who’ve been at this for a while. It’s important to stop, reflect and remind ourselves of ultimate learning goals.
If teachers are to feel supported, curriculum leaders need to regularly reflect as well. When presenting new or revised curriculum, leaders need to be explicit in communicating transfer as the ultimate goal. Essential questions and big ideas should drive student learning. When we open the conversation to why and how we can use curriculum, it's more likely we'll all be on the same page.
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.
As an Elementary Reading Specialist and Coach, I often hear, “He seems to get it when he works with me, but he doesn’t do it on the test.” These are good teachers, and they know how to model strategy use while thinking aloud and offer guided practice in small groups. They’re very familiar with the “I do, we do, you do” pattern, but for some students, the “you do” doesn’t come as easily. What’s missing?
We need to go beyond modeling. We need to make the connection that may be implicit to so many, explicit for others. Too often, we assume that students know that transfer is the goal of learning. Even when we set a specific purpose for each lesson and communicate our objective to students, it may not include the language of transfer. For example, a fifth grade teacher’s math lesson objective may be, “Students will use problem solving strategies to solve multi-step word problems.” Over several days, the teacher instructs students on problem solving strategies and gives them plenty of examples of problems with different numbers and guided practice in applying the strategies. The teacher’s feedback is positive, helping a few students find an error in a step or two within particular problems. For the most part, they’ve “got it.” Most can even recall the steps on their own. A few have only missteps with calculations.
Then comes the test. There are several different types of problems, and some are not recognizable to students; more has changed than the numbers. Students find they can’t just plug in a strategy and solve. How do they know which strategy to use?
During guided practice, did the teacher require students to analyze problems? Did they understand how to determine which strategy is best to use? As teachers, we need to use explicit language that transfer is always our goal for learning. A more explicit lesson objective would be, “Students will analyze word problems to determine appropriate problem solving strategies and solve problems requiring multiple steps.” This changes everything. From a student’s perspective, he’s got to figure out which strategies to use when. From a teacher’s perspective, this explicit goal reminds her that she’s got to model, instruct, and guide her students on how to determine appropriate strategy use. The goal is not to use this strategy to solve this problem; the goal is determine which strategies can be useful in solving future problems.
It’s our job to make that transfer explicit. This is true in math, as well as in reading and content areas. We need to use explicit language. I recently chatted with a group of kindergarten students just learning to read, beaming with pride as they successfully read a third book in a series with a lovable dinosaur as the main character. I asked them if reading these books would help them read another. Owen quickly responded, “No, that’s a totally different book.” I pointed out that not only did the new book have the same characters; it also had some of the same words that they’d recognized in the first few books. “Well, those words, I would know,” Owen admitted. But what would he do when he got to a word he didn’t know? “Oh, I would just tap and slide.” (That’s our phrase for sounding out parts of a word.) “Oh, then I could read it!” This was an “aha” moment for Owen and for me. I had assumed his success in recognizing sight words and sounding out unfamiliar words would transfer to each book he read. In fact, he did seem to transfer to each new book so far.
But what happens when the books don’t contain the same characters? What if the print looks totally different or there are more words on each page? It’s my job to teach for transfer. I can’t only give Owen guided practice in texts that fit the same pattern; I’ve got to guide him through analyzing all kinds of texts, teaching new strategies and reminding him of the bank of strategies he owns, and help him choose.
Reflect on your own teaching. Do you use language that shows students that transfer is the true goal of learning? Try it. Set the stage for “aha” moments for you and your students.
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
Attention to sociocultural capital in High-Performing High-Poverty Schools (HP2S) helps teachers understand where marginalized students are coming from. Teachers who share a sociocultural identity with students in the school may increase achievement in marginalized students (Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007). Regardless of the focus on AYP in reading and math, ultimately, education is “the process of cultural transmission” (Rury, 2005, p. 10). The cultural resources imparted to students become capital “when they function as a ‘social relation of power’ by becoming objects of struggle as valued resources” (Swartz, 1997, p. 43). Cultural capital has a positive effect on all educational outcomes (Dumais, 2005). Acting as a resource for social power is why sociocultural capital is hoarded from marginalized groups by the dominant class. The power connected to cultural capital is a valuable resource “intersect[ing] with all aspects of cultural life” (p. 286). Bourdieu’s studies into capital have led him to believe that schools act as the main gatekeepers to capital giving the dominant class access to status, privilege, and symbolic power. “Schools offer the primary institutional setting for the production, transmission, and accumulation of various forms of cultural capital” (Swartz, 1997, p. 189) making restriction to capital through education a likely abuse by the privileged who already control education policy and practice (Nesbit, 2006). Even some reformers intent on social justice follow the dominant class way of thinking, valuing the expertise of professionals and managers over the working class, which presumes that “knowledge deficits” in the working class may be overcome through greater effort to move closer to dominant ideology (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005).
