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Many prefer to read news online
According to research published last year by Pew Research, a substantial percentage of leading newspaper readers get their news digitally. Currently, 55 percent of New York Times readers say they prefer to access news on a computer or mobile device, as do 48 percent of regular USA Today and 44 percent of Wall Street Journal readers. While this isn’t proof that nearly 50 percent of your readers prefer to access school news online, there’s a good chance that they do.
Blogs are current
By the time parents receive their monthly newsletter, much of the information is already outdated. Who wants to read about the “big game” or a service learning project three weeks after it happened? Blogs allow you to update readers as newsworthy events are taking place—not after. Another thing to keep in mind is that event information (dates, times, etc.) changes. Once a newsletter has been printed and shipped, there’s no going back. Blogs give you the flexibility to make changes whenever you want.
Blogs will save you money
Most blogging platforms are free. No more printing and shipping costs; no more envelope licking; no more label printing. If you are concerned about alienating parents who are less tech-savvy or prefer to read print, send home a survey and find out who your readers are and how they prefer to access school news.
Blogs provide a rich, multi-media experience
Unlike print, which is linear and static, blogs allow you to easily integrate video, audio, photos and text. Now you can show, not simply tell, parents what’s going on in school. You’ll be surprised at how capturing students “in the moment” and posting pictures and videos of them throughout the day will impact parent engagement.
There are dozens (probably more) of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Blogger, for example, is Google’s free blogging service. It only takes minutes to set up and you can customize the theme and color of your site. If you already have a Gmail account, there’s good news: You’ve got a Blogger account too. Simply sign into Gmail and select “Blogger” from the “more” menu. Other blogging platforms you might check out include WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
Deficit (noun): Inadequacy or insufficiency, an unfavourable condition or position, to be lacking or a shortage. From the Latin – it lacks
Developmental (noun): The act of developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage
I received a call this morning from a teacher friend of mine. Claire is a second year out teacher who began her teaching career after a varied and wondrous life journey. Her life is a litany of success and achievement. She has been a nationally ranked gymnast, playwright, leader of transformational seminars, managed sales teams, mother, and carer. She rang me because she needed to talk to someone who understood the life of a teacher but was outside her school environment.
Claire felt that she was struggling at school. The school had asked her this year to step up to co-coordinate and rejuvenate English at a critical year level whilst taking on managing the school play and teach more classes. The school leadership team obviously thought a lot of Claire and her capabilities otherwise they would not have given her this opportunity. Claire’s challenges echo that of most teachers in the profession – the feeling that there is never enough time to get everything done that you need to do, let alone what others expect of you. Claire was currently experiencing her work as never being complete to her satisfaction, teaching as well as she would like to with a particular group, as well as having times of being overwhelmed. Much of her concern was self-talk about not being enough and that other staff members were judging her performance.
In my experience this is a common feeling amongst teachers. With the relentless day-to-day nature of education many teachers rarely have the time to neither reflect deeply nor acknowledge the progress they make each and every day. The feeling of needing to be constantly driven yet never enough is familiar to many. It is an experience of deficit – and I assert it is symptomatic of the paradigm in which education currently swims.
Recently in my work with a school to create supportive structures to empower and develop teachers I had a blinding insight about what we were actually trying to achieve – and it was far larger than I had anticipated and could explain why “performance” and “teacher evaluation” was resisted by many teachers.
Human beings, for the most part, live in a deficit paradigm. It is everywhere. It is in how we see ourselves, how we see the world, how the media portrays the world, in how politics is currently working, it is endemic in our schools. It is how companies sell us products, programs and desires. We aren’t doing enough, productive enough, rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, careful enough, etc. The recent viral Dove Real Beauty Sketches are a perfect example of how people see themselves from a deficit paradigm and the impact of that viewpoint.
Our education systems are then built upon this deficit thinking. We need to “improve” our schools. We need to “evaluate” or “appraise” our teachers and get rid of the bad ones and pay the good one’s more. Politicians use the language of deficit and impose deficit thinking models on schools and school systems. They look at other countries like Finland and Singapore through deficit eyes. If you just look at the language alone (e.g. ‘appraisal - the act of estimating or judging the nature or value of something or someone’) I am not surprised teachers and schools are resisting this thinking.
If you look at ANY high performing school, school system, team, organisation anywhere in the world, the paradigm that they operate from is one of nurturing, growing, building and development. This is not the language or viewpoint of deficit. There is nothing lacking but something to grow and nourish. Two recent TED talks by Rita Pierson and Sir Ken Robinson both point vividly to this.
Currently, we are immersed in a world of deficit and because of this we develop learning in schools from this mindset and we relate to one another from a deficit mindset. Our school structures hamper and hinder developmental thinking. Teachers need time to think, to reflect, to develop, to grow. Running from one class to another limits this. To improve performance in schools we must create structures for teachers to develop their own meta-cognition as a core part of being a teacher (or as I like to refer to them – master learner).
If we wish to create and transform the education system to unleash the potential of young people (and of ourselves) it is critical we create a developmental mindset and view the world through the eyes of “developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage”. When something is developing it experiences stages of growth and stages of challenges. It needs to be nourished and watered and fed to grow.
The real battle we need to be fighting is one of context.
Inside a developmental paradigm there is empathy for the stage of development people are currently at. There is not judgement just an acknowledgment. It allows for acknowledgement of progress, and celebration. It realises there are muscles to build, and capacities to grow. In the realm of agriculture one does not judge the value of a plant and ask it to improve. We create an environment for it to flourish and grow. That is what we are actually trying to do with students and staff in schools – aren’t we? In fact, I assert that wherever you find a great teacher, a great school, great parents, great coaches, great teams and high performance – you will find this paradigm. Not surprisingly you will also find habits, structures, practices and actions that develop and grow learning.
My coaching to Claire was simple. As we spoke she became clear how hard she was on herself. She saw that she could have a lot more empathy for herself and also share and communicate with people at the school what she is dealing with right now and what support she would like. She left clear and empowered.
How does deficit thinking play out in your school? Where do you struggle with deficit thinking? Where do you see developmental thinking?
Having the responsibility of shaping a school, managing teachers, students and curriculum—and having to shouldering the blame when things go wrong—has led more than a few principals to project a persona. Principal or not, we all do this to some extent, of course. Under the pressure to succeed, under the pressure to “brand” ourselves with amenable qualities, we often fashion a version of ourselves that minimizes our blemishes and highlights only our best traits. Eventually though, false personas corrode and break down. That’s why we want to talk a bit about authenticity.
“What are some of your weaknesses?” This ubiquitous question shows up in nearly every interview. And while most of us have learned strategies to skirt the question, we believe principals should honestly reflect on their weaknesses. You may not necessarily want to share all of them in an interview, but having the ability to reflect critically on your shortcomings is an integral part of becoming an effective principal because it helps you assess where and when to seek help from others.
Learn to laugh at your blunders
Principals are under an incredible amount of scrutiny and that can make it hard to laugh. But taking yourself too seriously, denying or beating yourself up when you make a blunder is going to take a toll on you and your relationships. Self-deprecating humor is often the funniest. Laugh and laugh often.
