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Here are some questions you might use for reflecting on the year past, on how you might productively use your summer respite, and how you might plan for changes that you might wish to make to your teaching next year:
These are only some of the questions that you might ask yourself. Don't hesitate to add to, modify, or change these.
Once you have answered these questions, here are some things to think about over the summer and the coming year:
What might I examine and explore this summer to identify new ideas and rethink my teaching and student learning?
What might I work on this summer to improve my teaching and my students' learning?
I hope you had a productive and rewarding school year, that you have a restful, relaxing, rewarding, and productive summer that also provides you with an opportunity to learn and grow from your current year, and that you use some of your time to learn about and find new ways to become a better teacher in the future.
Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, author, and volunteer in a number of Philadelphia public schools. He is a former social studies teacher, Professor of Education at Temple University and Curriculum Director for an Educational Service agency in Bucks County. You might find his website, www.era3learning.org of interest as a follow-up to your answers to these questions.
While many of you are planning for summer vacation, or may already be on summer vacation, remember to incorporate the 3R's!!!
Relaxation is oh so very important for us all. We are often bogged down with work and taking care of the family, and forgetting to take care of ourselves. That's a no no! You MUST absolutely take the time to relax by clearing your mind and doing something for yourself that would make YOU happy. As we all know, there is plenty of research to back up the claim of people being more productive when they take breaks and vacation/staycation.
This is imperative for an individual to grow. Many times we continue to conduct business as usual without taking time out to reflect on the work that we did, could do or could have done. Bottom line is, you will never be an effective educator or individual if you're not reflecting personally and professionally. I highly encourage you to take an adult development course if you haven't done so already. It will change your perspective on life, relationships, and self- awareness.
What's the point of reflecting if you're not revising, right? There's nothing wrong with change, when it's done for positive and effective reasons. Based on your reflections, you should be planning on how to make revisions to your work throughout the school year. I can't tell you how often I become sadened by educators who tell me they've used the same lesson plan for the last 5 years... YIKES! Year to year, students change, technology changes, expectations change, etc. Therefore your lessons and activities should change based on student needs. Revise not only your lesson plans and goals for students, but revise goals and expectations for yourself. After all, that might be your child sitting in that teacher's classroom one day.
Things that make you go hmmm.
For students, there are essentially two opening days every year: The first day of school and the first day of summer. In an earlier era, principals and students may have shared similar schedules, but according to a 2008 study by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, more than 70 percent of its members now have an 11 or 12-month contract. Those of you who are currently principals may find yourself envious of your predecessors: A half-century earlier, only 12 percent of principals worked year-round!
We know that a principal’s summer is a bustle of activity that includes anything from planning workshops, scheduling and recruiting to meeting new students and preparing for opening day in the fall. Before you dive into a new, but equally busy summer schedule, we want to offer a few tips to help you wind down the school year.
Winding-Down the Academic Year: 5 Tips for Principals
Send Your Senior Ambassadors on a Mission
Recall the day you crossed the border from middle school into high school. Even if you were one of the lucky ones who adjusted quickly, there was still a learning curve. Since many of your seniors end the academic year earlier than the rest of the school, most of them will be available to meet with future students who are finishing up their final days of middle school. Recruit your senior ambassadors and send them to a partnering middle school where they can speak with the same students who will be walking your hallways in the fall.
Don’t become complacent
When we were kids, often the last week of school was spent watching film strips and hanging out. We loved every minute of it, too. Looking back, of course, it’s easy to see that this was not a productive use of time. There may only be a few days left in the school year, but it’s important to maintain high expectations. Every day is an opportunity to learn. Expect teachers and students to use each day wisely.
Put that data to good use
You’ve spent the year collecting data about academic success, student attendance, college admittance, disciplinary actions, and student/faculty awards for excellence. You may not have reached all of your goals, but certainly your school has succeeded in noteworthy ways. Even if test scores aren’t in, take time to highlight other successes. Thank teachers for their effort and let them know that it paid off—you have the data to prove it.
Give yourself time to reflect
We can’t move forward without looking back. Take time for introspection: What did you learn about yourself this year? Where did you succeed? How have you changed? How have you grown? Reflect on these questions and write down your thoughts.
Introduce new faculty
If you’ve already hired new teachers or staff members, chances are they’ll be around the school throughout the summer, but most students won’t be. Instead of waiting until September, use the last week of school as an opportunity to welcome new teachers and introduce them to your school.
In a video posted on June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest discussed the Common Core State Standards. It is apparent that he is both not a fan and that he has not fully investigated everything about them and the implications they may have on teachers, students, and the entire educational system in his short tenure. This is in response to my colleagueSteven Weber’s post about an Educator’s Perspective on the Common Core, specifically in relation to his state’s actions.
We need less extremism and polarizing missives and more opportunities for collegial dialogue and specific plans of action that are based on collaboration and agreed upon goals around whatever it is we decide to do as a country. These standards are a foundation, not the aspiration of all students. What we grow from them is the art of teaching. Having standards and maintaining them is the science of teaching. The Common Core does not dictate curriculum anymore than your blood pressure number dictates a course of appropriate action. They are a standard, a level of quality, a point of reference to a mean. What we do to attain them and what we do to grow beyond them are more essential questions than how do we get rid of them. Getting rid of them means going back to previous standards that will have the same arguments, for or against, as to why they are good or bad.
What follows is a breakdown of my analysis of his comments. I very much think the Common Core Standards are a good idea. For the first time in the history of our country, students in Wyoming and Nebraska and California and New York and North Carolina are being held to the same standards. Assessment data in our country will be less skewed than it is in other countries (who have national standards) and we are thinking specifically about what it is that prepares students for going to college or moving into a career after high school.
The rigor of the new standards is greater, yes. Much of the conversations I have about them push teachers and administrators out of years old comfort zones. I believe this is a good thing. I believe that most teachers want to improve their professional practice and this is a step in that direction.
Beyond the standards, specifically with new teacher evaluations tied to them and canned curricula being created around them, I believe that there are wrong things being done in the name of progress. The standards themselves, in my humble opinion, are not evil. The hurricane of “progress” around them is what people should be paying attention to and questioning and determining the usefulness and economic viability of.
What follows is not meant to be personal. We, as educators, have an obligation to both invite and engage in public discourse about what we believe is best for our kids. I have a kid in public school already and another one joining the ranks shortly. I want this to work. I want my kids prepared well for the world they will graduate into. I want to have no regrets on graduation night (if graduation the way we know it stays in place, in the traditional sense) that I did everything I could do as a parent and an educator.
That said, what follows is a discussion of the comments and assertions made by Dan Forest:
Dan begins his video by blaming the previous administration.
Besides being in poor taste, it is juvenile and reflects negatively on his professionalism as a state leader.
It’s not about what happened before he came into the office, it’s about what he will do to improve things now that he is in office. That improvement should build from where things are now, rather than wasting more money, time, and resources on dismantling everything up to this point and starting over.
The previous administration did what they thought was best; as he is expected to do while he is in office. He may disagree and he may act differently, but laying blame paints a portrait of him as a savior from years of oppression. While I know that some will buy this shtick, my hope is that most will see through this and evaluate his statements and his actions with a critical eye, and not be persuaded by his claims without further investigation.
He is concerned by new standards.
This is a strange statement. In all states, standards evolve and upgrade every few years.
Because they have national media attention, this version of the evolution and upgrade is problematic? This seems more like a fraternity of rejection to join rather than a real concern about what our kids need to know and be able to do.
He is concerned about local control and parental involvement with standards.
If the common core wasn’t there, how much local control existed (with End of Grade high stakes testing?) and how much parent involvement was there?
Parent involvement is a huge missing component of the Common Core. Teachers are expected to do the best with what they’ve got, but what they’ve got is oftentimes dependent on the environment from which their students come, rather than a function of how the educational experience truly impacts their learning. Until this is addressed, the entire teacher evaluation system is flawed.
I agree that upcoming new assessments are in part narrowing the curriculum and making testing a cash cow. These are functions of vendors interpreting the Common Core versus the standards themselves and states agreeing to give them exclusive contracts to spend their Race to the Top money.
Local control is a good thing when it works. I believe that districts have distinct understandings of their populations and the systems within which they function, but if they use that as a scapegoat or excuse to explain performances that should be better, it’s a problem.
Mr. Forest says, “Standardization runs counter to the customization of the world we live in.”
Except when you check your blood pressure or cholesterol?
The world we live in (technology wise) is increasingly based on Google and Facebook analytics that customize our web experiences by finding commonalities in the way we search for information and interact in the real world based on our “customized” searches. Ultimately, these companies, including Google, are looking for ways to streamline experiences and de-individualize user experiences for the sake of what’s easiest and most economical for the masses. That’s why Facebook tells us what all of our friends are doing. Our commonalities are more important than our individuality.
He said that technology and the learning experience can be customized to the needs of the individual.
See number 4.
Technology should be the new paper or pencil rather than something we plan for or customize. Sure, we can customize learning experiences, but at what expense? All of these customizations cost money and public institutions have an obligation to the masses and the money is divided among the total population of students.
That customization is great in theory, but economically, won’t work for most students.
This is said knowing full well what my own expectations are for technology immersion and the sometimes utopian ways I speak about it. However, what I may say in theory is always tempered with the reality of what schools are dealing with financially and what their infrastructures and technology capabilities are.
