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This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html
How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention? As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching. In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone. However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth.
During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential. My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development.
It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.
1. Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.
Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating. Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood. Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking. Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.
2. Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.
Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices. Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action. Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below). These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered.
3. Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.
Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish. Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.
4. Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.
Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students. Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks. Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.
5. Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice - and reflect with them afterward.
Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration. Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved. In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” ― W.B. Yeats
This blog post is listed in its entirety at :http://blogs.falmouth.k12.ma.us/simplysuzy/2014/04/13/9-ideas-you-can-steal-from-teachers/
After stumbling across Portent’s Content Idea Generator, I had a bit of fun… I threw in some favorite topics and generated some pretty giggly blog post ideas:
10 Freaky Reasons Creativity Could Get You Fired.
How Learning Can Help You Predict the Future
12 Ways Technology Could Help the Red Sox Win the World Series.
20 Things Spock Would Say About Schools. <~someone should totally write this!!
So I started thinking about one of the topics that Portent generated…. What are ideas we teachers have, that others would find worth stealing?
1: Attention Please
Whether teachers are clapping, chanting, counting, calling out, or throwing up Peace Signs – they are getting the attention of students coast to coast. So, next time you need to get attention at the dinner table, or at the deli, or on the subway – try some tried-and-true teacher tricks. Clap a rhythm, shut the lights off, or count backwards from 10. Soon you’ll have the rapt attention of all those around you.
2. Everything is more fun with Music
Music is a powerful medium. I can still remember all of the words from all the Schoolhouse Rocks videos of my youth. I can still sing my multiplication tables from 3rd grade (thank you, Mrs. Lynch!). Classical piano and guitar help drown out all of the distractions of Real Life so I can focus on one thing at a time. Sharing music in the classroom helps keep things calm and lively; serene and silly. Students respond to rhythm, to rhyme, to rap, to relaxing tones. So, try rapping that pesky list of chores to be done around the house, or singing the steps to cleaning a bedroom. A little classical music during dinner never hurt anyone.
3. Read-alouds are good for everyone.
Read-Aloud time is one of our most favorite in Room 204. Whether we are sharing the next chapter in Charlotte’s Web, or rhyming along with Dr. Seuss, during read-aloud every student is engaged and involved. Perhaps the next time you’d like to get an important point across to a family member, you could do it in the form of a read-aloud. Gather them on the rug in front of you, muster up your best fluency skills, and have at it. Whether you read the DVR user’s manual, summer camp brochures, or the latest junk mail, I guarantee you’ll have a committed audience. Sell it.
The remaining 6 ideas can be found here:
As a teacher, what ideas do you have worth stealing?? Share them!!
A hot buzzword in education is the term ‘connected educator.’ For the past year, I’ve gone to unconferences, EdCamps, and had countless Twitter interactions. We always talk about what a ‘connected educator’ is.
Well, what about an ‘obsessive educator’?
It’s important to recognize this type of educator, too, as they are a strand of the ‘connected educator’. An obsessive educator is eternally hungry for teaching and learning knowledge. So hungry, that they’re never full. They’ll attend Saturday free conferences the weekend before Thanksgiving because they want to learn something, be inspired, meet others like them, and go home with their passion ablaze. Snow on a Saturday in Philadelphia? No problem for the obsessive educator. The pros way outweigh the cons. The obsessive educator burns the candle at both ends, only because there isn’t a third end.
The default setting for an obsessive educator is to communicate. Once an obsessive educator learns something new, they need to try it out immediately. And, then share out: not to brag or show off, but to deconstruct what just happened -- so more learning can occur. They want to break down why something worked, why something didn’t, or what they can do better.
They also want to help others get better. Making an investment in someone else by sharing new knowledge makes the obsessive educator happy. They know at some unknown future point, their investment will pay a dividend because a student will learn. And, that’s in their job description..
The obsessive educator is a teacher first, next, and always. And with teaching, there will be times when their peers don’t comprehend the material. They won’t see its relevance. Why do that? Who has time? Everything is already good the way it is, the obsessive educator hears. However, the obsessive educator sees a different picture than others hear. They don’t see the forest or the trees. Their vision is longer term, and it’s beautiful: a place where we are all connected and an obsession with learning becomes the norm.
But, they understand that their obsession is not the norm now. They understand that not everyone gets stoked when Tom Whitby and Todd Whitaker follow them on the same day. They understand that by taking pictures of the educational badges from the conferences they’ve attended that people they love, respect, and even marry may call them “Nerd Camp.” Because, the obsessive educator believes they get it -- the rest of the world will just catch up soon.
At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.
I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.
I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.
I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.
Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.
Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.
Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.
Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.
It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.
Instructionally savvy educators know that personalized learning is the heart of student success. As schools strive to customize education through instructional design, technology efforts and professional learning, highly successful schools know that these initiatives in isolation are not nearly enough to improve and sustain student learning. Strong schools know that deep levels of personalization are found in an enriching and responsive system of teaching and learning, that stretches and supports learning in individual and flexible ways. In order to achieve a truly personalized education for every student, one must articulate, architect and actualize practical ways to engage with such a system, and support the school to ambitiously strive toward a noble vision. Strong leadership, clear school structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes are vital elements that help ensure personalized success for every student. When these essential elements are employed, they create directionality for a school to reach their instructional True North.
A leader must have one foot in the vision and one foot in the reality. She must hold an almost unattainably high vision for her school, while embracing the evident truths about the school culture, data and instructional practices. An instructionally savvy leader knows how to continuously bridge the ground level reality to the top story vision in small and achievable ways. Her steady direction and encouragement is essential to regularly point the way to the instructional True North. It is widely accepted knowledge that if the leader does not believe and practice the vision, the endeavors needed to reach that vision will never take root, grow or flourish. While the instructional vision may seem distant, the leader must model and maintain a laser-like focus, that this instructional work is our moral imperative. At the same time, she is laying a solid instructional foundation and supporting schoolwide incremental footsteps toward the vision. Coaching and feedback are essential leadership tools. An effective leader uses every moment of everyday to indicate the True North, fostering the conditions for school success and celebrating visible learning.
Clear school structures
Clear school structures are the vertical frame on the instructional foundation. It is imperative to establish collaboration time and structures within the school day. Collaboration is the work of teaching and learning. One cannot effectively reflect, strategize, design, analyze, implement and monitor alone. Instead, educators must have time and structures within the school day to have continual conversations about the fine points of teaching and learning. Professional learning communities, data teams and a school leadership team are requisite to ensure a highly effective school. These particular structures are the column supports for learning; educators depend on them in order to personalize education for their students.