Be interested, not interesting
We’ve all spent time with someone who didn’t understand how the give and take of a conversation works. We’ve all gotten off the phone a half hour later and realized, “Wow. She didn’t ask me a single thing about myself.” We all have our moments, but try not to be that person on the other end of the telephone. Authentic principals ask questions and are focused on being interested, not interesting.
Don’t surround yourself with yea-sayers
Praise and concession sure feels nice, but it amounts to little if it is coming from those who offer it out of fear or flattery. Connect with other educational leaders who aren’t personally invested in your school. It’s helpful to have mentors who are encouraging but who also aren’t afraid to give you a perspective that’s different from your own.
Accept that you cannot do this alone
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but trying to do it all on your own is impossible; and it could have the effect of making you look like a control freak or worse—take a toll on your health. Let your “army” of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers help you shoulder the burden. They may gain a better perspective of the scope of the issues you face too.
Schools benefit from authentic leaders—men and women who engage others and who are working toward authenticity. Being authentic has the added benefit of letting people know that while you’re tough and very capable, you are human too, and appreciate help and support from others.
What is the most important factor that contributes to student success? Teaching.
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at email@example.com.
Despite the fact that many new principals have spent years—and sometimes decades—in education, they are often broadsided by the new (and unavoidable challenges) that come with the territory. Although we certainly can’t prepare you for all of them, we’d like to offer a few tips to help you avoid a few first-year blunders.
The first year: Making new principals into effective principals
Effective principals know that not everyone knows what they do all day
The expectations placed on leadership have never been more demanding. Sure, principals know who creates the school’s vision, develops curriculum, evaluates teachers, manages the building and collects data. But outsiders are, generally speaking, completely unaware of what principals do throughout the day.
Here's what Jessica Bohn suggested in a recent article: If your colleagues genuinely believe that your day consists of issuing orders or combing the halls for truants, it makes sense that they would be frustrated when you do not respond to their needs immediately. The best way to let them know what you do is by having them help you do it—which brings us to our next point.
Effective principals create a community of shared responsibility
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but don’t try to be a rugged-individualist. We’re saying this for a few reasons: First, it’s impossible. Second, because it will make you look like a control freak. Third, because you have any army of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers who can help you shoulder the burden.
If you assign a specific, task-savvy adult to handle every anticipated melodrama—crumbling drywall, for example, or a flock of birds who has made a nest in the rafters of the gym—you can spend your time on “big-picture” issues. Quick fixes may make you look good, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice when you stay mired in perfunctory disruptions.
Effective principals make themselves visible
Like we said earlier, not everyone understands what principals do—and they’re never going to if you hole up in an office all day. One way to make yourself visible is by taking your office with you. If you need access to email, bring along a laptop and set up shop in the library. Is there a study hall going on somewhere in the school? Grab a seat in the back of the room and get some work done there. Try rotating your “satellite office” every day. Doing this not only gets you out of the office, it also gives you the opportunity to speak with faculty and students.
Effective principals accept the fact that they’ll be compared to predecessors
Knowing ahead of time that everything you do will be measured against your predecessor will save you a lot of grief and restless nights. Comparisons are going happen. You are going to hear things like, “Principal X didn’t seem to have a problem with this,” or “Principal X would never have done this.” Ditch your gut reaction to react defensively and use these moments to ask questions and engage in an open discussion.
During the 2013 ASCD in conference in Chicago I was able to see one of my favorite speakers, Bryan Goodwin. Bryan, who was recently promoted to Chief Operating Officer of McREL and is a regular contributor to Education Leadership, discussed his take on the next frontier of reform.
Bryan began his presentation by asking a question about education reform… How well are we equipped with implementation? I could see his point because we often talk of ideas, espouse our theories, and pontificate on what is right… but do we know how to implement? Measure the implementation?
Knowing is not the same as doing
The objectives for his presentation were….
Bryan talked about some research that he conducted on the “Gold standards of studies” regarding programs to increase student achievement. The results were lackluster. What stood out to Bryan and his team was that the implementation had a significant impact on the the results. It left him with more questions then answers…
if we know better, why don’t we do better?
Bryan reviewed 5 implementation fallacies….
No one buys what you do, they buy why you do it
Here are some suggestions Bryan offered us on implementation..
As I processed the presentation with my colleagues, our curriculum coach said, “We need to stop resting our laurels on excuses, and shift our mindset into a “can do” culture. This is how we can improve our implementation!”
When we think of effective leadership, the kind that yields results, many of us immediately conjure up the image of a sort of alchemist—or as the authors of Resonant Leadership put it, a “lone star,” that goes around sprinkling “magical pixie dust” and producing miracles. Real leadership, however, has little to do with alchemy. And if you buy Richard Boyatzis’s and Annie McKee’s argument about leadership—or what they would call resonant leadership—it also has less to do with managing others than it does with learning how to manage oneself.
Boyatzis and McKee describe resonant leaders as those who:
Now that we’ve defined it, how in the world do aspiring leaders learn to become resonant leaders?
Manage power stress
Being a leader can be a lonely business. Decisions are not only high stakes, but rarely clear cut, communication is complicated and relationships…even more complicated. Managing this stress, or what Boyatzis and McKee call power stress, day in and day out is a challenge. Sadly, many of us become its fatal victims.
To avoid dissonance, leaders must make a conscious effort to look inward, which means that they should set aside time every day to write, reflect and attend to the body. Remember, resonance is “holistic.”
Remember what the body knows
You may be familiar with the classic Dr. Albert Mehabrian study that suggests humans can intuitively read—with nearly 100 percent accuracy—each other’s underlying emotions and motives simply by observing body language.
We’re not always conscious of the emotions we convey, but you can guarantee that the receivers are. Our colleagues and teachers watch us; they know when we are frustrated, discouraged, and defensive; they feel it—and it can quickly become contagious. Similarly, when we’re excited, motivated and energetic, our colleagues can’t help but feel it and want to be around it.
Resonance is a way of life, not just an abstract goal
Walk around your school. What do you see? What do you feel? Now ask yourself whether or not what you saw and felt reflects the values and mission of the school. Are people demonstrating obvious, tangible care and concern for one another? Boyatzis and McKee put it aptly: “Resonance is a way of life, not just an abstract goal.” If you buy this, you should see evidence of a shared vision in hundreds of ways, both small and large, all beautifully scattered around your school.
Take time to reflect and write every day
Making time to turn inward seems challenging, but try carving out a space (start with a half hour at the least) in your schedule every day so that you can reflect. To get you started, we thought we’d share a short exercise we came across in another book by Boyatzis and McKee.
Part I: Begin by thinking of the people who have helped you most in your life and career, the people about whom you’d say, “Without this person, I could not have accomplished or achieved as much as I have. Without this person, I would not be the person I am today.”
Part II: Now think of the people who tried to help, manage, or coach you to better performance over the last two years. Recall your performance reviews; what kind of feedback did you receive—and how was the feedback conveyed?
Part III: Answer the following questions:
If you completed the exercise, we have a strong suspicion that it was more pleasant to complete Part I than it was to complete Part II. Why? Because you are remembering the people who inspired you, who believed in you and showed compassion when others didn’t.
On the other hand, in Part II, you were asked to write about the people who (most likely) focused on your weaknesses, who may have put you on the defense.
It’s our hope that these two exercises helped create an understanding of how others have helped you learn and grow. We thought this might provide insights into how you developed important changes, and how you might help others do the same.