A long-term view of student success by educators recognizes that students are not blank slates waiting to be filled, but “are the products of many years of complex interactions with their family of origin and cultural, social, political, and educational environments” (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 5). The combined SES of students in the school along with differences in sociocultural capital is an important factor in student performance. The resulting push for accountability has narrowed education’s view of what schools should be doing down to reading, math, and science (Henig et al., 1999; Kuh et al., 2007; Rury, 2005).
Schools are middle class institutions where teachers have high levels of middle class sociocultural capital and reward students who have it, but may consciously or subconsciously discriminate against students who do not. When teacher and student capital is congruent, the performance of marginalized students is more likely to benefit. Popular society and specialists transmit values about the best way to raise children which is generally followed by middle class society aligning them with the beliefs of educational institutions. Working class parents are slower to change child-rearing practices to dominant practice keeping them out of sync with the school’s perception of the ideal home environment influencing teacher perception of the child and the child’s home life (Dumais, 2005; Lareau, 2003; Nesbit, 2006; Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007).
The test scores of marginalized students would currently be lower if schools had not already been making progress at reducing the disadvantages of family educational background and SES previous to the passage of NCLB (Henig et al., 1999). Educational leaders, principals in particular, use an understanding of “cultural, social, and the promise of economic capital” to bring competing groups and individuals together to find common goals and shift marginalized interests to the center by “mutual choice” (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006, p. 156). Schools tap into a sense of agency in communities to bring about mutual choice to move toward federal goals, otherwise mandates like NCLB will ultimately get nowhere (Cohen & Ball, 1999, p. 23). Different forms of capital, but sociocultural capital in particular, can operate as lenses principals use to view particular educational contexts. A lens of the middle-class, white norm limits a school’s responsiveness to cultural capital possessed by students (Machtinger, 2007; Swartz, 1997).
Learning capacity is equivalent to intellectual capital (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005). All forms of capital are resources “that can be drawn on for social advancement” (Rury, 2005, p. 13). Bourdieu, one of the world experts on capital, believes there are four basic types of capital: economic, cultural, social, and symbolic with economic capital being the most important form in the United States followed by cultural (Swartz, 1997). While school cannot provide students with economic capital, schools can help students develop the other types of capital. Incongruence between the amount and type of capital students possess and the forms of capital valued in the school community can cause problems for the student (Kennedy et al., 2006).
Cultural capital has been defined in numerous ways. Church (2005) quotes Nieto’s definition of culture as
the ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created, shared, and transformed by a group of people bound together by a combination of factors that include a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and religion…Culture is dynamic; multi-faceted; embedded in context, influenced by social, economic, and political factors; created and socially constructed; learned; and dialectical (p. 48).
Or in other words: highly complex. Cultural capital comes in an objectified form such as works of art, an embodied form based in an appreciation and understanding of objectified cultural capital, and institutionalized form found in educational credits and degrees. Cultural capital is a resource used to gain or maintain power and privilege. Based on the assumption that certain attitudes, behaviors, and values are more admired and rewarded in society than others, dominant forms of cultural capital give students who possess them an advantage over marginalized students (Dumais, 2005; Rury, 2005).
Cultural capital, within the school setting, is the embodiment of the previous experience and learning of a community of people and influences how students accumulate, exchange, and utilize resources they gain from the school. Culture can be verbal facility, general cultural awareness, aesthetic preferences, scientific knowledge, and educational credentials and becomes a power source. Objectified cultural capital such as books, art, scientific instruments, and other tools require cultural abilities to use which can impact student engagement and parent involvement (Cohen & Ball, 1999; Stacey, 1996; Swartz, 1997). Parent access to the educational setting is also mediated by their personal experiences with school and other education-related institutions. In theU.S., where the dominant culture is not as strong as in other countries, cultural capital benefits both students from privileged backgrounds and all students who possess it allowing for “cultural mobility”. As cultural capital is distributed unevenly by society, schools make important decisions based on capital they have or capital they are trying to get which can be attributed to school failure as opposed to the limitations of individuals (Dumais, 2005; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Nasir & Hand, 2006; Schaughency & Ervin, 2006).