Collaboration takes many forms, and it must be a goal, norm and value in the organization. In establishing collaborative structures, it is a necessary first step to ensure the team norms, purpose, goals and process. For example, a professional learning community may employ a protocol that helps them look at student work. A data team may center on a progress monitoring procedure. A leadership team may use problem-solving model. Collaboration rests on clarity of structure. The absence of a clear collaboration structure leads a team to chaos or congeniality. Neither promotes learning. It is important to highlight that conflict is a natural part of the collaboration cycle. It has been said that one is not really collaborating unless there is conflict. Professional discourse reveals different points of view, and is necessary when collaborating around personalized education for a student. Often when teams fail to embrace conflict as a growth opportunity, passive forms of meeting take over, which do not result in instructional growth. There is no question that highly effective schools are steeped in collaboration as an authentic means toward personalizing student learning. In fact, highly effective schools will tell you they would not be successful without collaboration.
The success of schoolwide systems and routines depend on careful monitoring procedures. The leader must blend formal and informal processes to continually ensure that instructional efforts are helping the school advance in measurable ways. Effective forms of monitoring involve transparent efforts, such as classroom walkthroughs, data work, instructional conversations and professional reflection. Savvy educators participate in monitoring procedures for instructional feedback at the student, team, school and district levels. In turn, this helps them ensure that the student’s personalized learning is successful, while promoting their own self-reflection in the process.
Personalization as a goal and an outcome
Highly successful schools know that building and engaging in a system that adapts to students’ strengths and needs is critical in fostering personalized education. Educators in highly effective schools ask themselves, “How can I foster the conditions for success?” They embrace an ambitious vision through a shared leadership model, and actively collaborate within the school structures to design, implement, measure and monitor learning. Strong leadership, clear structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes comprise a educational direction for every school, and when properly employed, will point to the True North of personalized learning for every child.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
As an educator, I am often surprised by the things I hear other educators say. You hear these comments at conferences, read opinions shared on Twitter, overhear opinions shared at other schools, and possibly even hear one of these statements at your own school. These statements make me cringe. When we are working with students, it is difficult to understand the statements that some educators make.
Ten Statements That Make Me Say, "Shut The Front Door!"
"Those students can't go to college. We should just prepare them for a career, starting in middle school."
In 1903, Saunders, a professor at the University of Mississippi, described the perspective of many Americans at the turn of the century. He wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (p. 73).
In 2014, several Americans still share this perspective. The recent move towards College and Career Readiness is a positive move in education. This movement does not guarantee that every student will enter a four year college. It is the idea that every student should be provided with the opportunity to learn (OTL) key skills and concepts. Furthermore, adults should not determine a child's plans after high school when the child is in the seventh grade.
"Our seventh graders made a PowerPoint, so I would say that I am proficient with technology integration."
I am not offended by teachers saying that they require students to make a PowerPoint. However, it should be a red flag to administrators if any teacher hangs their hat on one project that incorporates technology. Technology integration should become seamless. In other words student projects will require technology integration, but the focus is on student understanding, not the device or program. After all, did you ever hear a teacher say, “My students used a pencil and paper today?”
"The Common Core State Standards are not new ideas. I have always taught this way."
Regardless of your stance (for or against) the Common Core State Standards, there are obvious changes in the way teachers should approach curriculum development, instruction, and common formative assessments. "These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step” (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5). Be aware of teacher teams and administrators who claim, “This is how we have always done it.”
The new standards will not fit into your state’s old standards like a jigsaw puzzle. The Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity to change how teacher teams communicate, collaborate, and reflect on standards. In the absence of ongoing communication, it will be easy to revert back to teaching in isolation and struggling to understand each standard. “Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in ‘same old, same old’ teaching with only superficial connections to the grade level Standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012).
"I require the gifted students to do double the work. They can handle it, because 'they are gifted.'"
You do not hear this myth as often as you did at the turn of the century. However, there are still misconceptions about rigor and about homework for gifted students. Giving gifted students more work does not support student understanding. If you hear a teacher bragging about giving the gifted students double the work, you should refer them to resources such as (Edmonds, SERVE) and Rigor on Trial (Wagner, 2006).
"How do you expect me to read a journal article or blog. There's no time for that."
The field of education is changing and professional growth is not optional. Online journal articles, blogs written by teachers and administrators, Twitter chats, webinars, and teaching videos provide educators with a multitude of resources. As a professional, I grow frustrated when someone claims that there is no time for continuous improvement. As educators, we should continue to grow and seek to understand best practices. It is professional malpractice to claim that there is no time for learning.
"Those aren't my students."
Teachers in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) change from saying ‘those kids’ to ‘our kids’ (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). If the goal is to prepare all students to graduate College and Career Ready, then the teachers and staff members in the school district must collaborate to support students. Principals within the same school district should share ideas and discuss instructional strategies. Competition is good when it comes to athletics, marching band, academic clubs, and science fairs. It is also appropriate to see which school has the highest graduation rate, lowest dropout rate, and highest number of students enrolled in advanced courses. The idea that “Those aren’t my students” should be a thing of the past. As adults, we should share ideas within our school district, across state lines, and even around the globe. When more students graduate prepared for college and careers, the world wins! These are “OUR” students!
"Do we get credit for attending this meeting?"
Have you ever heard a colleague whisper, “I hope they are giving us credit for this.” Most school districts require a number of credits over the course of one year or a five year span. If a teacher is more focused on receiving credit than learning, it is a red flag. Have you ever attended a meeting until lunch and then your co-worker goes to the mall, because the credit was given in the registration packet? It is a shame that some educators view the credit as the purpose for attending. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that educators should receive credit in order to renew their license. I also believe that more school districts should begin recognizing blogging, Twitter chats, and webinars as ways to earn credit. Asking for credit is similar to the following scenario:
A high school basketball coach asks the starting five to run a play in practice, one day before the game. The starting point guard pauses before running the play and asks, “Will we all five get to start in the game if we run this play right?”
Running the play several times is part of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the reason for professional development, not credit or a certificate.
"We are no longer teaching during the last nine weeks. We have started benchmarking and test prep."
Test prep is one of the worst things that teachers can do during the last nine weeks. Did you ever try to cram for a test in college? It usually does not result in transfer or understanding. There are multiple approaches that educators can take which will virtually guarantee instant gains or increases in student achievement. Curricular reductionism is a test prep strategy that eliminates arts education, social studies, character education, and soft skills. If it’s not tested, then it’s not taught during the last nine weeks (or even semester in some schools).
Taking shortcuts to improve the data at an individual school is akin to a professional athlete taking steroids. When our students graduate from high school, we do not want them to reflect on their K-12 experience and see that the shortcuts adults took created long-term detrimental effects.