Also of note is the publication of the 2013 Horizon report, part of which focuses on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). College and Career readiness is not only about independence with content knowledge but also valuing evidence, strategic and capable use of digital media and the Internet and strong communication and collaboration skills. These MOOCs are going to transform education in the very new future and change our notions of how we “do” education, the places, the time constructs, the demonstration of learning. We still need a framework of anchor standards, checkpoints from which to grow and sophisticate from one year to the next regardless of how school and learning is accessed.
He says that Common Core has not been field-tested.
Have previous iterations of evolved standards been field-tested?
The assessments that follow new iterations of standards usually re-inform instructional practice AFTER new standards have been put into place and are ultimately assessed a year or more after implementation.
He asserts that Testing standards have not been rolled out.
The General Item Specifications for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were rolled out last April.
PARCC content frameworks have been available for 2 years. Additionally, many states have assessment guidelines that direct what any vendor, including Pearson, must consider for building new assessments. I found resources for assessment development in North Carolina on their website. And this one here for NC’s Next Generation Assessments. The process for developing new assessments are not going to be that much different—just set to new standards.
Sample assessment questions are also available from the PARCC website and multiple states have given access to sample questions on their state education websites: New York | Delaware | Other States
I am troubled with his questioning of the Common Core Standards themselves, rather than all of the hoopla around them.
Standardization is not bad: blood pressure, cholestorel, etc. He even uses a medical metaphor about launching a new drug without FDA approval—essentially, isn’t that what states do when they evolve standards and change curriculum or try new strategies that may or may not be researched based?
It’s not just Common Core, it’s every time the standards change. If you go back to previous state standards, aren’t you just going back to a previous version of what was “not vetted” and “not piloted?” (And without articulation of what was college and career ready?)
It takes time to implement anything new, navigating nuances, deciding what to cut or keep or create. What will be the cost in time, resources, money, and culture if the Common Core is ditched and we go back to what we used to do?
I think the more unconscionable acts are how the standards are the scapegoats for making decisions about what vendors deem to be “Common Core Aligned.” This could be curriculum materials, assessments, test prep materials—all things I think teachers are capable of creating well if given enough time.
The statement on Data Collection and what data will be collected and who the data will be shared with seems alarmist.
With all of the media attention from Opt Out organizations about the inBloom data product and the Data Driven frenzy that goes with the Common Core as a deliverable element, there is the need, for reporting and for teacher evaluations, to collect massive amounts of data on student performance. This is a function of the Race to the Top grant and states buy into this level of reporting. The amount of test data and the associated personal data is relative to individual states who are participating in Race to the Top but the data is not that much different, if at all different, than data that has been collected for the last two decades. Because of the backlash against associated elements with the Common Core, administrative leaders and those that are trying to undo the new system would have you believe that this data is a function of the times, when the truth is more along the lines “of same data, potentially new containment system.”
If that containment system is hosted on an internet based server, as it is with inBloom’s product (Amazon server) then there is the potential for the data being compromised or accessed by hackers and while there are multiple “what if” scenarios around the potential for compromised data and what could be done with it, I think the reality is that these are potential yet unlikely scenarios, as they are with our bank and credit card data. Breaches happen rarely and when they do, there is a quick scramble to re-secure the data as quickly as possible.
Mr. Forest says, “A third of the states in our country have either rejected Common Core or are seeking legislative action to back out of it.”
What evidence does he have for this statement? That’s a pretty strong claim to make without backing up with details.
While there is an occasional news tidbit about states that are considering giving the Race to the Top money back, a full third of the states participating in a collective mutiny seems like it would be more prominently discussed on the evening news.
Mr. Forest says, “I’ll be looking at the Common Core with a Critical Eye.”
What’s his background? What’s his level of expertise at looking at the standards and evaluating whether or not they are good for students? What’s so great about previous North Carolina standards, or any states’ standards that make them better, worse, or even with Common Core?
There has been a lot of good work done within the new standards framework. Teaching and learning have been upgraded to more rigorous levels that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Do we really want to go back to the way things were? Worksheets? Lectures? Resource/Textbook dependence? Computer lab Thursdays? (I hear that Oregon Trail software is pretty cool.)
It’s a little disconcerting to see political figureheads undo the Vision and Culture of education in a state where the teachers are under such intense pressure.
Would it not have been better to “look before he leaped” into a response until after he’d investigated?
Keeping people in turmoil seems more like a political strategy than an effective way to lead the state’s educational expectations. I hope that his constituents pay attention to what he is preparing to “undo” in order to “redo” around his own opinion.
A team/collaborative effort here is necessary. I don’t mean state level teams, I mean all stakeholders: state education, administrators, teachers, parents, and students.
I worked in North Carolina for years before moving to New York. What I’m saying here is representative of the fact that I have worked in multiple states around the Common Core standards and obviously, I'm a bigger fan of them than Mr. Forest. I’ve seen the positive changes that they’ve made in classrooms for both teachers and students.
When I think back to my time in North Carolina, there was always an emphasis on the End of Grade State tests. Teachers, at that time, and including me, had better ideas around what they’d always done and what curricular materials they used from year to year than the actual standards. It took me a while to un-marry myself from the materials and have a deep understanding of what the standards demanded my students know and are able to do. The Common Core, if nothing else, is helping teachers have intimate knowledge of the standards. North Carolina was one of the first states to break the standards down into actionable learning targets for the sake of helping teachers teach their students well.
I think the critical eye should focus less on the standards themselves and more on:
Ceasing expenditure of more money on curriculum materials until we have another year or two for publishers to have a better idea of what Common Core alignment means, particularly in terms of new assessments.
Time for teachers to work with the standards and plan for deeper instruction and assessment.
Building up infrastructures for Wi Fi and digital devices as always-available options for learning.
Looking at how we “do” school and thinking of divergent and creative ways to help students access and interact around their learning expectations both physically and virtually.
Ditching the mindset that what we’ve always done is still good enough. Growth comes from upgrading and reimagining what we know to be good, not sticking with the status quo. We’re preparing kids for 2025, and our schools should reflect that goal.
How do we do what must be done today to prepare kids for tomorrow? That’s our essential question. We’ve got a long way to go, for sure, and if not these Common Core standards, then what? How are we going to prepare our kids for the world they will graduate into, whether to go to college or to start their careers? How will we explain to our students tomorrow what our collective decisions are today? Now that we know better, we should do better.
"If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students."
On June 2, 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards which were implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent K-12 learning expectations in English-Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. The Standards reflect the knowledge and skills students need to be college and career ready by the end of high school. Elected officials across the United States are beginning to question the Common Core State Standards. On June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest posted a YouTube video outlining his concerns about the Common Core State Standards.
While standing in the car rider line at an elementary school, I was approached by a classroom teacher. She asked, "Are we going to align our curriculum, instruction, and assessments to the Common Core State Standards next year?" I replied, "yes." Then I said, "The Common Core is not going away." The teacher replied, "The Lieutenant Governor is discussing eliminating the Common Core." I replied, "Which Lieutenant Governor?" The teacher said, "The North Carolina Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forest."
Prior to becoming an elementary principal, I was the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools. Our school district held a Common Core Summer Institute for teachers and administrators during the summer of 2011 and summer of 2012. At the summer institutes, teacher teams planned a one year professional development plan for their schools. Hosting the summer institutes cost the school district thousands of dollars. The North Carolina General Assembly did not provide funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards. Throughout the past two school years, I have attended professional development led by teacher leaders. The average professional development requires teacher leaders (appointed or self-nominated) to spend approximately ten to twenty hours planning quality professional development and developing resources which support the implementation of the new standards.
In addition to working with classroom teachers to build awareness around the new standards, I have observed teacher leaders writing curriculum aligned to the new standards. Curriculum development has taken place through building level meetings, district meetings, and regional meetings. On several occasions five school districts in the Triangle met to support each other through the pre-implementation and implementation process. Triangle High Five is a regional partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County Schools, Orange County Schools, and Wake County Public School System. Teachers and administrators from these school districts shared curriclum maps, worked with high school math teachers to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, offered professional development, and worked with the North Carolina School of Math and Science to offer free professional development for mathematics teachers. In 2011 and 2012, SAS hosted a summer mathematics summit to support math teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. SAS has invested in the five school districts for several years. Recently, SAS provided thousands of dollars in order to support the transition from the Nort Carolina Essential Standards to the Common Core State Standards. It is expensive to provide professional development to over 400 educators from five school districts.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education did not ask North Carolina educators if we should adopt the Common Core State Standards. Once the State Board of Education adopted the standards, Superintendents and district leaders were told to implement the standards. Was the implementation process rushed? Yes. In 2010-2011, educators were anxious about the changes. To date, it is still difficult to find resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. I know 20-year veterans who stay up until midnight or later on school nights, searching for resources. Part of the reason resources are scarce is because the SBAC and PARCC assessments have not been finalized. Most vendors are still offering a blended version of old state standards and the new Common Core State Standards. This is especially true in mathematics.
When educators are told that a school board policy, state board policy, or general statute requires them to change, they begin collaborating and discussing how to make the change(s) student-friendly. In Orange County Schools, we were able to pay teacher leaders a small stipend for leading curriculum development efforts. The district used Race to the Top funds to pay teacher leaders who led curriculum development, facilitated professional development, posted curriculum maps online, and attended state conferences.