Image: The Alchemist by Signiert Öl auf Holz
(This work is in the public domain in the European Union and non-EU countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years or less).
We published "4 Free Technology Tools to Jazz Up Writers Workshop" in a previous issue of Inspired Writer. If you missed, it you'll definitely want to check out these powerful motivators for young students developing Common Core writing skills: StoryBird, Little Bird Tales, ePals, and iMovie.
Then, if you haven't found your way into blogging yet, try another 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.
For additional blog posts and to sign up for the Inspired Writer monthy eNewsletter visit http://WriteStepsWriting.com.
Recently a colleague asked me a question that made me pause and reflect. “How successful is PBL, really?” He’s an advocate for PBL, like I am, so the question wasn’t designed to nitpick or argue against PBL. He was reflecting on his own experience, and asking if mine had been similar.
I began to look back on the nearly 175 workshops I’ve presented and the large number of schools I’ve coached that have taken on PBL in hopes of changing the culture of teaching and learning. All of them wanted to move toward more depth and inquiry, and away from direct instruction, pacing guides, coverage, and the general lethargy that pervades schools as they labor under outmoded rules of engagement. Most of all, they hoped to sustain PBL year over year to power their school into 21st century learning.
How successful have they been? There are two answers to the question. For schools designed from the ground up to support integrated instruction, an inquiry-based culture, and a relentless focus on 21st century skills, the answer is clear: Extraordinarily successful. When the organizational philosophy supports student-driven inquiry, the natural outcome is great projects. These schools are the lights across the land—the Envision Schools, High Tech High, or the New Technology High Schools—that have become well known , as well a growing number of similar schools in every state. The students at these schools perform at world class levels, in some cases leading the world.
I’ve worked with many teachers, principals and superintendents who have toured leading-edge schools. They return to their own campus, wanting the same results. So they plunge into PBL. How successful are they? The answer, unfortunately: Not very.
Mostly, the schools start well. A core number of teachers implement projects that begin to show results. Students get excited; teachers feel satisfied; principals report a turning point. But that’s the first year. By the second year, typically after a strong start in the fall, PBL fades. The effort is not sustained. Why? It’s the well known rubber band effect. The industrial system can stretch to accommodate new viewpoints, but over time the constraints—mainly in-the-box thinking about tests scores and the lack of a collaborative culture committed to change—take their toll. Everyone settles back down into the routine.
This same dynamic, by the way, now drives the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Will they transform schools or become a new and improved laundry list? Here, the lessons of PBL are instructive. More than anything, it tells me that grafting an inquiry-based culture onto an industrial framework is an impossible dream, unless the effort is accompanied by a innovative focus on organizational change and high performance. This is a holistic endeavor, requiring a crucial brew of synergistic elements that work together to create a seamless system for sustainable change.
What are the key ingredients? For those schools that did transition successfully to PBL, I can think of six essentials that enabled them to power through tough barriers and emerge at the other end of the tunnel. I suspect the list for the CCSS will be the same:
Thom Markham is a psychologist and author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for Inquiry and Innovation for K-12 educators and the forthcoming book, Redefining Smart: Make your mind bigger than your brain. Download tools for project based learning on his website, www.thommarkham.com, or contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
Effective teaching is hard to measure, and so we face a conundrum. We know that any assessment of teaching effectiveness must be based on multiple data sources, but the data sources we have are all imperfect. Student growth measures, standardized test scores, classroom observation tools, student surveys- who among us would argue that any of these, or even all of these taken together, give us a completely accurate picture of teacher effectiveness?
Even though our existing measures aren’t perfect, they are the best we have and they can be informative when used wisely. As a profession, we must face two indisputable facts. First, some teachers are better than others. And second, school leaders are responsible for the quality of teaching in classrooms. So, assess effectiveness we must.
Two Approaches to Avoid
One misguided but common approach to this problem is to ignore the value of existing measurement tools, assuming that because they are imperfect they are not helpful. Many teachers are evaluated based on one or two cursory observations by an administrator, who then completes a vague checklist and conducts a hurried conference with the teacher as part of the “end-of-year checkout”. The teacher learns nothing, the data mean little, but the paperwork is done; and it is assumed that the administrator “just knows” the quality of teaching and learning taking place in the classroom. The assessment is a judgment call informed by little or no reliable data.
Equally problematic is the opposite extreme, in which a complicated spreadsheet or database uses numeric formulae to render a score based on several data points- observation ratings, student growth calculations, and others. These data often come largely from measures that have not been validated, using practices that render the scores unreliable. Still, the score is the score and can’t be questioned. The professional judgment of the administrator, who is accountable for teaching quality, counts for nothing.
To bring common sense to this equation, there are two things we can do. First, we should apply both good science and common sense to the selection and implementation of measures. Second, we should use the data from those measures wisely, in ways that both inform and strengthen teacher practice.
Essential Elements of Classroom Observation
Classroom observation systems are at the heart of most assessments of teacher effectiveness, and here we know what works. Here are three essential elements of a classroom observation system that will generate useful data and help leaders leverage that data to positively impact teacher practice.
Element 1: A validated observation measure. It is important to ensure, using findings from quality research, that the observation will capture the practices that drive student learning. Time spent checking boxes and rating behaviors that may or may not impact learning is time wasted. Our profession knows quite a bit about effective teaching that we did not know twenty or even ten years ago. We must take a careful and critical look at classroom observation measures and ask the essential question: “Do we have evidence that higher ratings on this measure lead to better outcomes for students?”
Element 2: Reliable results. Even the most well-designed observation measure will only yield fair and trustworthy results if the measure is used reliably. Observers must be well trained and should be required to meet criteria periodically through reliability testing. The number of observations and the number of observers also affects reliability. Evidence indicates that the most reliable results come from averaging multiple observations by multiple observers (see the findings of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project at www.metproject.org).
Element 3: Useful feedback. Teachers want and need feedback in order to continuously improve their practice. Too often, they leave post-observation conferences with a checklist or score but little real information. Teachers’ and observers’ own perceptions of a lesson are a valuable part of a post-observation conversation, and a starting point for reflective thinking. To complete the picture, teachers also deserve explicit feedback regarding behaviors observed that are more effective and less effective in promoting student learning. When reliable data from an evidence-based observation measure are available, then feedback can be targeted and actionable. Professional development and coaching activities should be closely aligned to this feedback. This way, teachers receive support in improving the elements of their practice that will have the greatest impact on student learning in their classroom.
In the high-stakes world of teacher evaluation, we must remind ourselves that the most important aim of observation and evaluation is not rating teachers, but strengthening teaching and learning. Classroom observation systems may never be perfect, but they should be solid. It is absolutely reasonable to expect the observation process to be fair to all teachers, feasible for schools to implement, and to generate data that makes a difference for students.
"You cannot have performance breakthroughs without cognitive dissonance ... in other words ... challenging what you think you really know and believe is the truth."
The more that I work with schools, the more I realise how important it is to coach teachers and school leaders in having personal performance breakthroughs as part of the journey to creating a high performance learning culture in a school. What I have been finding is that it is the unconscious limitations a person imposes on themselves and/or the individual’s ingrained habits and practices that can limit or slow down the building of an authentic learning culture.