When educators choose to give students multiple assessments that look like the high-stakes test, eliminate subjects, and create a test prep boot camp atmosphere, then students lose. High-stakes tests have changed the way some teachers and administrators approach teaching and learning.
"I would assign more project-based learning, but it interferes with the pacing guide."
Pacing guides provide students with a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ (Marzano), if the curriculum is implemented in each classroom. Pacing guides can support teaching and learning. Alignment in a school district is important and pacing guides can provide an outline of what should be taught to each student. Pacing guides should allow for flexibility in pacing and the readiness level of each student.
The statement above is often overheard at high schools that teach on a block schedule. While there may be 90 minute periods, some teachers cannot overcome the fact that a one year course is taught in one semester. If student understanding is improved through project-based learning (PBL), then teachers should identify days of the week and units of study that provide students with time for PBL.
I say, “Shut the Front Door” to this comment, because it is an example of putting the needs of adults in front of the needs of students. We are paid to prepare each student for the next level of learning. Some educators say, “Research be damned, I am going to get through the pacing guide and make sure that I cover the content.”
"I believe that soft skills are critically important, but they aren't tested by the state."
Soft skills include, but are not limited to, teamwork, decision-making, and communication (America’s Promise Alliance, 2007). “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).
Employers seek applicants who are problem solvers, communicators, team players, and have perseverance. These skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are needed by all high school graduates to ensure that they are college and career ready, regardless of whether they plan to complete an apprenticeship after high school or attend a two-year or four-year college. While employers are seeking students with strong academic skills, they are having trouble finding applicants who can collaborate, create, think outside the box, and communicate. When educators focus on tested subjects at the expense of soft skills, students pay the price. If test scores are the reason for teaching and learning, then someone forgot to tell the employers who are seeking qualified applicants (Wagner, Seven Survival Skills as described by business leaders in their own words).
I believe in instructional leadership, teacher leaders, the Common Core State Standards, curriculum alignment, professional learning communities, and College and Career Readiness. When teachers and administrators make statements that you disagree with, you should challenge the statement. As a professional, you owe it to students and to the profession to challenge broad statements or beliefs that are not in the best interests of students or the profession.
Share your thoughts below:
What makes you say, “Shut the Front Door?”
Steven Weber is an elementary school principal in North Carolina. During his career, he has served as the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools, High School Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, K-12 Social Studies Specialist with the Arkansas Department of Public Instruction, and as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the West Memphis School District. Weber blogs on ASCD EDge. You can connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog.
One of the keys to a successful student-centered, Results Only Learning Environment is the use of narrative feedback over grades. Although feedback isn't necessarily difficult to provide, a systematic approach can simplify the process.
A few years ago, when I was writing more feedback than ever before, I developed a system that I call theSE2R approach:
SE2R feedback in action: Here is an example of SE2R feedback for a student who wrote what we call a reflection letter about a book she read. Notice that there is no point or letter grade attached; this is crucial to the success of narrative feedback. Studies indicate that if you add a measure of any kind to the feedback, students do not read it, making your effort a complete waste of time.
"You wrote a brief reflection on The Hunger Games, in which you mix plot details and your own personal connection."
"The summary information demonstrates comprehension of plot elements including characterization and conflict -- elements of fiction we recently learned. I think, however, that you misidentify the rising action. I like how you show empathy for Katniss and her plight, as she faces the prospect of killing Peeta (hint: what story element is this?). Elaborating on this part would improve your reflection."
"Please review the presentation on rising action on our classroom web site linked here. Then, revise your reflection, reworking the part on rising action, in order to demonstrate understanding of the concept. Then, elaborate on your feelings about Katniss' tough decision near the end of the story.
When you have finished, e-mail me or send me a message on our private message board, telling me that you've done so."
What makes the SE2R approach integral to mastery learning is that it removes the kind of subjectivity present in grades and rubrics, while providing students with clear information about what they've accomplished and what they still need to do.
Parts of this are cross-posted at Brilliant or Insane
If you’re not familiar with them, brain breaks are short activities that offer students a reprieve from routine learning activities. Not only are brain breaks fun, they’re a simple way to refocus students’ energy and get them back on track.
1. Crab Walk around the Room: Put on a song and have students walk in the crab position around the room. At some point, have students go in reverse.
2. Doodle Time: Give students some blank paper and markers and let them doodle and talk for five minutes.
3. Dance Party: Turn on the radio and let students dance until the song ends.
4. Tic-Tac-Toe: Give students some blank paper to play tic-tac-toe with a friend. It’s a simple game that won’t cause a mess or a distraction for your neighbors!
5. 50 Jumping Jacks: Get students’ heart rates up with this quick physical exercise.
6. Heads Up, 7-Up: Another classic that is easy and exciting for students!
7. Stretching: Choose a student to come up and lead a minute of stretching. Most students know various stretches from gym class and will enjoy leading their peers!
8. Pantomime: Choose a student to act out an activity without talking. The class must mimic the leader and then guess what the activity is (swimming, flying, sleeping, laughing, jogging, singing, etc.).
9. Mirror-Mirror: Have students pair up and mirror the actions of their partner. Students will get a kick out of this activity!
10. Thumb Wrestling: Have students choose a partner and participate in some old-fashioned thumb wrestling. Be sure to establish your expectations before this little brain break.
11. Rock, Paper, Scissors: Have students partner up for five rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winners get a high five from their partner.
12. Sky Writing: Have students “sky write” their ABCs, sight words, spelling words, or a secret message to their friend.
13. Air Band: Choose an "air" instrument and "rock out!" Drums, guitar, and saxophone are my personal favorites.
14. Silent Yoga: Strike a yoga pose and see how long your students can hold it. Google "Kid Yoga" for some easy examples.
15. Desk Switch: Give your students 10 seconds to grab their materials and find another desk to sit in. They will remain in this desk until the end of the lesson. There are two reasons we do this: First, it gets them moving; second, being in a different location often helps them see the environment in a new way.
For most of my 36 years, my personal mantra has been “Failure is not an option.”
Seven months ago, I made a public pledge to blog at least twice a month. I may as well have also labeled it “My New Year’s Resolution” because I have not written a post after that, despite it being received relatively well.
Over the past few months, I made fun pacts with fellow ASCD Emerging Leaders (specifically Barry Saide, Eric Bernstein) about how I would follow their blogging lead, writing amazingly interesting blogs that reference cool ‘80s movies and inspire educators to work wonders in their classrooms. I also made excuses for why I never quite got around to writing (doctoral classes, family commitments, travel, conferences, sleep…).
