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Dear Colleagues and Bloggers,
I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
As a novice in certain areas of life, I have learned a lot about what I expect from experts. For example, I trust my doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc to stay up-to-date with relevant research & experience that informs the advice they give me. I trust their expertise and I choose to work with these experts because of their approach and knowledge.
On the other side of the coin, I'm aware of my expertise, training, & experience in aspects of education. I have learned from being both a novice and an expert. As an expert who leads, I have learned it's my responsibility to (1) help others understand the current landscape by cultivating the need and (2) lead KISS interventions.
Cultivating the Need
It's important for experts to present data to inform decisions. I visited my doctor the other week and he performed a few tests, printed out information about a potential diagnosis, and explained my test results to me in relation to the symptoms listed for potential concerns. In the end, everything ended up just fine with my health. Through this experience, though, I realized the process my doctor went through with me is what needs to happen on a regular basis in education.
Educational leaders must present information and data about potential concerns before beginning interventions. This can help create a shared understanding of the need. On top of that, just as a farmer cultivates the soil to make sure crops grow each season, leaders must continually cultivate the need with stakeholders.
This makes me wonder: How are we, as educational leaders, purposefully identifying & communicating needs to change/intervene/update antiquated systems with stakeholders? How are we using data to inform our cultivation of a shared understanding about the need? How are we using data to inform how we communicate with stakeholders on a regular basis? How are we connecting our work back to our strategic plan in a relevant way for stakeholders, leveraging a data informed and results driven approach?
Example: My school has been studying the 90-90-90 schools approach over the last few years. Teachers looked at the data and interventions. They've discussed the need for ongoing, job-embedded professional development (PD) and a shared understanding of this need was created. Then, when a PD Plan that involved monthly PD instead of occasional inservice days was voted on, teachers passed it this fall. We continue cultivating this need by developing PD that's responsive to shifting needs, collecting feedback from teachers about PD, aligning our work with research, & communicating about the PD with stakeholders.
Keep It Simple & Sustainable (KISS)
I met with an educational leader the other month who told me many leaders say interventions should involve KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. In his district, however, KISS stands for Keep It Simple & Sustainable. Two things I've learned about sustainability are to have a "Who else?" mindset and to move ahead with clarity amongst stakeholders. Keeping It Simple supports these pieces.
Sustainability means consistently thinking "Who else?" on a regular basis. Who else...in our feeder pattern/region should we involve? ...should we connect with from our community organizations on this? ....should we communicate progress updates with? ...should vet this before we send it out? ...is passionate about this topic? ...is knowledgeable? Who else?
Once we live with a "Who else?" mindset, we can focus on clarity- around the need, intervention, monitoring system, evaluation timeline/protocol, communication plan, etc. All of our stakeholders are potential marketers and we can generate an even deeper sense of sustainability if stakeholders understand the need for an intervention, the intervention itself, & why we're going with a certain intervention. Again, this understanding must be cultivated as stakeholders turnover, new research emerges, and data on the evaluation of our intervention develops.
Example: I've learned a great deal about developing sustainable systems from my work at the district and site level. Several years ago, I started at a district office working as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for instructional technology. I quickly realized a professional development (PD) program developed around my skills and expertise wouldn't last long - we needed both an intervention to the current setup and a system of support. I worked with district administration to develop a train the trainer program for teacher leaders. In order to maintain high quality PD, we created a gradual release protocol where trainers collaborated with me to co-write PD lesson plans, co-trained/presented with me several times, participated in coaching sessions with me, and eventually engaged in a monthly PLC with other teacher trainers. We implemented program evaluation best practices to support the analysis of feedback from PD participants and determine the value added by the PD system. Our trainers used PLC time to examine data that informed their decisions in moving forward with strands of PD. Although I am no longer working with the district instructional technology program, I'm happy I see the PD system continues to support teachers and leaders in a sustainable manner.
Just as I trust the experts in my life - doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc - stakeholders trust us (educational experts) to provide visionary leadership and to lead the best educational systems possible. They trust us to prepare the students of today as leaders for tomorrow. Each day, it is our responsibility to do just that through cultivating the need and utilizing a KISS approach.
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As we continue to fight to keep the Arts in education, it is time to realize that the real fight is keeping the Art in education. When I first started teaching many years ago, teaching was primarily seen as an art – an innate ability to use creative skill and imagination to communicate and build relationships that facilitate learning. The curriculum guide was a small grey book covering all subjects. Now, teaching is seen primarily as a science. Attention is paid to specific teaching techniques, core curriculum, testing and narrowly focused results. Data is collected, analyzed and used more for accountability than to personalize student programs.
We need to create a balance of art and science as we nurture the students in our care. Granted, research over the past few decades has provided us with evidence of how the brain functions, how students learn in different ways and that they have multiple intelligences. This valuable information has only found its way into the education debate in limited instances. The focus has been more on defining what students need to know, how they should be taught, and measuring results. This is much easier and more scientific than using brain functioning, learning styles and multiple intelligences to empower teachers to personalize education and create safe and caring learning environments.
The science of teaching helps us to understand concepts such as that the brain remembers information when it is relevant and evokes an emotional response, that we have a basic human need for safety, and that living in poverty has a definite impact on a child’s ability to maximize his potential. Science creates the structure underlying the art of teaching.
It takes artists to see the big picture, think creatively and critically, and begin to shape the future of education. Artists celebrate human individuality. The Art of teaching requires that we:
2. Know our students as individuals.
3. Empower students to be the best they can be.
4. Understand that students must first feel safe and secure if they are to take the risks necessary for them to become the person they want to be.
5. Focus on creating positive, supportive school cultures.
6. Engage students in their learning at the deepest level possible by creating an emotional response.
7. Ensure that curriculum is personalized and meaningful.
8. Focus on building connections and relationships.
9. See the big picture by dealing with the whole child.
10.Seek the complexities and depth in the big picture.
Although this Blog may evoke a response of , “Yeah but we’re accountable for raising test scores through processes and programs that come from above…”, I hope you will let your inner artist shine through and see what you need to do as a teacher and as a leader. It is only when we find the balance between the Art and Science of education that we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of our students.
