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A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do? Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.
What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?
Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.
As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.
With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.
Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.
Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.
Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.
Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to get there.
Roland S. Barth shared in his seminal book Learning by Heart (2001), that schools should possess an “ethos hospitable to the promotion of human learning.” As I have endeavored through massive leadership and learning changes, Barth’s words have become a truism for me. Whether navigating a curriculum change, supporting different forms of professional learning, or problem-solving a complex issue (or usually all of the aforementioned at the same time), I ask myself, “How is what we are doing promoting an ethos hospitable to learning?” Inevitably the responses to this question have led the way to culturally transformative levels of learning in our school. Given that instructional cultures grow best organically and synergistically, (and this has been the case for mine), I would simply add that when change is nurtured with innovation, support and feedback, the rate of growth is exponential, and the direction of growth flows in intended and unintended directions.
In our schoolhouse, we believe:
Barth eloquently describes what it takes to achieve this vision. “When we come to believe that our schools should be providing a culture that creates and sustains a community of student and adult learning—that this is the trellis of our profession—then we will organize our schools, classrooms, and learning experiences differently.” (Barth, R., The Culture Builder, Educational Leadership, May 2002.)
Organizing learning differently has been both an exciting and daunting challenge. In the era of sweeping reform, striving to make this vision come to life uniquely within a school requires the science and artistry of students, faculty, staff and parents alike, who must continually partner as an interdependent team. This type of work demands mutual support, collective expertise and shared accountability. (For example: How does being affixed to one curriculum benefit students? Am I ready to share my student’s formative data with my teaching peers?) It also demands adaptive thinking, rather than technical solutions. (For example: How does this master schedule promote flexible forms of learning?) In our school’s journey, confronting shared questions have proven weighty, but worthy. While many might say strong academic achievement has been the most visible and predictable success in our trellis climb, we believe our substantive growth has mainly emanated from our collective drive for seamless collaboration and embedded forms of professional learning. In fact, I would characterize our school as relentless about setting the conditions for academic and social-emotional success. Our sustained urgency on learning, along with our instructional and cultural momentum has fundamentally redesigned the way we teach and learn. What were once individually celebrated features of our school’s educational excellence, are now deliberately interconnected and vital components of our cultural instructional identity. In essence, we teach and learn within a coherent system of meaningful moving parts.
Professional Learning Communities
Our teams practice the data cycle (Reeves, D.) within the professional learning community model (DuFour, R.). In addition to three dedicated common planning times for each team each week, our teachers also collaborate in numerous informal, horizontal and vertical ways throughout each school day. We reflect, design, instruct, assess and monitor as teams. No one teaches or works in isolation. We strive to meet and exceed commonly established goals, and our data is transparent and accessible at all times.
Response to Intervention Methods
Our faculty has studied Response to Intervention (RtI) through the work of Mike Mattos. Our Superintendent’s leadership has also helped us fully commit to giving students what they need, when they need it. We employ universal screening, core district curriculum, and progress monitoring procedures. Customized interventions and supports are architected into personal learning plans, which are designed and delivered by our expert teachers. These academic and social-emotional learning plans are monitored and refined by data teams in instructional cycles throughout the year.
Our district is deeply committed to embedded forms of professional learning. At the elementary level, we employ the workshop model of instruction, chiefly studying the work of Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project. We benefit from three literacy specialists and one mathematics specialist on our staff, who actively coach each of our teachers and teams. Our school employs a literacy and mathematics laboratory model (conducting peer observations with a coach, engaging in lesson voice overs, leading parts of a lesson, and dissecting model lessons), shared classroom walkthroughs, opportunities to look at student work, and the unconference model. Each of these forms of adult learning expands our craft knowledge and grows our shared expertise.
Leadership For All
Our school rests upon our extraordinary teachers and staff, each of whom is a leader in his/her own right. Teachers are trusted to make important decisions about learning. While we have formal teams such as a school leadership team, a child study team and a positive behavior support team, our teachers actively lead the wealth of the instructional design, intervention plans, and assessment work. Teachers also design and lead professional learning opportunities that seed the school with innovation; modeling their own risk-taking and inspiring adaptive thinking among staff.
As Barth has eloquently pointed out in Learning By Heart (2001):
“It has been said that running a school is about putting first things first; leadership is determining what are the first things; and management is about putting them first. I would like to suggest that the ‘first thing’, the most important feature of the job description for each of us as educators, is to discover and provide the considerations under which people’s learning curves go off the chart. Sometimes it’s other people’s learning curves; those of students, teachers, parents, administrators. But at all times it is our own learning curve.” (Barth, R. Learning By Heart, 2001, p. 11).
I would be remiss if I did not comment on my own learning curve amidst this type of learning environment, where change is the norm, and as Barth points out, “learning curves go off the chart.” My experience is that one cannot be immersed in this type of work - day in and day out - without realizing the profound personal and professional effect it has on your own practice. The way I think, the way I listen, the way I reflect, the way I contribute and the way I solve has everything to do with what I have learned from my colleagues. Their work teaches me everyday. Courageously, they have helped me reach upward and outward for a truly ambitious vision, and equally have the support to lean into what can be possible for every learner. Barth reminds me time and time again, that the ethos of learning is within and among us every single day. Even in the face of tremendous change, it is our calling to climb the professional trellis uniquely and continually, in order to benefit every student and adult in the schoolhouse, including ourselves.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Estabrook School, Lexington, MA
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #9)
“The First Quarter”
We are nine weeks into the school year. This means we have approximately 135 days left to reach every student and ensure they have grown academically and socially and emotionally. This is a fascinating time of year. In many cases we are coming off the high opening schools. The new students and new colleagues have settled in and we have begun to identify what works and what doesn’t based on a variety of variables. This is also the time of year when we have the pressure and celebration of the holiday season. For many this can be a time of thanks and for others it is a time of struggle. I am reminded of the complexity of emotions for not only our students but also staff. Add to this complexity, there is the “real world” of politics, economics, health issues and general everyday life. Just writing this, I can feel my chest tighten…
Like many of our students, this is the time where I want to either take flight or fight. For me, the tension gets so thick that I feel I want to crawl out of my skin. The challenge of fighting for change, the desire to want to run from difficult conversations, the reality that many of our students are struggling academically, cold, hungry and constantly reminded of what they don’t have. Although I am aware of this tension, I am left to think about how much I can push without breaking myself or those who also serve our students. I know there is sweet spot during this time for all of us. A spot where we can truly keep moving forward, while celebrating our past, present and future. Willy Wonka once said, "Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous. So don't be alarmed." As I think about the next 135 days, I excited to fight for the little surprises that we can create for our students. I leave you with a deep breath and an exhale…
Finally from Emily Dickinson,
“If I Can Stop”
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Scoring a student sample or grade-level appropriate writing with the WriteSteps’ rubrics is effective because it gives your students the opportunity to see how each of the six traits works separately and together to make a strong piece.
Devin Dusseau-Bates, a 3rd grade teacher using WriteSteps, shares her tips on making the most of the six traits rubrics. Using the six traits rubrics helps students identify their own areas of strengths and weaknesses, which really boosts student confidence. (Click to Tweet!) For example, if a student recognizes that they have a strength, called a glow, in the area of organization, but a weakness, or grow, in word choice, then they have something very specific to focus on as a writer rather than just on writing as a whole.
The key to having success with the rubrics in my classroom was making sure my students were very familiar with the six traits. Once my students understood the traits, the rubrics were a great tool to improve my students’ writing.
The most helpful thing I did with my students this year was very simple. I divided the rubric in half by splitting 6-5-4 and 3-2-1. I discussed with the student how this helps them to accurately nail down a score for the traits. Dividing the upper and lower half of the rubric helped to simplify things. Then, all we had to do was specify the exact score.
Six is perfect!
Think of six as the absolute best you’ve ever seen. It’s perfect. This helps students understand that obtaining a six, while doable, takes a lot of hard work and effort, especially during the revision and editing stages of the writing process.
One is not an option!
Think of one as the absolute worst you’ve ever seen. I’ve always explained to my students that receiving a one on the rubric means that very little effort, really none at all, was put into that particular piece. I assure them that as long as they incorporate what they’re learning into their writing, revising and editing honestly, then they’ll never get a one. Don’t talk too much
As a teacher we want to explain, and explain. Let your students do the talking. When they suggest a score, ask THEM to back it up with examples and evidence from the piece.
Don’t score every trait in one session!
I never score an entire piece on one day. The great thing about WriteSteps’ rubric lessons is that they only focus on three traits in one session (Click to Tweet!), then the remaining on the following day. This really allows for a deeper focus and understanding of the traits being scored that day. Each trait discussed and scored lends itself into a brief five minute mini lesson per trait.
Make scoring fun!