This week marked the last day of school for teachers and students across North Carolina. The Lieutenant Governor was recently elected, but North Carolina teachers have been preparing for the implementation of the new standards since 2010. Standards-based teaching has been common practice since the 1990's. Some states provided voluntary standards for educators prior to 1990. Today's students are competing with students around the globe for college admission and career opportunities. It no longer makes sense to have a Minnesota 3rd grade math standard and a Mississippi 3rd grade math standard. Students deserve to have the same standard across the United States. A common standard does not mean a 'watered-down' standard. Standards are not a curriculum.
This past year, I observed teachers differentiating instruction. Some students were two grades below grade level. They did not have the same assignment as the students who were at grade level or above. When teachers have a standard, they know the goal. Teachers provide students with multiple lessons, tasks, and opportunities to demonstrate what every student should know and be able to do. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not mean that every student will receive a perfect score at the end of the day. Teachers across North Carolina have embraced the standards and are operating with their grade level team, school team, district team, and regional teams to align curriculum with the Common Core State Standards. Standards are "the what" and Curriculum is "the how." The 'how' may look different in each classroom, but the standards are the same.
Seven Reasons Why States Should Embrace The Common Core State Standards
1. College and Career Readiness
Over the past year, I have seen teachers in North Carolina make the shift from College or Career Readiness to College AND Career Ready. The U.S. public school system was designed to sort and select students. Some students were considered 'college material' and the majority of students were workforce material. I believe that teachers in North Carolina raised the bar and raised their expectations for all students. ACT defines college and career readiness as "the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in creditbearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation." Based on my years of experience in the field of education, this is a major shift from the old mindset. This major change in philosophy and teaching is another indicator or the importance of the Common Core State Standards. The standards have forced a new conversation about the goals of education.
2. Common Standards Enable Teachers To Collaborate Across the United States.
Standards-based education requires teachers to align their curriculum, instruction, and assessments with the standards. For over a decade, teachers have disagreed with the standards. In North Carolina, teachers are required by general statute to teach the standards. A professional educator can respectfully disagree, but the law requires educators to teach the standards. Since the Common Core State Standards had some different approaches and aligned and moved standards to new grade levels it forced teachers to collaborate and design new units of study.
In Orange County Schools, I have observed professional conversations around the standards. I have seen teachers sharing resources across schools. I have seen teachers reaching out to educators in other states to discuss the standards. Regional and state meetings have been more exciting than ever, because everyone is learning the new standards. If one school district has a strong unit or curriculum resource then they will share it with our school district. I have participated in dozens of Twitter Chats with educators who are implementing the Common Core State Standards. ASCD has hosted a regular webinar series which offers educators the opportunity to learn and reflect on the Common Core State Standards. Before the Common Core State Standards, educators discussed their project or their program. The new standards have raised the bar in professional conversations. Educators have shifted from discussing the activity to sharing how the activity aligned to the standard.
3. Teacher Leaders Have Developed Curriculum Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
In North Carolina, teachers were required to implement the Common Core State Standards in 2012-2013. Teachers met on a regular basis to write, align, and implement units aligned to the new standards. Once curriculum was developed, they also created common formative assessments aligned to the standards. Alan Glatthorn wrote, “One ofthe tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment,so that the learned curriculum is maximized. This statement summarizes the work that takes place in classrooms, on early release days, on the weekend, and during the summer months. Teachers know how to align the curriculum, instruction, and assessments to standards. It takes time. If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students.
4. Professional Development Has Been Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Some school districts have spent thousands of dollars hiring consultants to provide professional development. Regional education organizations have paid $50,000 to $100,000 in order to host professional development with national consultants. Educators have participated in book studies, discussion forums, district professional development, NCDPI webinars and state conferences, and more. In 2012-2013, Orange County Schools and several other North Carolina school districts devoted the time to curriculum development or ongoing professional development aligned to the new standards. The price tag would be in the hundreds of millions if you totaled the number of hours the staff members were paid for professional development. It should be noted that they did not receive a bonus check. The money was part of their contract. Tax payers have invested in professional development aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Did North Carolina provide much assistance to educators prior to the 2012-2013 school year? No. School districts were required to use their own funds, contract with their own teachers, and develop their own resources. This was expensive. You could say that implementing the Common Core State Standards was done on the backs of the professional educators in North Carolina. I have not met many educators who disagree with the Common Core State Standards. This is another reason why I feel that politicians should let educators implement the standards. If elected officials want to provide the appropriate funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards, then that would be a step in the right direction.
5. Curriculum Alignment Is Easier With the New Standards.
It is difficult to describe curriculum alignment to non-educators. "When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122). Aligning the curriculum is an ongoing process which requires time, reflection, honesty, conflict, and a professional commitment to share what works in each classroom with specific students. The new standards provide a clear road map for educators. They do not outline every detail of what a teacher needs to do each day. Standards are a guide, not a script. If educators are beginning to align their curriculum, then policy makers should find ways to support their efforts. Curriculum alignment drives the work of a school district. When I see teachers analyzing student work and comparing it to a standard, I see excellent teaching. I entered the teaching profession in the early days of the Standards Movement. I have never seen teachers sharin their craft knowledge and having ongoing conversations about the standards like I saw in 2012-2013. Standards provide a common point of conversation, not a floor or a ceiling. The way the Common Core State Standards are written, a teacher can accelerate gifted students. This is missing from the national debate. Before we vote to eliminate the standards, let's visit schools and ask teachers to come to the State Board of Education. Let's find out what is working and how the standards are supporting teaching and learning. Let's avoid the political rhetoric and ask the teacher leaders who bore the burden of implementing the standards because the State Board of Education voted to adopt the standards.
6. The Change Process Requires Time.
Schools will continue to implement the Common Core State Standards in the summer and fall of 2013. Leading implementation requires a principal-leader who is willing to create short-term wins for the staff, provide time for the staff to reflect on the standards and to encourage risk-taking. Implementation of the new standards requires principal-leaders to honor the change process and to respect the emotions that staff will have during this change in teaching and learning. If states eliminate the Common Core State Standards, then which standards will replace them? If we fall back to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, then we are adopting an inferior set of standards. They were the best that the state could develop. That was then and this is now. The Common Core State Standards were not embraced immediately. However, after one year of developing lesson plans, units of study, and assessments, educator have given their seal of approaval. The change process was emotional and it caused all teachers to reflect on teaching and learning. If state officials continue to change the standards, it will be impossible for educators to develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). Eliminating the Common Core State Standards from public schools may win a political battle at the state or federal level. However, it is not in the best interests of teachers and students. Ask teachers in North Carolina if they think the standards should change. The standards should not be a stepping stone for someone's political career.
"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep" (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5).
7. Student Achievement Matters.
The reason that educators get out of bed and go to work each day is because student achievement matters. The new standards support the goal of College and Career Readiness. Teachers recognize that the new standards require more rigor than previous state standards. One of the most compelling arguments for the Common Core State Standards was "standardization." When a 12 year old girl moves from Hope, Arkansas, to Lexington, North Carolina, she should be on the same page with her classmates. Students are moving across the United States on a regular basis. Prior to the Common Core State Standards, families had to fear that they were moving to a state with higher or lower standards. Standardization does not mean that every student learns the same thing in the same way. Technology integration, project-based learning, and other best practices allow teachers to meet the needs of each student, while aligning assignments to the standards. When students master a standard, the Common Core State Standards allow teachers to move to the next grade level. When students transfer to a new school, they need to know that the things they learned will provide them a foundation for learning at the new school. Changing standards after year one of implementation does not respect the main goal of education - Student Achievement.
Common Core State Standards: The Right Direction for U.S. Public Schools
It amazes me that one or more politicians can advocate for changing standards. I do not try to change medical practice, standards for the Interstate highway system, building codes, or taxes. The reason that I do not attempt to get involved with these things is because I am a professional educator. I would appreciate it if politicians would consult with professional educators and ask them if the Common Core State Standards support teaching and learning. A simple Google search can provide a glimpse at the groups who are rallying to eliminate the Common Core State Standards. The standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers and administrators have embraced the standards and will spend the summer months aligning their curriculum and units to the standards. Hundreds of teachers in any given state will meet on Saturday morning for an online Twitter chat, meet at a restaurant to share learning goals, or attend a summer institute. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best intersts of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education.
Are you a summer reader? Looking for books that not only are educationally relevant but also interesting, thought-provoking, and easy to read? Looking for books that might change your way of thinking about schools and classrooms? Here are a few to put on your list to buy or get from the library:
Will Richardson, Why School?
This book is only available as an e-read for $1.99 (as my young nephew once said to my wife: “It’s a new world, my friend”). Provides an excellent discussion of what schooling should be about and how schools should be different in this new 21st century age we live in, with information abundance, new forms of communication, etc. Both an easy read and full of quotes and information that make the read insightful, thought-provoking, entertaining, and challenging.
Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
This book focuses on the how to create schools and educational experiences that nurture varied forms of talent, interests, intelligence and creativity that need to be developed within each of us. An excellent and easy read, with lots of examples and humor. A companion book is Finding Your Element: How To Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life.
Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character
Paul Tough believes that we don’t place enough emphasis in schools on developing “character traits”, such as perseverance, resilience, curiosity, optimism, self-control. He makes a very strong case that, in the long run, these traits are as significant as, and perhaps more significant than academic skills. His solutions are novel, including significant forms of early intervention in the lives of some children.