Honestly, I didn’t write because I was afraid that my thoughts would be considered un-engaging, un-informative, or worse, poorly written. (Read: NOT GOOD ENOUGH.)
In my effort to avoid feeling like a failure, I failed.
As an educational consultant who focuses on social emotional learning, I am privileged to work with teachers and students in states across the country. In this role, I often encourage – no, I intentionally PROMOTE – failure. I believe whole-heartedly in giving others a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th chance. I urge teachers to incorporate formative assessment into the classrooms and offer students “second chance learning” on summative evaluations. I persuade students to forgive themselves, back up, redirect their paths, and move forward again with confidence based on new learning. Why can’t I seem to give myself those same opportunities?
Failure helps us grow character, build resilience, and increase knowledge and expertise. Failure lets us know who is standing by our side. Failure stretches us in ways we never thought we’d experience. Failure directs us to success.
Since everyone defines “success” differently, failure can always lead us to success. It is all in how we frame it.
Prior to starting my doctoral program, I set a goal to achieve a 4.0 GPA. Near the end of my first 9-credit semester, I earned my first “B” on a paper. For some, this may not seem like much. For me, the knot of failure sat in my stomach for days. I tried to ignore it, overcome it, and push it away.
Finally, I decided to embrace “it”.
I embraced failure.
I reframed my thinking. Realizing that I no longer had to (was able to) achieve my goal, I could actually enjoy my journey of learning – relish all the new insights my professors and classmates offered. I was now open to truly grow as an educator, as a learner, and as an individual. I was stretched, and I bounced back. And truly, I am much better for it.
As a consultant, you build quick relationships with those with whom you work. One of my mentors, Thom Stecher, once told me that in order to build my consulting skills, I needed to find MY stories – and allow myself to be vulnerable enough to share them.
I think this might be a good place to start. From failure.
(And Barry and Eric, lest you think that have failed to tie a movie to this post: The 1993 movie, Cool Runnings, tells the inspiring story of Jamaica’s first bobsled team trying to make it into the Olympics. At different stages of their lives, the bobsled teammates, and their coach, experienced intense periods of failure. But, they embraced it, learned from it, and found success. As one of the main characters states in the movie, “Cool Runnings means ‘Peace Be The Journey.’”
May we all find peace on our own journey through embracing our failures and remaining confident that we will eventually meet success.
Introverted students constitute one-quarter to one-half of your classroom. Just as we differentiate our instruction for student learning styles, interests, and needs, so should we consider differentiating for this trait that impacts how we process and respond to information and our environments. As teachers, it requires an awareness of how others learn and respond to stimuli along with slight modifications in the teaching and learning strategies employed in our classrooms. A little shift can go a long way.
The headphones and book I always carry within arms reach? Not just to entertain me, but to keep me from having to engage in random small talk conversation.
The U-shaped format for my classroom desks? Not just to facilitate conversation among my students, but to give me enough personal space to breathe easily in a room filled with people.
The 45-minute afternoon nap I take after working with a school district all day? Not just because I am exhausted after throwing all my energy and positivity into a presentation, but to find my balance again so I am not cranky for the rest of the evening.
The beautiful, light piano music that plays every time my cell phone rings? Oh, wait. I never hear it because my phone is always on silent. Leave a message and I’ll call you back when I have the answer to your question or know what you want to talk about.
You are a teacher! You have presented at conferences! You talk to and with people all day long! You cannot possibly be an introvert!
But, I am - and the rising popularity of books and articles (Marti Laney’s book “The Introverted Advantage”, Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”, Carolyn Gregoire’s Huffington Post article) on what it means to be an introvert continues to remind me. Through understanding, introversion is no longer seen as a “personality disorder”, but as an end-post of a personality continuum (Introvert – Ambivert – Extrovert) that is dependent upon a number of factors: Are you energized by solitude or by large groups? Do you need time to process information and gather your thoughts? How do you feel about making small talk with others? Do you enjoy phone conversations? Do you look forward to engaging in deep, abstract conversations?
I love to collaborate. I love to communicate. I love people; I really do. But, if as an adult, I have developed coping strategies for living in a country where extroversion is more the norm… how are our students faring, especially if they have not recognized that they lean more toward the introverted side of the Introverted-Extroverted Continuum?
As an introvert and a strong advocate for 21st century teaching and learning, I can’t help but think about how classroom teachers are now encouraged to foster collaboration and communication. How do we cultivate a natural fit between the two that creates a safe learning environment for all?
I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how to support the introverted student in your class (beyond helping them develop their own coping strategies for daily life).
1. Seating – I understand that it is easier to put students in alphabetical order when creating seating charts. But I like to sit in the back or near the edge so I feel I have room to “breathe”. I was once seated in the front middle seat because of my name and the teacher taught the class standing three inches from my desk; all I could focus on that year was devising methods of escape. Please allow me to select my own seat with the understanding that if there is a disruption to the learning process, you will rearrange. Besides, you can learn a lot about a student by watching where, and near whom, he or she sits.
2. Icebreakers – I understand the value icebreakers to foster a sense of community, and I admit that it DOES get better once you get started. But, as soon as I hear that word, I want to slink to the floor and crawl to the door. To keep me in my seat, to encourage participation, and to prevent me from leaving for an unnecessary bathroom/coffee/water/food/phone call break, don’t tell me to “find a partner you don’t know”. Please pair me up with someone randomly by counting us off, using playing cards with numbers, pulling popsicle sticks with names… anything.
3. “Turn and Talk” – I understand the need to formatively assess how students are processing the information and to check for clarity by sharing it out, but I need time to internalize and sort through information on my own. If you gave me two minutes to collect my thoughts or even allow me to write them down, I will be better prepared to share with a partner what I have learned. The concept of “Think, Pair, Share” works much better for me. Please give me the time to “think” and organize the array of thoughts racing through my head.
4. Group Projects – I understand the importance of learning how to collaborate in a group, divide up roles, share ownership, and negotiate ideas. But sometimes I like to do projects independently instead of being forced into a group. I’d love the occasional opportunity to “work with a group/partner or work independently” – even if this means I will have “more” work to do on my own. Please give me a choice occasionally.
5. Participation Points – I understand, and appreciate, that you want everyone to be involved and to have an opportunity to share his or her thoughts. I realize that participation points are one way to encourage this. Check out my body language, notice my eye contact on you, see that I am taking notes and listening to what is being said, use a polling system in class (polleverywhere.com, mini whiteboards, thumbs up/down), or ask me to turn in an exit slip before leaving class. Please recognize that I can be participating and actively processing discussions and activities without having to speak out loud.
