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An intriguing viewpoint posited in the article, “Rethinking Learning,” found on www.3gSelling.com, is that we often base our decisions more on what we are accustomed to than on what really works best. This is a useful perspective from which to examine expections and decisions that are made with regard to curriculum use and teacher evaluation.
It is not unusual for the directions on how to use a curriculum to include an admonition that in order to be used effectively, the curriculum must be followed as is. Doing this is often problematic because though learning takes place within a process, learning itself is not linear.
Hence, a teacher might opt to complete a particular aspect of a lesson based on what she knows about her students and not on a stipulated timeframe or, manner stiuplated by the curriculum. This type of professional judgment is integral for meeting specific needs through such vehicles like diversity, personalized learning and differentiation; all of which focus on meeting individual’s needs.
Given this recognition of varying individual needs, it is equally important to understand and accept that even when different instructional methods are used, not all students will grasp concepts at the same time. Similarly, a teacher will not always be able to address learning deficiencies during one lesson. Being able to do this is highly dependent on the nature of the lesson and student effort.
This is an especially important issue for evaluators during classroom observations. Conclusions about a teacher's practice should not be based on how many students did not grasp a particular concept at one point and time but rather they should be centered on what the teacher does subsequently and how effective it is in moving students towards mastery. This is in keeping with the true nature of learning, which occurs overtime and at a different pace for each person.
Unrealistic expectations and unsound decisions easily become the norm because they sound great and because changing them entails some discomfort. However, for learning to thrive, these habits need to be laid to rest.
Student feedback can be heavy. I know that it can be an invaluable tool in improving instruction, but collecting, interpreting, and using the feedback can be grueling nonetheless. First, it is scary to be judged (especially by learners that may harbor grudges from you upholding the policy on "no late work" or even from the younger, hormonal teens that are driven by their emotions). Second, student opinion becomes a part of your official teaching record/standing when the student evaluations are submitted to the school administration. Finally, it is difficult to know how to interpret the overall meaning of the evaluations (void of your emotions) and then PRODUCTIVELY use the data to inform your teaching.
In hopes of making the student feedback process more bearable this semester, I decided to focus on specific ways to use the feedback. Typically as teachers, we invest a huge amount of time in collecting student opinions. for example, english teachers may focus on the thoughts/actions of literature characters. Similarly, science teacher may focus on getting students to share their view of a particular theory. As teachers, we really need to dedicate just as much time (if not more) to exploring student feedback. Below are 5 ways that may help in critically examining student feedback:
1. Table the Issue
I love the organizational properties that tables provide for data. When examining student feedback, try to create tables to house the information. You can use an "Affect vs. Action" table that will show your emotions toward particular student feedback and how you will respond to that comment. For example recently on a feedback sheet, a student wrote that it seemed like I jumped from one idea in the text book to another. In the "Affect vs. Action" table I would write that "I felt that I did move quickly from one concept to another, but in the future, I would provide an outline for the notes in addition to the basic daily agenda in hopes of guiding the student better."
Another option would be creating a table of the themes that become evident from the feedback. When you review the feedback, what patterns seem to emerge or jump out at you? If you find multiple comments about curriculum organization, practice time, or assessment, then these ideas should be highlighted in your table.
2. Identify the Circle of Control
Do you remember the movie "Meet the Fockers" and how Deniro kicked his future son-in law Ben Stiller out of his 'friend circle'? The idea is that there are things that we as teachers control and there are things that are beyond our control. In that movie, Deniro had the ability to be friends (or become an enemy) to his son in law. As teachers we have a great deal of power. We can choose particular aspects of our curriculum (dependent of course on our district), but we have to acknowledge that we can not control everything in our classroom. For instance, on a recent feedback form, one student reported the expense of the textbook as a barrier to learning (university text books can be 100 dollars or more typically). I can not control the price of the text (that is required through the university), thus this was a factor that was beyond my control.
3. Highlight Student Voice
More than likely, your evaluations will include both positive and not-so-positive feedback. Embrace both. In the past I have saved student comments and displayed them at home for quick reference. Of course, I enlarge and use flashing lights to frame the postive comments (just kidding), but the point is, that I continually revisit the student's words in order to stay focued on growing as an instructor.
Another option is to use the student's comments during parent conferences to provide feedback about your current teaching style. You can format the feedback in a table or even compile a series of comments and create testimonials regarding how students feel about your instructional methods.
4. Explore Alternate Explanations
No evaluation process is perfect. Even though we try our best to collect valid and reliable data, sometimes extraneous variables get in the way (review number 2 on this list). If you obtain negative comments about your teaching, the odds are that factors outside of your teaching ability/effort are involved. For instance variables such as the frequency of data collection, the student response rate, and social desirability (or the need to rebel) contributed to the feedback that your students provided).