In my coaching one of the first tools I use I gleaned from Steve Zaffron and David Logan’s book called “The Three Laws of Performance”. The Three Laws are:
1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them
2. How a situation occurs arises in language
3. Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people
Let me delve a little into the neuroscience here. In the simplest description, our brains are pattern making machines that, through trial and error of experience and learning, create a template or mental model of how the world is so the individual can successfully interact with the world around it. As a short cut to operating in an increasingly complex environment, the brain creates unconscious habits and practices for those actions that are ritualised. For example, most of us don’t have to think about walking. We just walk. We put one step in front of the other not consciously recognising the extraordinary coordination required of our brain and body to have this happen. For those of us who drive to work, many of us drive home from our normal place of work mostly unconscious because our brain “knows” where it is going.
As we grow up there are there spans where we undergo large physiological and neurological changes. These include the period from being a baby / toddler to a child (gaining of language), a child to a teenager (puberty), a teenager to an adult (pre-frontal cortex and executive decision making). These neurological developmental changes are critical periods in our lives as it is at these times that we lay down certain foundational or fundamental ways of being (mental models or templates). Based on these templates we build our interpretation and reaction to the world around us.
My experience in coaching people over the past 15 years is that in areas where individuals lack performance they have not overcome the programming that originated when they were children. Have you ever experienced an adult who still throws tantrums like they were 6? Have you noticed that some people can’t seem to organise themselves and still act like they are teenagers in managing themselves and their time? Have you noticed the emotions and feelings that come up when you are confronted by conflict in the workplace (most teachers avoid constructive conflict like the plague)!
In those areas where you experience being challenged to develop yourself or you lack performance, your actions are logical and consistent with a childhood perspective or viewpoint of that situation. How a situation occurs to us is correlated to our fundamental way of being or mental model that originated when we were quite young.
Conversely, in those areas you do perform, at some point in your life you challenged your childhood mental model and “grew up” in that area. You went through a period of cognitive dissonance and challenged and re-circuited your hardwired habits and practices in that area.
Let me give you an example. I come from an Italian family and my viewpoint of my father when I was young was that he was not very communicative, he didn’t really show his love for me like my mother did, and that when I did something wrong (which being the middle boy of three boys we always got up to some mischief) he yelled at us and we occasionally got smacked. So I decided at quite a young age that I would “never be enough”. When you look at my behaviour over a long period of time it is not surprising that I am always out to prove myself and succeed in whatever I do. I have three degrees including a Ph.D. I taught Aerospace Engineering (including … yes … rocket science). I came second A LOT, in sport as well as academically, and it frustrated me no end. I know myself as someone who, no matter what I am given, will figure it out and become successful at it. Within this fundamental way of being I have developed particular habits and practices that enable me to learn and develop myself. It isn’t surprising that education is one of my fields of interest.
The problem with the Fundamental Way of Being is that until I became become conscious to how it was driving me in everything, and the cost it had to my well-being and just being able to be in relationship with people, I had no power to choose to behave in a different way. I was very hard on myself and overanalysed everything. My brain was always whirring and busy so I found that I was constantly exhausted to make up for NEVER being enough. I was quite often surrounded by “fools and idiots” and became frustrated with people when they didn’t understand me. I lacked empathy for others.
The Fundamental Way of Being is not a bad thing as it has you gain a certain success in life. But like any ritual habit it drives you to behave in particular ways in circumstances that other ways of behaving are more appropriate. You cannot begin to change a habit until you have become present to how it is driving you. Until then you are the passenger in the car that is your behaviour.
When I coach teachers and people in leadership positions I give them two pieces of homework involving reflective journaling.
What I have found is that, over time, people start to produce remarkable results and shift their behaviour in those areas where they felt stuck or unable to develop and grow.
In the long term, there is just one answer to the problem of school safety: More love. The short term solution, on the other hand, lies in the unhealthy mix of force, fear, guns, security, locks, and other devices meant to barricade our children from a small, but obviously lethal, subset of the population.
I’ll leave the short-term answers to parents and politicians. Instead, let’s support advances in education that take us closer to the ultimate goal of raising, nurturing, and educating children who feel psychologically safe. That, really, is the sole purpose of whole child education.
The formula is simple. Feeling safe is the central feature of feeling secure. Secure people do not feel afraid, except in the face of dire circumstances. In the absence of fear, positive emotions bloom. When positivity reigns, the brain responds by becoming more expansive, creative, and open to ideas. Emotions stabilize. The terrible effects of isolation, loneliness, depression, withdrawal, and other outcomes of emotional dysfunction disappear or are resolved. Many fewer people feel compelled to murder a child. Those who do receive compassionate help from a greatly enlarged safety net of understanding, emotionally mature adults.
The foundation for this transformation is love. However, I don’t mean a kind of greeting card, Valentine’s version of love, as in, “Oh, aren’t little children just the sweetest little souls? I just love all of them!” Rather, I suggest that it’s overdue to recognize the hard science informing us that care counts. It’s time, really, to get out of our own way by integrating the most recent evidence-based findings about positive emotional development into schools and make healthy emotional development the centerpiece of learning.
Until society is willing to turn that corner, unsafety will plague us. With that in mind, here’s my list of simple ideas for educators to embrace that reflect the science of the second decade of the 21st-century. These findings point us toward designing schools as havens of safety and seedbeds for stable individuals who can be beacons of love throughout society and the global village:
Emotions and thinking are not separate. The 200-year misconception that emotions and cognition are separate has been disproven. The brain is an integrated organ that processes thoughts and emotions simultaneously. In fact, positive emotions help power the frontal cortex. Rather than an academic downside, a greater focus on the emotional health of young people will result in better performance, particularly in areas like 21st century skills and critical thinking. See Barbara Frederickson’s book on Positivity for the evidence.
The brain changes with the culture. There is no greater story at the moment that brain plasticity. Neurons change every millisecond, and the neural pathways work as fast as they can (and they’re fast) to adapt to new surroundings and the incoming culture. Everything about schools should be reviewed in this light. What messages do the hallways and the classrooms send to the brain? What is the atmosphere and climate of the school? Is nurturing the norm or the exception?
Let go of the brain. Now for the flip side. Not everything occurs from the neck up. Recent science shows intricate connections between the heart, gut, and the brain. Fear registers in the heart before the brain, and then communicates via the vagal nerves. The body acts as a sensory organ for safety—and the brain follow the lead. More fear equals less activity in the prefrontal cortex, the favorite part of the brain for any teacher (that’s where attention and learning take place.) In other words, holism is a reality, not a wish.
Emotions and physiology are one conversation. When you see a child in emotional distress, that means the child’s body is not working optimally. For example, stress is an over-mobilization of the natural resources of the body (too many hormones, at abnormal levels, and a high octane sympathetic nervous response.) The good news is that by calming the physiology of the body, we also alter emotional states.
Emotions are good, not bad. Research into positive emotions is shaping up as the next big advance in science. The old model of emotions, focused solely on survival mode, is a legacy from the caveman days. We’ve evolved; now science has confirmed that humans who generate and experience emotions such as contentment, joy, inspiration, and love respond by becoming more fulfilled, higher achieving people.