Get your students involved by allowing them to make signals for their score choices. For example, think like a baseball coach and ask students to touch their nose then the top of their head for a six! WriteSteps has Uno-Dos-Traits Cards which provide some great interaction too. The purpose of having your students score visually is so you can do a quick scan of who really knows what they’re looking for and who still needs more time understanding the traits.
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When I think of Professional Development for teachers in the traditional sense, I am more and more convinced that being connected as an educator is more effective in accomplishing the goal of professionally developing. The biggest roadblock to teachers connecting may very well be the way teachers have been programmed throughout their entire education and career.
Any course, or workshop that a teacher has ever wanted to take for academics, or for professional development was either controlled, or in some way approved by someone in authority. Some districts put this on the responsibility list of an Assistant Superintendent, or that of a Personnel Director. The determining factor for acceptance of any teacher’s PD would be: does the course, or workshop comply with the specific subject that the teacher teaches? Some districts require that teachers stipulate how the specifics of the course will impact the subject that he or she teaches. Once the course is completed, usually some proof of seat time in the form of a certificate must be provided before permission for acceptance can be granted.
This traditional method of Professional Development has gone on in this fashion, or something close to it for decades. The question is: Does it work? Of course nothing works 100 percent of the time. I would venture to say however, that if we base our answer on an observation of the dissatisfaction with our education system, and the grass roots movement of tens of thousands of educators in search of something more in the way of PD, our current method may be failing us miserably, or at the very best, falling a bit short of the mark. Either way, PD in its current form is not making the grade.
Someone other than the learner directs the learning in this model, because it was designed around control, compliance, and permission. It would be a big plus if the needs of the learner aligned with the needs of the director, and I imagine that sometimes it does. However, that would probably be more coincidental than a planned outcome. The methodology of a majority of this PD is pretty much “sit and get” or direct instruction. Of course some teachers of the PD might use other methodology, but “sit and get” is pretty much the staple of most PD.
With the era of the Internet, came the idea of very easy-to-do self-exploration of topics. Educators could look stuff up on their own from home, or school. The idea of self-directing leaning suddenly became much easier, and I might add, a whole lot cheaper. The problem for districts however was that there was no way to control it, or to regulate it, or even give, or withhold permission to do it.
The entire self-directed learning thing was further complicated with the advent of Social Media. SM was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators, and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.
There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore, and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.
Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for Professional Development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed, but additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?
In regard to professional Development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.
The term “connected educator” may be a term that scares people. This was mentioned at a recent education conference. If that is the case, why not use the term “collaborative learner”. Learning through collaboration has been done from the beginning of education. The tools to do it however have dramatically changed and improved, enabling collaboration to take place anytime, anywhere, and with any number of people. It is done transparently, recorded, and archived. Never before in history has collaboration occurred this way. As educators, we would be more than foolish to ignore this potential. As learners we would also be remiss to ignore the personal opportunity to expand and advance.
As educators we recognize the importance of reflection and critical thinking. We need to employ those skills to examine where we are, and what we are doing with the things that we rely on as educators. We need our professional development to be useful and relevant in order to ensure that we, as educators, remain useful and relevant. We can’t have a relevant system of education without relevant, literate educators.
Picture this. You have created a great lesson. Better yet, a great lesson with a great discussion opportunity. You finally pair the students together for individual discussions and then...all you get is SILENCE!
We are all aware of the benefits of encouraging students to work with one another for the sake of cooperative learning (improves student understanding, increases student engagement, etc.), but what do you do when the student pairs are uncooperative during the activity? When I say uncooperative, I mean unwilling to make eye contact or even talk to one another. I have listed a few of my favortie strategies to boost communication between students during cooperative partner practices:
1. Limit Environmental Supports
When I assign partner practice, I always give the students too few hand-outs. It works best when the hand-outs include the instructions, or the specific reading material that the students will discuss. When both students in the pair have to physically share the material, this automatically enhances the likelihood that the students will communicate. Yes, at first, the communication is superficial such as "Let me see the stupid paper", but eventually these comments blossom into more. For example as time passes, the students eill begin to say "read that again, because I think I remember where in the book that vocabulary word was used."
2. Become the Silent Partner
I know it is hard to not respond when your students genuinely inquire about something, but do not get involved just yet in responding. Redirect the student and say "what did your partner say when you asked them that question?" Refusing to answer student questions is important because it forces them to rely on one another for help. Of course at the end of the activity allow time to give your feedback.
3. Do Not Agree to Disagree
We are all familiar with the old saying "agree to disagree". It is a nice principle for resolving conflicts or arguments, but it should not apply during student discussions. During practices with partners, encourage the students to disagree with one another. Acknowledge the beauty in discussing different viewpoints. Identify real life examples of how a unique viewpoint facilitates breakthroughs. Have the students consider all the times that popular beliefs were not the best beliefs (remember how at first everyone believed the world was flat).
4. Utilize a Question Quota
Encourage student sharing through the use of question quotas. Remind the students that a quota is the minimum amount of something that is acceptable. Insist that the students aks their partner at least 2 things during their partner practice. Some students will try to weasle around this rule, thus make sure you emphasixe that the questions that they ask their partner must be recorded on their papers (more on the need to document their work during their practices is found in number 5 below).
5. Remember the Writing is on the Wall
There are some that argue that writing may interrupt a discussion, but I have found that taking notes during a discussion is key. I require that both students respond in writing during their work with their partner. First, I believe the notes are evidence that a conversation occurred. Second, the notes help to indicate the quality of the academic interaction between the students. For instance I look for the following from the students' notes when doing my walk-throughs during partner work:
As you continue to foster cooperative learning, what strategies have you found effective?
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining his other blogs, go to http://bit.ly/13sMlUZ. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found on his website: www.era3learning.org
Today’s comprehensive high schools are generally organized the way they have been for decades. While some high schools have radically transformed teaching and learning in the face of major societal changes, most maintain a traditional look, feel, organization, and curriculum. High schools schedules are often the same as they were in the Industrial age, with days broken down into seven or eight time periods. The schools are often large and generally impersonal. Teachers often have between 100-140 students on their rosters. The required curriculum remains pretty much the same as in the past, and tends to be divided into diverse subjects, levels, and courses, without any central focus. High schools generally divide the year into two semesters and few if any student summer programs or professional development requirements exist. Graduation is still based on course credits and, in some states, high stakes standardized tests. Students are expected to stay in school all day and are expected to graduate within four years. Advanced Placement courses are often used as a major barometer of the academic rigor of a school’s program.
How can high schools improve on their programs and bring them into the 21st century? How can they develop more relevant assessments and a more relevant accountability system? While some advocate radical transformations, there are many adaptations and smaller changes that can bring traditional high schools into the 21st century by preparing students for rapid changes through the development of lifelong learning skills; citizenship; and individual talents, strengths and interests. I suggest fifteen possibilities below:
1. Clarify and share a 21st century mission, set of goals and outcomes that drive the school program, courses, and instruction.
Most of today’s high schools seem to lumber along without a clear mission or set of coherent student outcomes. Many high schools often have a confusing, diverse mixture of programs, activities, courses, and compartmentalized teaching approaches. They often suffer from passive learning environments, low expectations, superficial, uninteresting teaching and learning, uneven instruction, and fragmented courses. Many students leave high school unprepared for future learning or work, with a lack of planning or direction for their future.
One important way for high schools to better adapt to the 21st century is to develop and clarify a mission and outcomes with a meaningful and coherent school-wide set of goals. The mission and outcomes are then shared with both the school and school community and used as the basis for making changes in the school’s program and organization. In other commentary, I suggest three goals for K-12 education that are especially appropriate for high schools: prepare students for lifelong self-directed learning; prepare students for citizenship; and help students develop their own talents, strengths, interests and goals. If these three goals are accepted as the core mission of a high school education, what would they imply for the curriculum? For teaching and learning? For assessments and accountability? For a more integrated program? For the school organization? For scheduling? For core courses? For electives? What would change? Clarifying and becoming committed to implementing a clear mission and set of outcomes and goals for all students helps to create a core program focus and more coherent organizational structure for the high school experience.
2. Rethink the organizational and administrative structure
The traditional seven or eight period day, the Industrial model of scheduling, needs rethinking. In an age of computers, it ought to be possible to have more complex scheduling approaches that allow for longer blocks of time, mini-course structures, schedules that promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and common preparation time. Year round schooling is another option that needs to be seriously considered. New technologies suggest organizational structures that are only beginning to be appreciated and understood!
In today’s world, more students also need the opportunity for flexible, individualized schedules. Some students work part-time. Some need to help with their families. Others need time to do community projects and service learning. Some students need to leave school for periods of time, and be able to return at a later date in order to complete their work. Some may graduate early, others may take up to six years or more to graduate. All these options need to be built into the school’s programs.