5. Stay in the Know
For years we have heard about the research to practice gap in education. Don't fall into this gap. Stay abreast of the research and information regarding student feedback. The New Directions for Teaching & Learning Journal is a great resource for information on collecting and using student feedback (This journal's volume 2001 issue 87 is dedicated to student feedback).
There are websites that offer pdf's and other resources to help teachers make sense of student feedback. The Teaching Channel website (www.teachingchannel.org) includes a video "Improving Practice: Learning From My Students". In addition, The Center for Teaching & Learning offers a document titled "Interpreting and Working with your Course Evaluations" (www.ctl.stanford.edu).
Yes, student feedback can cause anxiety, but it does not have to. Try the strategies listed above and let me know how they work (if they work for you). I would love to know how you survive student evaluations at your school. Please leave any teacher eval survivor tips in the comment section below.
*Please note that this is the final post in the 3 part series on student perception.
When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.
The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.
We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.
Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.
That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.
Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master? Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?
A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.
Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.
I love getting my hands on new software, especially when it’s free, but I’ve noticed something: While all of these pieces of software are ultimately “cooler” than Power Point, student presentations aren’t necessarily more engaging or organized because of them. In fact, the presentations are almost exactly the same—they’re simply dressed up in a different outfit.
But it’s not just students who are giving bad Power Point presentations
Most of us do way too much telling and not enough showing. Instead of providing our audience with an engaging image and a half dozen words, most of us load up each slide with a bulleted list, a crutch, that we not only read directly from, but rely on to convey our message.
Power Point or not, how do we teach our students to give better presentations? And how do we start giving better presentations ourselves?
To help answer this question, I’d like to share a few ideas from blogger and teacher technologist, Clint Walters.
How to Put a Little Power Into Your Students’ Power Point Presentations
Don’t write everything you want to say on your PowerPoint slide
Presumably your audience already knows how to read, so there’s no reason to load up your slide with text and read it back to them.
Stay away from bulleted lists
Use no more than six words on each slide
Unless you are quoting someone, stick to as little text as possible.
Do use a variation on the PechaKucha (20x20) technique
If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s all visual—there’s no text at all in a PechaKucha presentation.
Here’s how it works: twenty slides, twenty seconds of talking accompany each one. Each slide contains a sleek, visually engaging image and no more than six words.
While the 20 slides, 20 second formula is probably too much to ask of students right away, you might start with 10 slides, 10 seconds.
If you are looking for free, high-quality, creative-commons images, check out a few of the sites below:
Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
ASCD is venturing into a new market through their arias publications. These books are designed for the busy professional that can be read in less than an hour, but can provide resources for improvement well beyond the time spent reading. Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? by Bill Sterrett was a great read! It took me about 38 minutes to read it. I found myself hooked from the beginning.
Short on Time will help you with the following:
- Help you take action and realize change in school and professional life
- Gain insights into specific steps that you can apply to your situation
- These action steps involve teaching, innovating, and leading which will require planning, action, and reflection
Sterrett developed a 4 point acronym DISC (District, Instruction, School, Community) to help educational leaders manage their professional schedule. Each of these areas require the educational leader to determine their own allocation of time, but all are important. According to Sterrett, all of the DISC activities should be placed in your master schedule, which should be accessible to key stakeholders.
In addition to providing tips and resources for the educational leader’s own time, Sterrett spends a considerable time discussing the importance of maximizing instructional time for students and teachers. He suggests leaders develop a collaborative scheduling team to examine the master schedule to maximize time for collaboration, reflection, outdoor learning, and time for the whole child.
Sterrett posits that teachers should be provided time for their personalized and school-based learning. In order to use time effectively, leaders should provide time for teachers to improve instruction through meaningful faculty meetings, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), peer observations, and collaboration.
Understanding that we are all “short on time,” Bill Sterrett provides an amazing resource in this arias book for educators to maximize their time on what matters most. Once you read this book, you will see that becoming organized, communicating effectively, and prioritizing your day is not as hard as you might imagine. Although the book is titled “Short on Time” it is long on resources!
As a coach, it can be frustrating sometimes when you are coaching novice teachers who want instant answers to solve problems that seem to be the bane of their existence. Coaches, you have to understand and reflect back when you were a teacher, how much you longed for the same thing. As I go into schools supporting teachers and even administrators, I realized that you must leave them with some right now answers. Please know that everything does not lend itself to “right now” answers, but most do. So here are three quick tips to coaching novice educators.