Relationships change emotional states. The connections between us and others alter emotional states. The mind, in fact, is not just within us any longer; it’s somewhere in that space between us, as Daniel Siegel in Mindsight shows us. The constant interplay takes place subconsciously, either through mirror neurons in the brain or energetic exchange. Regardless of the mechanism, it’s now clear that humans communicate in real time, at all times, on an emotional level. Every message from teachers, conveyed through facial expression, body language, words, or hidden assumption, carries weight.
Stress and challenge differ. Love does not preclude challenge, meaning you can still test children to figure out what they’ve learned. But it does tell us that removing the unnecessary stress of learning is a good thing. Constant testing invokes stress; a few meaningful exams pitched as a way to understand the gaps in your knowledge stirs up challenge. Here’s one clue to the difference: Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the armpits to perspire and one set of muscles in the face to contort; challenge brings a blended response of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems—and a genuine smile.
Mindfulness works. Whether you choose mindfulness, meditation, or heart-focused breathing, they all work. Each dissolves stress and liberates a calm, safe feeling that leads to positive health and better learning. It would be interesting to see the results on high stakes testing if every school day in America began with a five-minute meditation!
Love, compassion, and gratitude make you smarter. Some of the most powerful research recently shows the impact of gratitude on brain function and physiology in the body. Love calms, and the simple, yet profound, act of appreciation seems to have forceful consequences. As we move forward in schools and society, it is the job of adults to create a world in which children have ample reason to feel appreciative. If that happens, we’ll all feel safe.
Thom Markham is a psychologist and author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators, and the forthcoming book, Redefining Smart: The return of the heart. Download Tools for PBL on his website, www.thommarkham.com or contact him at email@example.com.
Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe or sandal? It’s annoying isn’t it? It doesn’t really hurt but it moves around and is quite irritating. Have you noticed that when the pebble moves under the arch of your foot you can still feel it but it is not quite the irritant that it is when it is under your heel or between your toes? When the pebble really becomes an irritant we can’t do anything apart from stop, take off the shoe, and remove the offending pebble.
The pebble is a metaphor for what gets in the way of schools performing. What I have been finding as I work with schools is that they spend a lot of time on big school actions and forget about the pebbles in our shoes.
I was recently coaching a primary school and a secondary college that are in the process of implementing frameworks to support teachers moving into a developmental and performance mind set. Each school has developed a staff rubric to articulate expectations at differing levels in areas such as being professional, being self-reflective, team work, etc. 
The rubrics (one a primary rubric and the other a secondary college rubric) were designed by the school staffs drawing upon what they identified as the behaviours staff would be displaying at each of the four levels (essential, consolidating, established, exemplary). T-he rubrics were modelled upon the thinking exhibited in the development of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
Two very different approaches are being used to implement the use of the rubrics within the staff community. However, in both cases all staff are included (not just teachers), and the rubrics are being introduced in a very gradual approach so that the staff don’t feel that it is yet another thing that requires lots of extra work.
One factor I will note is that both schools are very good schools. They have a lot of things that work really well and their students perform well according to the standards they are measured against. The performance frameworks are not about taking action to address “something wrong” in the school, but moving the schools from being good schools to exceptional schools.
In the primary school we have begun the implementation process by exploring their rubric in small teams. In this case we began with school teams that may not normally consider themselves as a team (office staff, support staff, select year level teaching teams, etc. ) Our intentions in the approach was to give each team a chance to know themselves as a team, articulate their team raison d’etre, and to discover what these teams saw as hindrances to their ability to perform. What we became aware of was all the pebbles that were in shoes. Most of the pebbles came from a lack of clarity about lines of accountability, poor communication between staff, and also inconsistencies that had propagated through the school due to changes that had occurred over time. The direction forward for this school for 2013 became clear – to remove as many pebbles as possible such that clarity and effectiveness (in procedures and communication) could arise.
The implementation process at the secondary college involves the development of a mentorship program where staff in positions of leadership throughout the school are being coached to become mentors for the staff body. Concurrently we are running workshops on topics such as leadership and trust whilst the staff are given time in select meetings to reflect upon the staff rubric and share with a partner about their progress. The intention of this approach is to set up a consistent support structure that embeds teamwork and performance as part of the normal operation of the school.
One interesting facets arose from the discussions in the last session, and this won’t come as a surprise to anyone, teachers seem to view that their purpose at school is empower the performance and learning of the students. They listed a range of elements with respect to their relationship with students that made a difference to student performance. These included:
Seemingly fine - right? What was unusual was that they did not see empowering their colleagues to perform as part of what is necessary to empower the students to perform. Whilst the school demonstrates great caring and team work in many areas of operating as a school, fundamentally the school context is one of individuals – a team of champions not a championship team. High performance organisations operate within the musketeer motto – All for one and one for all.
As a result of the inconsistency in context (remember this is the small percentage of what is holding this school back from creating an exceptional performance environment) pebbles have lodged themselves in the operation of the school. Some of the hindrances (pebbles) the team identified included:
What we have gone to work upon in the school is built upon Stephen M.R. Covey’s work in his book The Speed of Trust. The staff in positions of leadership are using the 13 Behaviours of Relationship Trust identified in the book to begin exploring any areas they are not building trust with their teams.
Next Time: How an individual’s Fundamental Way of Being can get in the way of performance.
 There are other rubrics designed for curriculum and such but they aren't implementing them until later in the process.
Ken Chenault, CEO for American Express, once said, “Most companies maintain their office copiers better than they build the capabilities of their people, especially the ones who are supposed to be future leaders.” This is something all educational leaders aspiring to greatness should take to heart.
We hear an awful lot about education reform. We’re no stranger to the discourses about high-stakes testing and reaching every student. We’ve heard the “3 R’s” (“Rigor, Relevance and Relationships”) and probably bandied them around ourselves. But do we have it all backwards? Shouldn’t it be more like, “Relationships, Relevance and Rigor?”
In the political hubbub, it seems that we may have forgotten about nurturing the capabilities of our students and teachers by taking the time to establish real and meaningful relationships with them. There are an infinite number of ways to make this happen, but here are five to get you started.
Use the gradual release of responsibility model with your teachers
You spent time in the classroom. You didn’t simply stand before your students, tell them how to do something, and then watch them blossom before your eyes, did you? Very likely, you practiced some variation on what Frey and Fisher have described as the “gradual release of responsibility model.”
You modeled the activity; then you offered guided instruction by posing questions, facilitating discussion and collaborating with your students. When they were ready, you had them work in pairs and when they finally mastered the activity, they put it into practice and flew on their own.
Your faculty and staff are no different. You can tell them how to respond to student work. You can talk about classroom organization and describe mentorship, but have you gone through the gradual release process that you’d use with your students?
Stop by a different classroom every morning
We’ve talked about 5-minute walkthoughs as an alternative to traditional teacher evaluations. But when was the last time you stopped by a random classroom just to reconnect with teachers and students? Before you do this, you may want to arrange it with teachers to make sure that you’re not interrupting a test or presentation. You’ll also want to let them know your intentions: You’re not evaluating; your visit isn’t a guise for something punitive. You simply want to reconnect for five measly minutes.
Substantiate your philosophies
If you’re passionate about your school’s vision of success, you should shout it from the rooftops. But don’t expect everyone to get on board until you’ve substantiated your initiatives with scholarship. Generally speaking, people are resistant to change; they don’t like disruptions and they are skeptical of new ways of doing things.