Note: This blogpost initially appeared in SmartBlog on Education on November 25, 2013.
We don’t have to tell you this, but teachers are not superhuman—at least not all the time. We doubt ourselves. We struggle to reach our students and, despite our exhaustion, we often lie awake at night replaying the day, wondering how in the world things could have possibly gone so wrong.
But there’s good news: You aren’t alone.
To help you put things into perspective and find constructive ways to recover from what one of our favorite authors would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share their best recovery strategies. The response was overwhelming and for that reason, this blog is going to be divided up into two parts.
Without further ado, here is part one of 10 Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Class.
We’d like to thank all of our friends on Edmodo for their willingness and enthusiasm for sharing their experiences with us. Be sure to check back Thursday week for part two!
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
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Policy Points Highlights Funding Sources for Educator Professional Development
Despite shrinking education budgets, there are still opportunities to pursue funding for educator professional development. Check out the latest issue of Policy Points (PDF), which provides links to these resources.
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Leader Voices
Welcome University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter
ASCD is pleased to announce a new ASCD Student Chapter, started by ASCD emerging leader Eric Bernstein. Please join us in welcoming University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter to the ASCD community!
2013 ASCD emerging leader Melany Stowe was recently appointed director of communications and community outreach for Danville Public Schools in Virginia.
OYEA winner Bijal Damani is one of 250 educators chosen for the Microsoft Expert Educators Program. She is also a finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teacher of the Year award, and will be sharing her experiences at their global conference next month in Hong Kong.
Throughout November on www.wholechildeducation.org: Supporting Student Success and the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in each student’s success. How are we designing course content, choosing appropriate instructional strategies, developing learning activities, continuously gauging student understanding, adjusting instruction accordingly, and involving parents and families as partners to support our students’ success?
A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on supporting student success as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. Guests include Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in New York, author, and Education Week blogger; Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., author, and ASCD Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community facilitator; and Rich McKinney, an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tenn., and Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do? Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.
What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?
Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.
As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.
With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.
Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.
Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.
Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.
Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to get there.
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
The other day I told my principal I was pondering what to write about for my upcoming Leading & Learning blog post. He turned to me and said, "Well, you've been here a while now. Why don't you write about what makes you a successful leader here?" Great idea! He and I quickly brainstormed the key points below. This is dedicated to all the deans and assistant principals out there as I share what's been working for me.
Communication & Relationships
Communication with my principal, office staff, our specialists & family liaison, paras, teachers, students, and families is key. I've learned to differentiate the mode of communication (face to face, email, phone) based on the situation and individual(s) with whom I'm communicating.
Example: Adults, sometimes get stressed out around testing and I've learned part of that has to do with a concern about student progress reflecting on our work as educators. It can be a challenge to hold test scores up as a mirror to reflect the impact of our instruction! That's why, when we administered the STAR Test on computers for the first time this year, we was particularly conscious of our methods used to communicate updates. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were faced with a challenge the Friday afternoon before our week of testing. Thankfully, we'd been in face to face contact with teachers all week to provide clarification and support. So, when our team sent out the revised testing schedule for the upcoming week, my principal and I made ourselves available by being visible and we checked in with classroom teachers to answer questions. We were able to clarify & confirm updates on the spot. Our initial round of testing ended up running pretty smoothly and we continued face to face/email communication throughout the week.
Follow-Through & Support
One of the most important roles a leader plays is that of "support". People deserve to have leaders follow through with protocols, next steps, goals, values, etc.
Example: Last spring, our staff updated our Professional Code of Conduct (norms) and made a commitment to live out these professional agreements on a daily basis at work. One of the norms we created is: Go to the source. When colleagues comes to me with a wonder or question that is really for someone else (early childhood team, instructional coach, principal, etc.), I generally give a brief response based on my knowledge and encourage them to go to the source/leader/individual who is coordinating the work they wonder about to gain in depth clarification. I then follow-up with both the person to whom I sent them and the individual(s) asking the question. By doing this I am following-through on living our Professional Code of Conduct, while also following-through with support for teams and individuals to make sure questions are answered.
Questioning for Clarity
As a leader, I represent a lot of perspectives, teams, and initiatives. In order to fully understand, lead, and represent, different aspects of our school, I've developed a "seek to understand" mentality.
Example Questions: What is the goal? What do we hope to accomplish? What might success look like? How might we measure success? How does this make a difference for students? How might we know it made a difference for our students? How does it impact different stakeholders? How could we communicate with stakeholders? What supports might be needed? What existing supports do we have? How does this support other initiatives? How might we need to shift our allocation of resources (fiscal/human) to support this work?
I've learned to try and get enough sleep, eat healthy, participate in weekly joint immediate/in-law family dinners, volunteer within my community, walk my dog, & use online resources (ASCD free webinars, articles via Twitter, etc.) to develop as a professional. Surprisingly, maintaining Self Care is quite the challenge! It takes a conscious effort on a daily basis in terms of scheduling and communicating. I continually go back to Covey's work, however, around balance to help remind me of the importance Self Care has.
Example: Making sure my body gets the nutrients it needs (beyond a multiple vitamin), is essential. I schedule time on the weekends to go grocery shopping with my husband. Then, we come home and make lunches for the week. This weekend we bought frozen soup in bulk - just add water, boil for 40 mins., & you have a lot of soup that can be eaten and frozen! I look forward to feasting on tomato basil or cream of broccoli soup for lunch each day alongside crackers, cheese, & fruit. For breakfast, I buy disposable cups in which I put non-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola each morning. Sometimes I feel guilty about using disposable cups, but I know this keeps me on track with getting the nutrients my body needs. On that note, a friend of mine found washing her "to go" mugs from coffee each day became too much to keep up with so she bought paper disposable cups + lids. She now puts coffee from her Keurig in a low-cost disposable cup every morning. This reduces the urge to stop by a coffee stand and provides similar convenience.
In my previous post The Importance of Showing Vulnerability, I discussed how I was not a fan of “know it alls” or folks who were not humble in their interaction with others. Someone who had read the blog asked me this question (which lead to this post), “ Spike, I understand the concept of showing vulnerability, but don’t people take advantage of that? Also, what if you really know something? Isn’t it important to speak up?” All great questions….