Alice E. Ginsberg, Embracing Risk in Urban Education
Alice Ginsberg argues that, instead of eliminating risk from schools by “regulating, standardizing, scripting, and quantifying” what we do in schools, we should try to develop schools that embrace risk by enabling students to “…experiment, disagree, … assert their individuality, test assumptions and question data”, essential qualities for a 21st century world and a democratic society (p. 3). The book provides case studies of four Philadelphia urban schools and teaching examples that, in her view, “make space for children to explore the unknown” (p. 4), teach children how to inquire and collaborate; teach them how to foster social justice; and help them build patience, sustained commitment, and cooperative, responsible leadership (p. 10).
Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students
This relatively short, well written, powerful book, by an elementary teacher in New Hampshire and an educational presenter and speaker, shows us a way to think about excellence and educational practice that is very different from the test score mentality that exists in today’s educational world. His is a focus on, among other things, a framework that builds community, creates an ethic of excellence, focuses on excellence and craftsmanship in student work, and sees teaching as a calling. A very worthwhile book and a good read.
Dennis Littky, The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business
This book not only influenced my way of thinking about education, but also has influenced the thinking of thousands of educators who are struggling to motivate students in a 21st century world. Starting with “the real goals of education”, Littky provides a very different way of viewing education, personalizing it, and getting students to be passionate about learning. A very powerful and different way to approach education that has been implemented in “Big Picture” schools across the country, and has proven to be successful with thousands of students.
Tony Wagner, The Global Achievement Gap
This wonderful and important book examines the world of the 21st century and its implications for the future of work, teaching and learning. Wagner’s “seven survival skills” are not even touched upon in most schools (a scary thought). The book also highlights a number of schools that are meeting the challenges of the post-industrial world with a different approach to education.
Summer is also a good time for exploration and browsing! You might also want to explore my website: www.era3learning.org. There you will find many articles and readings about 21st century educational practice, examples of instructional strategies, curriculum materials, and assessment approaches for this new era, links to many other websites, commentaries and blogs from many different sources, and much more.
Unlike schools in the Northern Hemisphere, Australian schools are now halfway through the academic year. The learning curve in this first year of administration has been steep, especially in the area of decision-making. Here is what I've learned so far...
1. Decision-making is a delicate balance of having a heart for the needs of an individual and a knowledge of how the needs of the individual affect the entire system of educating children.
As a teacher, I could accommodate most every parent, student, and administrator request short of daily written reports. As an administrator, I'm becoming an expert on communicating messages that some are reluctant to hear.
A difficult message must follow a session of active listening. You may spend hours beginning sentences with What I hear you saying is... and allowing the person to clarify his or her point of view.
The decision must be delivered in a way that honours the point of view but doesn't waver in resolution. I appreciate the point of view. I understand you don't like the decision for [state the reasons]. The decision is final.
The closings are awkward. Individuals leave your office knowing that you can't/won't give them what they want. So what do you say when you shake hands?
2. Some good decisions feel crummy for awhile.
Leaders have to break through decision paralysis, a condition that may result from analysing a situation from a student, parent, teacher, community, philosophical, research, practical, policy, long-term, and systems perspective.
When you write down the possible decisions next to the probably outcomes, someone almost always suffers - at least in the short term. You can only hope that the decision will result in the most good possible and, long-term, result in at least some good for everyone.
3. When people don't like a decision, they say things they don't mean.
This truth threw me off at first. Whether the unhappy person threatens to pull children out of a school, go to the union, or take the issue to the boss or the board/council, you have to be able to calmly (and honestly) look at them and say, I'm sorry you feel that way.
I admit to having sleepless nights, considering how I will react to those who will probably not like a decision. While I understand that I can never make everyone happy, learning communities, by definition, are about relationships.
You must be able to put a negative encounter aside for the sake of the relationship so that you can continue to work together for the benefit of students.
4. Support is critical.
I'm super-fortunate to have a boss who backs me. More than a few conversations have gone something like this: When I said x, I was thinking... I considered saying y, but I suspected... only to have the boss reassure me that both x and y might well have been wrong in the ears of the listener.
Support goes both ways. you need to understand the decisions made by those more senior so that, when teachers, parents, or students ask questions, you can defend those decisions and the good intent with which the decisions were made.
Actually, support goes more than both ways. Teacher deserve your support. They work incredibly hard and make a huge difference in the lives of children. When you encounter parents who say My son/daughter says that the teacher..., you respond, I'm surprised by that. Having spent a great deal of time in the teacher's classroom, I wonder if there has been a misunderstanding. Have you spoken with the teacher? My late mother, an early childhood educator, told parents this at parent night: "Let's make a deal. I'll believe 50% of what your 5-year-old children tell me about home if you believe 50% of what they tell you about school. It's not that the children are dishonest, it's just that they interpret things differently and often don't explain situations accurately."
Appreciate support. Pay it forward. Pay it back.
5. It is important to clarify who will make a final decision.
Many decisions directly affect teachers. Even when teachers aren't able to make a final decision, it's helpful to fully consider their points of view. But you need to tell them beforehand whether they are being asked to make the decision or are being asked for input.
If a decision is completely top-down, teachers should understand the strategic intent behind the decisions as well as the steps for implementation. Teachers might have some input into whether the steps of implementation need to be further broken down. They can set personal learning goals aligned with the school strategic goals. In what other ways might they feel some control over decisions imposed upon them?
6. Decisions + resolve = exhaustion.
Each night, I go home mentally exhausted. I've told my husband that I don't have the energy to decide what I want for dinner. I don't have the mental capacity for anything beyond reality television or reruns of popular sitcoms. And, unfortunately, my brain is most often too muddled to coherently write a blog post.
But it will get easier. Every new job does.
What have you learned about decision-making?
This article was originally written for http://expateducator.com
What can teachers do to support student achievement? How can teachers and administrators monitor the written and taught curriculum to ensure alignment? When I read about school districts and educators who are unhappy with the Common Core State Standards, I scratch my head. Standards are not a curriculum (Janet Hale, Curriculum Mapping 101). There are several things that teachers control. Curriculum and instruction involve decisions made by teacher teams. When the teacher closes the classroom door there are hundreds of curriculum decisions made, according to the readiness level of each student. The following curriculum types are important for teachers to understand as they reflect on curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The intended curriculum consists of the written curriculum or plans that have been predetermined prior to the class.
The enriched curriculum is when teachers enhance the curriculum or develop opportunities for acceleration for students who have mastered the written curriculum. Enriched curriculum involves providing multiple opportunities for students to engage in key concepts and skills at their readiness level.
Some teachers offer the enriched curriculum to the students who are prepared for acceleration and the watered-down curriculum to the students who have demonstrated low growth or who do not understand the key concepts and skills identified in the unit.
Many teachers and administrators fail to monitor the received curriculum. The received curriculum is what an individual student receives. If one student receives the enriched curriculum and another student receives the watered-down curriculum, then each student's chance for success will be drastically different. This is known as Opportunity to Learn.
All students should receive a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). If the received curriculum varies from one class to the next, then it will be difficult for teachers at the next grade level to build on prior knowledge and understandings. One of the goals of teaching is to ensure close alignment between the intended, taught, assessed, and received curricula. Opponents say the standards take away local control of education. I would argue that curriculum development is a local issue. When districts provide teachers with time to align the currriculum with the standards, student achievement will follow. Share your thoughts on ASCD EDge by replying to this article.
Questions to Consider:
1. Does your school have a guaranteed and viable curriculum?
2. How is the intended curriculum different from the received curriculum?
3. Do teachers implement the written curriculum/intended curriculum or do teachers create curriculum in isolation?
4. Ask yourself - Would I want my son or daughter to experience the watered-down curriculum and miss out on parts of the district's intended curriculum?
What the best and wisest parent wants for his or her own child, that must the community want, for all of its children.
As cited by Gene Carter, Executive Director ASCD
ASCD Education Update - December 2006, p. 2
5. What mechanism does your school have in place to monitor the received curriculum?
One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized.
Allan Glatthorn, Curriculum Renewal (1987), p. 4
Arne Duncan recently gave a speech at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. In the speech he emphasized the importance of non-cognitive, or social and emotional skills stating, “We know . . . that the development of skills like grit, resilience, and self-regulation early in life are essential to success later in life.” He later continued,
Ultimately, a great education involves much more than teaching children simply to read, write, add, and subtract. It includes teaching them to think and write clearly, and to solve problems and work in teams. It includes teaching children to set goals, to persist in tasks, and to help them navigate the world.
Duncan’s words were not all that surprising considering his own U.S. Department of Education had just released a publication titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century” a month earlier. Surprising or not, it is always good to hear that there is a push (with some real muscle behind it) for teaching these skills.
Duncan didn’t stop with simply promoting non-cognitive skill development, however. Instead, he went on to suggest,
. . . testing experts need to further expand the range of assessments in the years ahead by developing better, reliable, and valid assessments of children’s non-cognitive skills. This is the next frontier in assessment research—and it is hugely important to me.
I would love to see assessment experts work with schools and districts to develop more reliable, meaningful, and easy-to-administer assessments that help us understand whether we are teaching the non-cognitive skills that predict students’ success in college, careers, and life.