If you want to win their hearts, prove to them that your way is not simply “best practice” because you happen to like it. No, it’s best practice because scholarly research and data say so.
Get out of the office
It’s easy to find yourself cloistered up in your office for hours (maybe even days) at a time, but you’ll find that parent, student and teacher concerns become much more tangible when you see them for yourself. Setting up shop in a “satellite office” is one of the best ways to get out of the office, but without having to compromise the work you do in your home base.
Chances are that you spend a significant amount of time on your computer. Why not head over to the computer lab or grab your laptop and work at one of the tables in the library. This is a great way to engage with students and other faculty that you don’t get to see as often as you should. It’s also the best way for you to get an in-the-trenches perspective on the school culture.
Greet your students every morning in person
You probably arrive well before the students, but where are you when they start to trickle in every morning? You have your hands full, but being a visible and approachable leader is as important as the duties that call from your office.
When it’s cold outside, stand in the lobby of the front entrance to the school and greet each student with a hello or a handshake. When it’s warm, stand outside and do the same. You’ll be surprised when students start approaching you on their own accord simply to say hello or chat.
Originally posted on the Middle Web website: http://www.middleweb.com/5545/digital-tools-for-the-common-core/
In the next few weeks, Janet Hale and I will have our new book out through ASCD, Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students. We will very soon be launching a new ASCD Edge Group and Discussion Board around the book to discuss improvements in instructional practice and design as well as collect the awesome ideas of all the educators that would like to engage in a dynamic multi-media conversation!
In the book, we discuss different lenses and considerations through which you can view your current curriculum for a particular upgrade. This blog post is honing in on two, technology integration and Common Core alignment. The Common Core alignment is in relation to two reading anchor standards, number one that asks students to read closely, and number ten, that asks that students read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts. For the technology lens, I’ve been playing with a few new web tools and wanted to share some ideas for task-focused instruction.
Additionally, when I refer to “upgrades,” I’m speaking of a two-pronged approach, looking both for learning AND engagement. Effective instruction comes from a balance of these two considerations and while I know they can be somewhat subjective, I am, in general, looking for more student-centered opportunities than teacher-led “to-do” lists.
Just a reminder, it’s the task that matters, not the tool. However, I think it’s important to build a repertoire of tools so that you and your students can choose the right one for the task.
So, in light of adding tools to your toolboxes and doing so with specific Common Core ideas, I’d like to share three new tools that I’ve come across recently as well as some ideas for engaging these tools for curriculum upgrades.
Smore allows a user to create flyers with embedded color schemes, fonts, and templates. I used it initially to create handouts for a workshop I was doing and quickly figured out that I needed to prioritize my information so that the message I was sending would fit on one printed page. I created a Smore flyer for this blog post around Text Complexity, specifically considering Reader and Task, from the Common Core document.
Here’s the example.
I liked this tool for several reasons and see several opportunities for specific tasks/upgrades using this tool. For one, if students are visualizing their learning using something like this, it promotes eye-catching design. Brain based instructional strategies work because they are different, creating “mental glue” to help the brain retain information. Visuals stick better than text and using a tool like Smore will help students own their learning. Also, if students are writing about text, specifically after “close reading,” this might be a good tool to use for emphasizing important comprehension points or prioritizing the information they may potentially share. In fact, how awesome would it be for students, perhaps in pairs, to prioritize different pieces of the puzzle, with some focusing on text structure, some on vocabulary, some on connections to other texts, some on text based conclusions, etc. This could help establish new audiences, purposes, and tasks as students make their own choices and ultimately help teach each other! (With sideline coaching from the teacher, rather than direct instruction.)
Like Smore, Piktochart is a visualization tool. However, it’s specific purpose is to help the user create an infographic. Infographics are visualizations of information or data. There’s a really cool Flickr Group that collects educational infographics that you should check out! Piktochart lets your students create these awesome visualizations. I think infographics are where it’s at right now in education. Being able to think critically about data and draw conclusions from learning moments students participate in is vital. It’s also an opportunity to explore integrating subjects such as math into other content areas. The Piktochart I created is about Close Reading and Text Dependent Questions, both of which are represented in the instructional shifts related to the Common Core in ELA. I will say that the one I created is text heavy, as I was just trying out the tool, but it excites me to think what kids could do with this. I found the interface and dashboard easy to use and navigate and I went from complete novice to finished product in about 45 minutes. Ease of use is high up on my list when it comes to web tools, and this one is as easy as they come! Here’s the example I created:
The last tool I want to add to your toolboxes today is Yapp. I’ve been using Yapp for several months now and it became the basis for one of the technology upgrades that Janet and I advocate for in the new book. Yapp is a tool that let’s you easily create your own App for a digital device. I’ve used it to create Apps for events such as conferences, to collect information for a local library, and most recently, I created an App that lets me share all of my resources for Text Complexity based on a LiveBinder I created back in November. You can access the App by navigating, through your internet browser, to the following address on your digital device:
Note that you may need to install YappBox onto your device if you have any trouble with the link itself.
In the book, Janet and I talk about Learning and Engagement around students creating apps. There are certainly a number of ways to go about this, but Yapp is a good starting point. Right now in classrooms, teachers are clamoring to find apps for the devices they use. This translates, a lot of times, into teacher-selected, tool-based learning scenarios rather than student-centered, task-based scenarios. Now that we’ve had some “play time” and are past the first decade of the 21st Century, it’s time we shift the focus, the thinking, and the work back to the students. If students are CREATING, and making authentic choices about what to include in an app and how to share and amplify it, then they are working at the highest levels of Bloom’s and absolutely owning the learning.
So, to recap, adding tools to your toolbox is important, even though the goal is to work toward task-based opportunities. Learning and engagement are important and must be considered together for effective learning. Also, there are several lenses through which we can explore potential upgrades to the work we are currently doing.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring more of these lenses with blog posts as we lead up to the launch of the book in early March. If any readers would like to join Janet and I in Chicago at the ASCD conference, we’ll be exploring what it means to Upgrade Your Curriculum in person! You can also use the Twitter Hashtag #UpgradeYC to interact online right now!
Cure for the Common Core - eBook available now from Amazon
Mike on Twitter:@fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students - coming in Feb. 2013 from ASCD
As psychologists and behavioral experts discover more about the various learning modalities and "how students learn," more and more schools are starting to use collaborative learning platforms as a part of their day-to-day classroom routine.
A well-organized collaborative learning process allows students to work together, using each other’s' strengths to overcome collective weaknesses. Ideally, students are then able to take ownership of their learning experience and being teaching one another. But there’s a fine line between successful learning groups and classroom-wide chaos. We believe that creating an effective, collaborative learning environment takes planning, so here are 5 tips to help you keep the chaos at bay!
5 Tips to Make Your Collaborative Learning Plans Effective
1. Classroom Setup. Students learn best when their environment is comfortable, but still structured and organized. If you have a traditional classroom set up with rows of desks, any attempt at group work will end up in a mess of student clusters on the floor, on top of desks, and excessive wandering.
Ideally, desks should be set up in clusters so students have a "real" place to sit, are facing each other, and can easily communicate. You will also be able to tell which groups are on track and which aren't. If you can get your hand on round or oval tables, those work too.