Although there is power in being vulnerable, it is very important to ensure that others do not take advantage. For instance, you are in a meeting and people are arguing over something, and you know that you could add insight… It’s important for you to take action! In many regards, actions speak louder than words.
Here are my suggestions for turning vulnerability into action:
When was the last time you heard someone say, “And where were the parents?” or “What’s going on with parents these days?” You may have even said this yourself a few times.
We may not always understand parents, but we never doubt that the majority of them want what’s best for their child. And even when parents are difficult, we know how important it is to maintain positive relationships with them.
Since challenging parents are never going to completely go away, we’d like to share a few tips—courtesy of educational leadership experts Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore—to help you better navigate these relationships.
Connecting with Parents: 5 Tips for Principals
Call parents—all of them
You’ve already hosted back-to-school night, but extending a personal invitation to any major school event is a great way to connect with parents.
Round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to back-to-school night. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.
Dare to give parents your number
At an event where you have a large audience of parents, encourage them to call you in both the office and at home if they need to. We agree, giving out your home phone number sounds a little unorthodox, perhaps even foolish, but here’s Whitaker and Fiore’s rationale:
This approach makes everyone in that auditorium feel that someone cares about them and their child. Years later parents would tell me that they always remembered that. The other benefit was that teachers began doing the same thing.
Irrational parents will always find a way to get your home phone number and will call you regardless. It may come as a surprise, but Whitaker and Fiore explain that they are consistently approached by parents who say, “I was going to call you at home. I know you said we could, but I figured you get so many calls that I decided that I did not want to ever bother you at night.”
Personal phone calls go a long way. Try randomly calling one or two families every week—or touch base with a parent who has expressed concern over a situation in the school a week or two later to ask how things are going.
Reaching out to the community
Education and educators take a consistent beating from the media. It’s discouraging, but one way you can help change this is by contacting local television, public radio and blogs with pieces of good news about your school. If they ignore you, be vigilant and see if you can find contacts through parents.
Use technology to connect more efficiently
Most schools have a monthly edition of the school newsletter. These usually include a column in which the principal shares his/her musings, updates and reminders. This is nice, but it lacks a personal touch for a variety of reasons:
As an alternative to the newsletter, try creating two or three minute podcasts, audio recordings that parents receive every Friday in their email box. These podcasts can be conversational: In addition to the usual updates and reminders you might find in a newsletter, feature short interviews with student athletes, coaches, thespian students and teachers. Once you’re done, simply embed the recording onto your Facebook page, website or school blog and email a link to the parents who have requested to receive notifications.
Here's the link to my blog on the Common Core State Standards:
Creators of the Common Core State Standards recommend a ‘publishers’ criteria designed as a guide for curriculum developers and publishers to ensure that instructional material and textbooks meet the Common Core requirements. But are publishers actually following these recommendations when updating their instructional materials to the Common Core?
Unfortunately no, not all publishers are aligning their materials appropriately. Educators need to be wary of the sticker slapping occurring in the education publishing industry as it relates to the Common Core. Educational publishers are creating shiny new text book covers claiming to be 100% aligned to the Common Core, but not all of them are completely changing the instructional material inside to meet the new standards.
Annie Kheegan, a longtime textbook writer and editor, writes a scathing indictment of the field she proudly served for over 20 years in her blog post, Afraid of Your Child’s Math Textbook? You Should Be. The blog is incredibly discouraging and provides insight into the education publishing industry.
Especially disheartening are the examples Kheegan describes of senior executives unwilling to correct serious errors or deliver on their Common Core claims.
Kheegan quotes a senior executive’s response to her concern that a project did not meet its Common Core specs, “It doesn’t matter if there aren’t enough correlations; our marketing materials say only that we ‘expose’ students to the Common Core.”
These kinds of reports are also voiced by another industry insider, Beverlee Jobrack, a 25-year veteran of educational publishing who retired in 2007 as editorial director for one of the largest companies in the business.
According to Jobrack, when it comes to the Common Core, "Here's what's happening right now in textbook land…They're not changing anything in the curriculum. They are simply relabeling."
Jobrack says in her blog, Solving the Textbook-Common Core Conundrum, “In the interest of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, textbook publishers, who have invested tens of millions of dollars in their textbook series, are doing the minimum necessary to address the new standards.”
When you are shopping for a writing program that adheres to the Common Core, make sure you are looking at what percentage of text types are being utilized in the lessons. The publishers’ criteria for elementary Common Core writing suggests teachers focus 30% of their time on opinion writing, 35% of their time on informative/explanatory writing, and 35% of their time on narrative text types.
Below are Common Core Word Banks that are available for K-5 educators interested in having a reference to the important words, topics, and phrases used in the Common Core Standards for writing.
These word banks show consistency that prove the Common Cores have a spiraling effect across all K-5 grade levels. For example, informative/explanatory lessons taught in kindergarten continue up through the fifth grade and are continually built upon in each grade level. WriteSteps has met these text types with careful analysis and is following the publishers’ criteria for elementary writing in 100% of its lesson plans.
The educational publishing industry has been criticized since the Common Core State Standards have been released, but there are wonderful products and services on the market today that do match up with the Common Core State Standards and can help schools adjust their curriculum to meet the standards. Anyone can repackage materials and add a sticker that says “Common Core Aligned” on shiny new materials. The important thing is for educators to pay attention to which instructional materials are true to the Common Core and which materials are instances of sticker slapping.
If you haven't found your way into blogging yet, try a publishing option your students will love: a free blogging platform that's so simple, even first graders can use it! Our fourth-grade curriculum creator, Katie Davis, recently gave WriteSteps Coaching Director Arlynn King the scoop on Kidblog.
Arlynn: The Common Core standards for writing require elementary teachers to introduce students to digital publishing tools. Continuing with the technology theme in our August e-Newsletter, can you tell us about your favorite free digital tool for publishing student writing?
