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Instructional leadership is essential in K-12 schools. What is an instructional leader? A second grade teacher can serve as an instructional leader. Principals and assistant principals should also be viewed as instructional leaders. A central office staff member may have the title of Chief Academic Officer or Curriculum Director, but that does not mean they are the only instructional leader in the school district. Once teachers begin communicating with teachers in the same grade level and make connections with the next level (i.e., middle school and high school transition), students will benefit from increased clarity on the essential learning outcomes.
“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” (Glatthorn, 1987, p. 4).
How do you 'maximize' the learned curriculum? Developing the local curriculum, curriculum alignment, analyzing assessment data, and meeting in job-alike teams are important activities. However, meetings can often become a weekly ritual that do not lead to increased student understanding. An instructional leader is constantly focused on 'maximizing' student understanding. During the No Child Left Behind Era, student achievement was defined in most schools as passing a high stakes test. When instructional leaders define test results as student achievement, most meetings focus on test prep, curriculum reductionism, and closing gaps. Closing gaps is critical and ethical work. Closing gaps should not mean teaching to the middle or ignoring our gifted students who need challenging work. Schools throughout the United States have witnessed artificial gains in student test scores by eliminating science, social studies, art, music, PE, and other non-tested subjects. Glatthorn's question is one that drives the work of instructional leaders. Does test prep or curriculum reductionism 'maximize' student learning?
3 Ways To Grow As An Instructional Leader
1. Join a Twitter Chat
I have been participating in Twitter chats for the past two years. When I describe Twitter chats to other educators, they often look at me like a deer in headlights. Why would someone teach school all day and then join a Twitter chat at 9:00 pm on a Thursday night? How could a one hour chat with educators across the world support teaching and learning in my school? I have met educators in all 50 states. As a principal, I learn from principals, teachers, superintendents, university professors, education consultants, and others who are passionate about teaching and learning. Educators share links to their blogs, school websites, curriculum maps, school goals, presentations, family resources, and more! A Twitter chat is similar to attending a national conference. You will be exposed to multiple perspectives and it will challenge your own views on education. The conversations are lively, but professional. If you ask a question, you may get answers from New York, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. Twitter chats will inspire an instructional leader and will offer multiple opportunities for professional growth.
2. Join and Become Active in a Professional Learning Community
According to Schmoker (2006), "Mere collegiality won't cut it. Even discussions about curricular issues or popular strategies can feel good but go nowhere. The right image to embrace is a group of teachers who meet regularly to share, refine and assess the impact of lessons and strategies continuously to help increasing numbers of students learn at higher levels" (p.178). Schools throughout the United States are operating as a Professional Learning Community (PLC). If your school still allows teachers to operate in isolation, you can learn more about a PLC at http://www.allthingsplc.info.
“Schools committed to higher levels of learning for both students and adults will not be content with the fact that a structure is in place to ensure that educators meet on a regular basis. They will recognize that the question, ‘What will we collaborate about,” is so vital that it cannot be left to the discretion of each team’” (DuFour, 2011, p. 61). Instructional leaders believe in growth. Continuous improvement is possible when each instructional leader is a member of a PLC.
3. Identify Essential Learning Outcomes
It is difficult to maximize student understanding if you do not know the goals. Learning targets help instructional leaders know if students are reaching the goal. Is your goal college and career readiness? An instructional leader must define what the path to college and career readiness looks like for a ninth grade student. Is your goal to increase the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes? Once you define the end in mind, it will be easier to determine the skills and understandings that students need to be prepared for advanced courses. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), "The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often" (p. 55).
Instructional leadership supports teaching and learning. It is easy to focus on standards, assessment, school safety, school improvement plans, faculty meetings, high-stakes tests, developing your next meeting agenda, technology integration, curriculum alignment, and state mandates. While none of these topics can be neglected, it is easy to lose sight of the goals of an instructional leader. Instructional leadership should not take the backseat to meetings, planning, or activities. Parker (1991) cautioned instructional leaders to avoid motion mascquerading as improvement.
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
The other day I told my principal I was pondering what to write about for my upcoming Leading & Learning blog post. He turned to me and said, "Well, you've been here a while now. Why don't you write about what makes you a successful leader here?" Great idea! He and I quickly brainstormed the key points below. This is dedicated to all the deans and assistant principals out there as I share what's been working for me.
Communication & Relationships
Communication with my principal, office staff, our specialists & family liaison, paras, teachers, students, and families is key. I've learned to differentiate the mode of communication (face to face, email, phone) based on the situation and individual(s) with whom I'm communicating.
Example: Adults, sometimes get stressed out around testing and I've learned part of that has to do with a concern about student progress reflecting on our work as educators. It can be a challenge to hold test scores up as a mirror to reflect the impact of our instruction! That's why, when we administered the STAR Test on computers for the first time this year, we was particularly conscious of our methods used to communicate updates. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were faced with a challenge the Friday afternoon before our week of testing. Thankfully, we'd been in face to face contact with teachers all week to provide clarification and support. So, when our team sent out the revised testing schedule for the upcoming week, my principal and I made ourselves available by being visible and we checked in with classroom teachers to answer questions. We were able to clarify & confirm updates on the spot. Our initial round of testing ended up running pretty smoothly and we continued face to face/email communication throughout the week.
Follow-Through & Support
One of the most important roles a leader plays is that of "support". People deserve to have leaders follow through with protocols, next steps, goals, values, etc.
Example: Last spring, our staff updated our Professional Code of Conduct (norms) and made a commitment to live out these professional agreements on a daily basis at work. One of the norms we created is: Go to the source. When colleagues comes to me with a wonder or question that is really for someone else (early childhood team, instructional coach, principal, etc.), I generally give a brief response based on my knowledge and encourage them to go to the source/leader/individual who is coordinating the work they wonder about to gain in depth clarification. I then follow-up with both the person to whom I sent them and the individual(s) asking the question. By doing this I am following-through on living our Professional Code of Conduct, while also following-through with support for teams and individuals to make sure questions are answered.
Questioning for Clarity
As a leader, I represent a lot of perspectives, teams, and initiatives. In order to fully understand, lead, and represent, different aspects of our school, I've developed a "seek to understand" mentality.