2. Process-oriented learning. Try to create assignments where the group learning process is the primary focus and the “right” answers are either secondary or possibly even irrelevant.Students are less apt to contribute or share if they feel at risk for looking incompetent.
Use these opportunities for students to work on discussion, analysis, process, and/or correlation skills—activities where they learn to develop deeper thinking/learning skills without attachment to the outcome.
3. Everybody is accountable. One reason students learn to loathe group learning assignments is because one student always feels like s/he does all the work. And then there’s the classic case of the one student who didn't do anything at all but still gets credit. Effective collaborative learning happens when everyone is accountable somehow. You can create group tests which are harder than traditional tests so students are forced to work together to achieve a collective finished product. Circulating around the room will allow you to pay attention to who isn't participating and then encourage him/her to begin contributing. Allowing the group to grade each otheris another way to suss out who is working and who isn't.
4. Peer teaching. We all know that teaching is the best way to thoroughly learn something, so create opportunities which allow students to teach each other. Pair higher-level students with lower-level students, create harder problems or discussions that require group engagement to work through the solutions, or assign chapters to groups of twos or threes and make them teach their lesson on a scheduled date. This allows everyone to be a part of the give-and-take process involved in teaching and learning.
5. Group selection. You should control the groups and pairs that work together at all times. They don't have to be the same all the time, but in order for students to work well together, there needs to be the right balance of varying skill levels and personalitytypes. By assigning the groups, and potentially assigning particular jobs to each member, you will see a marked improvement in the overall collaborative learning process. It can be a good idea to check in with students before class to assess their mood, allow them to vent a little, and get the class into a more settled mindset before beginning the group work. You may want to come up with general rules and guidelines for how groups should communicate/behave.
Once you get your collaborative learning groups off and running, they will become a regularly requested element of your classroom design.
Will Common Core equal Common Practice?
As we look to the future implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers must begin to have a broader knowledge base, a more diverse toolkit for teaching and learning, and greater experience with teaching in a standards-based environment. The growth required over the next three years seems to be large. After working for over seventeen years in public education within five different school systems, few districts seem to have provided the necessary professional development on standards based approaches.
I am fortunate to be working in a district that has provided an ongoing, continual approach to teaching toward these standards by engaging teacher content teams with standards consultants throughout the school year. Over the last three years, we have collaborated to unpack standards, determine power standards, design essential questions and big ideas, and collaboratively design units that emphasize both prioritization and conformity but not removing creativity. After observing and participating in this work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what teachers should be able to both comprehend and implement:
“Unpack” first – This learning process began three years ago by first “unpacking” standards by dissecting the wording to look for skills and knowledge. We also designated our power standards that we all would teach and felt were the most important. This process must be a primary one, as teachers first look for skills and knowledge necessary for students to attain before beginning to design instruction. Although it was unknown to our teachers, we were following recommendations from McTighe and Wiggins (2001) for translating the standards from the state frameworks to teacher based terminology for classroom instruction. Furthermore, McTighe and Wiggins believe that unpacking the standards is the third big idea out of five for implementing the CCSS.
Understanding by Design - McTighe and Wiggins’ model suggests to start backwards by keeping the end in mind rather than designing a series of activities built upon one another. This process asks teachers to start to “identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and plan learning experiences” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001). For us, this first step was a struggle as teachers who were new to the process, the language, theory, and practice. However, three years later, as we talk together, this process has paid off as we all see a common path of learning for students and have a shared understanding to build upon. Furthermore, this process has shifted practice away from independent classroom teacher activities to a more common approach that focuses more on “enduring understandings” than ideas and concepts that are either “worth being familiar with” or “Important to know and do” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001).
Student self-assessment – Students must grow as learners but also as evaluators of their own learning. Last year, we began designing Learning Progressions which were valuable in thinking about student misconceptions prior to instruction rather than during. However, many teachers viewed this as a rubric for scoring student work, which is not, so developing this for a number of units was and still is, for some, a challenge. As we now implement two new common standards-based units, I feel these progressions are more important for students for them to assess their learning with a tool that both ties into a common language about enduring understandings and links to feedback they get from formative assessments. We have made a commitment to post Learning Goals and Success Criteria this year for students, but I feel our next step may be to learn progressions as well so that students can visually see where they are with their learning and they need to go next.
Release of responsibility – Teachers have started to work differently in their classrooms as a result of this work. They have become better facilitators of learning by modeling quality instruction, including important concepts and strategies. Students then practice these concepts and strategies with support through small groups, triads, or partners. While monitoring progress, students are then asked to individually apply their new learning in order to meet the standards.
Differentiation – Fortunately, language arts lends itself nicely for differentiation by varying the reading level and challenge of books, scaffolding support with models, and adjusting the writing for students to provide the appropriate level of support and challenge. Differentiating the “process, product, or content” should become more the norm, not the exception, as teachers review results from formative assessments to see the paths that students must travel to become proficient for each standard (Tomlinson, 2000).
Flexible grouping – Many structures such as Literature Circles are helpful but now with both the growing needs of students and the expanding capacity of teachers, we have moved to flexible groupings that allow students options and choices to complete standards based activities rather than being confined by a structure. This opportunity motivates students, provides them with choices, and reduces compliance and behavior issues in the classroom.
Formative Assessments – Gathering data and information through formative assessments should be more commonplace as teachers should be tracking where each student is in their progression towards mastery. This does not mean not giving summative assessments, but rather allowing ample time for modeling, practice, and support. These assessments “check for understanding” and are designed to inform teaching and learning, not a summative or final exam grade (Fisher & Frey, 2007). In addition, these formative assessments may be designed and administered collaboratively to creative common formative assessments, which give more information to teachers allowing for reflection, discussion, and innovation. One of our favorite resources is 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge which has a number of short, creative assessments that can be used for a number of subject areas. Some examples that we use include using dry erase boards, sheet protectors, 3-2-1 Summarizers, Quick Write/Quick Draw, and My Top Ten List. These templates work well as we ask students to “show me what you know” and that these assessments are not parts of the grade book but rather, parts of a conversation among educators about what each student has learned and still needs to learn.
More resources – With teacher growth, teachers need access to more resources in order to meet the needs of all students. This is a challenge for teachers as many struggle with finding appropriate materials while also managing a classroom with a diverse student group with diverse needs so that they all meet a standard or learning goal within a certain period of time. Time is critical and there is never enough of it so teachers must find quick and appropriate ways to use class time wisely. For example, our eighth teachers are looking for more short story selections at variety of reading levels so that readers of all abilities can access the text and then demonstrate their abilities to identify story elements, or irony or flashbacks, etc. If students are successful at this step, then we move them into novels at their reading level.
Choice and challenge – It is becoming more rare to teach a whole class novel, as both students and teachers need a greater variety of book options. The range of abilities in a middle school classroom continues to grow, so having more books that are interesting to students as well as challenging for the more advanced students has increased in importance. This is also a challenge for school systems to provide funds for purchases, crosscheck book usage between schools, as well as read and review novels to screen for mature or possible challenged content. Another resource that we have turned to is Creative Book Reports: Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction by Jane Feber which we have used to create smaller nonfiction research projects for students to complete before some of our novels units on weather and the Civil War. I’ve also used this resource to create a final assessment on story elements for a Coming of Age novel study. Assessment – In the end, this is the most challenging area as many teachers may resist rubrics and standards-based grading. Many middle and high schools still have conventional letter and/or numeric grades while some have designed hybrids that combine all three: numbers, letters, and standards. Many elementary schools converted to standards-based reporting years prior.