Coleman expands cultural and human capital theories into social capital which is a “community-based support-system network” that is context specific and has the two common elements of social structures and facilitation of individual and group actions within those structures. Social capital is a network of individual human capital. This view seems too limiting to the richness of cultural capital as described by Bourdieu (Musial, 1999). Social capital is the benefit derived from social networks and organizations including relationships within family and community that generates trust and schema to increase the capacity for collaboration (Dumais, 2005; Farmer-Hinton & Adams, 2006; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Rury, 2005; Zacharakis & Flora, 2005). Agents in the form of individuals and class will “struggle for social distinction” in a form of self-organization (Swartz, 1997). In this light, capital seems destined to be reproduced as “the quality of education children receive is directly related in part to the ability of parents to generate social capital” (Noguera, 2004, p. 2155).
Obviously, the forms of cultural, social, human, and economic capital are often interrelated. Cultural capital intersects with social capital to give agents more influence. This intersection means agency cannot be separated from the social and cultural contexts within the global environment in which it occurs. While social capital can be a means to a desirable end, the dominant class will most often prevail as they possess more capital (Lattuca, 2002; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Watkins & Tisdell, 2006).
More simply, “culture can be thought of as a set of behavioral characteristics or traits that are typical of a social group” (Rury, 2005, p. 9). The social setting is an organization of networks between social positions where dominant and marginalized groups compete for control of resources. Capital is specific to setting and does not exist without it. The education system reproduces social inequity where the possession of cultural capital leads to academic success. The most valuable form of capital in school is cultural capital congruent with capital valued within that particular school’s social setting (Dumais, 2005).
Whereas the social-constructivist perspective makes a distinction between the individual cognitive activities and the environment in which the individual is present, the socio-cultural perspective regards the individual as being part of that environment. Accordingly, learning cannot be understood as a process that is solely in the mind of the learner…Knowledge, according to this perspective, is constructed in settings of joint activity…Learning is a process of participating in cultural practices, a process that structures and shapes cognitive activity (De Laat & Lally, 2003, p. 14).
Nasir and Hand (2006) explain this complex interaction of social and cultural capital within specific environments as proof that educators need to attend to fostering agency in students’ focus on local problems. The number of students bringing middle class capital with them to school is decreasing and the number of students bringing sociocultural capital from the lower classes is increasing. “As in any demographic switch, the prevailing rules and policies eventually give way to the group with the largest numbers” (Payne, 2001, p. 79).
Engrained dispositions from previous experience can sub- or un-consciously limit student success. Called “habitus”, these dispositions provide the opportunity to mitigate cultural predispositions by structuring school situations and interactions with positive models and diversity-oriented experiences (Kuh et al., 2007). However, the concept of habitus does not account for the complexity and variety of hopes and dreams of different groups. Humanity is too varied and complex to be perfectly categorized into any model, but habitus does give a vocabulary to talk about how dominant and marginalized groups may be socialized starting at a young age. “Habitus…privileges the basic idea that action is governed by a ‘practical sense’ of how to move in the social world. Culture is a practical tool used for getting along in the social world” (Swartz, 1997, p. 115). Habitus is a collection of cultural habits.
Field is the social setting organized around types and combinations of capital which habitus operates. Schools act as a field for the competitive investment, exchange, and accumulation of various forms of capital (Swartz, 1997). Struggling within a local environment, schools should reflect the shifting community field. “Education clearly affects the course of social development, and schools reflect the influence of their immediate social context” (Rury, 2005, p. 1).
Schools are viewed as vehicles for individual social and economic mobility. The education field itself provides mobility of cultural capital for low SES/marginalized groups and is often one of few examples children and community members have of mobility and opportunity. This perception itself may create the reproduction of limited mobility in marginalized groups. In truth, some schools value cultural knowledge while others are more forgiving (Dumais, 2005; Henig et al., 1999; Johnson et al., 2000).