Katie: Last year, we blogged regularly in first grade, and we'll do it next year in my second grade room. Blogging is definitely not just for older kids. I use the website kidblog.org. It's free and it's wonderful for elementary students!
Arlynn: Can you describe how it works?
Katie: We have a classroom page, and within that, each child has his or her own blog. Students can publish the stories they write and comment on classmates’ posts. We do positive comments only in first grade.
I can also share the password to our blogs with family members so parents and grandparents can see the children's work online. It's very exciting for them, and it gives my students an authentic audience, real feedback from readers, and an engaging writing experience.
Arlynn: Do you blog as a teacher, too?
Katie: Yes, I have my own classroom blog where I will regularly post student work via pictures and podcasts -- students reading their written work. Kids love visiting our class blog in the computer lab and at home to see their work. It's the new version of me hanging their work on the "refrigerator!"
Again, this has been very helpful in engaging students, getting them excited about writing, and motivating them to revise - they do lots of revising and practicing before reading a piece for a podcast. It also gives them a framework to begin learning to think about their audience.
Arlynn: Is there anything else you'd like to share about blogging at school, Katie?
Katie: I also use my classroom blog as my "newsletter" to parents and families. I update it weekly with curriculum we are working on and tools for parents to work with their children, like word lists, book recommendations, and websites. I use the blog to post snack schedules, volunteer schedules, district and school information and events, at-home reading tips, and pictures or videos of what's happening in our classroom community.
It's a great way to facilitate effective, efficient, and frequent communication with the parents and families of my students. They comment on it frequently, and I can respond to their questions quickly.
Arlynn: Are there other technologies you’re using to make digital publishing accessible to K-5 students?
Katie: My district also has iPads, which makes blogging even easier for lower elementary students. I can use QR codes for our website and my students can just scan a projected image of a QR code in order to get to their blog. They no longer have to type the whole web address.
Arlynn: Thank you for sharing, Katie! I know you've already dismantled last year's blog, but we look forward to showing your students' work to our readers in the coming school year!
Katie: Thanks, Arlynn, me too!
Katie Davis is a second grade teacher in Grand Ledge, Michigan. She is a National Writing Project Fellow and worked as Writesteps' Fourth Grade Curriculum Creator.
Scoring a student sample or grade-level appropriate writing with the WriteSteps’ rubrics is effective because it gives your students the opportunity to see how each of the six traits works separately and together to make a strong piece.
Devin Dusseau-Bates, a 3rd grade teacher using WriteSteps, shares her tips on making the most of the six traits rubrics. Using the six traits rubrics helps students identify their own areas of strengths and weaknesses, which really boosts student confidence. (Click to Tweet!) For example, if a student recognizes that they have a strength, called a glow, in the area of organization, but a weakness, or grow, in word choice, then they have something very specific to focus on as a writer rather than just on writing as a whole.
The key to having success with the rubrics in my classroom was making sure my students were very familiar with the six traits. Once my students understood the traits, the rubrics were a great tool to improve my students’ writing.
The most helpful thing I did with my students this year was very simple. I divided the rubric in half by splitting 6-5-4 and 3-2-1. I discussed with the student how this helps them to accurately nail down a score for the traits. Dividing the upper and lower half of the rubric helped to simplify things. Then, all we had to do was specify the exact score.
Six is perfect!
Think of six as the absolute best you’ve ever seen. It’s perfect. This helps students understand that obtaining a six, while doable, takes a lot of hard work and effort, especially during the revision and editing stages of the writing process.
One is not an option!
Think of one as the absolute worst you’ve ever seen. I’ve always explained to my students that receiving a one on the rubric means that very little effort, really none at all, was put into that particular piece. I assure them that as long as they incorporate what they’re learning into their writing, revising and editing honestly, then they’ll never get a one. Don’t talk too much
As a teacher we want to explain, and explain. Let your students do the talking. When they suggest a score, ask THEM to back it up with examples and evidence from the piece.
Don’t score every trait in one session!
I never score an entire piece on one day. The great thing about WriteSteps’ rubric lessons is that they only focus on three traits in one session (Click to Tweet!), then the remaining on the following day. This really allows for a deeper focus and understanding of the traits being scored that day. Each trait discussed and scored lends itself into a brief five minute mini lesson per trait.
Make scoring fun!
Get your students involved by allowing them to make signals for their score choices. For example, think like a baseball coach and ask students to touch their nose then the top of their head for a six! WriteSteps has Uno-Dos-Traits Cards which provide some great interaction too. The purpose of having your students score visually is so you can do a quick scan of who really knows what they’re looking for and who still needs more time understanding the traits.
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A Weblog, or a Blog, as it has become to be known, is a form of writing that entered the scene with the advent of the Internet and personal publishing. It could be described as a digital magazine feature article or a digital news article depending on the content. What makes it unique however is that it is personally published without needing permission from anyone except the author. The author becomes the publisher and determines what will be posted, which is the digital term for being published. The authors of blogs are Bloggers.
Now that we have established what a blog is, what does any of this have to do with Connected Educators? Blogs are having a profound effect on Journalism most specifically, and other industries in general. Blogs are becoming more than just a tool for information. By being able to comment in real time about a post, the readers become part of the narrative. They give voice to support, objection, clarification, expansion, and validation in their comments. They help to immediately define, shape, and explain topics through their comments. None of this was ever possible in the print media, with the exception maybe of “Letters To The Editor”. It is that ability and power, which the blogger gives to the audience that connects them.
Thought leaders can express their ideas for immediate feedback, so that they may reflect and adjust. Readers may respond, reflect and often add a blog post of their own. The give and take; reflect and respond; adjust and refine abilities of the audience and Blogger are all part of a collaborative learning experience. Collaboration is the key to connectedness for educators especially.
Where do Bloggers come from? At first many education Bloggers came from the ranks of authors and speakers from education. They were comfortable with public exposure and writing, as well as technology, so it was an easier transition. Later, more and more educators began to get comfortable with the idea of blogging as a result of their commenting on blogs, as well as public discussion groups on the Internet. The fact that they were able to write their thoughts in a public venue and have them validated by other professional educators turned out to be a great incentive to go further. This only strengthened the voice of education Bloggers with the experience of practicing professionals.