Example Questions: What is the goal? What do we hope to accomplish? What might success look like? How might we measure success? How does this make a difference for students? How might we know it made a difference for our students? How does it impact different stakeholders? How could we communicate with stakeholders? What supports might be needed? What existing supports do we have? How does this support other initiatives? How might we need to shift our allocation of resources (fiscal/human) to support this work?
I've learned to try and get enough sleep, eat healthy, participate in weekly joint immediate/in-law family dinners, volunteer within my community, walk my dog, & use online resources (ASCD free webinars, articles via Twitter, etc.) to develop as a professional. Surprisingly, maintaining Self Care is quite the challenge! It takes a conscious effort on a daily basis in terms of scheduling and communicating. I continually go back to Covey's work, however, around balance to help remind me of the importance Self Care has.
Example: Making sure my body gets the nutrients it needs (beyond a multiple vitamin), is essential. I schedule time on the weekends to go grocery shopping with my husband. Then, we come home and make lunches for the week. This weekend we bought frozen soup in bulk - just add water, boil for 40 mins., & you have a lot of soup that can be eaten and frozen! I look forward to feasting on tomato basil or cream of broccoli soup for lunch each day alongside crackers, cheese, & fruit. For breakfast, I buy disposable cups in which I put non-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola each morning. Sometimes I feel guilty about using disposable cups, but I know this keeps me on track with getting the nutrients my body needs. On that note, a friend of mine found washing her "to go" mugs from coffee each day became too much to keep up with so she bought paper disposable cups + lids. She now puts coffee from her Keurig in a low-cost disposable cup every morning. This reduces the urge to stop by a coffee stand and provides similar convenience.
Roland S. Barth shared in his seminal book Learning by Heart (2001), that schools should possess an “ethos hospitable to the promotion of human learning.” As I have endeavored through massive leadership and learning changes, Barth’s words have become a truism for me. Whether navigating a curriculum change, supporting different forms of professional learning, or problem-solving a complex issue (or usually all of the aforementioned at the same time), I ask myself, “How is what we are doing promoting an ethos hospitable to learning?” Inevitably the responses to this question have led the way to culturally transformative levels of learning in our school. Given that instructional cultures grow best organically and synergistically, (and this has been the case for mine), I would simply add that when change is nurtured with innovation, support and feedback, the rate of growth is exponential, and the direction of growth flows in intended and unintended directions.
In our schoolhouse, we believe:
Barth eloquently describes what it takes to achieve this vision. “When we come to believe that our schools should be providing a culture that creates and sustains a community of student and adult learning—that this is the trellis of our profession—then we will organize our schools, classrooms, and learning experiences differently.” (Barth, R., The Culture Builder, Educational Leadership, May 2002.)
Organizing learning differently has been both an exciting and daunting challenge. In the era of sweeping reform, striving to make this vision come to life uniquely within a school requires the science and artistry of students, faculty, staff and parents alike, who must continually partner as an interdependent team. This type of work demands mutual support, collective expertise and shared accountability. (For example: How does being affixed to one curriculum benefit students? Am I ready to share my student’s formative data with my teaching peers?) It also demands adaptive thinking, rather than technical solutions. (For example: How does this master schedule promote flexible forms of learning?) In our school’s journey, confronting shared questions have proven weighty, but worthy. While many might say strong academic achievement has been the most visible and predictable success in our trellis climb, we believe our substantive growth has mainly emanated from our collective drive for seamless collaboration and embedded forms of professional learning. In fact, I would characterize our school as relentless about setting the conditions for academic and social-emotional success. Our sustained urgency on learning, along with our instructional and cultural momentum has fundamentally redesigned the way we teach and learn. What were once individually celebrated features of our school’s educational excellence, are now deliberately interconnected and vital components of our cultural instructional identity. In essence, we teach and learn within a coherent system of meaningful moving parts.
Professional Learning Communities
Our teams practice the data cycle (Reeves, D.) within the professional learning community model (DuFour, R.). In addition to three dedicated common planning times for each team each week, our teachers also collaborate in numerous informal, horizontal and vertical ways throughout each school day. We reflect, design, instruct, assess and monitor as teams. No one teaches or works in isolation. We strive to meet and exceed commonly established goals, and our data is transparent and accessible at all times.
Response to Intervention Methods
Our faculty has studied Response to Intervention (RtI) through the work of Mike Mattos. Our Superintendent’s leadership has also helped us fully commit to giving students what they need, when they need it. We employ universal screening, core district curriculum, and progress monitoring procedures. Customized interventions and supports are architected into personal learning plans, which are designed and delivered by our expert teachers. These academic and social-emotional learning plans are monitored and refined by data teams in instructional cycles throughout the year.
Our district is deeply committed to embedded forms of professional learning. At the elementary level, we employ the workshop model of instruction, chiefly studying the work of Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project. We benefit from three literacy specialists and one mathematics specialist on our staff, who actively coach each of our teachers and teams. Our school employs a literacy and mathematics laboratory model (conducting peer observations with a coach, engaging in lesson voice overs, leading parts of a lesson, and dissecting model lessons), shared classroom walkthroughs, opportunities to look at student work, and the unconference model. Each of these forms of adult learning expands our craft knowledge and grows our shared expertise.
Leadership For All
Our school rests upon our extraordinary teachers and staff, each of whom is a leader in his/her own right. Teachers are trusted to make important decisions about learning. While we have formal teams such as a school leadership team, a child study team and a positive behavior support team, our teachers actively lead the wealth of the instructional design, intervention plans, and assessment work. Teachers also design and lead professional learning opportunities that seed the school with innovation; modeling their own risk-taking and inspiring adaptive thinking among staff.
As Barth has eloquently pointed out in Learning By Heart (2001):
“It has been said that running a school is about putting first things first; leadership is determining what are the first things; and management is about putting them first. I would like to suggest that the ‘first thing’, the most important feature of the job description for each of us as educators, is to discover and provide the considerations under which people’s learning curves go off the chart. Sometimes it’s other people’s learning curves; those of students, teachers, parents, administrators. But at all times it is our own learning curve.” (Barth, R. Learning By Heart, 2001, p. 11).