Many of these initiatives could not happen without the planning, dedication, and support of administrators. After observing and participating in the work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what administrators should know and be able to do:
Time, time and more time! – Over the past three years, the time commitment has been consistent and expansive. We’ve used after school department meeting time, held summer institutes, in-service workshops days, and release days from the classroom with substitute teacher coverage. Now we are fortunate to have time during the school day to meet, collaborate, review common formative assessments, and/or share effective practices. Staying the course by providing the time and structure for teacher teams to collaborate and complete the work as been essential.
Benjamin, Amy. (2008). Formative Assessments for English Language Arts – A Guide for Middle and High
School Teachers. New York: Eye on Education.
Dodge, Judith. (2009). 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. New York: Scholastic.
Feber, Jane. (2004). Creative Book Reports : Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction. Gainesville: Maupin House.
Fisher, Douglas & Nancy Frey. (2007). Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. Alexandria :ASCD.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. Champaign: University of Illinois.
Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. "What is Backward Design?," in Understanding by Design. 1st edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall, 2001, pp. 7-19.
Garth McKinney serves as the Language Arts Coordinator at the Merrimack Middle School (MMS) in Merrimack, New Hampshire. At MMS, he teaches and supervises the language arts department. Prior to this position, he worked as a Reading Specialist, Elementary Principal, Elementary Assistant Principal, and Classroom Teacher for grades four and six. He has worked in public education for over seventeen years. This fall, he is also teaching graduate courses both online and on campus as well as applying for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Garth holds a doctoral degree from Boston College in Educational Administration, a master’s degree from Fordham University in Reading, and a bachelor’s degree inElementary Education from Stonehill College.
Many districts are expanding their Advanced Placement* (AP)* course offerings to increase student participation and promote college readiness. The College Board’s AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics courses can be taught as separate semester courses or combined into the traditional “AP Economics” course. In New Jersey, AP Economics fulfills the state graduation requirement for financial literacy. Students who sit for both AP Economics Exams, administered each May, can earn up to six college credits. Here is how to build and sustain a successful AP Economics program.
Connect with the College Board
Go to AP Central and register for the College Board’s AP Microeconomics & AP Macroeconomics teacher communities. Download the new AP Economics Course Description and AP Economics Teacher’s Guide authored by AP Economics expert Peggy Pride.
Get These Books
The Council for Economic Education publishes the Advanced Placement Micro & Macro Teacher Manuals. The 4th edition is the most recently updated. These manuals come complete with unit plans and student activities, as well as, sample multiple-choice and free-response questions. They are the essential resources for new and veteran AP Economics teachers.
Participate in a forty-five hour College Board authorized AP Economics seminar. I highly recommend UCLA Extension’s online AP training courses for teachers. UCLA’s program focuses on syllabus and unit plan development. Participants can obtain College Board authorization via the AP Audit upon completion of the course. Additionally, participants receive a professional development certificate from the College Board.
Pick a Course Text
In my opinion, the best AP Economics text is Krugman’s Economics for AP published by Worth/BFW. Chief AP Economics Readers and exam developers, David Anderson and Margaret Ray, worked with Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman to align his introductory college text to the College Board’s AP Economics course outline. The supplemental materials for Krugman’s Economics for AP were all developed and edited by AP Economics Readers.
Pick A Summer Reading
A summer reading assignment can lay the foundation for course content and create anticipatory sets of questions for students. I have utilized Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics. It is humorous and my former students swear by it. Other popular picks are Freakonomics, New Ideas from Dead Economists, and The Cartoon Introduction to Economics.
Gather Exam Prep Materials
The best exam prep materials are the College Board released AP Exams. Use these previously administered multiple choice and free-response questions as formative assessments. Released free-response questions make for excellent “Do-Nows” and exit tickets.
Every back-to-school night parents want to know what paperback commercial study guide they can purchase to help their child prepare for the AP Exams. I always maintained that students should receive enough exam prep materials from their teacher that a supplemental book is unnecessary. That being said, if parents still elect to purchase an AP Economics Exam Prep book, my recommendation is 5 Steps to a 5 by economist and AP Reader Eric Dodge.
Apply to be an AP Exam Reader
The AP Economics Readings I attended have been the best professional development experiences of my career. The Reading is a unique opportunity to connect with the best AP teachers in the world and see the exam scoring process from the inside. Scoring thousands of free-response questions is tedious work but AP Readers quickly become experts in how the free-response rubrics are constructed. This information is invaluable when coaching students on how to achieve top scores on the free-response section for AP Economics Exams.
*AP and Advanced Placement are registered trademarks of the College Board, which did not participate in the development of or endorse the contents of this blog.
Most of us are resistant, or at least skeptical, of change—particularly when it directly impacts us. Whether we like it or not, new principals rarely leave things untouched. Many of us may immediately buy-in to these changes, but odds are that it’s going to take some time for him or her to win the school over. Just keep in mind that principals can be a teacher’s (and student’s) most important ally. To help you start off on the right foot, we’d like to offer 5 essential Do’s and Don’ts for creating a partnership with your new principal.
Do invite the new principal into your classroom
Your new principal may not need permission to sit in on your class, but why wait for her to ask? Be preemptive: extend an invitation on your own accord. An open invitation suggests that your classroom is a safe and open space; it also indicates that you welcome collaboration and constructive criticism, not to mention the fact that it will diffuse any potential for an adversarial relationship from the very beginning.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
You may have been tied to the tattered leather couch in the lounge and felt that resources would have been better spent on students. You may have fancied the location of the dusty trophies in the hallway. You may have been annoyed when “your” classroom was given to another teacher, but keep it all in perspective. A new principal is going to change things. React to these changes with measure, especially if you don’t know the details. What you may not know is that the new couch was donated or that the trophies are being cleaned or that “your” classroom was relocated for good reason.
And when you are confused or frustrated by new changes, set up a face-to-face meeting; don’t dash off a snarky email.
Do ask your principal if she would like to collaborate
This one goes nicely with number one. When you invite the principal into your classroom, include her in the activities—and make sure that you provide the readings/handouts you plan on using that day so that she can be an active participant.
Here’s another idea: Ask your principal to read a book or article to the class and then co-facilitate a discussion around it with her. Another idea might be to set up students in groups and have the principal help you make rounds, answer and ask Socratic questions.
Don’t wait for the principal to reach out to you
We suggested that you invite the principal to visit your classroom. In addition to this, why not set up a face-to-face meeting. Principals are under a tremendous amount of pressure—especially if they are still acclimating themselves to the school culture—so odds are that they would gladly welcome a conversation that doesn’t involve frustrations and ill will.
Do put your requests in writing
Relaying concerns and requests as you pass the principal in the hallway is a start, but understand that, more than likely, your conversation may be one of a few dozen she is trying to remember. Always send a friendly follow-up email. And if you don’t get a response right away, wait a week. And if a week passes, simply send another email or pick up the phone. Assume that the email went to her SPAM folder or got lost in the mix rather than assuming the principal deliberately ignored or deleted your email.
Some of the ideas in this blog have been gleaned from an excellent article by Ben Johnson. You can find it here.