Empowerment of marginalized communities is collective, not individual. In order to realize change in the face of limited resources, communities rely on social capital for strength and agency. For school communities, this means that improved engagement can have profound consequences in improving achievement, agency, and equality (Schutz, 2006). Communalism helps build and accrue capital, generates “positive emotional energy”, and “may enhance motivation and engagement” (Seiler & Elmesky, 2007, p. 393). The social capital web is comprised of household, neighborhood, and school (Musial, 1999). But “working class peoples’ indigenous learning capacities…have been denied, suppressed, degraded or diverted within most capitalist schooling” (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005, p. 111). Overcoming cultural and historical differences “concerns activity and access to tools and mediated learning” (Portes, 2005, p. 176). Literacy, numeracy, and student well-being are practiced fluidly and dynamically across boundaries in social contexts. These pathways between family and community “need to be understood in out-of-home learning communities so that pedagogies, including assessment practices and the pedagogy of relationships can address the complexities related to children’s different life chances and ways of learning” (Kennedy et al., 2006, p. 16).
“Biological models of deficiency [such as the Bell curve have been] replaced by cultural deficit models” (Nasir & Hand, 2006, p. 451). Private and charter schools can stick to a particular ideology that does not have to concern itself with discipline, ideology, and related social problems. These schools are successful because the students who attend them possess congruent sociocultural capital. The success of private and parochial schools suggests these schools acting as self-organizing units self-organize around the sociocultural capital available within and surround them as opposed to the capital they possess being superior (Bower, 2006; Portes, 2005; Walk, 1998). Capacity becomes a non-issue in middle class schools because the ingredients for success already reside in the boundaries and pathways established within the school community.
Forging a new path is never easy, especially when the way is filled with so many barriers. Educators live and work in tumultuous times nowadays. Lawmakers with no educational backgrounds pass laws about teacher evaluations. Mass Media creates and disseminates propaganda crucifying the profession on a regular basis. Educational companies are chomping at the bit to buy and sell learning and effective teaching and new assessments.
You know what they all have in common? Every single person in every single role who makes a decision about what is best for schools and educators and children is in their position because of a teacher. A teacher is the common denominator of all professions.
Isn’t it mind-boggling to think that teachers are still willing to do what they do? I’m amazed at their tenacity, their ability to rise above on a consistent basis and to forge ahead in spite of the current indictable culture.
Alas, the road less traveled makes all the difference, right?
Enter EdCamp. From their website, EdCamps promote organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide.
Politics and bureaucracies aside, I’m thrilled to see teachers taking matters into their own hands to continue to make a difference for the students they teach. This is the educational reform that matters. This is the opportunity to not only stay the course, but forge a new path that is ripe with possibilities and prospects for making a real difference.
Those that attend these events are who I call Guerilla Educators--Independent leaders with transform mindsets who act locally to benefit the entire educational system. It’s a grassroots level experience that creates connections, supports just in time learning, and exponentially expands the ethos of modern learning landscapes.
Interested in attending one of these awesome events? Check out the upcoming list of EdCamps--one may be close to you!
I will personally be attending EdCamp Buffalo next weekend at Canisius College. (on April 13) If you’re going to be in the area, come on over--the revolution needs you!
¡Vive la EdCamp!
Capacity building is one of the buzz phrases in education due to the complex nature of how society defines student success: “academic achievement; engagement in educationally purposeful activities; satisfaction; acquisition of desired knowledge, skills, and competencies; persistence; and attainment of educational objectives” (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 10). Capacity building within schools could not focus on only one aspect of development within the school because a single group within the school community could not possess all of the capacity necessary to fuel student success. Research indicates that capacity building increases student achievement (Cooter, 2003). All educators in effective schools take responsibility for improvement and professional capacity (Eaker, DuFour & DuFour, 2002; Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007). Capacity builds as schools focus on learning and getting resources into classrooms to directly benefit students (Machtinger, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Many authors have tried to articulate a definition of capacity. Ervin, Schaughency, Goodman, McGlinchy, and Matthews (2006) simply define capacity as skills, know-how, and available resources. Gewertz (2007) describes capacity as “building the school’s and community partners’ skills to improve, securing the resources to do it” (no page #). Fullan (2006) focuses on marginalized students when he articulates that
capacity building involves any policy, strategy, or other action undertaken that enhances the gap of student learning for all students. Usually it consists of the development of three components in concert: new knowledge and competencies, new and enhanced resources, and new and deeper motivation and commitment to improve things…all played out collectively (p. 28).