I would be remiss if I did not comment on my own learning curve amidst this type of learning environment, where change is the norm, and as Barth points out, “learning curves go off the chart.” My experience is that one cannot be immersed in this type of work - day in and day out - without realizing the profound personal and professional effect it has on your own practice. The way I think, the way I listen, the way I reflect, the way I contribute and the way I solve has everything to do with what I have learned from my colleagues. Their work teaches me everyday. Courageously, they have helped me reach upward and outward for a truly ambitious vision, and equally have the support to lean into what can be possible for every learner. Barth reminds me time and time again, that the ethos of learning is within and among us every single day. Even in the face of tremendous change, it is our calling to climb the professional trellis uniquely and continually, in order to benefit every student and adult in the schoolhouse, including ourselves.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Estabrook School, Lexington, MA
As an educational leader, you have a vision of where your school needs to be. You have invested in your staff, students, and stakeholders, and you expect success. And you hold yourself to a high standard knowing that your attitude—and your action—sets the overall tone for the school. So why is it that some leaders seem to be able to “get it done” while others seem overwhelmed? For many, it’s about time. All of us, if we are honest, have plans or goals that are unrealized, in part, due to how we have chosen to use our time.
In Short on Time: How Do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal?, we tackle some of these important issues, one step at a time. We hear insights and see examples from successful leaders in the field. In my work as a teacher, principal, professor, and learner, I’ve compiled a growing list of ideas related to school leadership. From this list of 100 Action Steps (yes, it’s a big, round number), there are a few you might consider:
Consider leaders who have successfully navigated some of these challenges and realized success in their schools. Some of their action steps may be a great fit for you and your school, and you will likely add a host of others to your own list. Ask yourself, “How can I make time to lead in order to realize this goal?” Success often comes one action step at a time. Let’s take the first one. It’s about time.
The ASCD Arias book Short on Time: How do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal? is written by William Sterrett, who is also the author of Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works (ASCD, 2011). Learn more about ASCD at www.ascd.org.
For more information about the book or to purchase copies, go to http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Short-on-Time.aspx You can follow on Twitter @billsterrett
If only I had the time. How often do school principals hear this phrase from their hurried colleagues? Educators' sincere desire to do more, learn more, and engage more continually runs up against the realities of the frenetic, ever-changing world of teaching and learning.
I wish I could reach Benjamin better and see him more engaged. How is this possible, with so many other student needs to meet?
I would love to read that new book and apply a new perspective to my work. Who really has time to read, digest, and apply emerging ideas and best practices when so much is demanding our attention in this moment?
It would be great to log on to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and collaborate with others. Despite our best intentions, exhaustion often trumps professional learning goals at the end of a busy day.
We are living in a time of sweeping curricular shifts and demographic changes. Uncertainties abound regarding educational funding and policy. Innovation inside the classroom and access to resources and perspectives outside the classroom hold unprecedented potential and promise for teaching and learning. This is a time when we sorely need leadership in our schools. We must teach, learn, collaborate, and lead--together. Schools cannot be powered by a hard-working few or count on a small core to "show the way" to success.
In Short on Time, we will take a closer look at action steps that involve teaching, innovating, and leading. They require planning, action, and reflection. Here’s one important area principals can start with: faculty meetings.
The very notion of faculty meetings makes even some of the best teachers cringe. Asking the staff to convene at the end of a busy day is something that any school leader should carefully consider. Principals, take note: if you are struggling to come up with a reason to meet, make the wise decision and cancel the meeting. Be inspirational, not merely informational. School leaders should model what they want learning to look like in their buildings. A principal rambling through a laundry list of managerial items in a meeting is no different from a teacher passing out a dreaded "word find" worksheet to his class. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself, If I were a teacher, would I want to attend this meeting? To make the best use of meeting time, focus on the ABCs of meetings: affirmation, best practices, and coordination.
* Affirmation. Start each meeting by recognizing others' successes and innovations. Principals are uniquely poised to share "what's right" with the school. Allowing teachers to recognize one another can go a long way toward creating a positive climate and high morale.
* Best practices. To encourage best practices, share examples of what is working well within the school and discuss new opportunities for growth. Principals are in a position to leverage powerful insights from teachers and students, and sharing video clips of teaching and learning highlights can transform a faculty meeting's tone and level of involvement. Feel free to include ‘outside’ sources such as an occasional guest speaker or clip from a TED talk. Encourage teachers to lead the discussion.
* Coordination. At the end of each meeting, be sure to outline what is to happen next. Ensuring well though-out action steps will help keep the momentum of school improvement moving forward. An example of coordinating next steps might be: Each department will review and revise exit slips in their core subject area for the next three weeks. Or, With a colleague, review these two teaching strategies and discuss your thoughts on student engagement. Occasionally, use the scheduled faculty meeting time to let all teams conduct a deeper PLC-formatted meeting with specialists and administrators on standby to offer support.
This post is a modified excerpt from the forthcoming ASCD Arias book Short on Time: How do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal? by William Sterrett. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2013 by ASCD. Reprinted with permission. Learn more about ASCD at www.ascd.org . For more information about the book or to purchase copies, go to http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Short-on-Time.aspx You can follow on Twitter @billsterrett
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining his other blogs, go to http://bit.ly/13sMlUZ. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found on his website: www.era3learning.org
Today’s comprehensive high schools are generally organized the way they have been for decades. While some high schools have radically transformed teaching and learning in the face of major societal changes, most maintain a traditional look, feel, organization, and curriculum. High schools schedules are often the same as they were in the Industrial age, with days broken down into seven or eight time periods. The schools are often large and generally impersonal. Teachers often have between 100-140 students on their rosters. The required curriculum remains pretty much the same as in the past, and tends to be divided into diverse subjects, levels, and courses, without any central focus. High schools generally divide the year into two semesters and few if any student summer programs or professional development requirements exist. Graduation is still based on course credits and, in some states, high stakes standardized tests. Students are expected to stay in school all day and are expected to graduate within four years. Advanced Placement courses are often used as a major barometer of the academic rigor of a school’s program.