Highlight the Positive: Often when a person is new to teaching, they have many questions around their pedagogue. It’s imperative that you affirm and highlight the positive things in their practice by explaining what makes what they are doing effective. Face it, everyone at some point wants to know if they are doing a good job, or not. This process also will support teacher retention because there is a cyclical process of support that highlights the positive rather than the negative. Just like we do with students, a coach should use that teacher’s strengths to build on areas of concern.
Tangible Quick Tips: It’s almost inevitable to give a novice teacher some quick tips to solve some problems they might be facing. Although every teacher has to find their way, we will often lose good teachers if they are not supported with tangible resources that will impact immediate change. For example, a novice teacher may have difficulty managing student behavior. One quick tangible tip you can provide that teacher is creating a behavior chart or classroom incentive program. Another quick tip can be providing classroom jobs. I used to teach my fifth graders how to apply for a classroom job. I gave them an application and walked them through the process and they had to interview for the job. They loved it! Believe or not, students want to be responsible, and sometimes teachers struggle with this if they see undesirable behavior(s) displayed by that student.
Effective Feedback within 24-48 hours: When providing feedback, it should be done within 24-48 hours; anytime past that starts to become gray and irrelevant. Keep in mind when providing feedback, try to get the recipient to talk first and share what they thought about the lesson or interaction that you (the coach) observed when visiting him/her. Feedback does not only involve you providing next steps, but also you listening to the teacher you are coaching. Often at times, novice teachers will need to talk about their teaching experience and will use your ear for support. This is okay, as long as you are connecting it back to students and how they can continue to grow using the information to become an effective practitioner. Remember, when you are providing next steps, always connect it to research or why this next step is important for the teacher to implement. If they don’t have an understanding of what they are implementing, then how can they do it effectively?
In a recent post adapted from Kate Rousmaniere's The Principal's Office, The Principal: The Most Misunderstood Person in All of Education in The Atlantic describes the evolution of the principal since the early 1900’s. As a current school principal, and a veteran principal of 14 years, I was able to make connections with this post and I was also able to see how other people have formed opinions of the principal’s role over time. That being said, there was one particular point I disagreed with in the article.
Kate Rousmaniere points out in her post that, “Most contradictory of all, the principal has always been responsible for student learning, even as the position has become increasingly disconnected from the classroom.” If anything, I believe that skilled leaders are working harder than ever to stay connected to classrooms and students.
Within the current state of education, which has seen some of the greatest upheaval ever, it is true that the principal continues to be responsible for student learning. That should not change. Schools need strong leadership in principals to help navigate changes and keep a steady focus on why we are here; children and learning.
There are many ways to stay connected both in and out of the school house, which ultimately, keeps principals connected to classrooms. As an educator, I have the good fortune to connect through my PLN with many other administrators, principals, teachers and educators using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIN, Facebook and About.me. The rise of technology as a tool for professional development helps many of us not be disconnected from the classroom.
Twitter alone provides a forum where other educators raise questions, share experiences, and offer advice. Contrary to the belief that principals are disconnected from classrooms, these fellow educators continue to keep me connected to my own school’s classrooms through their advice, questioning and insights into best practice and education reform. I often find myself reflecting on my own work and learning more that I bring back to my school, to my classrooms, and to my students.
Within my school, I am continually tethered to classrooms, teachers, and most importantly, students. My goal is to know as many students in the school as possible and to know something about each one. Parents and staff often comment on how many of the 500 students I know. There are times when I’m surprised myself, as to how much I know about the kids in my school. I can often be found greeting students at arrival and dismissal, visiting them during lunch, interacting with them in the hallways, and in class, asking them what they are learning about, reading, and working on. My assistant principal and I also have lunch with twelve students every two weeks as well. We are thoughtful and intentional in the ways we stay connected to students.
It is also very important to me that I know what my staff are teaching children. The intent of knowing is not about micromanaging, but as a way to support learning. That may happen through walk-throughs, observations, participating in professional development with teachers, and talking to students when I visit classrooms. My connectedness to learning helps me keep my focus so that I support both students and teachers.
Do I think it is easy to become disconnected from classrooms? Absolutely! The demands of the principalship are such that I could be in meetings frequently, interacting with staff outside of the classroom, and doing paperwork and reading responding to emails continually throughout my day. So what can I and other administrators do to stay connected to classrooms and student learning? My recommendations would be:
No principal enters into their leadership role with the intent on becoming disconnected. The demands of the job are such that it could happen easily though. By actively engaging in the role of educational leaders, I hope that principals and school administrators work in ways that provide a level of transparency to the public and the school communities that they serve. By doing so, it will help with public perception and contribute to the position being more understood, and while doing that, it will help maintain a level of connectedness to students. After all, isn’t that why we do the work of the principal?