Knowledgeable education leaders understand that capacity building relies on the mission and vision of the local context which probably does not include academic achievement as primary to the futures of marginalized students (Schutz, 2006). Low performing schools do not have the capacity to turn themselves around in academic achievement when principals and communities are simply trying to survive concentrated poverty, low expectations, weak courses, burnt out teachers, run down facilities, overcrowding, and poor student behavior (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Narrowly focusing expectations of schools in the form of AYP for all students as measured by one unattainable and not always relevant standard, when schools were on the brink of realizing the importance of participation by marginalized populations and opening up the possibility of class mobility of these populations, deflected attention away from what should be the true purposes of education (Noddings, 2006). By focusing attention on education’s inability to teach 100% of children to read and calculate on grade level in grade three through eight and the resulting distrust and dissatisfaction of the school community, schools have an even harder time building the capacity necessary to reach a critical mass in affecting true educational reform to create a truly powerful school-community coalition that could realize greater economic support for low SES schools, more democratic decision-making within low SES communities, and ultimately, better informed and equipped citizens of the future from all classes that might disrupt the status quo of the dominant class (Noguera, 2004). Low SES schools that were led by forward thinking and steadfast administrators continued this course of building the capacity of the school community to ensure truly unlimited opportunity for their student populations where the resources were available to students to be successful academically, socially, and culturally (Nesbit, 2006).
The problem for meaningful and sustainable school reform is not attributable to a lack of energy, ideas, or a willingness to change in education. Fads, competing priorities, and unreasonable mandates deluge leaders immobilizing efforts to sustain and expand promising initiatives (Henig et al., 1999). As funding resources shrink, efficiency and capacity building become more and more important (Kezar, 2006). Teaching specific practices to families over making the effort to build capacity may result in advantages in certain times and places, but a “right way” approach causes action to lose its distinctive character providing the advantage (Lareau, 2000). “We need to reframe our entire reform strategy so that it focuses relentlessly and deeply on capacity building and accountability—a difficult but…doable high-yield strategy” (Fullan, 2006, p. 28).
Capacity building is closely related to organizational learning. Knowledge and understanding moves from tacit to explicit back to tacit. “Teacher change, like most human change, must emanate from within” (Bonner, 2006, p. 41). Education becomes more than parents deferring to teacher professional judgment and only being involved to the extent that teachers value (Henig et al., 1999). By understanding capacity, the “lonely teacher… reaches out to and joins the community and family [as] school is a network with permeable boundaries connecting it to the other institutions comprising society” (Musial, 1999, p. 120), instead of “erect[ing] barriers with one hand while reaching out with the other” (Schutz, 2006, p. 726). Often, in unsuccessful schools, agents simply “do not know how to improve it, or they do not believe it can be improved” (Fullan, 2006, p. 60) when collective efficacy holds the potential for a better future (DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Authoritative leadership is not sustainable; but collective, collaborative, distributed leadership can build capacity and commitment to changing school culture in marginalized communities successfully through cooperating and competition, boundary conversations, dialogue, and productive conflict (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Copland, 2003; Patterson & Rolheiser, 2004; Stacey, 1996).
As part of capacity building, principals actively build leadership capacity in others by “broad-based, skillful participation; a shared vision; established norms of inquiry and collaboration; reflective practice; and improving student achievement” (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 1, p. 1; Copland, 2003) and by developing learning communities where staff growth expands their capacity to provide for students (Eaker, et al., 2002). School reform rooted in the efforts of individuals and dependent on individual academic success cannot be sustained and will fail; working class learning is determined by the cultural context in systems dependent on sociocultural capital as opposed to individual capacity (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005; Musial, 1999). If capacity relies only on relationships or only on structure, capacity will be too soft or too rigid. Capacity is essential. “Because social systems are uncertain by their very nature, schools are fragile places (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 10, p. 1).
Many factors interact to determine educational capacity (O’Day et al., 1995). Yet, education experts agree, capacity building “must become a core feature of all improvement strategies” (Fullan, 2006, p. 104). Education has progressed to the point where discussion about capacity involves lists whose discussion centers around lines of responsibility versus lines of authority. These discussions describe capacity as built through clear accountability, relevant data available for analysis and application, and high expectations for staff with support of professional development (Walk, 1998). O’Day and colleagues (1995) feel “interdependence of organization and individual capacity” contributes to an understanding of instructional capacity (no page #). These authors list the five dimensions of organizational capacity as vision and leadership, collective commitment and cultural norms, knowledge or access to knowledge, organizational structures and management, and resources.