How can high schools improve on their programs and bring them into the 21st century? How can they develop more relevant assessments and a more relevant accountability system? While some advocate radical transformations, there are many adaptations and smaller changes that can bring traditional high schools into the 21st century by preparing students for rapid changes through the development of lifelong learning skills; citizenship; and individual talents, strengths and interests. I suggest fifteen possibilities below:
1. Clarify and share a 21st century mission, set of goals and outcomes that drive the school program, courses, and instruction.
Most of today’s high schools seem to lumber along without a clear mission or set of coherent student outcomes. Many high schools often have a confusing, diverse mixture of programs, activities, courses, and compartmentalized teaching approaches. They often suffer from passive learning environments, low expectations, superficial, uninteresting teaching and learning, uneven instruction, and fragmented courses. Many students leave high school unprepared for future learning or work, with a lack of planning or direction for their future.
One important way for high schools to better adapt to the 21st century is to develop and clarify a mission and outcomes with a meaningful and coherent school-wide set of goals. The mission and outcomes are then shared with both the school and school community and used as the basis for making changes in the school’s program and organization. In other commentary, I suggest three goals for K-12 education that are especially appropriate for high schools: prepare students for lifelong self-directed learning; prepare students for citizenship; and help students develop their own talents, strengths, interests and goals. If these three goals are accepted as the core mission of a high school education, what would they imply for the curriculum? For teaching and learning? For assessments and accountability? For a more integrated program? For the school organization? For scheduling? For core courses? For electives? What would change? Clarifying and becoming committed to implementing a clear mission and set of outcomes and goals for all students helps to create a core program focus and more coherent organizational structure for the high school experience.
2. Rethink the organizational and administrative structure
The traditional seven or eight period day, the Industrial model of scheduling, needs rethinking. In an age of computers, it ought to be possible to have more complex scheduling approaches that allow for longer blocks of time, mini-course structures, schedules that promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and common preparation time. Year round schooling is another option that needs to be seriously considered. New technologies suggest organizational structures that are only beginning to be appreciated and understood!
In today’s world, more students also need the opportunity for flexible, individualized schedules. Some students work part-time. Some need to help with their families. Others need time to do community projects and service learning. Some students need to leave school for periods of time, and be able to return at a later date in order to complete their work. Some may graduate early, others may take up to six years or more to graduate. All these options need to be built into the school’s programs.
Currently the most comprehensive high schools have principals, assistant principals, and “Department” heads as key administrators. High schools need to examine the question: how can this traditional administrative structure be reconfigured to better serve the needs of students in a 21st century world? What if one administrator were put in charge of “innovation”, looking across the curriculum to determine how the high school could develop innovative programs to better serve the needs of all students. What if one person was in charge of curriculum and instructional resources and curriculum and instructional development across all subjects? What if one was in charge of community “outreach”? Technology? A reconfigured set of administrative responsibilities, designed to promote innovation, interdisciplinary learning, outreach experiences, curriculum and staff development, technology applications might be a better way to organize for the future.
Finally, schools with organizations that tend to support impersonal and detached relationships between students and teachers should consider alternatives. One advantage of block scheduling is that teachers have many fewer students on their roster, and more time each semester with their students. They have a greater ability to get to know their students, to help and support them. The use of advisories and student-teacher advising systems over the four years of high school also enables teachers to develop stronger relationships with students. Teams of teachers working together with groups of students help build better relationships. Organizational changes that enable teachers to get to know students better (and visa versa) and work more closely together will probably help to increase student achievement and build better support systems for students.
3. Build a coherent curriculum
The current curriculum at most high schools is a fragmented mix of individual courses and programs, most of which have little connection to each other. Here are some recommendations for how to revise the curriculum to support student learning:
a. Identify and streamline core courses around the school’s mission, outcomes and goals.
The core curriculum are those “musts” that are required for every student. Should special core writing and reading courses be instituted? What types of thinking should every student be exposed to? How should reading and writing experiences be integrated into every course and subject? What math should be part of the core? Algebra and Trigonometry for everyone? Understanding statistics? Staff members should identify and collaborate to develop the core subject matter and core skills that should be taught and learned across the curriculum[i]. Each course might be organized around a series of “essential” questions, understandings and explicit skills that are core for every student to explore, learn and master.
b. Reduce the number of or eliminate Advanced Placement courses[ii] and instead develop a large number of high quality electives.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses tend to be implemented with an abiding faith that they are good for students. However, while they have some virtues, AP courses often repeat content that students have already studied, superficially cover a lot of content quickly, and crowd out worthy and interesting high school electives. Many of the students who take AP courses to increase their grade point average and feather their transcript don’t even take the AP exam and yet still get AP credit!
Instead of AP courses, develop a set of high quality electives that provide many options for all students to develop their talents, interests, and skills, such as deep learning-discussion seminars, research and project based courses, Internet course options, mini-courses, internships and practicums, and independent study courses. In themed schools, electives should provide a variety of options around the theme. New Internet-based college courses, known as MOOCS (Massive open online courses) provide many new opportunities for students to try out different topics and learn from some of the best college instructors in the country.
c. Increase the number of interdisciplinary, integrated learning experiences.
Should some core subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, like mathematics and science? Should integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses be an essential part of the high school curriculum? Should more efforts be made to integrate and teach in parallel fashion English and social studies courses? Should mathematics courses be integrated and taught the way most of the world teaches mathematics?
Interdisciplinary learning opportunities might occur as part of the on-going curriculum and within a ninth grade team. High schools also need to create a greater number of synthesizing courses, offered in the junior or senior years, such as “problems of democracy”, applied mathematics, or science and society. Synthesizing courses enable students to integrate learning from previous years and learn how to apply knowledge and skills to new and novel situations and events.
d. Pay attention to innovative ideas that might motivate students, make learning more relevant, increase deep learning, and provide students with new types of programs and new ways of teaching and learning.
Innovative ideas are constantly being introduced into the education world. Entrepreneurship programs provide students with opportunities for learning how to start and maintain a business and they learn math and planning skills. Project based learning strategies suggest new ways of teaching and learning. Technological updates suggest new resources for learning. MOOC’s (Massive open online courses) offer free entrees for students into the college world. Integrated mathematics programs reorganize learning mathematics. The Understanding by Design curriculum model promotes a very different way of planning units, courses and programs. International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer alternative ways or organizing high school programs, courses and assessments. Innovative organizational structures, such as Big Picture schools, offer alternative high school models that may be appropriate for many students. Competitions in chess, robotics, science, future problem solving, debate teams, and others provide students with exciting learning opportunities.