Currently the most comprehensive high schools have principals, assistant principals, and “Department” heads as key administrators. High schools need to examine the question: how can this traditional administrative structure be reconfigured to better serve the needs of students in a 21st century world? What if one administrator were put in charge of “innovation”, looking across the curriculum to determine how the high school could develop innovative programs to better serve the needs of all students. What if one person was in charge of curriculum and instructional resources and curriculum and instructional development across all subjects? What if one was in charge of community “outreach”? Technology? A reconfigured set of administrative responsibilities, designed to promote innovation, interdisciplinary learning, outreach experiences, curriculum and staff development, technology applications might be a better way to organize for the future.
Finally, schools with organizations that tend to support impersonal and detached relationships between students and teachers should consider alternatives. One advantage of block scheduling is that teachers have many fewer students on their roster, and more time each semester with their students. They have a greater ability to get to know their students, to help and support them. The use of advisories and student-teacher advising systems over the four years of high school also enables teachers to develop stronger relationships with students. Teams of teachers working together with groups of students help build better relationships. Organizational changes that enable teachers to get to know students better (and visa versa) and work more closely together will probably help to increase student achievement and build better support systems for students.
3. Build a coherent curriculum
The current curriculum at most high schools is a fragmented mix of individual courses and programs, most of which have little connection to each other. Here are some recommendations for how to revise the curriculum to support student learning:
a. Identify and streamline core courses around the school’s mission, outcomes and goals.
The core curriculum are those “musts” that are required for every student. Should special core writing and reading courses be instituted? What types of thinking should every student be exposed to? How should reading and writing experiences be integrated into every course and subject? What math should be part of the core? Algebra and Trigonometry for everyone? Understanding statistics? Staff members should identify and collaborate to develop the core subject matter and core skills that should be taught and learned across the curriculum[i]. Each course might be organized around a series of “essential” questions, understandings and explicit skills that are core for every student to explore, learn and master.
b. Reduce the number of or eliminate Advanced Placement courses[ii] and instead develop a large number of high quality electives.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses tend to be implemented with an abiding faith that they are good for students. However, while they have some virtues, AP courses often repeat content that students have already studied, superficially cover a lot of content quickly, and crowd out worthy and interesting high school electives. Many of the students who take AP courses to increase their grade point average and feather their transcript don’t even take the AP exam and yet still get AP credit!
Instead of AP courses, develop a set of high quality electives that provide many options for all students to develop their talents, interests, and skills, such as deep learning-discussion seminars, research and project based courses, Internet course options, mini-courses, internships and practicums, and independent study courses. In themed schools, electives should provide a variety of options around the theme. New Internet-based college courses, known as MOOCS (Massive open online courses) provide many new opportunities for students to try out different topics and learn from some of the best college instructors in the country.
c. Increase the number of interdisciplinary, integrated learning experiences.
Should some core subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, like mathematics and science? Should integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses be an essential part of the high school curriculum? Should more efforts be made to integrate and teach in parallel fashion English and social studies courses? Should mathematics courses be integrated and taught the way most of the world teaches mathematics?
Interdisciplinary learning opportunities might occur as part of the on-going curriculum and within a ninth grade team. High schools also need to create a greater number of synthesizing courses, offered in the junior or senior years, such as “problems of democracy”, applied mathematics, or science and society. Synthesizing courses enable students to integrate learning from previous years and learn how to apply knowledge and skills to new and novel situations and events.
d. Pay attention to innovative ideas that might motivate students, make learning more relevant, increase deep learning, and provide students with new types of programs and new ways of teaching and learning.
Innovative ideas are constantly being introduced into the education world. Entrepreneurship programs provide students with opportunities for learning how to start and maintain a business and they learn math and planning skills. Project based learning strategies suggest new ways of teaching and learning. Technological updates suggest new resources for learning. MOOC’s (Massive open online courses) offer free entrees for students into the college world. Integrated mathematics programs reorganize learning mathematics. The Understanding by Design curriculum model promotes a very different way of planning units, courses and programs. International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer alternative ways or organizing high school programs, courses and assessments. Innovative organizational structures, such as Big Picture schools, offer alternative high school models that may be appropriate for many students. Competitions in chess, robotics, science, future problem solving, debate teams, and others provide students with exciting learning opportunities.
These and many more interesting and innovative ideas need to be searched out and considered, and some type of decision-making process needs to be introduced into the high school experience to help determine which innovative ideas are worth pursuing and implemented, and which should be rejected.
4. Create freshman teams.
Many students who drop out of school do so because they have not been able to make the transition from middle to high school. Students need to have a gradual and supportive transition from middle school to the first year of high school, with opportunities for personal attention and a focus on core skills and critical knowledge. Teams of teachers and students, working together for the year, help students to adapt to high school requirements. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students, advise them, coordinate their schedules, differentiate their learning experiences, and create integrated learning across the team that supports key skill development.
5. Create a digital portfolio assessment system
While high school students do research papers, projects, and other forms of writing, the most commonly used summative assessment tool in high schools is still the “traditional test”, consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. Unfortunately, an emphasis on traditional tests guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing relatively simple written products. A major problem with the use of these tests is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift.
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving critical lifelong learning and personal development skills, high schools should create digital student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –many types of written work, performance task processes and results, project results, oral presentations, observations of student participation in discussions, and, yes, the results of traditional tests. Many opportunities for student self-reflection also help to determine what each student is learning and whether each student is developing his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals. Part of the self-reflection process should be a goal setting and planning process throughout the high school years, but especially in junior and senior years.
Students also need opportunities to share senior projects and portfolios with adults from outside the high school, who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
6. Encourage student engagement through greater use of inquiry, research and project based instruction
Too much of the high school learning experience is in the form of traditional teaching and learning – recitations, lectures, coverage of textbooks – that makes for passive student learning and disinterested students. Students need more opportunities to be engaged in “inquiry” – to focus on essential questions as the starting point for learning, actively seek out reliable information to share with other students, think deeply and share their thoughts about content, draw conclusions and apply learning, and communicate through writing, presentations, and discussions. Projects based on student interest, chosen all or in part by the student, should be an integral, on-going part of a student’s learning experiences. Senior projects should be used to assess whether students have developed the attitudes and skills they need to be successful beyond graduation – self-direction, curiosity, persistence, patience, research, inquiry, study, thinking, creativity, writing and the like. High school course descriptions might be focused around key questions that will be explored during the course.
Consider alternatives to traditional assessment and accountability models. Multiple types of assessments, such as those described above, collected by students in digital portfolios, brought to class, shared over the Internet, is an alternative model that works well for many high schools in the digital age.
7. Develop community service-personal enrichment requirements.
Both personal learning that develops talents and interests, and service learning, are important elements of a 21st century education. In a Philadelphia public high school that I work closely with, students are required to do 120 hours of a combination of service learning and personal enrichment activities over four years. This requirement has meant that students learn more about their own interests and talents as well as learn ways to help others. Intentionally building these two dynamic components of a strong education into the high school experience has made a strong difference in the education of these students.
8. Make advisories a central part of the high school experience.
Advisories over the entire high school experience can help to personalize and customize education in a more impersonal world. Brian Cohen, a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District, beautifully describes the concept of high school advisories in a recent blog:
“A brief look at schedules across the [Philadelphia School] District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of high schools that provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.”[iii]
9. Make Media Centers the hub of the high school learning experience
If advisories are the central place for personal attention and advice, library-media centers are the hub for academic learning. They are the place in which students learn research skills. They are centers for conducting research. They often are the central computer centers for students, especially for those who might not have access to computers at home.
10. Create multiple outreach and “inreach” experiences
Outreach experiences enable high schools to better provide a more “authentic” education experience. For example, powerful outreach experiences occur when students are provided with internships in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals, schools and colleges, social work agencies, and the like. Other outreach experiences occur when students are able to interview a wide range of experts through technological arrangements, visit local colleges, or go on field trips. “Inreach” experiences - outside visitors brought to the school to talk with students about careers and experiences – is also a powerful way to connect students to the outside world. Significant outreach and inreach provides powerful connections to the “real” world outside of high school.
11.Create continuous, high quality, meaningful, relevant professional and curriculum development experiences
Today’s changing educational world demands continual learning and updates about teaching and learning. What would we think of a doctor’s world without continual updates on the best forms of treatment, new drugs, research, and other changes. Yet it’s strange how little emphasis is placed on professional and curriculum development over time. The establishment of professional learning communities (PLC’s), with a school culture that supports continuous learning around collaborative and individual learning goals, should be a key goal. Summers are ideal times for professional development, yet there are generally no requirements that teachers devote some portion of their summers (e.g. two or three weeks) to collaboratively exploring new ways of teaching, new forms of curriculum design, the teaching of writing and thinking, how to implement the Common Core, project and problem based learning approaches, and so on.