Leading a school as assistant principal or even as an instructional coach (my previous job) was never in my career path. In fact, until a few years ago, I could not imagine myself in a role defined by any leadership definition. I would have to say that life has taken me on some unpredicted journeys with some major twists and turns. At the time, these unfavorable moments in life seemed like some pretty hard-luck. Today, looking back, those hapless situations have played a huge part in directing me to where I have found so much passion and joy. You see, hardship sometimes brings out the best in us. I had to gain a lot of personal confidence before ever reaching a point in my life where I had enough faith to lead others. I had to let go of inner thoughts that often plagued my mind about what others thought of me. I lived most of my life through the lenses of how others perceived me. Outward affirmation from others far outweighed my inner desire to be happy with who I was. I am now certain that many unpleasant circumstances occured in my life to build patience, confidence, courage, and other characteristics that leaders often get branded with so readily. Today, I can say I've grown in tremendous ways! I am definitely a work in progress, but I have been able to break many of the negative strongholds in my life.
About a year ago now, I started to see how personal experiences, learning opportunities, and desires were leading me down an uncharted path of becoming a school administrator. Feeling a bit risky, I jumped in head-first and decided to be adventurous instead of taking my normal stance, which is standing with others on the observation deck. At the time of this revelation, I was attending grad school. I changed my whole graduate plan from curriculum (which I still love) to administration. New doors began to open, and I felt on fire to really lead for the first time ever. I can honestly say I made the BEST decision of my life to apply, interview, and accept a position as an assistant principal. My true passion was finally ucovered!
Who knows where this career will take me, but I will never look back and say, “I wish I had.” I have said that only a million times in my life with regrets. Along my new journey, I hope to inspire others who feel like they do not have much to give. The truth is, we all do. Leading does not mean you always have to stand and shout from a mountain-top. You can lead even in the trenches. In fact, the best leaders are at the bottom serving those who follow. Leaders show empathy and know how exhausting and cruel the road can be at times. They lift their people up and quench their thirst with support, sincere affirmations, and encouragement. The best leaders, in my opinion, have been shaped and formed from a raw state.
I am more excited now than ever about education. It is incredible how rapidly it is moving and shaking. I yearn to do so much more to make learning for students and teachers the best it can be! So, why am I leading? Well, I am leading because I have the passion to do so now, along with the faith and confidence in my ability to do it. Those beliefs about myself were born from hard work, heartache, and even a broken spirit. I am leading because I know it is the thing I am called to do. I am leading because I want to create other leaders as passionate as me. I am leading because I love what I do so deeply that I don’t want this passion to be wasted. I am leading because I care for people, for children, and finally for me and what brings me true joy. I lead because I want to make a difference!
We've all thought this at one point in time: "Please, for the love of all that's holy, just give me some practical things to do in my classroom."
We don't want to hear about all the specifical statistical theory that goes into the infrastructure of the framework of the ideological paradigm--we just want the nuts and bolts that we can immediately begin adjusting in our classroom.
I used to think that, too. Then, I had one of those "ah-hah" moments.
If you can understand the principle or theory, you can do anything.
It's kind of like what we try to do with students. We strive to teach them skills: how to think, how to learn, how to collaborate, how to read.
Because those skills transfer to a host of other things, smaller things. Now, we just need to remember that for ourselves! We need to embrace theory. I'm not saying that practical things have no purpose, but IF we have the theory down, we can then approach anything on solid footing.
For technology integration, especially, a lot of teachers just want to learn the program or the application. They want the practical side of things because that, they feel, is where their potential weakness lies. That's what they're afraid of: not knowing how to work the technology.
For a minute, let's see how working from a theoretical foundation might actually improve their practical application and help them overcome this fear. Consider:
The best integration of technology comes from an understanding of theory, not how well you can use the app or the program.
Teachers wanting to learn practical things first are potentially at risk of working from the technology tool as the foundation. This approach, though it does meet the basics of integrating technology, fails to reflect purposeful integration.
What teachers need to understand is not how to use Program A or Application B or even that the programs exist, necessarily, at first. They need to know what their objectives are for their lesson, first.
Let's say one of those objectives is collaboration.
Then, they need to know that IF and only IF they have determined that collaboration will enhance their students' learning, then they need to figure out HOW they want the students to collaborate. Then, and only then, are they ready to even think about a particular program or application:
Do they want students to work together on single page or document or separately on a single page or document? Do they want students to simply discuss in a forum? (There are certainly more ways that students can interact and collaborate with technology, but we'll stick with these general ways.)
Then, they also have to decide whether the choice to use technology is the BEST choice, given that they can do any of those three of these without it.
Why might it be better to use Padlet or Wikispaces than say, a posterboard in the classroom? Why might the use of an online discussion be more effective for student learning than an in-class discussion? Why would I want them to collaborate on a google doc instead of working together on a physical paper? Why is the use of any online tool warranted in this instance for this lesson?
All of these WHYS must be answered. Here are some potential answers:
If any of these answers are "Yes," then the use of technology is potentially superficial. You have to be honest with yourself, here. Consider that technology may not be the best choice, and using technology for the sake of using technology is a misuse of it.
However, if the technology tool enhances student learning in some way towards the objective, then we've got something. Some possibilities might be:
If your thinking takes you down one of these kinds of paths, then you can do a quick search for a program or app that helps students collaborate. Now, you have a program or application that is clearly and purposefully, and dare I say, "organically" integrated. It makes more sense.
(Consider the difference in student response to these reasons, too. More than likely, if the reasons for the technology are theoretically and/or pedagogically sound, then you will experience less student resistance.)
But this is just theory...
with which you can do anything.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
How can teacher leaders be identified and cultivated?
In a school setting, it is important that leadership does not come only from the administration, but from all aspects of the school community. As peers, we can identify and cultivate teacher leaders through paying attention to each others’ strengths and skills (including our own), and by seeking information and feedback.
Teachers are leaders when their influence extends beyond their own classroom. This influence can be a simple as working with a colleague to improve teaching practice through observation. It could be more involved, such as working as part of a curriculum development team. Leadership could even be quasi-administrative, such as serving as department chairperson or as a mentoring teacher.
No matter the role of teachers, we can identify leaders by paying attention to their strengths. Are they good listeners? Do they work to include all participants in meetings? Do they think “outside the box” to help solve problems? These are all skills that can serve well in leadership. When we are with our colleagues, we should pay attention to these types of skills, and should point them out to each other. Additionally, we should pay attention to our own strengths. If we find that we are effective at meetings, at talking to others, at helping all members contribute, we should hone these skills and improve them to increase our leadership.