As the community of education Bloggers grew, so did the audience. Many Administrators, who were leery of public exposure, began to step up and blog. Parents in need of a clearer understanding of the system began to blog. Finally, students themselves, the very focus for which education exists began to join in with their voice. A big contributing factor was the growing use of Twitter as a social Media tool. It is micro-blogging, blogging in small bursts. As people tweeted more and more, gaining a following, they found a desire to say more than 140 characters could express. Blogging applications like WordPress, and Blogger simplified the process of establishing a Blog site. A comfort with writing for an audience, and an ease with technology led to more educators climbing onto the train of connectedness and collaboration.
The result of all of this Blog evolution and proliferation has had a great effect on Education. It has made public the good, the bad, and the ugly of education. It has created that transparency that so many people have talked about. It is openly discussing what needs to be talked about by practicing educators and thought leaders. Blogs are connecting educators with thought leaders and administrative leaders in a way that could never before be accomplished. Education theorists can open their ideas to practitioners for analysis and critique. Practitioners can share their victories and conquests, and hopefully their failures as well. It is through the analysis and reflection of all of this that we can improve to move forward.
To be part of the change, educators need to be part of the process. They need to connect, comment and contribute wherever possible in our connected community of educators. That is where our voice as educators is the strongest. Connectedness is our best chance for positive change that is not mandated, or legislated, but rather collaboratively established.
Blogs offer a daily snapshot of what is happening in education. Blogs offer educators a public platform for discourse, and the ability to comment and affect change in a system that needs to change in order to be relevant in a world of fast-paced, technology-driven evolution. After the Blogs have dealt with the heavy lift, the printed Journals of Education report it. Educators need to connect to better communicate, collaborate, and create in order to more effectively educate students, and even more importantly continue to be educated.
As a new blogger, I have to admit that much of the posted material for educators is fascinating. I am not ashamed to say that I have fallen in love with much of the content here on ASCD. Because of the large quantity of posts, knowing where to begin can feel overwhelming. I began to think that other new bloggers (or even veterans) may find it useful to have a little help in navigating through all of the posts. I have compiled a list, or a snapshot of the postings that I find both current (within 3 months), and timeless (kernels of info that can be applied anytime and anywhere). My five favorite current and timeless blog posts are identified below:
The first two postings listed below refer to practical matters in education, whereas the final three postings are more reflective in nature.
1. "Life Lessons from the Tattoo Artist" by Mark Barnes
In a nutshell, this post recounts an experience with discussing a tattoo phrase (yes, a delightful picture of the tattoo is provided) that is grammatically challenged. The piece is short and sweet, but genuinely asks the reader to consider the practical implications of a poor understanding of fundamental language rules.
2. "Funding Classroom Projects: 3 Online Fundraising Sites for Teachers" by Ryan Thomas
In short, this post identifies websites that teachers may use to find support for classroom activities. The piece is well needed because as prices continue to rise, it gets increasingly difficult to purchase the materials required to conduct hands-on projects in the classroom.
3. "Are you Irreplaceable?" By Michael Fisher
This is a thought provoking post requiring the educator to explore their own teaching for evidence of uniqueness, diversity, and that "x" factor that we all strive to showcase to our students.
4. "I Might be a Bit of a Hypocrite" by Jason Ellingson
The honesty and rawness shared in this post uncovers the push of wanting learners to ask questions and the pull for educators to answer these inquiries.
5. "Am I Making the Right Decision" by Hannah Gbenro
This post stands out because it asks educators to reflect on their decision making process (the use of filters). Another unique quality is that a table is included to help the reader really begin to grasp the elements involved in making educational decisions.
As you continue to build upon your knowledge and resources through the use of blogs, which posts do you gravitate towards?
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Shutdown 101 for Educators
The first federal government shutdown in 17 years did not lead to immediate consequences for most schools and districts, but as each day goes by it becomes more problematic for the nation’s educators and students. See the ASCD policy team’s key takeaways and behind-the-scenes details on what the shutdown means for schools by reading our special edition of Capitol Connection and our ASCD Inservice blog post. They cover everything from how health and nutrition services for children and families are being affected to the long-term repercussions of the shutdown. And, for ongoing coverage, read your weekly issues of Capitol Connection!
ASCD to Host 23 Common Core Implementation Institutes November 2013 to February 2014
Starting in November, ASCD is holding institutes across the United States to help guide educators in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The one- and two-day institutes will be held in nine U.S. cities and are focused on Mathematics; English Language Arts and Literacy; Formative Assessment; Leading the Change to CCSS; and Common Core and the Understanding by Design Framework. View the full institute schedule on ascd.org.
New Whole Child Publication
The Korean Educational Development Institute’s KEDI Journal of Educational Policy publishes scholarly articles and reports on research that makes significantcontributions to the understanding and practice of educational policy on an international level. This month's special issue, “Promoting Students’ Social-Emotional and Character Development and Prevent Bullying,” includes an article written by ASCD’s Sean Slade, director of whole child programs, and David Griffith, director of public policy. The article, titled “A Whole Child Approach to Student Success” (pp. 21–35), describes the whole child approach to education and its global education policy recommendations.
Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems
In August 2013, ASCD and the International School Health Network began work on a new draft statement, titled “Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems,” at a global school health symposium held in Pattaya, Thailand. The two organizations would like to encourage readers to review and comment on the draft, which was developed to explain how health and social programs can be integrated more effectively within education systems.
Leaders in Action:News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Welcomes the Competency-Based Education Professional Interest Community
ASCD invites you to join our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by ASCD Emerging Leader Jason Ellingson. The Competency-Based Education group is a place to share your ideas and connect with one another.
2012 Emerging Leaders Will Use Pilot Grant Funds to Benefit Students through 2013–14 School Year
This year for the first time, ASCD accepted grant applications from 2012 emerging leaders. The grant program, now in its pilot phase, is designed to give emerging leaders the opportunity explore new and innovative ways to support the success of each learner.
This year’s grant fund recipients are Jessica Bohn, Krista Rundell, Fred Ende, and Amy Murphy. Jessica and Krista are working independently; Fred and Amy are working as a team.