The whole idea of assessing non-cognitive skills is an interesting proposition in and of itself because it would require all teachers to actively teach these specific skills. It becomes even more interesting, however, when we realize that something must be done as a result of it. The reality is that just as with academic skills, an achievement gap will exist for non-cognitive skills. In fact, it’s already there. In Washington State the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) revealed that only 74% of students demonstrated the characteristics of entering kindergartners in the area of social and emotional development. Kindergarten readiness in the area of cognitive development (which includes problem solving) was only 71%. Furthermore, similar to academic skills, these so-called soft skills become more sophisticated as one gets older. For example, whereas the ability to work cooperatively might mean simply joining in a game of tag for a kindergartener, it could mean building consensus for a project idea for a middle schooler. Therefore, the gap that exists in kindergarten will only widen unless intensive interventions are done.
This begs the question: If a student has low academic skills and low non-cognitive skills, will one be given priority in terms of time and resources?
This commentary examines criteria for selecting effective curricula and instructional models in a 21st century world, and also provides eight examples of relatively unknown yet powerful curricula-instructional programs that should be considered for adoption.
In the same way that it is hard to build a building without an architectural blueprint, so too it is hard for a teacher to be effective without strong curricula-instructional frameworks. Curricula/instructional frameworks lay out the goals, methods, strategies, approaches, assessments, and resources needed for successful teaching and learning. The better the framework, the more likely will be the sturdiness of the foundation and the effectiveness of instruction. The more that curricular-instructional models available to teachers are consistent with the goals and practices of the teacher and school, and the needs of students, the more likely it is that teaching will have good results.
Just imagine how an architectural blueprint influences and affects the construction of a building. Building construction based on a poor design may make it difficult to walk from one part of the building to another, make communication among building occupants difficult, make furniture arrangements impossible, make lighting too dark or too light, make the building safe or unsafe. In the same vein, a poorly designed curriculum may lead to too many unclear, vague goals that do not match student needs, include too much to teach, limit “deeper understanding” of a subject, teach the wrong skills, provide few connections between its different parts, have little meaning for learners, foster passive learning, and make alignment of content among teachers and grade levels difficult. When teachers work from poorly designed curricula and instructional frameworks, they have to work very hard to redo the curricular and instructional practices encouraged by these frameworks, and many times powerful learning is difficult if not impossible to create within the given framework.
What are the components of successful curriculum/instructional frameworks for teaching in a 21st century world? Some framework characteristics might include:
Teachers, schools and districts need to regularly review their curricular programs in order to update them and create programs more attuned to this new age that we live in. Ultimately, this will make a huge difference for children in this new age.
The following curricula and instructional models exemplify powerful “21st century” program elements built around many or most these criteria. You are probably unfamiliar with most or all of them. They, and programs like them, should become familiar to educators and achieve greater use throughout the educational community.
NOTE: Many of their descriptions are adapted from the program’s website.
1. LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
SERP-Word Generation for the Middle School
SERP - Word Generation is a research-based, highly motivating “vocabulary” development program for middle school students designed to teach words through language arts, math, science, and social studies classes. The program consists of weekly units, each of which introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages describing controversies currently under debate in this country. The paragraphs are intended to help students join ongoing "national conversations" by sparking active examination and discussion of contemporary issues. The target words are relevant to a range of settings and subject areas. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week will enable students to understand the variety of ways in which words are related, and the multiple exposures to words will provide ample opportunities for deeper understanding.
The Word Generation program is designed to build academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language. Interpret, prohibit, vary, function, and hypothesis are examples. Academic vocabulary includes words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, like element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them.
For more information, go to: http://wg.serpmedia.org
For information about other SERP programs in development, go to: http://www.serpinstitute.org/2013/
Other literacy development programs you might want to examine:
Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) http://www.cliontheweb.org
Reading and Writing Workshop: http://readingandwritingproject.com/about/overview.html
100 Book Challenge: http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/
Touchstones discussion Project: http://www.touchstones.org
Jr Great Books Program:
2. CREATIVE THINKING
Design Thinking is a structured approach to generate and develop new ways to solve difficult problems and challenges. Design Thinking starts with a challenge, and then works through a series of steps to help find creative solutions to the challenge, such as empathy, interpretation, brainstorming and choosing alternatives, building models, and planning for implementation. The process can be used to help solve school challenges or world-wide challenges. It includes learning additional skills such as finding reliable information, developing surveys and questionnaires, and building interview skills. It can be adapted to be used with students at all ages.
Other creative thinking programs you might want to explore:
Creative Problem Solving: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org
The Future Problem Solving Program: http://www.fpspi.org
3. POSITIVE ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Champions of Caring: Journey of a Champion Middle and High School Programs
The Journey of a Champion Middle Grades curriculum is a year-long course of study divided into 4 modules. It promotes academic excellence, character development, service-learning and citizenship. The curriculum is a catalyst for encouraging caring, thoughtfulness and good judgment through service and civic participation. Students gain civic engagement skills as they design community and school service projects. Civic skills developed include:
The Journey of a Champion High School Program is a character education and service-learning curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Through this program, students learn how to act as responsible, caring and involved citizens who respect themselves and others and succeed academically.
Journey of a Champion invites students to learn about and reflect on the challenges they and their contemporaries face. It places those challenges in a historical context and leads students to develop strategies and skills that will help them confront those challenges. The journey "destination" is students creating and planning sustainable service and civic participation. The curriculum affects positive change in students by:
For more information, go to: http://www.championsofcaring.org
Other programs to look at:
Second Step: http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step.aspx
4. ECONOMICS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
Entrepreneurship education is a tool that can equip young people to not only start businesses and create jobs, but also to be opportunity-focused, flexible employees ready to fill existing jobs.
NFTE fosters the creation of entrepreneurship skills, businesses and the development of an adaptable, driven and opportunity-focused workforce that ultimately promotes economic stability. External research has shown that NFTE graduates start and maintain businesses at substantially higher rates than their peers. Other research findings indicate that students develop:
Working with schools in low-income communities where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, NFTE targets young people who are at risk of dropping out of school, and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success. The program, Highly Academic, is a semester or year-long class with a NFTE-certified teacher who guides students through one of the curricula: Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future or Exploring Careers for the 21st Century. Lessons include the concepts of competitive advantage, ownership, opportunity recognition, marketing, finance, and product development - and all tie back to core math and literacy skills. Lessons include field trips, games and experiential activities. Classes regularly have guest speakers. Students are paired with coaches who help students work on their business plans, and business plan competitions are judges by local entrepreneurs and business people.
Each young person who takes a NFTE class works toward completing a business plan, then goes on to present and defend it in a classroom competition. The winners of these competitions go on to compete in citywide or regional competitions, with the hopes of reaching our annual national competition.
For more information, go to: http://www.nfte.com
Other Economic-Entrepreneurial Programs:
General information about entrepreneurial education programs can be found at: http://www.entre-ed.org
Information about Economic and Financial Education resources can be found at: http://www.councilforeconed.org
5. INQUIRY-BASED SCIENCE
Full Options Science System (FOSS)
Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think and “search for the truth”. Scientists value open communication, investigation, and good evidence for drawing conclusions. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world. FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.
FOSS K–6 is a complete program consisting of 26 modules for self-contained elementary classrooms. The components exclusive to K–6 are
FOSS Middle School components consist of nine units for students and their teachers in departmental science grades 6–8. Each unit requires 9–12 weeks to teach. The Middle School program includes the following five interconnected components:
Two components that apply to both FOSS K–6 and FOSS Middle School are the FOSS Assessment System and FOSSweb.com.
For more information, go to: http://www.fossweb.com
Other programs to consider:
Active Physics: (high school): http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html
6. CONCEPTUALLY-ORIENTED MATHEMATICS
Cognitively Guided Instruction
Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is a professional development program that increases teachers’ understanding of the knowledge that students bring to the math learning process and how they can connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The program is based on the premise that children throughout the elementary grades are capable of learning powerful unifying ideas of mathematics that are the foundation of both arithmetic and algebra. Learning and articulating these ideas enhance children's understanding of arithmetic and provide a foundation for extending their knowledge of arithmetic to the learning of algebra.
CGI is guided by two major ideas. The first is that children bring an intuitive knowledge of mathematics to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing formal mathematics instruction. This idea leads to an emphasis on working with the processes that students use to solve problems. The second key idea is that math instruction should be based on the relationship between computational skills and problem solving, which leads to an emphasis on problem solving in the classroom instead of the repetition of number facts, such as practicing the rules of addition and subtraction.
With the CGI approach, teachers focus on what students know and help them build future understanding based on present knowledge. The program aims to improve children's mathematical skills by increasing teachers' knowledge of students' thinking, by changing teachers' beliefs regarding how children learn, and by ultimately changing teaching practice. In 1996, CGI was extended into the upper elementary school levels to assist first through sixth grade teachers in integrating the major principles of algebra into arithmetic instruction.
There is no set curriculum. Teachers use the CGI framework with existing curriculum materials, or they use CGI principles to help develop their own math curriculum.
For more information, go to: http://www.promisingpractices.net/program.asp?programid=114#programinfo
Other math programs that might be considered:
Project Seed: http://projectseed.org
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)(High School): http://mathimp.org/general_info/intro.html
7. SOCIAL STUDIES/CIVICS PROGRAMS
Social Studies School Service
Social Studies School Service offers teachers, K-12, a variety of alternative and unique materials, programs, and curricula for social studies at all levels. The materials have been developed for the many aspects of social studies – government, history, geography, and civics – and often are interdisciplinary, incorporate conceptual understanding, develop research skills, big ideas and essential questions, and use data-based test questions (DBQ’s), performance tasks, and multiple readings. Catalogues of available materials are frequently sent out and shared.