12. Switch to Standards-Based Report Cards
Traditional report cards Provide little helpful information to both students and parents. A more effective report card is one that provides information as to how well a student is doing, but also how a student might improve. Standards based report cards incorporate key learning goals and skills either in an interdisciplinary configuration or within each subject area. The ability to solve problems, conduct research, make presentations, write effectively – all these can be incorporated into standards based report cards[iv]
An even stronger standards based report card format includes individual comments by each teacher. Some high schools have built an individual comments model into their assessment process[v]. This entails a lot of work, but it customizes comments, builds on specific student talents, strengths and skills, provides greater specificity as to how students might improve, and in general makes report cards much more meaningful and helpful to students and parents.
13. Use technology as a tool for reaching key goals and priorities
Technology is often used in a haphazard fashion within high schools. The judicious use of technology, designed to help students reach key goals, is a much more rewarding and promising way to use technology. For example, the use of digital portfolios provides ways to collect and analyze student work. Common uses of technology to write papers, spellcheck, organize thoughts and ideas, and so on might be encouraged. Search engines used to find resources, to contact people around the world when appropriate, can be helpful. Teacher use of technology to share articles and readings, course outlines, information about a course, handouts and assignments with students on a regular basis is a good use of technology. The appropriate use of on-line simulations can enhance learning.
However, beware of newer forms of technology without being clear on how they promote the goals of the school. Tablets and smartphones may be useful, but they should be introduced with great care, and with knowledge and understanding of how they will contribute to advancing learning goals.
14.Create small learning communities
Although small learning communities are a radical departure from traditional high school organization, they are worth considering. They consist of groups and teachers and students working together around themes (e.g. communication, technology, health sciences and the like). Where possible, small learning communities within a building are physically separated from each other.
The creation of small learning communities requires significant professional development so that each team is well organized around a theme and is given a chance to work together in advance of implementation. Failure to provide time for teachers to receive professional development and for learning how to work together is often why they fail.
15.Design innovative ways to rate and judge the success of high schools.
High schools are being judged today by arbitrary processes often determined by government bureaucrats. The outside accountability systems often get in the way of making modest and relevant changes that would significantly improve programs. It is time for high school leaders to develop their own models that demonstrate their success!
Instead of a reliance on test scores, high school accountability models, shared with the public and with Boards of Education, might include the number of students who have developed their talents and interests in different directions; sample digital portfolios that demonstrate student learning; data on students that go on to some form of post high school educational experience; results from special programs, such as International Baccalaureate and small learning communities; data on what happens to students as they move through a post high school experience; collective data from report cards; survey data from high school graduates who rate their high school experience; results from student surveys of current courses, and so on. A comprehensive accountability process developed by high schools themselves would be much more meaningful and significant than the current systems being implemented.
Comprehensive high schools need to adapt to a 21st century world. Clearer mission statements that guide teaching and learning, revised and flexible scheduling, strong core and elective programs, administrative restructuring, advisories, greater student engagement through inquiry, research and project based teaching and learning, library-media center hubs, standards based report cards, small learning communities, more meaningful and personalized accountability systems, a careful look at innovative ideas – these and the other suggestions described above would go a long way towards better preparation of students for living in a 21st century world. Not all of these ideas may currently make sense to high school teachers and leaders, but some might be helpful when high schools reconsider their programs, assessment models, organizational structures, and accountability systems in order to adapt to this new age.
[i] In other work, I have identified five core skill sets that should be taught throughout the curriculum – curiosity, information and data literacy, thoughtfulness, application, and communication. For greater insights into what these five skill sets mean in practice, go to www.era3learning.org. I have also developed a process – the Integrated Skill Development Program (ISDP) – that can be used to identify core skills to be taught and learned across the curriculum. A description of this process can be found at: http://bit.ly/RnSwRT
[ii]Advanced Placement courses have many problems. They are often survey courses that focus on learning content without depth or thought. Many students take Advanced Placement courses, get credit for them, but don’t take the Advanced Placement exams. Other students take the AP course, don’t pass the AP exam, but still get AP credit. Scarsdale High School has eliminated Advanced Placement courses in favor of “advanced topics” courses. Some advanced topics courses are designed so that, at the end of the course, if students wish to do so, they can take the Advanced Placement exam.
[iv] For an excellent article on Standards Based Report Cards, see How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About it, in Educational Update, October 2013, Volune 55, No. 10, ASCD.
[v] For example, Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia PA, incorporates teacher comments into its report card system.
From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.
Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.
The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.
1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?
2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?
3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?
I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.
I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.
Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.
Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.
I just finished an #edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.
It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.
I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.
Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.
It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.
Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?
The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.
The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.
Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.
I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:
Whole Child Tenets
Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.
I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.
Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.
I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!
Often, schools mired in low performance feel as if they could just hit upon some new insight, strategy, or approach that has been eluding them, they could be more successful. Yet when my McREL colleagues and I visit schools, we often find ourselves telling the something quite different: namely, that “the answers are in the room.”
What we mean is this: the field of education is filled with many brilliant people who are doing phenomenal work every day. So as it turns out, most schools don’t need someone to parachute in with a bold new idea or insight; the things that research says works are usually already being done by someone, somewhere in the building. As a result, what schools really need to do is simply find their own bright spots, share them, and encourage others to do great educators known all along works well for their students.
I was reminded of that when earlier this month when I had the privilege of speaking to teachers from Madison City Schools in Alabama. My talk was preceded (and admittedly, upstaged) by presentations from the district’s teachers of the year, Cindy Rhodes and Amy Thaxton.
Ms. Rhodes, a 25-year veteran teacher, offered a top 10 list of tips for new teachers, which included such sage advice as “always have a plan – and just in case that plan doesn’t work, have a backup,” “greet your kids every day at the door,”and “tell [your students] you have faith in them and they will learn to have faith in themselves.”
Ms. Thaxton was introduced by a former student who praised her ability to connect with students. She showed a short excerpt from TED talk given recently by teacher Rita Pierson. During the video, Ms. Pierson tells her audience, “One of the things we never discuss, or we rarely discuss, is the value and importance of human connections” in learning. In some teachers’ eyes, she notes, worrying about student-teacher relationships is just a “bunch of hooey.”
As she recounts, “A colleague said to me one time, ‘They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson, the kids should learn it. I should teach it. They should learn it. Case closed.’” In response, Ms. Pierson observed: “Well, you know kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.’”
As it turns out, these teachers are all spot on in sizing up what teachers can do to help kids learn. Decades of research point to the importance of setting a high bar for them (having faith in them), connecting with kids (as Ms. Thaxton clearly does), and being intentional about what we do in the classroom (having a thoughtful plan—and a back-up plan).
In our new book, 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching, my co-author Elizabeth Hubbell and I call out a dozen big ideas that, when employed every day, hold the promise of helping teachers and their students succeed. While we found these ideas in research journals, we know their true source: passionate, insightful, and dedicated teachers who found better ways to teach. At some point, a researcher came along and studied them to prove what teachers already knew: that these things really work.
As someone who spends a fair amount of time digging through research, let me be the first to admit that research can often be frustratingly abstract, complex, and esoteric. However, at the heart of great research—the kind of that jumps off the page and demands attention—is something quite powerful: a brilliant idea, usually one developed by (or borrowed from) a terrific, “bright spot” educator who tried something different, saw students light up, and realized, here’s something that really works.
Knowing that teachers are often the font of good ideas in education, here’s my question for teachers. Have you hit upon something that really works in your own classrooms? What big ideas or bright spots should researchers be paying attention to now?
Bryan Goodwin is COO at McREL, a nonprofit education research and service organization based in Denver, CO. He has written two books for ASCD, Simply Better, and The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching. He also writes a regular "research says" column for Educational Leadership and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #1)
Throughout my travels and in my reflections this summer, I have become fascinated by the words we use to describe our world, our lives and our dreams.
James MacGregor Burns defined leaderships as, "Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations-the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations- of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their follower's values and motivations".
As we go into a new school year, have we defined or redefined what leadership is for us individually and collectively? Do we know the goals for which represent our values and motivations. Finally, do we know our followers well enough to ensure that we are acting on their behalf?
There are many days when I struggle to find where I belong and many days I can find where I went wrong. When I think of what we as a Nation our attempting to do for every child within our borders, I am not sure I feel more pain for what still has to be done or pleasure for the opportunity to participate in such a noble cause. Throughout the unknown and the certainty of what I have not yet got right, I remain resolute to our students, our community and our team. As educators (teachers, administrators, support staff), we cannot be divided against ourselves. Our commitment to every child must be in trusted to each of us and we must conduct ourselves with such firm conviction knowing no one else, cares or works as hard as we do to reach every child.