These and many more interesting and innovative ideas need to be searched out and considered, and some type of decision-making process needs to be introduced into the high school experience to help determine which innovative ideas are worth pursuing and implemented, and which should be rejected.
4. Create freshman teams.
Many students who drop out of school do so because they have not been able to make the transition from middle to high school. Students need to have a gradual and supportive transition from middle school to the first year of high school, with opportunities for personal attention and a focus on core skills and critical knowledge. Teams of teachers and students, working together for the year, help students to adapt to high school requirements. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students, advise them, coordinate their schedules, differentiate their learning experiences, and create integrated learning across the team that supports key skill development.
5. Create a digital portfolio assessment system
While high school students do research papers, projects, and other forms of writing, the most commonly used summative assessment tool in high schools is still the “traditional test”, consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. Unfortunately, an emphasis on traditional tests guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing relatively simple written products. A major problem with the use of these tests is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift.
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving critical lifelong learning and personal development skills, high schools should create digital student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –many types of written work, performance task processes and results, project results, oral presentations, observations of student participation in discussions, and, yes, the results of traditional tests. Many opportunities for student self-reflection also help to determine what each student is learning and whether each student is developing his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals. Part of the self-reflection process should be a goal setting and planning process throughout the high school years, but especially in junior and senior years.
Students also need opportunities to share senior projects and portfolios with adults from outside the high school, who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
6. Encourage student engagement through greater use of inquiry, research and project based instruction
Too much of the high school learning experience is in the form of traditional teaching and learning – recitations, lectures, coverage of textbooks – that makes for passive student learning and disinterested students. Students need more opportunities to be engaged in “inquiry” – to focus on essential questions as the starting point for learning, actively seek out reliable information to share with other students, think deeply and share their thoughts about content, draw conclusions and apply learning, and communicate through writing, presentations, and discussions. Projects based on student interest, chosen all or in part by the student, should be an integral, on-going part of a student’s learning experiences. Senior projects should be used to assess whether students have developed the attitudes and skills they need to be successful beyond graduation – self-direction, curiosity, persistence, patience, research, inquiry, study, thinking, creativity, writing and the like. High school course descriptions might be focused around key questions that will be explored during the course.
Consider alternatives to traditional assessment and accountability models. Multiple types of assessments, such as those described above, collected by students in digital portfolios, brought to class, shared over the Internet, is an alternative model that works well for many high schools in the digital age.
7. Develop community service-personal enrichment requirements.
Both personal learning that develops talents and interests, and service learning, are important elements of a 21st century education. In a Philadelphia public high school that I work closely with, students are required to do 120 hours of a combination of service learning and personal enrichment activities over four years. This requirement has meant that students learn more about their own interests and talents as well as learn ways to help others. Intentionally building these two dynamic components of a strong education into the high school experience has made a strong difference in the education of these students.
8. Make advisories a central part of the high school experience.
Advisories over the entire high school experience can help to personalize and customize education in a more impersonal world. Brian Cohen, a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District, beautifully describes the concept of high school advisories in a recent blog:
“A brief look at schedules across the [Philadelphia School] District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of high schools that provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.”[iii]
9. Make Media Centers the hub of the high school learning experience
If advisories are the central place for personal attention and advice, library-media centers are the hub for academic learning. They are the place in which students learn research skills. They are centers for conducting research. They often are the central computer centers for students, especially for those who might not have access to computers at home.
10. Create multiple outreach and “inreach” experiences
Outreach experiences enable high schools to better provide a more “authentic” education experience. For example, powerful outreach experiences occur when students are provided with internships in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals, schools and colleges, social work agencies, and the like. Other outreach experiences occur when students are able to interview a wide range of experts through technological arrangements, visit local colleges, or go on field trips. “Inreach” experiences - outside visitors brought to the school to talk with students about careers and experiences – is also a powerful way to connect students to the outside world. Significant outreach and inreach provides powerful connections to the “real” world outside of high school.
11.Create continuous, high quality, meaningful, relevant professional and curriculum development experiences
Today’s changing educational world demands continual learning and updates about teaching and learning. What would we think of a doctor’s world without continual updates on the best forms of treatment, new drugs, research, and other changes. Yet it’s strange how little emphasis is placed on professional and curriculum development over time. The establishment of professional learning communities (PLC’s), with a school culture that supports continuous learning around collaborative and individual learning goals, should be a key goal. Summers are ideal times for professional development, yet there are generally no requirements that teachers devote some portion of their summers (e.g. two or three weeks) to collaboratively exploring new ways of teaching, new forms of curriculum design, the teaching of writing and thinking, how to implement the Common Core, project and problem based learning approaches, and so on.
12. Switch to Standards-Based Report Cards
Traditional report cards Provide little helpful information to both students and parents. A more effective report card is one that provides information as to how well a student is doing, but also how a student might improve. Standards based report cards incorporate key learning goals and skills either in an interdisciplinary configuration or within each subject area. The ability to solve problems, conduct research, make presentations, write effectively – all these can be incorporated into standards based report cards[iv]
An even stronger standards based report card format includes individual comments by each teacher. Some high schools have built an individual comments model into their assessment process[v]. This entails a lot of work, but it customizes comments, builds on specific student talents, strengths and skills, provides greater specificity as to how students might improve, and in general makes report cards much more meaningful and helpful to students and parents.
13. Use technology as a tool for reaching key goals and priorities
Technology is often used in a haphazard fashion within high schools. The judicious use of technology, designed to help students reach key goals, is a much more rewarding and promising way to use technology. For example, the use of digital portfolios provides ways to collect and analyze student work. Common uses of technology to write papers, spellcheck, organize thoughts and ideas, and so on might be encouraged. Search engines used to find resources, to contact people around the world when appropriate, can be helpful. Teacher use of technology to share articles and readings, course outlines, information about a course, handouts and assignments with students on a regular basis is a good use of technology. The appropriate use of on-line simulations can enhance learning.