I wonder what our students would be like today if in the past we were as hypercritical of and scholarly around the standards then as we are now. I’m seeing some brilliant deconstructions of the history of the standards, including a recent one from a 12th grade student arguing in favor of his teachers and against college and career readiness as an industrial/worker model of the preparation of our young people. Then, there was this recent post by a New York state principal who skewers the standards by exemplifying why the assessments are vexing, including the statement that the standards are “developmentally inappropriate.” This principal cites the 1st grade math standard, “1.OA4 Understand subtraction as an unknown-addend problem.” Her article was really about assessments and vendor products and not the standards themselves, including this cited standard that basically means students can see subtraction problems as a reverse addition problem. (10-2=8 could, with a student’s fluent eye, also be (What) plus 2 = 10? Not developmentally inappropriate, just fluent in a way that first graders have not been asked to be fluent in the past. The pattern is a set up for later fluencies in basic Algebra.)
I do not necessarily disagree with some of the arguments people are making about all of the nitpickery going on in Common Core states, but it’s baffling to me the number of smart people that are putting their anger and energy in the wrong basket.
Standards-based education has been around for awhile. Close to 40 years, in fact. What began in the mid-70’s as a way of providing a barometer for what all students should know and be able to do has evolved into our current Common Core Standards.
The standard is just a set point. In fact, I would like to reiterate a notion set forth by MIT professor Andrew Chen that I’ve mentioned before: In the U.S., the standard is the ceiling. In most other places in the world, the standard is the floor. Let that sink in a little. There’s a reason that the United States is lagging behind other countries, and it’s not standards--it’s instructional nostalgia.
Over the years, scientific research has led us to understand set points and barometers for cholesterol, blood pressure, and other standards for maintaining health. Likewise, in the last 40 years, educational research has exploded, leading us in much the same direction about what we know about what students should know and be able to do at a particular grade level. That’s the neat way of saying it. Learning and thinking, like the young man in the link above explains, is difficult to quantify, though there should be targets. Learning is not time dependent, nor is it grade level dependent. It is human dependent. It is variable to a mean though, and at some point, there should be an expectation for growth and sophistication over time. The work of Wiggins and McTighe, Marzano, Jensen, Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Marie Clay, Karin Hess, Daniel Pink, (the list could go on and on...) and others point to the fact that learning, while expansive and difficult to compartmentalize, definitely has a progression from beginning and emergent to fluent and sophisticated. This is true for all content areas, not just for basic literacy skills and early numeracy. The foundation must be laid and then we build, build, build.
If we don’t use these Common Core standards, then what are our set points going to be? Previous standards? An anything goes model? A return to the rote?
Regardless of the standards we use, and it’s no secret that I think the Common Core standards are in decent shape, it’s the minutiae around the standards that are causing the problems. The educational buffoonery that is going on is the real problem.
This recent Huffington Post report on the 11 current educational game changers underscores the fact that these 11 folks have limited or no educational experience. The inciting blog posts and Norma Rae-type rhetoric almost always point to the economics behind these new standards and all the new educational stuff and fluff that companies are selling in its wake. That’s not new. That’s been going on for years. It’s a school’s decision though, even today, to make the decision to buy what the medicine men are selling.
All of the new assessments, teacher evaluations, vendor products, state-level curriculum “gifts,” and reinterpretations of standards-based materials are what is really problematic. Yet people still choose to purchase them and maintain the system and the moneymakers keep making money. This is not the standards; this is a decision about what the standards could potentially imply. This is not an opportunity to throw away all that we know to be good and true; it is an opportunity to explore modern learning for our kids. Your kids. My kids.
Great teachers and administrators and policy makers and reform specialists and government leaders should be looking at the minutiae with a closer eye. It’s not the standards. It’s about economically based but potentially detrimental decisions. It’s about poverty not being dealt with. It’s about community needs and understandings of student populations over quick fixes. It’s about common sense within the framework of the Common Core.
Don’t ignore the forest for the trees. Don’t compare apples to oranges, or goats, or balloon animals. Don’t let the detractors take away from preparing our kids for the world they will graduate into. It can’t be the work of the past, it has to be forward focused, but focused on the things that matter: the students. Their lives. Their careers. Their continued learning.
Products and assessments and ridiculous teacher evaluations are the real issues here, not this iteration of standards-based educational practice.
The problem is not the standards. It’s everything else.
Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from ASCD
Digital Learning Strategies, now available to pre-order from ASCD
Whenever I hear the word Grit I think of the John Wayne movie True Grit. I see John Wayne's character helping the young lady find the person who took her father. And nothing was going to stop him from achieving his goal. Thomas Hoerr takes this same point of view in his ASCD Arias book, Fostering Grit. As he points out learning is more than our core subjects that students need to succeed. Learning means developing Grit. This is the tenacity, perseverance, and willingness to take risks and learn from failure.