The new school year is here and we have an opportunity to positively change lives. As we collectively fight to fulfill the “Dream”, I wish you all the best. Make no mistake, it is with pride and complete faithfulness that I walk with you.
Finally by Stella Stuart
Why Should I Fear?
“Behind me is infinite power.
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?”
Last week, we talked about building relationship-driven classrooms and covered five simple ways for teachers to connect with their students. Because this topic is so important to us, we’ve decided to share five more of Allen Mendler’s tips with you.
5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom
Send home birthday cards
Think about the last time you sifted through your mail and found a handwritten card in the pile of mortgage payments, cell-phone bills and pizza coupons. It felt pretty good, didn’t it? It was nice to know that a friend took the time not only to pick out a card that made him or her think of you, but also that s/he handwrote a message, sealed it, stamped it, and dropped it off at the post office instead of sending you a text message or “Facebooking” you.
Now imagine how your students will feel when they receive a handwritten birthday card from their favorite teacher.
Keep pictures of your family or friends posted in class
In seventh grade, one of my teachers had an entire bulletin board devoted to pictures of her friends and family. Whenever she went to a movie or a concert, she’d save the ticket stub and pin it to the board; over time, we got to know her friends’ names, what they did for a living, what their talents were, and what our teacher did over the weekend.
Every Monday morning we’d arrive to find that the bulletin board contained a new piece of ephemera. After a while, we developed a Monday morning ritual centered on the bulletin board: Our teacher would tell us about her weekend, grab pictures off the wall, pass them around, and ask us to tell her about our weekends.
Reach out to a student who rarely speaks up in class
In graduate school, I took a course on Romantic poetry. Out of the 15 students enrolled in the course, I was by far the quietest. I saved my opinions and “close readings” for the two-page responses we submitted each week. My second response essay was returned with a personal note from the professor that said, “I’ve been enjoying your responses; they offer a unique perspective and I think our class discussions would benefit from your opinions. I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but I’d like to encourage you to share these insights in the upcoming weeks.”
This simple gesture not only impacted my self-esteem, but inspired me to contribute.
Share how you work through ideas and conflicts aloud, especially when choices aren’t clear. This works with both academic and interpersonal conflict. Say, for example, that you hear students using inappropriate language, you might say,
“Whoa, when I hear words that sound disrespectful, there is a part of me that wants to argue and yell, and another equally strong part that wants to try to understand why it is that we sometimes forget where we are and what is appropriate. It’s upsetting to hear this kind of language, but I think it would be more productive to get back to the lesson.”
Engage Students in a How-Can-I-Help-You? Approach
We’ve mentioned this one before, but think it’s worth repeating: When your students aren’t focusing on what they are reading or when they submit careless work it is bothersome—but many of us are bothered for the wrong reasons. We’re bothered because we’ve taken it personally; we’re bothered because WE wouldn’t have done it that way.
When you engage your students in a how-can-I-help-you approach, your frustration manifests through care and respect. Next time your student disrupts class or fails to turn in assignments, catch the student on the way to lunch and say, “Hey, I’m worried about X. Am I seeing this correctly? I want to do everything I can to help you. Do you have any ideas?”
In a detailed, thoughtful reaction to Role Reversal, my Twitter friend, Aviva Dunsiger, wonders about a few important concepts in results-only learning. Rather than leave a lengthy comment on her blog, I decided to respond in a post of my own. I've taken some of Aviva's questions and paraphrased them below with my answer.
I taught a few students with Asperger syndrome; they didn't struggle with the noise and disruption as much as others might. What made the ROLE successful for these students is the freedom. For example, when we were completing research, one student wanted to do a PowerPoint project, rather than a formal paper. In the past, I would have never allowed this departure from tradition. As a ROLE teacher, I said, "Why not?" He did a fantastic project, complete with proper citations and a Works Cited section.
The best way to communicate is with your online grading program, using the comment feature, or on your classroom website, complete with student blogs and private web pages. Parents were always in the loop, because I put everything on our classroom website.
Aviva suggests some small-group "guided reading" strategies, but I think we differ on the meaning of the phrase. My top 5 reasons for eliminating guided reading are here.
In this section of her blog, Aviva says:
"Grades may not be as important as feedback, but they do give parents an impression of student achievement and next year’s teacher an impression of student achievement too."
I will respectfully disagree with her here. As I contend in Role Reversal, grades say absolutely nothing about performance. They are misleading and unfair. When my children come home with report cards filled with A's, I don't say, "Good job!" I ask them what they learned over the course of two months. "Are you satisfied with your accomplishments? Of what are you most proud? Where did you fail?" No letter can answer these questions. So, to answer the larger question, if a student insists on an A, I'll give it to her. It's never happened more than a few times.
I have written widely on homework and have a new HW post coming in the near future. Meanwhile, here is my most-viewed post on the subject. Thanks again to Aviva for her passionate critique of Role Reversal. Feel free to add to her work.
Don't miss my new short format book, The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom, available in hardcopy or eBook formats.
Cross posted at www.resultsonlylearning.com
Ratiu Diana Linda
Secondary School ,,Virgil Iovanas,, Sofronea – Arad
,,Supreme art of a teacher...is to awaken the joy of
creative expresion and joy of knowledge.“
~ Albert Einstein ~
Being a teacher...Is this a trede like any other? No!! This is because a teacher does not work whit wood, metals, construction materials, hemp... He/she works whit souls! Therefore he/she can not allow scrap, debris thrown away or wasted time. That is because the time no longer goes back and disposed soul remains there, no matter what you try then to fix the mistake
A lot of people believe that being a teacher is only to provide informations to the pupils or students, to assess their level and rank them throw the notes. Teaching profession is much deeper, it requires special skills, which can shape and develop only if the person wants, really, to be professor.
This is because being a teacher means to devote yourself to those who educate the pupils or the students, to have positive feelings toward them, give them your respect, be aware that your influence on their lives and every teacher is responsible for his work in front of parents and, more important: in front of whole society.
A true teacher is thinking not only mastery of discipline, but first on how can he/she makes the pupil or the student an independent user of what the teacher taught them.
There are many people who want to become teachers unless if they can not be good in another job and professorship must be only one of the alternatives. They make a big mistake. Teaching career is not a ,,raincoat“, you have to follow it only if you like it, if you are calling fot it, not just when you are refused by life in another jobs. It is true that in many jobs, you are rewarded equally whit your effort. In education that is not true, always you give more than you can get. You stay in front of 20 – 30 or more souls, minds, pairs of eyes and ears, all directed to you and trusted in you.
However, people, unfortunately, feel more secure regarding the certainty and not to knowledge. That is way when you get teacher you are not only concerned whit teaching, you have more other duties, especially the relations whit pupils or students. Thus, you are concerned to ,,plant“ in their hearts some feelings that motivate them to approachlearning whit more ,,openness“.One of the these feelings is self-confidance, without the student can not have success in leraning. This feeling seems to be more important than IQ. The process of education requires of the pupil or student and, if there is no self-confidence, there is no succes: he stops at each weight and is accused by ,,bad learning“, although the causes are different. Experts have shown that the school ,,makes“ learning, but ,,its production“ is not realize that in other areas. The responsibility is much higher because we, all the teachers, work whit people. In the factory, if a piece is wrong, it will be made again. In education, a lost pupil or student becomes a problem of society, so all eyes are upon the educational system and the requirements for this system are higher. The society appreciate a good teacher if he/she has many knowledge. This is a sine-qua-non condition for a teacher, but is very important how to exercise the teaching profession, how to transmit what is known, how much students are trained in educational process, how are they transformed into active participants in their own training and education.
A good teacher shapes the minds of those they work whit. He formed them, arrage their thinking, he learn them how, not what to think. For this, every teacher needs not only patience, knowledge and intelligence, but above all, dedication. Nowadays young people are pretentious, perhaps more pretentious than our generation because, unlike us, they provide more information. So, our young people do not need to be given information (because they find themselves on the Internet), they need those people to discover ,,the treasures“ hidden in their souls and bring them to the surface. Then use them to benefit all young people and their country.
Being a good teacher means do not forget that you were once young. You need to know to pass over the small mistakes of the learner in a diplomatic way, enjoy them for their successes, encourage and always giving them wings to the future. You have to know to ligh up in the soul of each pupil or student both the joy of knowledge and joy of creation.
May 28, 2013
In addition to the longer lessons that make up the main body of our curriculum, we like to add supplementary activities. Sometimes these are quick warm-ups intended to loosen up our students and get them into the right frame of mind. Other activities help us with vocabulary building, or simply act as intellectual “filler” to give students a respite from a class full of heavier, harder-to-digest content. We recently picked up a copy of Penny Ur’s and Andrew Wright’s book, Five-Minute Activities and thought we’d share a few of our favorite 5-minute activities with you.