However, beware of newer forms of technology without being clear on how they promote the goals of the school. Tablets and smartphones may be useful, but they should be introduced with great care, and with knowledge and understanding of how they will contribute to advancing learning goals.
14.Create small learning communities
Although small learning communities are a radical departure from traditional high school organization, they are worth considering. They consist of groups and teachers and students working together around themes (e.g. communication, technology, health sciences and the like). Where possible, small learning communities within a building are physically separated from each other.
The creation of small learning communities requires significant professional development so that each team is well organized around a theme and is given a chance to work together in advance of implementation. Failure to provide time for teachers to receive professional development and for learning how to work together is often why they fail.
15.Design innovative ways to rate and judge the success of high schools.
High schools are being judged today by arbitrary processes often determined by government bureaucrats. The outside accountability systems often get in the way of making modest and relevant changes that would significantly improve programs. It is time for high school leaders to develop their own models that demonstrate their success!
Instead of a reliance on test scores, high school accountability models, shared with the public and with Boards of Education, might include the number of students who have developed their talents and interests in different directions; sample digital portfolios that demonstrate student learning; data on students that go on to some form of post high school educational experience; results from special programs, such as International Baccalaureate and small learning communities; data on what happens to students as they move through a post high school experience; collective data from report cards; survey data from high school graduates who rate their high school experience; results from student surveys of current courses, and so on. A comprehensive accountability process developed by high schools themselves would be much more meaningful and significant than the current systems being implemented.
Comprehensive high schools need to adapt to a 21st century world. Clearer mission statements that guide teaching and learning, revised and flexible scheduling, strong core and elective programs, administrative restructuring, advisories, greater student engagement through inquiry, research and project based teaching and learning, library-media center hubs, standards based report cards, small learning communities, more meaningful and personalized accountability systems, a careful look at innovative ideas – these and the other suggestions described above would go a long way towards better preparation of students for living in a 21st century world. Not all of these ideas may currently make sense to high school teachers and leaders, but some might be helpful when high schools reconsider their programs, assessment models, organizational structures, and accountability systems in order to adapt to this new age.
[i] In other work, I have identified five core skill sets that should be taught throughout the curriculum – curiosity, information and data literacy, thoughtfulness, application, and communication. For greater insights into what these five skill sets mean in practice, go to www.era3learning.org. I have also developed a process – the Integrated Skill Development Program (ISDP) – that can be used to identify core skills to be taught and learned across the curriculum. A description of this process can be found at: http://bit.ly/RnSwRT
[ii]Advanced Placement courses have many problems. They are often survey courses that focus on learning content without depth or thought. Many students take Advanced Placement courses, get credit for them, but don’t take the Advanced Placement exams. Other students take the AP course, don’t pass the AP exam, but still get AP credit. Scarsdale High School has eliminated Advanced Placement courses in favor of “advanced topics” courses. Some advanced topics courses are designed so that, at the end of the course, if students wish to do so, they can take the Advanced Placement exam.
[iv] For an excellent article on Standards Based Report Cards, see How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About it, in Educational Update, October 2013, Volune 55, No. 10, ASCD.
[v] For example, Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia PA, incorporates teacher comments into its report card system.
In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.
Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?
What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.
When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.
During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.
I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.
I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.
The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.”
Phillip Barlow is well known in the art world for his out-of-focus oil paintings. The South African artist uses blurriness to hint at shapes, subjects and context. In a world which has become hooked on high definition his work highlights the importance of focus and clarity in our everyday life. Those of you who wear reading glasses know the importance of being able to focus and have clarity when you are reading. I invite you to consider that many schools, teachers and students operate within an environment of a lack of clarity.
Many schools are unclear about the professional or student learning culture they are building. They have an idea of what they want but a range of pushes and pulls from education systems, parents, day-to-day issues and even finances blurs the focus of the individuals who are responsible for keeping it on track. It shows up in the way strategic plans are created and then followed (or not), in the staff meetings (and their number and length), in what is considered important throughout the school year, and in the structures put in place to support the school vision and goals.
Teachers are often unclear about the actual outcomes and goals they require students to achieve inside of a whole school plan. They read the prescribed curriculum and then form an interpretation of what that means. Quite often the result is a surface interpretation as deeper understanding and coherency requires the time for significant discussion and unpacking by a team of teachers consistent with the school mission and goals.
Students are often asked to learn in an environment where they don’t why they are doing what they are doing, nor what skill they are actually building. Without structures such as learning intentions, success criteria, formative rubrics, and clarity about WHAT, HOW, WHY and how to deal with obstacles to their learning – they often progress slowly towards achieving learning outcomes and building required skills.
Clarity, by definition, is the quality of being clear, coherent and intelligible.
The more that we work with schools the more we discover that what they are actually asking us is to partner them in creating clear, coherent and intelligible approaches to achieving what they want to achieve. It is not that they don’t know what they want (necessarily) but that it is a bit fuzzy or maybe they are unclear about the path to achieve their goals.
We find that most schools, whether they are of the government, catholic or independent persuasion, often have not clearly articulated what their purpose and the overall goals that they are trying to achieve. Sure they have school values. Sure they have a strategic plan. However we when dig down into what those goals, visions, and plans we find a lot of uncertainty rather than rigor and dealing with the reality of achieving their goals.
When we look at most school strategic plans they are often planned in such a way that it is hopeful rather than based in the reality of what would work best for schools, staff and students. It is NOT that we are dealing with people who can’t plan. What we are dealing with is, quite often, a lack of clarity of WHAT they are actually trying to achieve and a lack of a clear path to HOW they will achieve those goals in ways that coherently creates a powerful learning culture whilst supporting all students, staff and parents.
The same can be said with teachers. When we support teachers in planning curriculum we spend an enormous amount of time having them become crystal clear about what the learning destination they are desire the students get to. What are the skills, understandings and knowledge they want the students to gain? What will it look like when the students get there? What scaffolding and learning activities could they then design that will have the students’ progress towards that learning destination?
The great thing we have found, time and time again, is that once the school, teacher, or student is clear about their destination – they are immensely able to do what needs to be done to get there.
I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.