In this Arias, Hoerr lays out the 6 steps needed to teach students to have grit:
Establish The Environment
Teach The Vocabulary
Create The Frustration
Monitor The Experience
Reflect And Learn
Accompanying each of these steps are real-classroom examples of how to achieve this. For example in "Create The Frustration" Hoerr points out that when completing tasks it is easy for frustration to take over when we fear failure or don't have the correct knowledge set to complete the task. Hoerr offers suggestions to ease students into the frustration like focusing all effort for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 mins if success is had, keep going. If it isn't, step back and reflect on what different effort is needed.
Also included is a ready-to-go lesson plan that can be modified to be used in most every grade level to help students understand grit and how to use grit to their advantage.
I absolutely love the Arias because of their short yet fully covered subject matter. Fostering Grit does not disappoint. At 38 pages its a quick read but the takeaways are immediate and impactful. And while Hoerr focuses on fostering grit in students there is something here that could be used by teachers and administrators as well. It is definitely a multipurpose book.
You can check out Fostering Grit here. At $7 for the eBook I think the cost is well worth the learning. Definitely check it out!
Mindy Keller-Kyriakides, Author, Student, Teacher, Capella University
Jennie Waldrop, FLVS instructor, NBCT
Secondary students often ask, “How’s reading this going to help me in real life?” This webinar offers educators a potential answer! Helping students understand how the analysis of a text reveals messages to the reader through silence, marginalization, nominalization, or collectivization is a crucial skill, and by taking that analysis to the next step—civic action—we can help adolescents move beyond the classroom and themselves.
In our webinar, we’ll explore having students use their analysis as a springboard to identify and resolve an issue that they perceive as unjust. From selection of text, to analysis, to action, educators will be offered the tools to create a powerful learning experience for their students, based on the insights at which students arrive while reading. Participants will also be provided with a sample project that they might use or refine for their own purpose.
Let me know in the comments if you'd like a copy of the Tipping Point Project (it's on an Understanding by Design template) and the handout with relevant links! I'll be happy to send it to you!
The title above is a hyperlink, or here's the URL, in case you need to copy/paste: https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/playb /artifact?psid=2013-11-02.0829.M.3DAD9FA69075EB4C4173628C44E674.vcr&aid=57997
Teachers teach because they have a drive to do so. We all know it’s certainly not for the money. (Cue the laugh track, we have all heard that one before!) We want to shape students into independent thinkers and learners. We want to teach them about life and about how to live it in a valuable way. That’s why I became a teacher. And that’s why I want to become an educational administrator. Think of all the students I could influence by being a leader in the educational world. Instead of the 120 or so students I see on a daily basis, I could reach twenty teachers, who reach 120 students. The math clearly states that I could influence 2,400 students. Wow. That’s big. Think about that. As an educational administrator you can reach thousands—not just hundreds, but thousands—of children. Take that in for a moment. It’s a big deal.
So now you have all these young minds at stake. You must be sure that your ideas, actions, directives, advice, feedback, and interactions with others lead you toward the same ultimate goal that you have always had—teaching the students how to be functional and thoughtful citizens of this country and this world. How do you go about doing this as an educational administrator? The list is lengthy.
First, listen to your teachers. You can go into classrooms and observe teachers for 20-40 minutes and see the students, but that is a snapshot of, what is most likely, a well-prepared lesson on a good day. (Listen, we have all been there. You know you’re being observed? You step it up, just a tad.) The teachers are in the trenches all day with the same kids every day. They are your best resource when it comes to knowing your population (which is also on the list). Rely on them. It is not a sign of weakness if you do. It is a sign that you care about your job and each of the 2,400 students you impact via your work.
By listening to your teachers you will get to know the population of your district if you don’t already. Know your clientele. (In this case, it’s the students.) You need to know them as a whole, know them as various subgroups, and even get to know them as individuals. Be present in the hallways and the classrooms. Not every walk through or observation needs to be formal. Go into classes. Talk with kids. Team teach. Build relationships with your teachers and your students. (Yes, I said your students. That was not a typo—they are yours just as much as they are the teachers’.)
This next one is tough. Are you ready? You don’t know it all. And it’s okay. What is not okay, is not educating yourself on the latest laws, mandates, classroom strategies, recent population, etc. (That list goes on. And on. And on.) Do you know the best way to learn things you don’t know? Read. Talk to people. Ask questions. Engage in conversations with people who are closest to the students. Please, whatever you do, don’t pretend to know something. That’s more damaging than just admitting you don’t know.