5 Five-Minute Activities to Improve Vocabulary Building & Description
The Abstract Picture
Draw a big rectangle on the board; inside of it add a variety of lines, squiggles, dots and shapes. Now take a step back and ask the class what they see. What do they think the picture represents? You will get more interaction if you assure students that there is no right or wrong answer. This activity works particularly well for English teachers who are teaching descriptive or creative writing and vocabulary.
Adjectives and Nouns
This activity asks students to suggest adjective-noun phrases. For example, an abstract painting, or a drowsy truck driver. As your students make suggestions, write the adjectives on one side of the board and the nouns on the other.
Now students have to create different adjective-noun combinations. When a suggestion is made, draw a line to connect one word to another. If your students suggest something unusual—a drowsy painting, for example—ask them to explain their word combination. Can a painting be drowsy? How so?
The Ambiguous Picture
This is another fun activity for teaching description.
Begin by drawing a small part of a picture. Now ask your students to guess what it’s going to be. The more opinions the better—and be sure not to reject ideas. Now build up your picture in stages, each time asking your students to guess what it is. If students guess, we like to throw them for a loop by changing the original idea.
We use this activity to review vocabulary and practice imaginative association. The teacher begins the activity by saying a word—tyrant, for example. Now the teacher randomly points to a student who must come up with a word association. The student might associate tyrant with merciless. Now that student points to another student who continues the process. If you want to quicken the pace of the game or make it more challenging, set a time limit or limit students to using only the vocabulary words they are studying.
Brainstorming ‘Round a Word
Start by writing a recently learned vocabulary word on the board and then ask your students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write these down and draw spokes from each association to the root word.
If you want to make the game more challenging, impose restrictions. For example, tell students that they can only use adjectives that apply to the central noun. Or invite verbs that apply to the noun.
For advanced classes, try beginning with a root word—“part,” for example. This might lead to words like depart, impart, partner, part-time, and so on.
These are only five of over 130 activities you’ll find in Five-Minute Activities. Should you need more, check out our most recent guide, Breaking the Ice: 15 Ways to Kick Start the First Day of School.
I am planning on attending an Edcamp for leadership next week, which has caused me to reflect upon my administrator/teacher experiences of the past. There was once a time in education, not too long ago, that all discussions about education were led and controlled by those who led and controlled the very schools in which education took place. Building, or district administrators could pretty much control the flow of education information based on their personal education philosophies, as well as their exposure to the latest education ideas and methodology available to them. What was relevant and what was status quo? What was progressive education philosophy, and what was fad or trend? We counted on administrators to lead the way in informing us. That was in fact part of why they were hired and held their positions, to direct the educators below them. That was all part of the system.
This would work very well, as long as the administrator stayed informed, relevant, and was opened to sharing with a faculty open to that direction. This of course was the shiny side of the coin. The other side offered an irrelevant administrator steeped in the past centuries of education and leading the faculty to make no waves in an atmosphere of status quo.
In my career I served under both types of administrators. I thrived under the relevant and struggled with the supporters of status quo. One constant in education however, is that the career lifespan of most administrators is usually short. They move on in order to move up, so waiting them out became the desired answer for the bad, and the dreaded end for the good.
The problem for educators was in not knowing what was good and what was bad. Getting to the outside world of education conferences and collaboration did not come easily to teachers. It was expensive and periodic. Teachers were needed in the classroom, which limited their conference availability. This strengthened the teacher reliance on administrator leadership. There was very little transparency as we have come to know and appreciate it today.
Social Media today has changed this dynamic. An idea in education may come from any educator, regardless of title. Ideas are considered on their own merit and not just by who put the idea forward. Of course it does help if thought leaders support an idea. The point is that the thought leaders are teachers as well as administrators, and authors. It is the open collaboration, and transparency of ideas that test their viability. Teachers and administrators can openly question and discuss things on a scale never before afforded to us. We are not limited to the successes and failures of our own buildings, but we can sample responses and results on a national or even global scale.
This places greater pressure on the leadership in education to maintain relevance if they are to lead educators who now have the ability at anytime to call on experts and question authority. Administrators need to better reflect on ideas and involve a more informed faculty in decision-making. They should also keep in mind that the same collaboration of education ideas works equally well in publicly sharing accomplishments and failures. We all need to strive to be better in order to create and maintain positive digital personas based on our accomplishments and positive interactions with other educators. Our world has become much more transparent and in many ways much more democratic. We need more educators exercising their participation in this process.
Teaching is a passionate profession: it demands a love of learning, a love of people, and a passion for intellectual and emotional engagement. So what happens…what does it mean…when we don’t particularly feel passionate about our work?
First of all, it means that we are completely normal. If this doesn’t comfort you, you may find solace in Dave Burgess’s book, Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator. Below you’ll find three of his strategies for reclaiming your passion.
What excites you about your area of expertise (finding your content passion)?
Let’s face it, rarely are teachers passionate about all of the content they’re expected to teach. We’ve yet to meet an English teacher who holds an unwavering passion for teaching students how to create a works cited page or a math teacher who is simply nuts about pi. Teachers certainly understand the significance of these concepts, but that doesn’t mean that they are fanatical about them—and that’s OK.
Instead of dreading the content you are less interested in, create an authentic and relevant learning experience that would heighten your own interest in the topic. Then, when it comes to the “stuff” that truly gets you energized, approach it with even greater ferocity; delve into it deeply and creatively. This will help get you through the content you are less interested in.
What is it about being an educator that drives you? Why did you become a teacher in the first place (finding your professional passion)?
When the content fails to excite you, remember why you became a teacher in the first place. Remember your passion for creating life-long learners, for helping students increase their self-esteem and find their talents.
Regardless of the subject or standard, inject the content with a life-changing lesson or cooperative group task, something that helps students build self-confidence and learning engagement.
A lesson on Abraham Lincoln or Rosa Parks will contain biographic facts, dates and the like. But when those facts and dates are injected with a life-changing lesson, they become stories about persistence and overcoming adversity; they become, as Burgess suggests, “examples of how ordinary people with strong convictions, and the courage to act on those convictions, can transform history.”
What do you like outside of your profession (finding your personal passion)?
To keep your passion for teaching alive, Burgess suggests that you bring your personal interests into the classroom. He, for example, is passionate about magic and whenever he can use it to illustrate a point, he takes that opportunity. Not only does that help him create a more engaging and memorable lesson, it also helps increase his sense of fulfillment and fun as an educator.
Nearly any personal passion can be incorporated into the classroom. Do you play an instrument? Bring it in and play it for your students. Are you passionate about technology? Use it and teach your students to use it. Because you are teaching from an area of strength, personal enthusiasm will help you create more dynamic lessons so that students see “how their [own] unique skill set and passions can be vital, invaluable, and applicable for their future.”
I’m largely okay with the Common Core Standards.
Anyone who reads me regularly already knows this. There are limitations, sure, but by and large, they are better than previous individual state standards that, for the most part, prepare children for 1992, but aren’t so great at preparing them for 2025.
That said, there are places where the standards are either inconsistent, out of order, or blatantly strange. This blog post is about the blatantly strange. This blog post is about Reading for Literature, standard #6, for grades 9 and 10. Here’s what the standard says explicitly:
Everything up to this point in the 6th Reading for Literature standard, and in the standard after, are all dealing with Points of View (or perspectives) on a sophisticated level from one grade level to another. Then, in 9th grade, we drop the “outside the United States” part in there where it hasn’t been seen before and won’t be seen in the 11th and 12th grade. Random. Random. Random.
However, random or not, we still have to deal with it.
My colleague Janet Hale, who brought this standard’s specificity to my attention, and I had an in-depth conversation about finding appropriate middle-school and high-school works from a “wide range of world literature” given that the works cannot be published in America, even if the story focus is from another country (The Kite Runner, for example).
We were struggling to come up with quality texts that were both worthy of cross-cultural analysis and had analogues or comparative universal themes. We wanted to attend to the capacities around global perspectives without being U.S.-centric while also attending to the valuing-evidence and critical-thinking capacities.
After continued discussion of the implications of this standard while considering curriculum design, we decided that it would be advantageous to tweet out about our thoughts and leverage our digital learning network to find world literature (especially short stories) read by middle-school and high-school students in other countries that American students can read via an English translation. Not an easy task, but we started getting titles from around the world.
Let’s take a look at the Grade 9 unit from Engage NY, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Here are the standards addressed in this unit:
Image: Engage NY, screenshot from Grade 9 unit
Notice that the Reading for Literature standard number 6 is an anchor standard (RL.6) rather than a grade-specific standard (RL.9-10.6). Using the grade-specific standard would necessitate a work of literature from outside the United States as well as an American-published text, keeping in mind that analysis is also part of the standard.