- Winston Churchill
I have been writing blogs for two years on ASCD Edge. While each of the blogs are independent entities, consisting of separate thoughts and ideas, they also can be combined to create what I hope is a coherent framework of goals, suggestions and practices for educating children in a 21st century world. In this “meta-blog”, my blogs are placed into categories that examine a different aspect of 21st century teaching and learning. This will provide you, the reader, with a chance to browse through one or more of these commentaries using a larger framework as a reference.
You can also delve more deeply into the qualities, characteristics and perspectives of a 21st century education by going to my website:
***Please note that a few blogs are listed in more than one category.
The Broad Perspective: Reflective Questions and Suggested Changes
A Learning-Centered Checklist for 21st Century Classrooms, Schools and Districts - http://bit.ly/18RS0VJ
Reflect on Your School Year With the Following Questions… http://bit.ly/1218hB7
Ten questions that will improve your teaching, school or district http://bit.ly/OKOj9a
Ten things that will REALLY make a difference in education http://bit.ly/18WGdIZ
My Top Ten education wishes for 2012 (and beyond) http://bit.ly/12LVKZj
Mission and Goals
What should be the outcomes of K-12 schooling? How do we know if we’ve achieved them?
What is your core mission?
What Does This Poem Say, About Education Today
New Goals For a New Year (and a New Age)
Make Meaning and Purpose Key Elements of Teaching and Learning http://bit.ly/14Npfdf
Beliefs about Learning
Beliefs about Learning and their implications for teaching and learning http://bit.ly/1b1pCRu
Positive Learning Environments, Cultures, and Attitudes
Thirteen Ways to Build Positive Learning Attitudes: a Key to Successful Teaching
Core Skills: Identification, Methods and Strategies
Teaching the Right Skills For a New Age- Inquiry Based Instruction http://bit.ly/vVhpSQ
Seven Principles for Teaching the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/yLVZ0M
Using Inquiry-Research Projects to Teach the Right Skills for a New Age
Eight Types of Instructional Strategies That Improve Learning in a 21st Century World
Six ways to build greater curiosity in students
Do You Teach Creative Thinking? You Should if You Don’t!
Curriculum and Instruction Issues
The Integrated Skill Development Process (ISDP) - The Power of Teacher Collaboration
Strengthening Curriculum and Instruction in a 21st century world
A Dozen Reasons Why We Need High Quality Science Teaching and Learning in a 21st Century World
Why we need strong science programs, K-12!
Promoting STEM in a 21st century World
Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world
Early Childhood Education
Bridging the Opportunity Gap: Improving Early Childhood and Primary Grade Education
Formative and Summative Assessment
Use portfolios -- the best tool for assessing 21st century skills
Customized Versus Standardized Assessments: A Fairy Tale
The Bubble Test Trap vs. Project Based Learning
Increasing Learning With Traditional Tests
Five Powerful Feedback Principles That Improve Student Learning
Professional Growth and Development
Four Activities To Help You Become a Better Teacher and Leader…
The Integrated Skill Development Process (ISDP): The Power of Teacher Collaboration
Ten Possibilities for Summer Professional Development
Using Education Leadership Articles as a Staff Development Tool to Promote a 21st Century Education
Exercise: Ten Teacher Questions for Self-Reflection
Alternatives to Teacher Tenure – What Will Work?
No Child Left Behind
Adapting NCLB to a 21st Century World
Five Books That Every Educator Should Read?
Some Summer Reading And Resource Browsing
A new book that helps all of us examine teaching and learning in a 21st century world
All blogs can be found at
More blogs will be coming soon that will enhance these categories, including the unique qualities of American education, the importance of motivation, seven types of projects, ten ways we will know that STEM is being practiced in schools, changing the organizational structure from courses to learning inquiries, and many more….
For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.
It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.
So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.
Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'
However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.
So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.
An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children. And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.
I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"
As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.
And learn from it.
Saturday in September means College Football. No matter who you cheer for on game day, you understand the importance of the fourth quarter. Teams prepare their players for the fourth quarter through conditioning drills, sprints, weights, diet, and practice. An overthrown pass, a kick wide to the right, or a missed block can mean the difference between winning and losing. As I reflect on college football, it reminds me of teaching and learning.
What does the fourth quarter look like in your classroom? The traditional calendar is divided into four quarters in U.S. schools. We can wait to push students and accelerate in the fourth quarter, but that would be too late. Reflect on the last twenty minutes of class each day. What happens on Friday in your classroom? Another example of the fourth quarter is the end of each nine weeks. When you reach the fourth quarter, what does teaching and learning look like? University of South Carolina Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier said, “We try to win the fourth quarter around here.” Do your students have this mindset? What are you doing as a teacher to prepare students for the fourth quarter?
What does winning look like in your classroom? Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2007) wrote, “To maximize learning, learners need multiple opportunities to practice in risk-free environments, to receive regular and specific feedback related to progress against standards, and timely opportunities to use the feedback to re-do and improve.” This description of maximizing learning sounds like the five days of practice which prepares players for any given Saturday in America. The best football teams receive regular feedback about their performance and players are measured against a standard (i.e., speed, strength, explosiveness, vertical jump, tackling, etc.).
“You hear about how many fourth quarter comebacks that a guy has and I think it means a guy screwed up in the first three quarters” said, Denver Broncos QB, Peyton Manning. As a teacher you may relate to the humor of NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. How often do you see students who don’t give their best effort or who struggle to understand the skills and concepts in your class? Great coaches and great teachers know not to give up on players or students. This quote lends itself to conversations about grading practices. If you have unfair or unrealistic grading practices, a student will be ready to quit before the fourth quarter.
In the college football and the NFL, the fans go wild when a quarterback leads the team down the field during the two-minute drill. It doesn’t matter if the quarterback threw three interceptions in the first three quarters. Finishing strong and winning the game is what matters to fans. In K-12 schools, we want students to finish College and Career Ready. If the student struggles along the way, but finishes strong then teachers should reward student understanding rather than penalizing the student for a poor average.