This brings me to the next point. Don’t be stubborn, either. Should you be assertive? Yes. Helpful? Always. Collaborative? No doubt about it. But pushing your agenda on the teachers and students is not focusing on the clients—it’s focusing on you. Being an educational administrator is not about accolades and awards. If that’s what you’re looking for, please find a job in the private sector where such things occur regularly. Being an educational administrator is finding the best way to reach the students and help them succeed. If you stray from this idea, you are doing a disservice to our kids.
Understand, future educational leaders, I am not saying your ideas are not worthy, valuable, or awesome, for that matter. They very well may be. But people will disagree on justifiable grounds and it’s your job to listen to them. (Yes, it is your job. You work for the kids. You owe it to them to listen to the people they interact with every day.) These people are not shutting you down. Your brilliant idea is not thrown away. Look what you have done. You have started a debate. And from that, you will find middle ground, and maybe an even better, more worthy, more valuable and more awesome idea.
Every good teacher, administrator, worker, and person goes rogue every once in a while. And I encourage you, yes you, future administrators, to do the same. Mandates are important. Absolutely. But remember, who are your clients? The kids. At the end of the day you need to do what is best for them. Must you implement directives? Of course! But that does that you mean you do every single thing by the book. Sometimes the book needs to be closed and common sense needs to prevail. Go rogue, people! It’s freeing. Try it.
In the end, be sure to support your teachers. It’s the best way to support the thousands of students you impact. Don’t hide behind email or in your office. Go visit your teachers and engage in their work. Don’t be afraid to get to know your students on a personal level. Make yourself available to everyone who needs you. Teachers need you. (By them lunch a few times a year just to show your appreciation for all they do.) Kids need you. (Ask about their latest soccer game or school play.) Be present. Be positive. Be effective. Care about your work. But most of all, just know that what you do influences thousands of people—albeit, young, sometimes very little people, but people. Those people who will be taking care of us in the future. Let’s do right by them and take care of them now.
I am current working with quite a prestigious school to transform their Year 8 curriculum and teaching practice such that the learning is not only more engaging but it begins to embed a structure to develop performance oriented independent learners.
As part of the process we were discussing formative assessment and the qualities or attributes of effective formative assessment. At one point I had quite a vigorous discussion with some teachers about the purpose of grading students.
One of the habitual practices I see in high schools is the grading of pieces of work, assignments, tests, etc and they are essentially summative. In other words, a student does a test, assignment, whatever and they are given a mark and that goes towards the result the student achieves for the term or year.
I asked them, “Why is this the habit you use? What is the purpose of this?” I really want you, as a reader, to think about this too. Why do you grade?
Now I am not against grading as a tool. What I think needs to shift is the context in how we use grades as a tool.
If you look behaviorally at students over time when grades are given they become used as a tool of reward. They are an artificial indication of that the student is doing well (or not), that they can provide what the teacher wants of them (or not). Self-belief and self-confidence rise and fall on the grades. Students adapt so as to get good grades (or give up). Students compare themselves to each other and mindsets are made and embedded. In many high schools I find that one of the clear and constant complaints is that students don’t want to show their working, or demonstrate the process of thinking, they just want the answer and get the grade.
Is this the purpose of schools and learning?
If our job as educators is to be partners to the students to learn then shouldn’t our structures match this desire? Having structures that are supposedly used to measure student understanding yet hinder it seems a bit silly to me.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea if all students could achieve a high grade (90% and above)? Why not let them resubmit an assignment and correct the mistakes they made? Why not have them re-sit the test or exam until they get a good mark? Give the students a choice to keep working until their grade is high and what you start to reward with grades is effort and you build a growth mindset. This is the fundamental thinking of how games work on develop skills and competency (thus the gamification and competency learning movements occurring in learning)
For those students who achieve a high grade quickly, why not have them tutor the other students on their thinking (not the answers) such that everyone can succeed. Not only does this build a community-oriented culture of learning (all for one and one for all), not only does this provide a feedback and coaching structure within the classroom, it addresses the higher competency students to develop their executive functions and be able to explain their thinking to others in such a way that the other students succeed.
And what does Hattie’s meta-analysis say about feedback, micro-teaching, formative evaluation, etc? They are amongst the top approaches to improving student learning.
Shifting one’s context can make a profound difference with little effort or hard work!
It is that time of year again that some of us welcome with delight, while others dread: The Holidays! As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, creating opportunities for students to give back is important. We constantly hear about the popular assistance programs such as "Make a Wish Foundation", "Adopt a Family", and "Toys for Tots", but there are other less familiar programs that require much attention as well. Below is a brief list of "under-used" programs that students may enjoy participating in during the holdiday season:
1. DVD Donation Program
This program allows students to donate DVD's to hospitals and pediatric programs. All the guidelines and rules can be found on the website www.kidflicks.org.