To be fair, a key design feature of these Odell Education’s materials is adaptability--the ability to use some of the strategies and supports around a different text. This is important. Because Odell chose to focus on the anchor standard, they are maintaining the spirit of “point of view” and “perspective”, which is one way to deal with what may appear to be a random standard.
Is it okay to always revert back to the anchor standard when a grade level-specific standard is difficult to address? Not really, though it is dependent on several factors, primarily on whether or not the standard addresses content that will be frequently assessed, has leverage in other content areas, or is a lifelong skill that students will need. Another dependent factor is readiness. Previous to the 9th grade standard, there is no mention of texts outside the United States, but it doesn’t mean the support in previous grade levels should be ignored. The College and Career readiness capacities, which I see as the umbrella of the ELA standards document, demand that students who are college and career ready “come to understand other perspectives and cultures.” Even if not specifically in the standards, we can apply this capacity to instruction in both planning and action.
While there are teachers who may have flexibility concerning which grade-level standards get a stronger emphasis, what about those teachers who must adhere to the letter of the grade specific standard versus the spirit of the anchor standards?
This question brings us back to our digital learning network’s collaborative Google doc. We need resources to be able to engage this standard and we need a worldwide cadre of educators to connect and discuss with. We don’t yet know if all of the recommendations are appropriate (e.g., text complexity, rigor) given that they are new texts to us, some of the intended rigor or complexity may be subjective, particularly if they are being used based solely on quantitative measures (Lexiles). Through reading and analysis of qualitative measures and reader/task considerations, conversations around these international texts could yield wonderful opportunities for classroom use or possible unit substitution as a resource. (Janet and I also love the idea of having international students Skyping with American students during and after they read one another’s text based on deep understanding of the text, universal themes, and subsequent analysis found in both texts.)
So, in a nutshell, let’s recap how a teacher might deal with the random standard:
Revert back to the anchor standard, the “spirit” of what students need to know and be able to do.
Address the standard specifically with new resources and collaborative curriculum design. (Perhaps even have conversations about scaffolding in previous grade levels for the sake of readiness to meet the standard where it lives in a particular grade level.) This attends to the “letter” of what students need to know and be able to do.
Be mindful of how the random standard relates to the College and Career Readiness capacities and plan accordingly. This attends to a more overarching vision of college and career readiness that is perfectly appropriate to consider when planning and delivering instruction.
The blatantly strange standards sometimes give us great launching points for collaboration, global conversations, and shared resources, as it has in this case. If you’d like to continue the discussion, please comment below, contact me or contact Janet, or contribute to the Google Doc yourself.
Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from the ASCD Bookstore.
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 email@example.com.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Watch the “Getting Social with Your Lawmakers” webinar. Almost every member of Congress uses a toolbox of social networking channels, from Twitter to YouTube, to communicate about their work and connect with constituents. Listen to the recording to learn how to leverage these tools to sustain relationships with your lawmakers, share your expertise, exert your influence, and join grassroots movements for change.
What Does “ASCD” Stand For?
What do you say when people ask you what “ASCD” stands for? Since ASCD no longer uses Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, sometimes that question can be difficult to answer, and we’re here to help. This ASCD Inservice blog post takes on the challenge of explaining the history behind our name.
What ASCD Has Learned from Affiliates
As a director in Constituent Services at ASCD, Walter McKenzie works with the best and brightest educators leading our affiliates around the world. Read his Whole Child Blog posthighlighting some of what he has learned through collaboration with ASCD affiliates.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
Please Welcome the 2013 Class of ASCD Emerging Leaders
ASCD has selected 25 educators from across the globe to join the 2013 class of ASCD emerging leaders. Please join us in welcoming them to the ASCD community! For a full list of the 2013 class of emerging leaders, view the ASCD Emerging Leaders Directory. To connect with the 2013 class, follow them on Twitter.
See these news items featuring 2013 Emerging Leaders:
ASCD Leader Voices
Check out these great blog posts:
Whole Child Virtual Conference presentations by ASCD Leaders:
Your Summer PD: ASCD Whole Child Virtual Conference Archives
How can schools implement and sustain a whole child approach to education? The 2013 ASCD Whole Child Virtual Conference, entitled “Moving from Implementation to Sustainability to Culture,” was held in early May 2013 and, through archived presentations, offers educators around the globe strategies and learning to support your work. In these presentations, you will:
No matter where your school falls on the whole child continuum, be it the early implementation stage or beyond, the Whole Child Virtual Conference provides a forum and tools for school sites and districts that are working toward sustainability and changing school cultures to serve the whole child.
Reducing the Effects of Child Poverty
In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. The 2008 economic crisis became a “household crisis “ when higher costs for basic goods, fewer jobs and reduced wages, diminished assets and reduced access to credit, and reduced access to public goods and services affected families who coped, in part, by eating fewer and less nutritious meals, spending less on education and health care, and pulling children out of school to work or help with younger siblings. These “new poor” join those who were vulnerable prior to the financial shocks and economic downturn. Read more at the Whole Child Blog.
In May we looked at the implications of the “new poverty” for schools, many of which have seen drastic changes in the populations they serve and their communities. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Deborah Wortham, superintendent of the School District of the City of York, Pa.; 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.
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
How Can We Help You? By ASCD Service Center Director Marilyn Whipple
To Infini-Pie and Beyond! By Walter McKenzie
ASCD Offers Resources for Educators Planning the School Year Ahead—As educators gear up to return to school in the fall, ASCD has compiled a collection of hard-hitting resources to enable educators to implement innovative teaching and learning strategies for the 2013–14 school year. Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces 2013 Class of Emerging Leaders—ASCD has selected 25 educators from around the globe for the 2013 Emerging Leaders Class. The Emerging Leaders program recognizes and prepares young, promising educators to influence education programs, policy, and practice on both the local and national levels. To view the entire list of the 2013 emerging leaders, visit the Emerging Leaders Directory. View the full press release.
New Acquisitions Editors Support ASCD’s Growing Publishing Unit—ASCD welcomes two new staff members to the association. Julie Scheina and Allison Scott were recently appointed acquisitions editors for the association, which produces the award-winning monthly magazine Educational Leadership, more than 40 books a year, and a variety of valuable newsletters and other print and online publications. Read the full press release.
"If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students."
On June 2, 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards which were implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent K-12 learning expectations in English-Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. The Standards reflect the knowledge and skills students need to be college and career ready by the end of high school. Elected officials across the United States are beginning to question the Common Core State Standards. On June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest posted a YouTube video outlining his concerns about the Common Core State Standards.
While standing in the car rider line at an elementary school, I was approached by a classroom teacher. She asked, "Are we going to align our curriculum, instruction, and assessments to the Common Core State Standards next year?" I replied, "yes." Then I said, "The Common Core is not going away." The teacher replied, "The Lieutenant Governor is discussing eliminating the Common Core." I replied, "Which Lieutenant Governor?" The teacher said, "The North Carolina Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forest."
Prior to becoming an elementary principal, I was the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools. Our school district held a Common Core Summer Institute for teachers and administrators during the summer of 2011 and summer of 2012. At the summer institutes, teacher teams planned a one year professional development plan for their schools. Hosting the summer institutes cost the school district thousands of dollars. The North Carolina General Assembly did not provide funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards. Throughout the past two school years, I have attended professional development led by teacher leaders. The average professional development requires teacher leaders (appointed or self-nominated) to spend approximately ten to twenty hours planning quality professional development and developing resources which support the implementation of the new standards.
In addition to working with classroom teachers to build awareness around the new standards, I have observed teacher leaders writing curriculum aligned to the new standards. Curriculum development has taken place through building level meetings, district meetings, and regional meetings. On several occasions five school districts in the Triangle met to support each other through the pre-implementation and implementation process. Triangle High Five is a regional partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County Schools, Orange County Schools, and Wake County Public School System. Teachers and administrators from these school districts shared curriclum maps, worked with high school math teachers to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, offered professional development, and worked with the North Carolina School of Math and Science to offer free professional development for mathematics teachers. In 2011 and 2012, SAS hosted a summer mathematics summit to support math teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. SAS has invested in the five school districts for several years. Recently, SAS provided thousands of dollars in order to support the transition from the Nort Carolina Essential Standards to the Common Core State Standards. It is expensive to provide professional development to over 400 educators from five school districts.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education did not ask North Carolina educators if we should adopt the Common Core State Standards. Once the State Board of Education adopted the standards, Superintendents and district leaders were told to implement the standards. Was the implementation process rushed? Yes. In 2010-2011, educators were anxious about the changes. To date, it is still difficult to find resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. I know 20-year veterans who stay up until midnight or later on school nights, searching for resources. Part of the reason resources are scarce is because the SBAC and PARCC assessments have not been finalized. Most vendors are still offering a blended version of old state standards and the new Common Core State Standards. This is especially true in mathematics.