For further information, go to: www.socialstudies.com
Other social studies/civics programs to consider:
Teacher’s Curriculum Institute social studies programs: www.teachtci.com
Center for Civic Education: http://new.civiced.org
Zinn Education: http://zinnedproject.org
A History of US: http://www.joyhakim.com/works.htm
The Choices Program (Middle and High School): http://www.choices.edu
8. STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS) PROGRAMS
Engineering is Elementary
EIE consists currently of twenty STEM units designed for the elementary grades. Each EIE unit ties in with an elementary science topic and is meant to be taught either concurrently or after students learn the appropriate science content in life science, earth and space science and physical science areas. Each unit has five “lessons” (lessons can be more than one day).
The units attempt to combine learning in a science area with engineering concepts. Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math and science and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate students to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications. They foster problem-solving skills, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions.
Learning about engineering increases students' awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in high school.
For more information, go to: http://www.eie.org/
Other STEM examples:
Engineer Your World: http://www.engineeryourworld.org (high school)
Project Lead the Way: http://www.pltw.org (high school)
Some Final Thoughts
Every school and district should have some mechanism to help staff members regularly review the many available potential curriculum and instructional programs and approaches, and to select those that provide students with opportunities based on the criteria suggested at the beginning of this commentary, such as focused, meaningful goals; targeted key skills, attitudes and values; multiple formative and summative assessment options; a focus on deeper learning; and active student engagement and inquiry.[i]
The programs listed above are only some examples of the many powerful curricula and instructional options that are often neglected and put into place too infrequently in schools and classrooms.[ii] Many others that meet the criteria cited above and match 21st century goals should be considered. Through continual review and renewal, every District should move towards having a set of powerful curricula and instructional programs, tied to appropriate staff development training, that help prepare students to live in a 21st century world.
We also now have the technology to develop curriculum review websites, comparable to Amazon’s book service and reviews or TripAdvisor’s travel site that rates hotels and bed and breakfasts in all parts of the world. The website should include a comprehensive set of curriculum programs, all reviewed by experts and rated by users. Such a site would provide educators with data that would be helpful in a curriculum review and renewal process.
[i] For additional information about curriculum renewal criteria and strategies, go to www.era3learning.org, then to resources, then to curriculum renewal, and then to the article by Elliott Seif, Reconfiguring Learning Through Curriculum Renewal (unpublished).
Systems theory posits that a change in one component of a system affects some or all of the other components. Currently, such theories reflect the stable equilibrium paradigm and reduce network subsystems to their most basic components with the intent of finding a way to control the system (Bonner, 2006; Stacey, 1996). A systemic thinker trying to act as a non-biased observer looking for better ways to accomplish system tasks cannot predict how the environment will change over time due to human inability to detect and measure all of the tiny changes occurring in a system. As more systems try to use systemic thinking, the rapidity of the shifting of the environment increases; however, “systemic thinking and leadership are human strategies that make it more possible for us to survive at the edge of chaos than other species” (Stacey, 1996, p. 114).
Schools act as open systems in which adaptation to public, organizational, and legislative demands are essential to health and survival. Open systems theory examines the ability of the school to maintain a steady state while learning to learn, taking in more energy than it expends, collecting resources, and transforming resources into products while recognizing that there are multiple means to fulfill school goals (Donaldson, 1998; Morgan, 1997). By replicating the overall design of the district into subsystems such as buildings, teams, committees, and departments, the school has the capability to learn through its nested layers and redundant parts mirroring both the internal school environment and external community environment (Morgan, 1997).
Principals need to develop and implement a method of evaluating the effectiveness of school teams and their ability to identify, analyze, and solve problems against operating norms. By viewing from multiple theories-in-use and questioning operating norms through double-loop learning, the team gets a diverse or complicated view of the problem to arrive at a fuller, richer, and deeper understanding. Adaptation to the environment is dependent upon being attuned to the environment, engaging in productive conflict, making sense, socially justifying knowledge, and coordinating use of data in working toward school goals (Bolman & Deal, 1997; Bruffee, 1999; Donaldson, 1998; Morgan, 1997).
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
NOTE: I recently posted a commentary on ASCD Edge (co-authored with Jay McTighe) identifying ten research-based beliefs about teaching and learning and their implications. #7 was:
Attitudes and values mediate learning by filtering experiences and perceptions. Therefore, teachers should understand how student attitudes and values influence learning and help students build positive attitudes towards learning.
This commentary elaborates on that belief, suggests its importance, and describes more ways to implement it.
In America, especially during the progressive education era and the “open education” years, building positive attitudes towards learning, motivating students, creating interest in learning, making learning relevant, and yes, even promoting the joy of learning were important aspects of educational planning, development and practice. The belief during these time periods was that building curiosity, expanding student interests, and making learning relevant and interesting would promote active student inquiry, build on a natural human inclination to learn, and help create an educational environment in which students would WANT to learn.
Unfortunately, this emphasis has been mostly lost, even negated, in the push for teaching “the basics”, often through worksheets and drills, and then with the more recent focus on passing high risk standardized tests, teaching skill based reading and math, and cutting back on “frills”, such as the arts and social studies. Today, it is hard to find schools where curiosity, interest in learning, being motivated to learn, and making learning joyful are as important as doing well on standardized tests, taking four years of English, or passing AP courses. These goals are also missing from any meaningful discussion about what we want to accomplish with our students, what we will assess, and what kind of learner we want to graduate.
Yet, if we really want to encourage students to learn, grow, succeed and achieve in a 21st century world, if we truly want them to be lifelong learners in a world of rapid change, social media, access to technology, and transformative job development, we will need to create a new and different kind of approach, one that puts curiosity, motivation, interest, and joy back into the learning equation. What primarily distinguishes our country from the rest of the world, what makes us unique, is not how well we take tests, but the unusual amount of curiosity, individual talent, creativity, ingenuity, and interest in learning and growing that comes from so many Americans and is developed in so many different ways. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were unusual not only because of their drive, but also because they were curious about how things worked and how they were able to learn about things they were passionately interested in. Bill Gates became interested in computers in part because the opportunity to work with computers was presented to him in high school outside of his regular courses. Steve Jobs created the diverse calligraphies found on the Apple computer because he took a calligraphy course that interested him after he had left the formal college world. Their natural leadership inclinations happened because they were curious about and interested in computers, and because they knew that, in order to keep pace with others, they needed to grow, adapt and change.
Unfortunately, due to the pressures to do well on standardized tests, to time spent on practicing for these tests, to the need to “get through” multiple topics required by coverage based standards, to the emphasis on getting more students to take AP courses, and so on, millions of children are lacking the kinds of positive learning experiences that support lifelong learning, increase curiosity, build individual talent, and make learning interesting, rewarding and just plain fun!
How do we promote a focus on developing the positive learning attitudes and values identified in this commentary? A good place for an individual teacher or a faculty to start is to first examine and explore the following questions: What motivated you in school? What did you enjoy doing? What interested you? What types of activities piqued your curiosity? Spurred you to continue learning and growing? My guess is that many teachers would say that they enjoyed learning because they were good and successful at it! They were rewarded for what they did. They did well on tests. They were encouraged to build on their strengths. They liked hands on activities and projects. They were given choices. Few would say that they enjoyed being reminded of their failures, that they liked taking multiple-choice tests or doing worksheets, that they liked reading textbooks, that they found enjoyment in doing an activity that they didn’t understand or was so far above their abilities that they had no chance at success. Most probably had mentors and supporters in times of difficulty. Most had at least a few teachers who encouraged them who were good at explaining difficult concepts or who helped them “learn how to learn”. The list of answers might be expanded through reading articles and books on how to build curiosity, motivation, individual talents, and interest in learning.
Once a list of answers is developed, then the following questions might be examined: What am I/are we currently doing that builds curiosity, interest, relevance, enjoyment, and the kinds of “learning to learn” skills and competencies that our students will need in the future? How do I/we implement and expand programs, approaches and activities in schools and classrooms that motivate and interest students in learning and create enjoyment?
Based on my own informal research and discussions of this topic with teachers and others, here are thirteen suggestions as food for thought:
In sum, a focus on how to create positive attitudes such as curiosity, interest, motivation and relevance leads to a very different way of thinking about school and classroom missions, outcomes, the learning environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For example, instead of a focus on standardized tests passed by everyone, a portfolio assessment approach helps students focus on their individual strengths and reflect on what they have learned. Teachers concentrate on building student strengths rather than dwelling on their failures. Students are provided with opportunities to improve their work before they are graded. More choices and options are given to students in the form of classroom choices, electives, and enrichment activities. Some learning, such as research projects, is built around student interests. Many types of questions become more central to the learning experience. “Learning to learn” skills become a critical part of the classroom experience. There are more opportunities for students to make connections to the outside world in order to raise expectations and build motivation.