Seeking information and feedback can help cultivate a fledgling leader – even if that leader is ourselves. When there are areas of concern, such as an unproductive team member, we should look for resources to guide us to effective communication. We can ask our peers to give us feedback about our effectiveness in different areas – especially our communication. We can honestly give feedback to our colleagues if they seek it.
Leadership needs to be cultivated throughout a school community. Even if we have terrific administrators, we are a stronger organization when we can pool our talents and skills. Identifying and cultivating leaders is a task for the entire school, because it benefits the entire school.
Google Apps are a set of high leverage tools that help teachers connect with their students, as well as, save time on common teaching and planning tasks. The key to getting started with Google Apps is to take it slow and play with the many applications and features as they fit into one’s schedule and workflow. Here are three easy steps for teachers to get started with Google Applications for Education.
1. Download Google Chrome
Chrome is Google’s web browser and works seamlessly with all Google Apps and extensions. Chrome allows for painless downloading and uploading with Google Apps.
2. Explore Google Drive
Many district provide teachers with a networked ‘P Drive.’ A great place to test out the functionalities of Google Drive is to upload one’s P Drive to Google Drive. In a matter of seconds, teachers will be able to access all of their files from any internet browser or mobile device. Additionally, teachers will be able to test the sharing functions and conversion capabilities of Google Docs.
3. Join Google+
Google+ allows teachers to integrate all of their Google Apps in a fun and easy social media platform. Many teachers use their Google+ account to replace their traditional webpages to share files and assignments with students. With Google+ teachers can use Google Hangouts to video chat with up to ten people while viewing Google Docs. You can also place free Google Voice calls via Google+.
Robert R. Zywicki is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction of the High Point Regional School District. He is completing his Ed.D. at Saint Peter's University. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZywickiR.
There was a quote spoken twice over a week-long span that resonated with me. The first time I listened to it I tweeted it out. It was a great thought in a presentation full of them. The second time the quote was said, I understood it. There was a difference.
The quote was, “Leadership is what happens after you leave the room.” Irvin Scott, Deputy Director of Education at the Gates Foundation said it during his evening keynote welcoming us at ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching). A week later, after hosting 50 New Jersey educators at a professional development event on digital leading and learning, Matt Hall, Supervisor of Science and Technology in Bernards Township said the same thing.
So why did it take me two times to truly figure out what they both meant?
It’s a complex thought: the idea that what you do and how you do it will show itself (positively or not) when you’re not there. The rationale is that if we’ve created the right environment, empowered the people in it to be involved in the environment’s creation, agreed upon very specific norms about what’s expected and why when we are there, the people who inhabit the room will continue to follow it when we’re not.
Why? And, how does this apply to teacher leaders, site-based leaders, and the students they serve?
Whether you’re a teacher or an administrator in a building, chances are, if your environment is running smoothly it’s because you’ve created an expectation about ‘how things are done here’. There is buy-in because those involved were given a voice and a choice in how ‘things here’ operate. Then, once rules and guidelines were established, the teacher or administrator made sure to reinforce expectations when needed, but in a positive way so teachers or students retained their dignity. This created an atmosphere of trust between those in the room and the person in position of power. It’s clear to all who witness a private exchange take place that even if they can’t hear what was said, the way the teacher or administrator handled it was respectful. When a teacher asks a student to step outside for a moment and then never refers to it again, or gently whispers something in a student’s ear and continues their room rounds, the student knows, ‘if I mess up, I’ll be held accountable for it, but I won’t be embarrassed publicly. It’ll be a private thing.’
The same holds true for when a conversation like this is held between an administrator and teacher. When an administrator visits a teacher in their room and has the hard conversation in private this may make the teacher uncomfortable, but it also creates mutual respect. At some point, just as other students know a conversation took place but don’t know the details, teachers know when an administrator spoke to a peer. Someone always sees or hears something. And, when (or if) it’s our turn having that conversation, we’re going to feel comforted knowing it will be handled the same way we know it was handled before. That shows caring.
As a teacher, the note I love to read from a guest teacher when I am absent is: ‘your students were wonderful. They were just a pleasure to teach.’ This lets me know that even when I’m not there, my leadership still is. It’s there because I have empowered my students to be leaders. They police themselves, support each other, have the hard conversation, and hold all accountable (even themselves). Because, they want to. My hope is that when they become a leader in their own field, they will continue to model these qualities and the cycle will continue.
The next time someone says, “Leadership is what happens after you leave the room,” remind yourself of the time spent in the room to create the environment that functions well when you’re not there. Because, the students aren’t doing it by themselves. They’re modeling leadership in the room you taught them in.
Originally posted at Curriculum21.com/blog
Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
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Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play by William Shakespeare that chronicles two pairs of lovers: Benedick and Beatrice (the main couple), and Claudio and Hero (the secondary couple). By means of "nothing" (which sounds the same as "noting," and which is gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful. At the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples. (Much Ado About Nothing. Captured from Wikipedia. February 28, 2014.)
What is currently taking place across the United States regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Much Ado About Something, does not bring to mind a comedy; rather, it brings to mind a tragedy. Before I continue, I must state that my post is not an “I’m on this side or I’m on that side” commentary. It is simply a personal and professional reflection based on working intimately with the CCSS and scores of teachers K-12 across this country and overseas coupled with what I have observed regarding those who are making “much ado”. My hope is that I mirror Benedick and Beatrice’s desire to set things right.
Whether it be politicians, parents, or people in educational circles commenting, I most-often hear them not making comments about the standards themselves – the basic, no-frills standard statements that convey what students need to know and be able to do. For example, let’s take a Reading Literature standard for Grade 7:
CCSS.RL.7.7 Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
This standard, here as it appears in the CCSS ELA Progressive Continuums App I created to aid teachers in collaboratively designing systemic curriculum that uses italic font to represent learning from a previous grade or grades and boldfaced text to indicate new learning in a grade, speaks directly to 21st-century (modern) learners needing to not only become literary literate, but media literate as well, as my colleague, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, promotes in her new book, Mastering Media Literacy (Solution Tree, 2013).
Before one can compare and contrast, one must know these two literacy forms as stand alones, which generates interesting conversations with teachers I work with as we develop content and skills because they were not taught media literacy when they were growing up (even younger teachers). Our conversations usually result in the seventh-grade teachers realizing they need to become deep learners themselves to best design content and skills associated with media literacy. And, as you can visually see represented in the standard above, comparing and contrasting written works to media is in italics, which means this process and learning about media-based versions has been learned in at least one previous grade (actually, starts in Grade 4 and is expanded on in Grades 5 and 6). Therefore, not only do seventh-grade teachers say they need media-literacy professional development, but fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers share they want to be included as well.