When educators are told that a school board policy, state board policy, or general statute requires them to change, they begin collaborating and discussing how to make the change(s) student-friendly. In Orange County Schools, we were able to pay teacher leaders a small stipend for leading curriculum development efforts. The district used Race to the Top funds to pay teacher leaders who led curriculum development, facilitated professional development, posted curriculum maps online, and attended state conferences.
This week marked the last day of school for teachers and students across North Carolina. The Lieutenant Governor was recently elected, but North Carolina teachers have been preparing for the implementation of the new standards since 2010. Standards-based teaching has been common practice since the 1990's. Some states provided voluntary standards for educators prior to 1990. Today's students are competing with students around the globe for college admission and career opportunities. It no longer makes sense to have a Minnesota 3rd grade math standard and a Mississippi 3rd grade math standard. Students deserve to have the same standard across the United States. A common standard does not mean a 'watered-down' standard. Standards are not a curriculum.
This past year, I observed teachers differentiating instruction. Some students were two grades below grade level. They did not have the same assignment as the students who were at grade level or above. When teachers have a standard, they know the goal. Teachers provide students with multiple lessons, tasks, and opportunities to demonstrate what every student should know and be able to do. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not mean that every student will receive a perfect score at the end of the day. Teachers across North Carolina have embraced the standards and are operating with their grade level team, school team, district team, and regional teams to align curriculum with the Common Core State Standards. Standards are "the what" and Curriculum is "the how." The 'how' may look different in each classroom, but the standards are the same.
Seven Reasons Why States Should Embrace The Common Core State Standards
1. College and Career Readiness
Over the past year, I have seen teachers in North Carolina make the shift from College or Career Readiness to College AND Career Ready. The U.S. public school system was designed to sort and select students. Some students were considered 'college material' and the majority of students were workforce material. I believe that teachers in North Carolina raised the bar and raised their expectations for all students. ACT defines college and career readiness as "the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in creditbearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation." Based on my years of experience in the field of education, this is a major shift from the old mindset. This major change in philosophy and teaching is another indicator or the importance of the Common Core State Standards. The standards have forced a new conversation about the goals of education.
2. Common Standards Enable Teachers To Collaborate Across the United States.
Standards-based education requires teachers to align their curriculum, instruction, and assessments with the standards. For over a decade, teachers have disagreed with the standards. In North Carolina, teachers are required by general statute to teach the standards. A professional educator can respectfully disagree, but the law requires educators to teach the standards. Since the Common Core State Standards had some different approaches and aligned and moved standards to new grade levels it forced teachers to collaborate and design new units of study.
In Orange County Schools, I have observed professional conversations around the standards. I have seen teachers sharing resources across schools. I have seen teachers reaching out to educators in other states to discuss the standards. Regional and state meetings have been more exciting than ever, because everyone is learning the new standards. If one school district has a strong unit or curriculum resource then they will share it with our school district. I have participated in dozens of Twitter Chats with educators who are implementing the Common Core State Standards. ASCD has hosted a regular webinar series which offers educators the opportunity to learn and reflect on the Common Core State Standards. Before the Common Core State Standards, educators discussed their project or their program. The new standards have raised the bar in professional conversations. Educators have shifted from discussing the activity to sharing how the activity aligned to the standard.
3. Teacher Leaders Have Developed Curriculum Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
In North Carolina, teachers were required to implement the Common Core State Standards in 2012-2013. Teachers met on a regular basis to write, align, and implement units aligned to the new standards. Once curriculum was developed, they also created common formative assessments aligned to the standards. Alan Glatthorn wrote, “One ofthe tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment,so that the learned curriculum is maximized. This statement summarizes the work that takes place in classrooms, on early release days, on the weekend, and during the summer months. Teachers know how to align the curriculum, instruction, and assessments to standards. It takes time. If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students.
4. Professional Development Has Been Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Some school districts have spent thousands of dollars hiring consultants to provide professional development. Regional education organizations have paid $50,000 to $100,000 in order to host professional development with national consultants. Educators have participated in book studies, discussion forums, district professional development, NCDPI webinars and state conferences, and more. In 2012-2013, Orange County Schools and several other North Carolina school districts devoted the time to curriculum development or ongoing professional development aligned to the new standards. The price tag would be in the hundreds of millions if you totaled the number of hours the staff members were paid for professional development. It should be noted that they did not receive a bonus check. The money was part of their contract. Tax payers have invested in professional development aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Did North Carolina provide much assistance to educators prior to the 2012-2013 school year? No. School districts were required to use their own funds, contract with their own teachers, and develop their own resources. This was expensive. You could say that implementing the Common Core State Standards was done on the backs of the professional educators in North Carolina. I have not met many educators who disagree with the Common Core State Standards. This is another reason why I feel that politicians should let educators implement the standards. If elected officials want to provide the appropriate funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards, then that would be a step in the right direction.
5. Curriculum Alignment Is Easier With the New Standards.
It is difficult to describe curriculum alignment to non-educators. "When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122). Aligning the curriculum is an ongoing process which requires time, reflection, honesty, conflict, and a professional commitment to share what works in each classroom with specific students. The new standards provide a clear road map for educators. They do not outline every detail of what a teacher needs to do each day. Standards are a guide, not a script. If educators are beginning to align their curriculum, then policy makers should find ways to support their efforts. Curriculum alignment drives the work of a school district. When I see teachers analyzing student work and comparing it to a standard, I see excellent teaching. I entered the teaching profession in the early days of the Standards Movement. I have never seen teachers sharin their craft knowledge and having ongoing conversations about the standards like I saw in 2012-2013. Standards provide a common point of conversation, not a floor or a ceiling. The way the Common Core State Standards are written, a teacher can accelerate gifted students. This is missing from the national debate. Before we vote to eliminate the standards, let's visit schools and ask teachers to come to the State Board of Education. Let's find out what is working and how the standards are supporting teaching and learning. Let's avoid the political rhetoric and ask the teacher leaders who bore the burden of implementing the standards because the State Board of Education voted to adopt the standards.
6. The Change Process Requires Time.
Schools will continue to implement the Common Core State Standards in the summer and fall of 2013. Leading implementation requires a principal-leader who is willing to create short-term wins for the staff, provide time for the staff to reflect on the standards and to encourage risk-taking. Implementation of the new standards requires principal-leaders to honor the change process and to respect the emotions that staff will have during this change in teaching and learning. If states eliminate the Common Core State Standards, then which standards will replace them? If we fall back to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, then we are adopting an inferior set of standards. They were the best that the state could develop. That was then and this is now. The Common Core State Standards were not embraced immediately. However, after one year of developing lesson plans, units of study, and assessments, educator have given their seal of approaval. The change process was emotional and it caused all teachers to reflect on teaching and learning. If state officials continue to change the standards, it will be impossible for educators to develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). Eliminating the Common Core State Standards from public schools may win a political battle at the state or federal level. However, it is not in the best interests of teachers and students. Ask teachers in North Carolina if they think the standards should change. The standards should not be a stepping stone for someone's political career.
"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep" (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5).
7. Student Achievement Matters.
The reason that educators get out of bed and go to work each day is because student achievement matters. The new standards support the goal of College and Career Readiness. Teachers recognize that the new standards require more rigor than previous state standards. One of the most compelling arguments for the Common Core State Standards was "standardization." When a 12 year old girl moves from Hope, Arkansas, to Lexington, North Carolina, she should be on the same page with her classmates. Students are moving across the United States on a regular basis. Prior to the Common Core State Standards, families had to fear that they were moving to a state with higher or lower standards. Standardization does not mean that every student learns the same thing in the same way. Technology integration, project-based learning, and other best practices allow teachers to meet the needs of each student, while aligning assignments to the standards. When students master a standard, the Common Core State Standards allow teachers to move to the next grade level. When students transfer to a new school, they need to know that the things they learned will provide them a foundation for learning at the new school. Changing standards after year one of implementation does not respect the main goal of education - Student Achievement.
Common Core State Standards: The Right Direction for U.S. Public Schools
It amazes me that one or more politicians can advocate for changing standards. I do not try to change medical practice, standards for the Interstate highway system, building codes, or taxes. The reason that I do not attempt to get involved with these things is because I am a professional educator. I would appreciate it if politicians would consult with professional educators and ask them if the Common Core State Standards support teaching and learning. A simple Google search can provide a glimpse at the groups who are rallying to eliminate the Common Core State Standards. The standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers and administrators have embraced the standards and will spend the summer months aligning their curriculum and units to the standards. Hundreds of teachers in any given state will meet on Saturday morning for an online Twitter chat, meet at a restaurant to share learning goals, or attend a summer institute. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best intersts of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education.