These ideas are just some of the starting points for your own discussion on how to develop positive attitudes towards learning and build the individual curiosity, skills, talents, and interests that will propel our students towards a better life, towards continued learning, and towards “pathways to student success” in a 21st century world. While this way of thinking might lead to a wide variety of suggestions and ideas, please remember: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
[i] SQ3R is a study guide model that is focused around:
Surveying what you are reading;
Questions: Turn chapter and section headings, titles, subheadings into questions;
Read for the answers to each question;
Recite your answers after each section – orally ask yourself the questions and summarize your answers;
Review what you have learned.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining additional and related teaching and learning topics in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
Attention to sociocultural capital in High-Performing High-Poverty Schools (HP2S) helps teachers understand where marginalized students are coming from. Teachers who share a sociocultural identity with students in the school may increase achievement in marginalized students (Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007). Regardless of the focus on AYP in reading and math, ultimately, education is “the process of cultural transmission” (Rury, 2005, p. 10). The cultural resources imparted to students become capital “when they function as a ‘social relation of power’ by becoming objects of struggle as valued resources” (Swartz, 1997, p. 43). Cultural capital has a positive effect on all educational outcomes (Dumais, 2005). Acting as a resource for social power is why sociocultural capital is hoarded from marginalized groups by the dominant class. The power connected to cultural capital is a valuable resource “intersect[ing] with all aspects of cultural life” (p. 286). Bourdieu’s studies into capital have led him to believe that schools act as the main gatekeepers to capital giving the dominant class access to status, privilege, and symbolic power. “Schools offer the primary institutional setting for the production, transmission, and accumulation of various forms of cultural capital” (Swartz, 1997, p. 189) making restriction to capital through education a likely abuse by the privileged who already control education policy and practice (Nesbit, 2006). Even some reformers intent on social justice follow the dominant class way of thinking, valuing the expertise of professionals and managers over the working class, which presumes that “knowledge deficits” in the working class may be overcome through greater effort to move closer to dominant ideology (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005).
A long-term view of student success by educators recognizes that students are not blank slates waiting to be filled, but “are the products of many years of complex interactions with their family of origin and cultural, social, political, and educational environments” (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 5). The combined SES of students in the school along with differences in sociocultural capital is an important factor in student performance. The resulting push for accountability has narrowed education’s view of what schools should be doing down to reading, math, and science (Henig et al., 1999; Kuh et al., 2007; Rury, 2005).
Schools are middle class institutions where teachers have high levels of middle class sociocultural capital and reward students who have it, but may consciously or subconsciously discriminate against students who do not. When teacher and student capital is congruent, the performance of marginalized students is more likely to benefit. Popular society and specialists transmit values about the best way to raise children which is generally followed by middle class society aligning them with the beliefs of educational institutions. Working class parents are slower to change child-rearing practices to dominant practice keeping them out of sync with the school’s perception of the ideal home environment influencing teacher perception of the child and the child’s home life (Dumais, 2005; Lareau, 2003; Nesbit, 2006; Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007).
The test scores of marginalized students would currently be lower if schools had not already been making progress at reducing the disadvantages of family educational background and SES previous to the passage of NCLB (Henig et al., 1999). Educational leaders, principals in particular, use an understanding of “cultural, social, and the promise of economic capital” to bring competing groups and individuals together to find common goals and shift marginalized interests to the center by “mutual choice” (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006, p. 156). Schools tap into a sense of agency in communities to bring about mutual choice to move toward federal goals, otherwise mandates like NCLB will ultimately get nowhere (Cohen & Ball, 1999, p. 23). Different forms of capital, but sociocultural capital in particular, can operate as lenses principals use to view particular educational contexts. A lens of the middle-class, white norm limits a school’s responsiveness to cultural capital possessed by students (Machtinger, 2007; Swartz, 1997).
Learning capacity is equivalent to intellectual capital (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005). All forms of capital are resources “that can be drawn on for social advancement” (Rury, 2005, p. 13). Bourdieu, one of the world experts on capital, believes there are four basic types of capital: economic, cultural, social, and symbolic with economic capital being the most important form in the United States followed by cultural (Swartz, 1997). While school cannot provide students with economic capital, schools can help students develop the other types of capital. Incongruence between the amount and type of capital students possess and the forms of capital valued in the school community can cause problems for the student (Kennedy et al., 2006).
Cultural capital has been defined in numerous ways. Church (2005) quotes Nieto’s definition of culture as
the ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created, shared, and transformed by a group of people bound together by a combination of factors that include a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and religion…Culture is dynamic; multi-faceted; embedded in context, influenced by social, economic, and political factors; created and socially constructed; learned; and dialectical (p. 48).
Or in other words: highly complex. Cultural capital comes in an objectified form such as works of art, an embodied form based in an appreciation and understanding of objectified cultural capital, and institutionalized form found in educational credits and degrees. Cultural capital is a resource used to gain or maintain power and privilege. Based on the assumption that certain attitudes, behaviors, and values are more admired and rewarded in society than others, dominant forms of cultural capital give students who possess them an advantage over marginalized students (Dumais, 2005; Rury, 2005).
Cultural capital, within the school setting, is the embodiment of the previous experience and learning of a community of people and influences how students accumulate, exchange, and utilize resources they gain from the school. Culture can be verbal facility, general cultural awareness, aesthetic preferences, scientific knowledge, and educational credentials and becomes a power source. Objectified cultural capital such as books, art, scientific instruments, and other tools require cultural abilities to use which can impact student engagement and parent involvement (Cohen & Ball, 1999; Stacey, 1996; Swartz, 1997). Parent access to the educational setting is also mediated by their personal experiences with school and other education-related institutions. In theU.S., where the dominant culture is not as strong as in other countries, cultural capital benefits both students from privileged backgrounds and all students who possess it allowing for “cultural mobility”. As cultural capital is distributed unevenly by society, schools make important decisions based on capital they have or capital they are trying to get which can be attributed to school failure as opposed to the limitations of individuals (Dumais, 2005; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Nasir & Hand, 2006; Schaughency & Ervin, 2006).
Coleman expands cultural and human capital theories into social capital which is a “community-based support-system network” that is context specific and has the two common elements of social structures and facilitation of individual and group actions within those structures. Social capital is a network of individual human capital. This view seems too limiting to the richness of cultural capital as described by Bourdieu (Musial, 1999). Social capital is the benefit derived from social networks and organizations including relationships within family and community that generates trust and schema to increase the capacity for collaboration (Dumais, 2005; Farmer-Hinton & Adams, 2006; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Rury, 2005; Zacharakis & Flora, 2005). Agents in the form of individuals and class will “struggle for social distinction” in a form of self-organization (Swartz, 1997). In this light, capital seems destined to be reproduced as “the quality of education children receive is directly related in part to the ability of parents to generate social capital” (Noguera, 2004, p. 2155).
Obviously, the forms of cultural, social, human, and economic capital are often interrelated. Cultural capital intersects with social capital to give agents more influence. This intersection means agency cannot be separated from the social and cultural contexts within the global environment in which it occurs. While social capital can be a means to a desirable end, the dominant class will most often prevail as they possess more capital (Lattuca, 2002; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Watkins & Tisdell, 2006).
More simply, “culture can be thought of as a set of behavioral characteristics or traits that are typical of a social group” (Rury, 2005, p. 9). The social setting is an organization of networks between social positions where dominant and marginalized groups compete for control of resources. Capital is specific to setting and does not exist without it. The education system reproduces social inequity where the possession of cultural capital leads to academic success. The most valuable form of capital in school is cultural capital congruent with capital valued within that particular school’s social setting (Dumais, 2005).
Whereas the social-constructivist perspective makes a distinction between the individual cognitive activities and the environment in which the individual is present, the socio-cultural perspective regards the individual as being part of that environment. Accordingly, learning cannot be understood as a process that is solely in the mind of the learner…Knowledge, according to this perspective, is constructed in settings of joint activity…Learning is a process of participating in cultural practices, a process that structures and shapes cognitive activity (De Laat & Lally, 2003, p. 14).
Nasir and Hand (2006) explain this complex interaction of social and cultural capital within specific environments as proof that educators need to attend to fostering agency in students’ focus on local problems. The number of students bringing middle class capital with them to school is decreasing and the number of students bringing sociocultural capital from the lower classes is increasing. “As in any demographic switch, the prevailing rules and policies eventually give way to the group with the largest numbers” (Payne, 2001, p. 79).
Engrained dispositions from previous experience can sub- or un-consciously limit student success. Called “habitus”, these dispositions provide the opportunity to mitigate cultural predispositions by structuring school situations and interactions with positive models and diversity-oriented experiences (Kuh et al., 2007). However, the concept of habitus does not account for the complexity and variety of hopes and dreams of different groups. Humanity is too varied and complex to be perfectly categorized into any model, but habitus does give a vocabulary to talk about how dominant and marginalized groups may be socialized starting at a young age. “Habitus…privileges the basic idea that action is governed by a ‘practical sense’ of how to move in the social world. Culture is a practical tool used for getting along in the social world” (Swartz, 1997, p. 115). Habitus is a collection of cultural habits.
Field is the social setting organized around types and combinations of capital which habitus operates. Schools act as a field for the competitive investment, exchange, and accumulation of various forms of capital (Swartz, 1997). Struggling within a local environment, schools should reflect the shifting community field. “Education clearly affects the course of social development, and schools reflect the influence of their immediate social context” (Rury, 2005, p. 1).