2. School Project Program
This program allows students to review school projects around the United States and determine a particular project that they would like to contribute to. All the guidelines and rules for this assistance program can be found on the website www.donorschoose.org.
3 Click to Give Program
This program permits students to select charities by "clicking" on a specific icon, buiding points based on their selection, and translating the points into money for charity. Additional information regarding available charities and point values can be found on the website www.clickto give.com.
4. Coca-Cola Rewards Program
This is a program that is widely advertised, but hearing about it is different than taking action and getting involved! The rules include purchasing a coca-cola product, obtaining a code (under the lid of the bottle), and exchanging the code for points /donations for a selected charity. Details about eligible products, and registering for the program can be found at www.mycokerewards.com.
5. Book Donation Program
This program requests students to donate new books (sorry, no used books are permitted) to schools, libraries, or literacy organizations. I believe that the donator is responsible for shipping fees, but the awesome thing about this program is that schools can make requests (complete online application) in order to get assistance with building their own literacy materials. For more details about the book donating process visit www.kidsneedtoread.org.
If you are working with students that may need assistance during the holdiay season, the following resources may be helpful:
6. Food pantries are a great resource during the holdiays. Review the comprehensive list (divided by state) of foodbanks or pantries that offer free thanksgiving baskets or christmas items to children/families in need. The list is available on the website www.feedingamerica.org/foodbanks.
7. Sometimes communicating what you need is the best strategy for pursuing help. There are social helping networks that allow you to post your needs. One website that includes a verification process of the requester is the heronetwork.com. Other websites that allows you to post specific needs are www.modestneeds.org and www.aidpages.com.
8. Sometimes knowing where to look for help is the biggest challenge. A list of Christmas charities by state is available on the website www.infobarrel.com.
9. Finally, knowing who to ask, is a game changer when seeking help. There is a website that takes the "re-gifting" idea literally. On the website www.freecycle.org people are permitted to post things (house-hold items, furntiture, supplies, etc.) that they wish to donate. Encourage your students/families to visit the website to find items that they may need, or even post items that are no longer useful to them.
I hope the listed resources are helpful for the students adn families that you work with. What ways do you incorporate the concept of giving in your classroom? I would love to hear about your favorite charities or donation programs for students. Please leave a comment below.
This video just came out on YouTube yesterday and it's quickly going viral. I heard about it on my local radio station and The Today Show gave it a mention this morning too. Give it a watch first then I'll share some thoughts on the other side.
That's your feel good video for the week right there isn't it? The Dad's reaction, and his son's excitement to share with his dad, is priceless. If you don't know the back story (and I don't know many details) the boy had majorly struggled in Math for a long time. As in, he was failing and success in Math was looking bleak. I don't know what steps the boy and his dad took to be successful at Math but he brought home a C (or at least a passing grade) and the son getting to share his great news with his Dad is what was captured on video.
Based on Dad's reaction, I'd say this was a monumental accomplishment in this student's school journey. What a sense of accomplishment the student must have felt! Dad did such a great job at what I can only assume was the beginning of a major celebration. This was a milestone for this young man. I hope his teacher made a point to celebrate with him just as vibrantly.
My last post I shared some thoughts about how movement; no matter how small, always matters. It likely wasn't an A or B that this young man brought home to share with Dad, but it was movement in the right direction. It was a major victory for him. Dad didn't say, "That's all you could do?" or just give a "Keep up the good work" and a pat on the back. Dad made this a huge deal; a reason for celebration.
I think this is something we need to make the time to do more for our struggling students, not just for our students who success in school comes naturally. We want all students to be successful in everything they do. In school and in life. That's our ultimate goal for them right? I believe that a crucial part of that journey means to help them feel success as much as possible while they're with us, no matter how small it may appear from the outside.
Yesterday, as a speaker and panelist at various education related conferences, I had a wonderful experience. I was asked to participate on a panel at a gathering of education technology industry leaders. The group was assembled through The Software and Information Industry Association, SIIA. It took place in the plush setting of a prestigious law firm office in the heart of New York City. The Panel discussion was to address connected educators and the effect on education. The other panelists included my friend and connected colleague, Lisa Nielsen, @innovativeEdu and Andrew Gardner, @Agardnahh, whom I met for the first time.
The setting was incredible. It was on the 9th floor of a building that we needed to sign into. The receiving area had food and drinks set up with couches and tables set up to comfortably gather the group as it assembled and pinned on their nametags. The room quickly filled with clusters of conversations positioned about.