ASCD would like to thank all the emerging leaders who participated in the grant application process as we continue to learn and improve the program over time.
ASCD Leader Voices
Common Core Myths & Facts
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are preparing to fully implement them—including administering tests based on the standards—in the 2014–15 school year. But rumors and myths about the standards have run rampant, causing confusion among educators, policymakers, and the public. The latest ASCD Policy Points (PDF)clarifies what the CCSS are and are not and tackles these myths head-on.
Read the issue for straightforward facts and explanations that help combat common misperceptions about the federal government’s involvement in the standards, the cost of their implementation, the role of local schools and districts, concerns about student privacy, and more. We hope this Policy Points provides you with useful information about the CCSS that you can share with your local communities to help dispel confusion, counter opposition, and establish yourself as a trusted resource on the standards. If you have any questions, contact the ASCD policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout October at wholechildeducation.org: Early Childhood Education
What does “education” mean for our youngest learners? The first years of school are as important for an educated population as any other period, perhaps more. Research shows that implementation of high-quality preschool programs can be beneficial for the lifelong development of children in low-income families and that an upfront commitment to early education provides returns to society that are many times more valuable than the original investment.
With the current focus on standards and academic achievement, is learning and testing coming too early? Curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children’s needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. Young children have different social, cognitive, and emotional needs than older children and early childhood is where they begin to build skills and behaviors such as persistence, empathy, collaboration, and problem solving.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the importance of early childhood education with ASCD’s Walter McKenzie, authors Thomas Armstrong and Wendy Ostroff, the New America Foundation’s Laura Bornfreund, and ASCD Emerging Leader Jennifer Orr. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blogand tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining his other blogs, go to http://bit.ly/13sMlUZ. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found on his website: www.era3learning.org
Today’s comprehensive high schools are generally organized the way they have been for decades. While some high schools have radically transformed teaching and learning in the face of major societal changes, most maintain a traditional look, feel, organization, and curriculum. High schools schedules are often the same as they were in the Industrial age, with days broken down into seven or eight time periods. The schools are often large and generally impersonal. Teachers often have between 100-140 students on their rosters. The required curriculum remains pretty much the same as in the past, and tends to be divided into diverse subjects, levels, and courses, without any central focus. High schools generally divide the year into two semesters and few if any student summer programs or professional development requirements exist. Graduation is still based on course credits and, in some states, high stakes standardized tests. Students are expected to stay in school all day and are expected to graduate within four years. Advanced Placement courses are often used as a major barometer of the academic rigor of a school’s program.
How can high schools improve on their programs and bring them into the 21st century? How can they develop more relevant assessments and a more relevant accountability system? While some advocate radical transformations, there are many adaptations and smaller changes that can bring traditional high schools into the 21st century by preparing students for rapid changes through the development of lifelong learning skills; citizenship; and individual talents, strengths and interests. I suggest fifteen possibilities below:
1. Clarify and share a 21st century mission, set of goals and outcomes that drive the school program, courses, and instruction.
Most of today’s high schools seem to lumber along without a clear mission or set of coherent student outcomes. Many high schools often have a confusing, diverse mixture of programs, activities, courses, and compartmentalized teaching approaches. They often suffer from passive learning environments, low expectations, superficial, uninteresting teaching and learning, uneven instruction, and fragmented courses. Many students leave high school unprepared for future learning or work, with a lack of planning or direction for their future.
One important way for high schools to better adapt to the 21st century is to develop and clarify a mission and outcomes with a meaningful and coherent school-wide set of goals. The mission and outcomes are then shared with both the school and school community and used as the basis for making changes in the school’s program and organization. In other commentary, I suggest three goals for K-12 education that are especially appropriate for high schools: prepare students for lifelong self-directed learning; prepare students for citizenship; and help students develop their own talents, strengths, interests and goals. If these three goals are accepted as the core mission of a high school education, what would they imply for the curriculum? For teaching and learning? For assessments and accountability? For a more integrated program? For the school organization? For scheduling? For core courses? For electives? What would change? Clarifying and becoming committed to implementing a clear mission and set of outcomes and goals for all students helps to create a core program focus and more coherent organizational structure for the high school experience.
2. Rethink the organizational and administrative structure
The traditional seven or eight period day, the Industrial model of scheduling, needs rethinking. In an age of computers, it ought to be possible to have more complex scheduling approaches that allow for longer blocks of time, mini-course structures, schedules that promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and common preparation time. Year round schooling is another option that needs to be seriously considered. New technologies suggest organizational structures that are only beginning to be appreciated and understood!
In today’s world, more students also need the opportunity for flexible, individualized schedules. Some students work part-time. Some need to help with their families. Others need time to do community projects and service learning. Some students need to leave school for periods of time, and be able to return at a later date in order to complete their work. Some may graduate early, others may take up to six years or more to graduate. All these options need to be built into the school’s programs.
Currently the most comprehensive high schools have principals, assistant principals, and “Department” heads as key administrators. High schools need to examine the question: how can this traditional administrative structure be reconfigured to better serve the needs of students in a 21st century world? What if one administrator were put in charge of “innovation”, looking across the curriculum to determine how the high school could develop innovative programs to better serve the needs of all students. What if one person was in charge of curriculum and instructional resources and curriculum and instructional development across all subjects? What if one was in charge of community “outreach”? Technology? A reconfigured set of administrative responsibilities, designed to promote innovation, interdisciplinary learning, outreach experiences, curriculum and staff development, technology applications might be a better way to organize for the future.
Finally, schools with organizations that tend to support impersonal and detached relationships between students and teachers should consider alternatives. One advantage of block scheduling is that teachers have many fewer students on their roster, and more time each semester with their students. They have a greater ability to get to know their students, to help and support them. The use of advisories and student-teacher advising systems over the four years of high school also enables teachers to develop stronger relationships with students. Teams of teachers working together with groups of students help build better relationships. Organizational changes that enable teachers to get to know students better (and visa versa) and work more closely together will probably help to increase student achievement and build better support systems for students.