McREL (Dean et al., 2005, p. 5) defines capacity in three ways:
Complex descriptions alluding to practices evident in High-Performing High-Poverty Schools (HP2S) get past the tendency to create lists and begin to open the door to envisioning improving instructional capacity in schools as an interaction of multiple elements to “produce worthwhile and substantial learning” (Cohen & Ball, 1999). Capacity building efforts result in “adoption, sustainability, and evolution of innovation” to allow HP2S to emerge (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006, p. 162).
People who know me understand that I have hot buttons that set me off when it comes to certain topics of education. That would actually encompass a huge number of topics including the rights of teachers. As I scanned the news channels last week, I came upon a story covering a teacher strike in one of the urban districts of the U.S. The reporter covering the event kept repeating and repeating a single line during his coverage that just set me off. “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”.
What is it that enables people to vilify teachers for placing the security of their families before the demands of their job? Of course the security of a teacher’s family must come before the demands of the job. Doesn’t everyone value their family and want to insure their safety and security as a first consideration in life?
The fact is that here are many teachers who grapple with this very issue throughout their career. Teaching is a noble profession that does require sacrifice on the part of each educator to do right by his or her students. It is that self-sacrifice and “teacher’s guilt” that has enabled some districts to take advantage of teachers in regard to labor issues since the beginning of public education.
As a generalization most teachers do not market themselves well. They do not expound upon their accomplishments. They view that as flaunting one’s self, and that is frowned upon by teachers. They do not like it when any teacher publicly claims credit for accomplishments. They consider it as bragging or showboating. Most teachers are humbled by public recognition. By and large teachers do what they do, not just because the public expects it, but it is they who expect it of themselves. That is their strength and their weakness. It is that very feature in teachers that enables a reporter to repeatedly state: “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”. That question tears at the teacher more than it resonates with the public.
People have been convinced that the American Education system is failing our country. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. There are many, many reasons why our education system needs improvement. An objective analysis of the issues is warranted and should be done. Tax reformers, politicians, and business people looking to profit in an education market however often obscure that needed objectivity. To sell the snake oil, they simplify the problem, and target a simple solution, the teacher. It is a travesty that the very group that is maintaining the best of a system, which is in need of repair, while being maligned and even corrupted by the interference of non-educators, has come under attack. Teacher morale is the lowest it has ever been. Teachers are leaving the profession and youngsters are hesitant to enter it. This will only add to the problem.
Teachers need to take back the discussion of education that has been hijacked by so many non-educators. They need to shout out their accomplishments. Administrators need to lead, as well as call out the praises of their teachers. Superintendents need to claim their leadership positions in education to stand against mandates being imposed that are detrimental to education and educators. We must have our leaders connect and collaborate on the needs and solutions for education and not have them dictated to educators by non-educators who are unaware. Public Education is very much in jeopardy if left to the politicians and profiteers. Timidity is not a virtue in a modern educator.
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&
Have you ever had the chance to meet your favorite celebrity? To shake his or her hand and even have a casual chat over lunch? I have. . . well, sort of.
I recently attended the ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago. This was a tremendous weekend, filled with fun and learning opportunities. As an ASCD author and presenter, I spent time with luminaries at the education publishing and professional development giant, including the publisher, editors, department heads, publicists and other authors. These people are solid professionals and smart educators. I presented on results-only learning, signed copies of my book, Role Reversal, and I even participated in a videotaped interview for the ASCD website. All of these were thrilling experiences.
The most amazing part of the weekend, though, was meeting people I interact with often on Twitter, people I hadn't met in person until the conference. I have communicated on Twitter and via email with some of my favorite authors and thought leaders -- people like Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn and Donalyn Miller. Meeting any of these remarkable individuals would be thrilling, for sure, but I felt no less awed, when I met some key educators I follow on Twitter.
At the ASCD author press luncheon, which I was honored to be part of as a new book writer, I sat down with @TomWhitby, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher), @KristenSwanson and @PaulaWhite, among others. These people may not be as recognizable as Pink or Kohn, but they are clebrities in education to me, and meeting them in person was sort of like talking to movie stars.
They may not be seen walking the red carpet at the Oscars -- though some might mistake Swanson for Kate Beckinsale and Stumpenhorst for Brad Pitt -- but these intelligent teachers, bloggers and speakers are true celebrities in their field.
So, when you get the chance to meet the fantastic educators you follow on Twitter, enjoy the experience, and be careful not to be starstruck.
Cross posted at Resultsonlylearning.com
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.