Schools are viewed as vehicles for individual social and economic mobility. The education field itself provides mobility of cultural capital for low SES/marginalized groups and is often one of few examples children and community members have of mobility and opportunity. This perception itself may create the reproduction of limited mobility in marginalized groups. In truth, some schools value cultural knowledge while others are more forgiving (Dumais, 2005; Henig et al., 1999; Johnson et al., 2000).
Empowerment of marginalized communities is collective, not individual. In order to realize change in the face of limited resources, communities rely on social capital for strength and agency. For school communities, this means that improved engagement can have profound consequences in improving achievement, agency, and equality (Schutz, 2006). Communalism helps build and accrue capital, generates “positive emotional energy”, and “may enhance motivation and engagement” (Seiler & Elmesky, 2007, p. 393). The social capital web is comprised of household, neighborhood, and school (Musial, 1999). But “working class peoples’ indigenous learning capacities…have been denied, suppressed, degraded or diverted within most capitalist schooling” (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005, p. 111). Overcoming cultural and historical differences “concerns activity and access to tools and mediated learning” (Portes, 2005, p. 176). Literacy, numeracy, and student well-being are practiced fluidly and dynamically across boundaries in social contexts. These pathways between family and community “need to be understood in out-of-home learning communities so that pedagogies, including assessment practices and the pedagogy of relationships can address the complexities related to children’s different life chances and ways of learning” (Kennedy et al., 2006, p. 16).
“Biological models of deficiency [such as the Bell curve have been] replaced by cultural deficit models” (Nasir & Hand, 2006, p. 451). Private and charter schools can stick to a particular ideology that does not have to concern itself with discipline, ideology, and related social problems. These schools are successful because the students who attend them possess congruent sociocultural capital. The success of private and parochial schools suggests these schools acting as self-organizing units self-organize around the sociocultural capital available within and surround them as opposed to the capital they possess being superior (Bower, 2006; Portes, 2005; Walk, 1998). Capacity becomes a non-issue in middle class schools because the ingredients for success already reside in the boundaries and pathways established within the school community.
One of my favorite arcade games is Whac-A-Mole. When you drop your token in the machine, you have a limited amount of time to ‘whac’ as many moles as you can. In the beginning of the game, one or two moles pop their heads up and it is fairly easy to hit each one. About twenty seconds into the game, the moles start popping up three at a time and when you smash a mole with the mallet it may pop up again.
Whac-A-Mole is similar to the daily routine of a principal. From the time you arrive at school in the morning until late in the evening, moles pop up. Your job is to address each mole and to prioritize which one is most important. In this article, I am going to describe the ‘Six Moles’ a principal must address in order to be a good leader.
Six Moles A Principal Must Address
Principals receive phone calls, emails, and face-to-face messages from families. If you work in the car rider line at an elementary school, a parent or grandparent may share a concern with you as they drop their child off at school. When you check your email, you may have an email from multiple families with a concern about something that happened the day before. There are times when a family member has a concern about something that is a district level concern, but it is the principal’s job to advocate for families and contact the central office or assist the family in navigating communication with the central office. Families are not ‘moles’, but concerns pop up frequently and the principal cannot ignore family concerns. It is not wise to ‘whac’ a family member, but the concern must be addressed.
A principal wears several hats and the instructional leadership hat is critical to the success of the school. If a principal is focused on email, returning phone calls, developing professional development, and attending meetings, he or she will not be able to focus on the main thing. When a principal visits classrooms for formal or informal observations, it helps him or her get a pulse for student achievement and curriculum implementation. A principal should be a coach, cheerleader, critical friend, and more! If a principal does not visit classrooms on a regular basis, then the school will not continue to grow. Instructional rounds cannot be something that a principal does when the ‘mole’ pops up. This important leadership role must be part of the principal’s regular schedule.
Student Discipline pops up unexpectedly. There may be a student issue on the bus ride to school. Students may have a dispute on the playground. A student may break a school rule on the way to the next class. Handling student discipline is one of the main roles of principal leadership. Teachers and staff assist with student discipline, but when this ‘mole’ pops its head up, the principal cannot ignore it and move to the next three moles that pop up. Some of you reading this article may be thinking, “If student discipline is a mole, then ‘whac’ it.” You cannot use a hammer to hit every problem. When you use the Whac-A-Mole approach to student discipline it means you handle the problems as they arise, rather than waiting for more problems to pop up.
One of the most challenging ‘moles’ for a principal is email. If you sit at your desk from 8:00 am – Noon, you will see multiple moles pop up on your screen. More building principals are carrying a personal or school assigned smart phone on their hip. At one point, it was easy to avoid email because you could walk away from the computer. Principals have the ability to check email in the hallway, in meetings, while they are off campus, at home, and any time day or night. If principals focus on each email as it pops up then they will get distracted and miss out on other important leadership duties. Email is a great analogy to the game Whac-A-Mole. When you reply to email it continues to pop up. Time management is important and Whac-A-Mole Leadership involves more than whacking each email, hoping to bop all of the ‘email moles.’
Leading professional development is important. When a school staff stops learning, they stop growing. It is easy for principals to spend several hours developing a video, presentation, or hands-on learning activity. Quality professional development requires planning, learning goals, and materials. Principals are wise to develop a teacher leadership team who can assist with professional development. This will allow the principal to have a role in leading professional development, without having to plan the entire session. This year, our school has conducted professional development on the Six Instructional Shifts (Common Core State Standards), Technology Integration, Literacy, and School Safety. If the principal ignores professional development, then it may not happen. However, a building principal cannot sit in the office and develop every PD, while ignoring other ‘moles’ throughout the school.
Communication is an important responsibility and it cannot be ignored. Principals need to communicate through the school website, email, newsletters, video, blogs, face-to-face meetings, PTA meetings, Coffee Hour, phone calls, and informal meetings in the parking lot. Principals need to be intentional about communication. Principals need to communicate with classroom teachers through classroom observations, email, blog, faculty meetings, notes, and informal meetings. A principal could spend his or her entire day developing communication documents or preparing a speech for the next meeting. It is important to see communication as a mole that you ‘whac’, but also as something you plan for. If you are not communicating and marketing the great things about your school, then who is marketing your school? You cannot afford to let the ‘communication mole’ pop its head up too many times.
Whac-A-Mole Leadership is a humorous way to describe the day of a principal. We can all laugh and relate to the moles that pop up throughout the day. You can probably describe several more moles that principals must address if you reflect on your past week. “Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to think big. But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, and they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism” (Sanborn, M.). If the goal of leadership becomes whacking the next mole, we may miss the most important things. Stephen Covey shared the Leadership Matrix (as shared by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership). Principals must ask, “Is this mole important and urgent?” or “Is this mole urgent, but not important?” As the moles pop up at your school, I wish you the best. Keep whacking moles, but make certain you are focused on the right mole.
When I first became a teacher in Ontario, Canada, we were evaluated once a year by a Superintendent of Education who flew in from Toronto to evaluate teacher performance against expectations contained in a small grey book. We were made aware of the date and time of their visit and were expected to teach a lesson upon their arrival. We coached our students to look engaged in the lesson and folklore has it that some teachers even told their students to raise their right hand if they knew the answer and their left if they didn't. Hence, all appeared to be engaged. The Superintendent also evaluated the "climate" of the classroom. In those days, this was reduced to checking the thermostat, the consistency of the level of the blinds and the general tidiness of the room. This evaluation obviously had no impact on teacher development or student learning.
How things have changed! Ontario now has a comprehensive teacher evaluation system which is an integral part of a continuum of professional learning that supports effective teaching. The goals of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) System are to:
Teachers and principals are partners in the process which focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching practices. The process is different for beginning and experienced teachers as well as for those experiencing difficulty and those with a strong record of performance. In consultation wtih principals, teachers create an Annual Learning Plan that focuses on areas in which they can continuously improve. As a principal, I guided my teachers to set routine, creative, problem solving and personal growth goals. They would then develop action plans for each goal and I would be engaged in ongoing support and follow up discussions.
The vision of the TPA System is that every teacher in publicly funded education reaches his or her potential. When this is achieved, our students will also reach their potential. WIthout a focus on continuous improvement relative to comprehensive quality standards, our schools will be stuck at meeting minimal standards on standardized tests and will not begin to address important issues such as personalization through learning styles and brain research; creating safe and caring cultures, climates and communities; reducing bullying; and simply making a difference.
School districts currently spend approximately 10% of their budget on staff development and evaluation. This is a lot of money. Too much of it is spent far removed from the relationships in the classroom and the school. Teacher evaluation systems too often get out of hand. A recent on-line discussion group asked the question of whether we should bring in outside experts to "do" teacher evaluations in order to free up some of the principal's time for more important things. This would be a huge step backwards. There is nothing more important for a princpal to do than develop his or her staff to meet their full potential. Only then will our students be getting the personalized, supportive education they need.
We need elegant teacher evaluation systems that focus on what is important in promoting meaningful student learning and development as human beings. This is what matters. This is priceless!
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Tests have become the fashion in education these days, with everyone, it seems, being assessed on their ability to increase test scores. I’ve developed this test (not yet standardized) to help teachers get in touch with their own inner sense of what is most important to the learning and teaching process. Hopefully, this can help them make important decisions about how and what to teach in the classroom regardless of their students’age or grade level.
For extra credit:
The Answer Key is located in your own heart.
I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.
After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.
In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.
If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.
Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.
Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.
The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.
Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.
Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.
Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.
My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.