Common Core State Standard RL.7.7 is not saying specifically what must be read, what must be watched, or what the focus must be when read and watched, which is what I find many unhappy-with-the-CCSS commentators are up in arms over (excuse the film pun). While myriad companies and non-profits have developed recommended reading/media lists, units of study, and lesson plans that “are align to” the CCSS, these resources are not the standards. These aligned documents, programs, textbooks, etc., are how tos (instruction and assessments) based on someone or some group’s interpretation of the standards. For example, based on this standard, groups can have a wildly different take on what is an appropriate text versus movie/staged production for seventh graders – one group choosing a very liberal text and film and another group select a very conservative text and staged production.
Regardless of the selections, it is not the standard that is making a selection, human beings are. If studied closely, standard RL.7.7 is asking students to be critical thinkers and reason deeply regarding the nuances in a selected text and audio-visual representation, which is exactly what 21st-century students need to be doing – critically thinking and problem solving as well as reasoning and providing text and media evidence for their claims (e.g., requirements also found in standards RL._.1, RI._.1, W._.1). And, if we are truly trying to engage learners and wanting them to own their own learning, how about allowing students to select the text and film or staged production they will analyze?
What I often find interesting is that if you ask someone who is knocking the CCSS (let’s say in reference to a unit of study that is for some reason “inappropriate”) to tell you specifically what standard or standards he or she does not like (e.g., W.7.1a. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.), the person will hem and haw and can’t state the standard. And, when shown the aligned standard he or she most often comments that the standard is fine, it is the reading or film selection, the activity, or assessment item or task that is not liked. Evidence once again that it is not the standards themselves that is truly the concern.
With this said, I need to make one comment at this juncture: the CCSS are not perfect. There are definitely some flawed standard statements, but the flaws are minimal when compared to the total number of CCSS K-12.
The bashing or knocking of the CCSS, which is getting louder in some states with each passing month, is frustrating to me as a curriculum-design consultant who has worked extensively with the CCSS since they were in draft form and officially adopted in 2010. I know the standards inside and out from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I have spent hundreds of hours of meaningful conversations with teachers concerning the vertically articulated standards. These teachers care passionately about their students’ learning as they develop collaborative, systemic curriculum.
My passion and work has been, and will continue to be, dedicated to aiding teachers in designing curriculum maps with the students’ best interests in mind. The CCSS are our curriculum-design building “codes”, much as an architect uses codes to design blueprints, which Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Jay McTighe, and others have used as an analogy for many years. For the first time ever the largest number of independent United States have chosen to have the same building codes. This does not mean that each state, district, or school has to build the exact same home – one can choose to design a modern two-story, another a log cabin, another a green home, and another a ranch-style hacienda. The point here is that the infrastructure of the home design remains the same regardless of where the home is built. I grew up in the military and lived around the world before I was 15 years old. Today, given our ever-growing mobile society, chances of having a similar (and thankfully not exact) blueprint-based curriculum for a K-12 education is better than it ever was when I was in my formative years.
Academic standards are not the curriculum (Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Erickson. Sage, 2007. p.48). I whole-heartedly believe this is true. And while it absolutely takes time and commitment to develop a worthwhile systemic curriculum (oftentimes two to three years to fully develop and implement), I remind myself and others that curriculum mapping is a verb and the deep conversations and collaborations across grade levels immediately impact student in positive ways through teachers who are reconsidering the learning, teaching, and assessments while embracing what is new in the CCSS content and process standards. This immediate and on-going process validates why I have been involved in this specific field of work for over 15 years. Designing CCSS-based curriculum involves a two-phase process: studying and breaking apart the standards systemically to first develop learning based solely on what the standards (and critical ancillary documents, such as the CCSS Math Progressions) explicitly and implicitly require; and secondly, develop meaningful units of study that combine the learning, teaching, and assessment tasks based on a current program or encouraging teachers to create their own program.
Well, I may have not set things right, but hopefully a little bit right, in that it is not the CCSS themselves that are the problem; instead, it is CCSS-based interpretations made in the form of instructional choices and assessment practices, as well as one area I chose not to get into here: teacher evaluations.
As I previously mentioned, I will continue to work diligently with districts and schools who have a like passion – looking collaboratively and critically at the CCSS and systemically designing curriculum that aids their students in experiencing meaningful learning journeys K-12+.
(reprinted from Vicki's Rethinking Education blog)
APPR has created a tremendous amount of change in our districts and buildings. It has also increased the amount of work principals have to do on a daily basis, let alone the amount of stress. Staying positive is key to the success and survival of these demands. As a 13 year administrative veteran, here are some top tens I would like to share (In no particular order!)
1. Keep Your Door Open and Be Visible: Your staff, students and parents need to see you as the leader and you need to be accessible. Keep your door open, listen, listen, and listen even more. Give encouragement to your staff who are working hard to embrace a new curriculum and create engaging lessons for students. Be in their classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. Greet the buses and parents in the morning. Get on the announcements daily and say the pledge, your school pledge and your belief statement. It's powerful, it resonates, and starts the day on a positive note.
2. Use a Scheduler: If you don't write it down on your schedule to do a walk through, be visible, orthat observation, then it will not get done! I use Google Calendar and live by it. I have shared the calendar with my secretary who schedules my observations and meetings with staff when needed. Using an online calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook will help you organize YOU. The best part is that it notifies me of my schedule in the morning, and notifies me 10 minutes in advance.
3. Provide Mini-Observations: Teachers want feedback on how they are doing. When you do a walk through or mini-observation give them honest, constructive feedback. I like what Kim Marshall has listed in how to do mini-observations the right way: Unannounced, Frequent, Short, Face-to-face, Perceptive, Humble, Courageous, Systematic, Documented, Linked to Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, 2nd Edition, 2013.) Marshall suggests to do 10 mini-observations on each teacher, throughout the school year.. That would be 1 mini-observation per month. In our district, we do 5 mini observations for tenured, 2 formal observations and 3 mini-observations for 1st year teachers, and 1 formal observation and 4 mini-observations for 2nd and 3rd year non-tenured teachers. What it has accomplished for me is having powerful, professional conversations about what is occurring in the classroom, asking questions of the staff, and coaching best practice. It is also building trust and it is so important to have those face-to-face conversations about what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s about growth and should not be about a “gotcha”.teamwork and improvement, Linked to end-of-year teacher evaluation, and Explained well. (Kim Marshall,
4. Share The Leadership: I am the sole administrator/lead learner at East Side, with a student population of 463 and about 60 staff members. There is no way I can do this job alone and I rely on the staff to help run the school. Give leadership roles to your teacher's. Give them opportunities to work together so they can manage the Common Core. They are the ones in the trenches and will help boost school morale and provide great education for our students.