3. Build a coherent curriculum
The current curriculum at most high schools is a fragmented mix of individual courses and programs, most of which have little connection to each other. Here are some recommendations for how to revise the curriculum to support student learning:
a. Identify and streamline core courses around the school’s mission, outcomes and goals.
The core curriculum are those “musts” that are required for every student. Should special core writing and reading courses be instituted? What types of thinking should every student be exposed to? How should reading and writing experiences be integrated into every course and subject? What math should be part of the core? Algebra and Trigonometry for everyone? Understanding statistics? Staff members should identify and collaborate to develop the core subject matter and core skills that should be taught and learned across the curriculum[i]. Each course might be organized around a series of “essential” questions, understandings and explicit skills that are core for every student to explore, learn and master.
b. Reduce the number of or eliminate Advanced Placement courses[ii] and instead develop a large number of high quality electives.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses tend to be implemented with an abiding faith that they are good for students. However, while they have some virtues, AP courses often repeat content that students have already studied, superficially cover a lot of content quickly, and crowd out worthy and interesting high school electives. Many of the students who take AP courses to increase their grade point average and feather their transcript don’t even take the AP exam and yet still get AP credit!
Instead of AP courses, develop a set of high quality electives that provide many options for all students to develop their talents, interests, and skills, such as deep learning-discussion seminars, research and project based courses, Internet course options, mini-courses, internships and practicums, and independent study courses. In themed schools, electives should provide a variety of options around the theme. New Internet-based college courses, known as MOOCS (Massive open online courses) provide many new opportunities for students to try out different topics and learn from some of the best college instructors in the country.
c. Increase the number of interdisciplinary, integrated learning experiences.
Should some core subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, like mathematics and science? Should integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses be an essential part of the high school curriculum? Should more efforts be made to integrate and teach in parallel fashion English and social studies courses? Should mathematics courses be integrated and taught the way most of the world teaches mathematics?
Interdisciplinary learning opportunities might occur as part of the on-going curriculum and within a ninth grade team. High schools also need to create a greater number of synthesizing courses, offered in the junior or senior years, such as “problems of democracy”, applied mathematics, or science and society. Synthesizing courses enable students to integrate learning from previous years and learn how to apply knowledge and skills to new and novel situations and events.
d. Pay attention to innovative ideas that might motivate students, make learning more relevant, increase deep learning, and provide students with new types of programs and new ways of teaching and learning.
Innovative ideas are constantly being introduced into the education world. Entrepreneurship programs provide students with opportunities for learning how to start and maintain a business and they learn math and planning skills. Project based learning strategies suggest new ways of teaching and learning. Technological updates suggest new resources for learning. MOOC’s (Massive open online courses) offer free entrees for students into the college world. Integrated mathematics programs reorganize learning mathematics. The Understanding by Design curriculum model promotes a very different way of planning units, courses and programs. International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer alternative ways or organizing high school programs, courses and assessments. Innovative organizational structures, such as Big Picture schools, offer alternative high school models that may be appropriate for many students. Competitions in chess, robotics, science, future problem solving, debate teams, and others provide students with exciting learning opportunities.
These and many more interesting and innovative ideas need to be searched out and considered, and some type of decision-making process needs to be introduced into the high school experience to help determine which innovative ideas are worth pursuing and implemented, and which should be rejected.
4. Create freshman teams.
Many students who drop out of school do so because they have not been able to make the transition from middle to high school. Students need to have a gradual and supportive transition from middle school to the first year of high school, with opportunities for personal attention and a focus on core skills and critical knowledge. Teams of teachers and students, working together for the year, help students to adapt to high school requirements. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students, advise them, coordinate their schedules, differentiate their learning experiences, and create integrated learning across the team that supports key skill development.
5. Create a digital portfolio assessment system
While high school students do research papers, projects, and other forms of writing, the most commonly used summative assessment tool in high schools is still the “traditional test”, consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. Unfortunately, an emphasis on traditional tests guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing relatively simple written products. A major problem with the use of these tests is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift.
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving critical lifelong learning and personal development skills, high schools should create digital student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –many types of written work, performance task processes and results, project results, oral presentations, observations of student participation in discussions, and, yes, the results of traditional tests. Many opportunities for student self-reflection also help to determine what each student is learning and whether each student is developing his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals. Part of the self-reflection process should be a goal setting and planning process throughout the high school years, but especially in junior and senior years.
Students also need opportunities to share senior projects and portfolios with adults from outside the high school, who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
6. Encourage student engagement through greater use of inquiry, research and project based instruction
Too much of the high school learning experience is in the form of traditional teaching and learning – recitations, lectures, coverage of textbooks – that makes for passive student learning and disinterested students. Students need more opportunities to be engaged in “inquiry” – to focus on essential questions as the starting point for learning, actively seek out reliable information to share with other students, think deeply and share their thoughts about content, draw conclusions and apply learning, and communicate through writing, presentations, and discussions. Projects based on student interest, chosen all or in part by the student, should be an integral, on-going part of a student’s learning experiences. Senior projects should be used to assess whether students have developed the attitudes and skills they need to be successful beyond graduation – self-direction, curiosity, persistence, patience, research, inquiry, study, thinking, creativity, writing and the like. High school course descriptions might be focused around key questions that will be explored during the course.
Consider alternatives to traditional assessment and accountability models. Multiple types of assessments, such as those described above, collected by students in digital portfolios, brought to class, shared over the Internet, is an alternative model that works well for many high schools in the digital age.
7. Develop community service-personal enrichment requirements.
Both personal learning that develops talents and interests, and service learning, are important elements of a 21st century education. In a Philadelphia public high school that I work closely with, students are required to do 120 hours of a combination of service learning and personal enrichment activities over four years. This requirement has meant that students learn more about their own interests and talents as well as learn ways to help others. Intentionally building these two dynamic components of a strong education into the high school experience has made a strong difference in the education of these students.