Lisa and I went off to check out the room where we were to conduct the “roundtable discussion”. We wanted to get comfortable with the setting before we had to begin. Again, it was a large, elegant room with leather top tables and microphones for the panel at the front of the room. There were very comfortable chairs for the audience arranged in ROWS. It was the idea of rows that got to me immediately. This was not a roundtable discussion setting. It was an historic classroom setting with the teacher at the front and students in rows. It screamed we are the experts and you are the students. For me this was not going to work.
As the 20 to 30 participants entered the room I made an announcement that we would be re-arranging the seats so they would be in a circle for the presentation. The immediate reaction was confusion. The host of the event, I believe he was a partner of the law firm, said quietly to me, “We have never done this before.” I knew then that I was going to be thought of as an out of the box thinker, or an idiot by the end of this session. Actually, it is a teaching method we teach student teachers. Consider the goal, and the setting you need to accomplish it. If it requires rearranging the room, do it.
Once the audience realized that there was no escape from rash decision of the mustachioed, short guy standing in the front of the room (an obvious position of power), they helped form the circle of very expensive chairs. I was committed at this point, so I had to make it work, but I was confident that it would. I was fortunate that the other panelists were aware of the benefits of the new configuration, and they supported the decision. In retrospect I might have been a bit arrogant, but in this instance it worked to my benefit.
The discussion started with quick introductions from Lisa Schmucki, the moderator, followed by a general question about what is a connected educator, and what is connected learning. We, as panelists, carried the opening of the discussion, but soon that shifted as the audience members, who were not separated in rows, but connected in a circle that positioned each listener to face each speaker, committed to the discussion. Success was almost assured as long as the panel, now part of the circle, kept the conversation going with facts and opinions from an educator’s point of view. This was in fact connected learning face to face. Titles were dropped and ideas were considered on their own merit. The panelists, lawyers and business people all became equal participants in the discussion.
The goal of this roundtable was to explore what business people could do to get involved with connected educators. The big idea was to listen to what educators had to say. Pitching products to connected educators will not work. A big take away was that these industry people had access to researchers and experts not available to teachers. They could provide free webinars with these experts to address and inform on issues as professionals and not salespeople selling products.
I can’t help to think that, if we as educators had these types of discussions earlier, maybe the discussion on education would not have been hijacked by business people, politicians, and profiteers. Instead of experts in the front of the room telling us what needs to be done, we could develop solutions through dialogue with the people really involved. The idea that well-intentioned endeavors, like Education Nation could continue with such little, or contrived participation from educators to balance the discussion could gain popular attention is more than upsetting.
A good principal must be many things, but first and foremost, s/he must be an effective communicator. Language is powerful; when we use it the right way, our words can instruct, inspire and strengthen our relationships with students, parents and teachers. Conversely, when we misuse language, we can stifle and even derail relationships. To help you have better conversations, we’d like to share five dos and don’ts we gleaned from Robert Ramsey’s book, How to Say the Right Thing Every Time: Communicating Well With Students, Staff, Parents, and the Public.
Have Better Conversations: 5 Dos and Don’ts for Principals
Do be honest—even if hurts in the short term
Educators love the pursuit of knowledge, but most of us were also drawn to the profession because we care about people and want to nurture—not hinder—their growth. Because of this, educators have a tendency to soft-pedal issues and euphemize touchy topics to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.
There’s a subtle but important difference between using tact and euphemizing. Learn that difference and use it, even if it hurts in the short term.
Don’t rely on jargon
Like most groups, school leaders have their own form of discourse that may seem perfectly normal when they are surrounded by other educators. To parents and students, however, our use of technical, professional and scientific jargon can be extremely alienating.
Consider the difference between the following:
Which of the above do you think parents would be most responsive to?
Principals and teachers have a lot more life experience than most students. This experience can be used to teach—or it can be misused to pontificate. Instead of using soapbox lectures, try to teach using Socratic questioning; this will help students see issues through a different lens and push them to draw their own conclusions.
Don’t bend over backward to be politically correct
By taking extreme measures to avoid offending anyone’s sensitivities, educators can end up saying too little, saying the wrong thing, or saying nothing and appearing ridiculous in the process.
This next point is important, but we weren’t sure how to phrase it as a do, so here’s one last don’t.
Don’t be overfamiliar
There’s nothing wrong with being friendly and approachable, but occasionally school personnel make the mistake of becoming too familiar when they communicate with students and parents. As Ramsey points out, these folks may feel that familiarity makes them appear more down to earth, but in actuality, it makes them appear out of bounds. In most cases, kids and adults have enough pals, buddies, or confidants. What they need are teachers, counselors, mentors, and leaders.