5. Be the Lead Learner: Rather than being "the principal", be the Lead Learner. Joe Mazza, Lead Learner of Knapp Elementary School in the North Penn School District, PA, coined this term and it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Join your teachers in professional development. Share your learning and what you find. Get on Twitter people! (Social media networking is huge and you should be embracing this venue.) Gone are the days of the principal sitting in the office, managing discipline and minutia. We need to be visible, be a part of what is happening in our schools, and be in the classrooms.
6. Your Hour of Power: Tony Robbins says that we have to have a daily ritual of physical and emotional . This means having time for you. Are you experiencing an extraordinary life? He also says to put in some type of physical activity. I try to power walk the hallways of my school and examine student work displayed and in turn, see the pride in our students’ accomplishments. This also gives me an hour to reflect on the day and plan. Give yourself this hour to rejuvenate and reflect.
8. Climate and Culture: How is the climate of your building? Have you given a culture survey? Are you dealing with lots of discipline issues that boggle you down? Maybe it is time to implement a social and emotional curriculum such as Responsive Classroom or PBIS. If you don't address the social and emotional aspects of students and get to know your kids, forget about the academics. Programs such as these change the culture of your building not only for students, but for the adults. The social and emotional curriculum is just as important as the academic curriculum. Once you have the social and emotional curriculum in place, academics are a breeze. It is about the relationships we develop not only with our students, but also with adults.
9. Celebrate: Celebrate the joys of being a team, a school family. We just finished our Holiday stocking stuffing exchange and what amade for the staff. We also celebrate baby showers, weddings, birthdays, you name it. Again, as adults, it's about the relationships and working together to be the best we can be. I always say to the staff, "You are the best of the best." You say it often, and it starts to become a part of you, and we show our pride.
10. It's People, Not Programs: Todd Whitaker says it best that it’s about the teachers, the people, not the programs. “We can spend a great deal of time and energy looking for programs that will solve our problems. Too often, these programs do not bring the improvement or growth we need. Instead, we must focus on what really matters. It is never about’ programs; it is always about people.” (Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently, 2003.) have new Common Core State Standards and those modules, but if you are not putting the time into your people, your staff and teachers, giving them time to plan, collaborate, reflect and giving them ownership, then it will be a tough road ahead. Empower your teachers and your staff, and you will have a better school. You know that if you have great teachers, you will have a great school. “The program itself is never the the problem.” (Todd Whitaker)
In the end, it is all about teamwork. As the lead learner, create those opportunities for collaboration, leadership, reflection and rejuvenation. You are the lead leaner and remember to remain positive!
In my recent column in Educational Leadership, I drew upon some studies synthesized in a new book from Newsweek and New York Times journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, which provides a slew of fascinating insights, including the importance of framing problems as challenges versus threats.
In sports, for example, professional soccer players are more apt to kick a tie-breaking goal when they are kicking to win—that is, to give their team the lead in a shootout—than when kicking in a sudden death situation to avoid a loss. In addition, Bronson and Merryman point to a study conducted at Princeton University, which invited two groups of students from high schools under-represented on the prestigious campus to answer questions about their backgrounds (to remind them of their outsider status) and then take a short math test.
The tests the two groups took were nearly identical, with just one subtle, yet important difference. For one group, the exam was a framed as an “Intellectual Ability Questionnaire;” for the other, it was called an “Intellectual Challenge Questionnaire.” The differences in performance were striking; the students taking the “challenge” test answered, on average, 90 percent of questions correctly; the students taking the very same test labelled as an “ability” exam answered, on average, just 72 percent of the questions correctly. In effect, framing the test as a threat rather than a challenge resulted in a two-letter-grade drop in performance.
Consider yet another study included in Top Dog. It found that the size of the venue in which students take the SAT test has a tremendous effect on performance—the smaller the venue, the higher the score. Certainly, many explanations might be offered for this finding. One likely culprit, though, is that being surrounded by a large group of fellow exam takers can be threatening. As Bronson and Merryman observe, “These kids know darn well that the entire country is taking the test that day; however, having so many at the same place, often in the same room, is intimidating. It’s a stark reminder of just how many other students are competing with you for college spots."
Bronson and Merryman connect these findings with yet another dot: business research that shows that companies whose CEOs create a “promotion focus” (i.e., set ambitious goals and encourage innovation) are more likely to outperform competitors than those led by CEOs who create a “prevention focus” (i.e., cautiously fixate on preventing errors).
In my column, I related these insights from Top Dog to the current environment in many schools, which for nearly half of all educators, according to a recent MetLife survey of educators, is characterized by high levels of stress, due in no small part to ongoing pressure to raise student performance while enduring budget cuts. In short, what many educators appear to be facing are tantamount to threat conditions that are likely not conducive to kind of the creative and collaborative thinking that is required to develop better learning environments for students.
That’s not to say pressure and competition are always bad. On the contrary, Top Dog identifies conditions under which competition spurs higher performance and even, surprisingly, creativity (for example the rivalry between Renaissance painters Michelangelo and Rafael). Along these lines, the pressure created by the last two decades of reforms hasn’t been all bad; it has focused attention to helping all students succeed, relying upon data to make decisions, and looking for bright spots and best practices.
That said, we need extrapolate only a little to question the current direction, and underlying theory of action, beneath the continued press to tighten the screws on the package of high-stakes testing, school accountability, and educator performance evaluations tied to student achievement scores (which, as I noted in a previous Educational Leadership column, researchers caution is fraught with concerns of its own).
For starters, if simple tweaks to tests, such as reframing them as challenges, reducing the number of fellow test takers in the room, or, as I noted in an earlier blog, offering students small rewards, can dramatically alter how students perform on them, one wonders if we’re really assessing what we think we are. Moreover, one might wonder whether the threat conditions we’ve created for many schools with high-stakes accountability are serving us well, or if it may be time to begin to reframe accountability in terms of a challenge condition that encourages educators to harness their collective ingenuity to create better learning environments for all students.
I’ll write more about what these efforts might resemble in future blogs and columns. For now, though, I’d encourage readers to absorb the many surprising insights from Top Dog (of which I’ve barely scratched the surface) and consider how this science of competition, adeptly captured in the book, might point us toward a more enlightened approach to school improvement.
After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.
Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.
If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking. I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.
What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.
The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.
The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.
Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives. I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.
I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.
In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?