8. Make advisories a central part of the high school experience.
Advisories over the entire high school experience can help to personalize and customize education in a more impersonal world. Brian Cohen, a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District, beautifully describes the concept of high school advisories in a recent blog:
“A brief look at schedules across the [Philadelphia School] District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of high schools that provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.”[iii]
9. Make Media Centers the hub of the high school learning experience
If advisories are the central place for personal attention and advice, library-media centers are the hub for academic learning. They are the place in which students learn research skills. They are centers for conducting research. They often are the central computer centers for students, especially for those who might not have access to computers at home.
10. Create multiple outreach and “inreach” experiences
Outreach experiences enable high schools to better provide a more “authentic” education experience. For example, powerful outreach experiences occur when students are provided with internships in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals, schools and colleges, social work agencies, and the like. Other outreach experiences occur when students are able to interview a wide range of experts through technological arrangements, visit local colleges, or go on field trips. “Inreach” experiences - outside visitors brought to the school to talk with students about careers and experiences – is also a powerful way to connect students to the outside world. Significant outreach and inreach provides powerful connections to the “real” world outside of high school.
11.Create continuous, high quality, meaningful, relevant professional and curriculum development experiences
Today’s changing educational world demands continual learning and updates about teaching and learning. What would we think of a doctor’s world without continual updates on the best forms of treatment, new drugs, research, and other changes. Yet it’s strange how little emphasis is placed on professional and curriculum development over time. The establishment of professional learning communities (PLC’s), with a school culture that supports continuous learning around collaborative and individual learning goals, should be a key goal. Summers are ideal times for professional development, yet there are generally no requirements that teachers devote some portion of their summers (e.g. two or three weeks) to collaboratively exploring new ways of teaching, new forms of curriculum design, the teaching of writing and thinking, how to implement the Common Core, project and problem based learning approaches, and so on.
12. Switch to Standards-Based Report Cards
Traditional report cards Provide little helpful information to both students and parents. A more effective report card is one that provides information as to how well a student is doing, but also how a student might improve. Standards based report cards incorporate key learning goals and skills either in an interdisciplinary configuration or within each subject area. The ability to solve problems, conduct research, make presentations, write effectively – all these can be incorporated into standards based report cards[iv]
An even stronger standards based report card format includes individual comments by each teacher. Some high schools have built an individual comments model into their assessment process[v]. This entails a lot of work, but it customizes comments, builds on specific student talents, strengths and skills, provides greater specificity as to how students might improve, and in general makes report cards much more meaningful and helpful to students and parents.
13. Use technology as a tool for reaching key goals and priorities
Technology is often used in a haphazard fashion within high schools. The judicious use of technology, designed to help students reach key goals, is a much more rewarding and promising way to use technology. For example, the use of digital portfolios provides ways to collect and analyze student work. Common uses of technology to write papers, spellcheck, organize thoughts and ideas, and so on might be encouraged. Search engines used to find resources, to contact people around the world when appropriate, can be helpful. Teacher use of technology to share articles and readings, course outlines, information about a course, handouts and assignments with students on a regular basis is a good use of technology. The appropriate use of on-line simulations can enhance learning.
However, beware of newer forms of technology without being clear on how they promote the goals of the school. Tablets and smartphones may be useful, but they should be introduced with great care, and with knowledge and understanding of how they will contribute to advancing learning goals.
14.Create small learning communities
Although small learning communities are a radical departure from traditional high school organization, they are worth considering. They consist of groups and teachers and students working together around themes (e.g. communication, technology, health sciences and the like). Where possible, small learning communities within a building are physically separated from each other.
The creation of small learning communities requires significant professional development so that each team is well organized around a theme and is given a chance to work together in advance of implementation. Failure to provide time for teachers to receive professional development and for learning how to work together is often why they fail.
15.Design innovative ways to rate and judge the success of high schools.
High schools are being judged today by arbitrary processes often determined by government bureaucrats. The outside accountability systems often get in the way of making modest and relevant changes that would significantly improve programs. It is time for high school leaders to develop their own models that demonstrate their success!
Instead of a reliance on test scores, high school accountability models, shared with the public and with Boards of Education, might include the number of students who have developed their talents and interests in different directions; sample digital portfolios that demonstrate student learning; data on students that go on to some form of post high school educational experience; results from special programs, such as International Baccalaureate and small learning communities; data on what happens to students as they move through a post high school experience; collective data from report cards; survey data from high school graduates who rate their high school experience; results from student surveys of current courses, and so on. A comprehensive accountability process developed by high schools themselves would be much more meaningful and significant than the current systems being implemented.
Comprehensive high schools need to adapt to a 21st century world. Clearer mission statements that guide teaching and learning, revised and flexible scheduling, strong core and elective programs, administrative restructuring, advisories, greater student engagement through inquiry, research and project based teaching and learning, library-media center hubs, standards based report cards, small learning communities, more meaningful and personalized accountability systems, a careful look at innovative ideas – these and the other suggestions described above would go a long way towards better preparation of students for living in a 21st century world. Not all of these ideas may currently make sense to high school teachers and leaders, but some might be helpful when high schools reconsider their programs, assessment models, organizational structures, and accountability systems in order to adapt to this new age.
[i] In other work, I have identified five core skill sets that should be taught throughout the curriculum – curiosity, information and data literacy, thoughtfulness, application, and communication. For greater insights into what these five skill sets mean in practice, go to www.era3learning.org. I have also developed a process – the Integrated Skill Development Program (ISDP) – that can be used to identify core skills to be taught and learned across the curriculum. A description of this process can be found at: http://bit.ly/RnSwRT
[ii]Advanced Placement courses have many problems. They are often survey courses that focus on learning content without depth or thought. Many students take Advanced Placement courses, get credit for them, but don’t take the Advanced Placement exams. Other students take the AP course, don’t pass the AP exam, but still get AP credit. Scarsdale High School has eliminated Advanced Placement courses in favor of “advanced topics” courses. Some advanced topics courses are designed so that, at the end of the course, if students wish to do so, they can take the Advanced Placement exam.
[iv] For an excellent article on Standards Based Report Cards, see How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About it, in Educational Update, October 2013, Volune 55, No. 10, ASCD.
[v] For example, Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia PA, incorporates teacher comments into its report card system.