The University of Alabama has built a tradition of winning under head coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2009 and then won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012. Coach Saban’s “Fourth Quarter Conditioning Program” has been attributed to the success of the Alabama football program. What would a “Fourth Quarter Conditioning Program” look like in your classroom? The Common Core State Standards require teachers to teach perseverance. In addition to perseverance, students are required to demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, use technology and digital media strategically and capably, and come to understand other perspectives and cultures. By building these skills and understandings into the curriculum, students will be better prepared to finish strong in the fourth quarter. “The one thing our program is based upon is finishing. Finish games. Finish your reps. Finish your running. Finish practice strong. Finish the fourth quarter,” said Alabama OL Will Vlachos. What can teachers do to help students finish the fourth quarter strong?
Six Points For Teacher Teams To Consider:
1. Do We Have A Fourth Quarter Mindset?
What do we want students to know and be able to do by the fourth quarter?
2. What Does Our Conditioning Program Look Like?
How can our assignments condition students to be prepared for the fourth quarter?
3. Do We Have A Standard Or A Measure Of Success For The End of Each Quarter?
How do we assess student understanding?
4. When Students Are Winning In The Fourth Quarter (i.e., Already Performing At or Above Grade Level), Do They Know How To Finish Strong?
Do students know how to finish strong? Do students let up in the fourth quarter because they feel overconfident with their grade or with their ability to perform? How do we get the best out of students in the fourth quarter?
5. When Students Are Behind In The Fourth Quarter, Do We Have A Game Plan For Supporting Student Understanding?
How do we respond when students are struggling? What interventions and support does our school provide to struggling students? Do we provide the interventions in the fourth quarter or can students access interventions before the fourth quarter?
6. What Does Winning Look Like?
Do we share the game plan with students?
Do we have “I Can Statements” or Student-Friendly Learning Goals?
Do students have a clear understanding of what it takes to win?
It's one week into the school year and the literacy PD plan has been launched. Summer readings are done, classroom routines are developing. The readers' workshop is up and running! We're on the right path. But there's always a challenge when we set a plan into action, we get busy and lose focus. It's similar to the resolutions we set for the new year. We tell ourselves this is the year I'll lose 10 pounds, this is the year I'll cut down that credit card debt, this is the year that I'll run the NYC marathon. Great goals....but without reflection you'll never meet your intention. So let's take a moment to reflect about the purpose of reflection (every pun intended). It's with good intention that we set goals, right? We often hear people say, oh, she had every good intention.....meaning, she meant to do something but she didn't. But without reflection there's no point of intention. I know, I know....let me make this real! I intend to develop best practices in the area of reading workshop with my colleagues. Why? So students become skilled, critical thinking readers. I set the intention, I took the first step and outlined a plan, provided professional readings, had teacher team discussions, and started observing in classrooms. The goal is concrete, the intention has been set but if I don't stop and reflect, there's no point to it all! Teaching IS reflective practice. If it's not, then it's just a lot of "wah, wah, wah," think Charlie Brown. It becomes a whole lot of talking at kids, depositing information, requesting students to complete tasks, and so on and so on. And come on, we don't really believe our students are empty vessels do we? No, so we set our intentions, make a plan, and take the time to reflect because we want our students to thrive in the classroom, to feel challenged. We want to be the best professional we can be, we want to challenge ourselves as practitioners to study, learn, and reflect!
The theme of this opening week is reflection on the intention. Am I following the plan? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Could I do it better? I challenge everyone one of us to take a moment after this first week to reflect! To remind yourself of your teaching intention. Examine the plan you created and applaud yourself for those things you accomplished this week. Reflect on what didn't work and fine tune it. Intention, planning, reflection. This is the formula for best practices.
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
School Improvement is tough and requires putting a lot of pieces into place to ensure that all schools meet the needs of kids. The whole child “Improving Schools”blog entry, written by ASCD Whole Child Programs Director Sean Slade, takes a look at the various factors required for successful student outcomes by tackling the issues kids and schools face today. During his more than two decades in education, Slade has written extensively on topics related to the whole child and health and well-being (PDF) and has been at the forefront of promoting and using school climate, connectedness, resilience, and youth development data for school improvement.In the latest “Improving Schools” column, Slade discusses the importance of preparing students for the futureby teaching them the skills they need for tomorrow. Read Sean’s entire “Improving Schools”column.
Throughout September at wholechildeducation.org: Resilience
Resilience—the ability of “each of us to bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful” (Nan Henderson); “not only survive, but also learn to thrive” (Bonnie Benard); or even to “bungee jump through the pitfalls of life” (Andrew Fuller)—is more than a trait; it’s a process that can and should be taught, learned, and required. Being resilient helps youth navigate the world around them, and schools and classrooms are becoming more attuned to providing the cognitive, emotional, and developmental supports needed for resilience to prosper and grow in each of us.
“If children are given the chance to believe they’re worth something—if they truly believe that—they will insist upon it” (Maya Angelou). What benefits do schools, classrooms, and students gain through increased attention to resilience teaching and development? How is resilience best developed: taught as a curriculum, integrated across all content areas, or organically developed by each student?
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on resilience with host Sean Slade, director of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and experts Sara Truebridge and Andrew Fuller. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
ASCD Leaders on Reflection
A defining trait of leadership is a passion for success and continuous improvement. With progress comes new vistas and new goals, as well as new challenges to overcome in our never-ending quest for knowledge and excellence. Leaders envision a future, and great leaders shape that future. With that in mind, the Whole Child Blog asked ASCD leaders to share their thoughts on what reflection means to them as learners, teachers, and leaders. Here’s what they said:
ASCD Leader Voices
Reflecting on How We Learn, Teach, and Lead
Educating the whole child and planning for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement requires us to be whole educators who take the time to recharge, reflect, and reinvigorate. How did you reflect on your practice this summer and what goals have you set for the new school year? Read more at the Whole Child Blog.
Over the summer months, we looked at educators’ need to reflect on the past school year, refresh their passion for teaching, recharge their batteries, and look ahead. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast hosted by Kevin Scott—a former history teacher and current director of constituent services at ASCD—and featuring guests Peter Badalament, principal of Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts, and Jason Flom, director of learning platforms at whole child partner Q.E.D. Foundation.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Keynote Speakers Announced for ASCD's 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show—ASCD has released the keynote speakers for the 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, held in Los Angeles, Calif., March 15–17, 2014. The conference will showcase ideas and best-practice strategies that are driving student achievement and will unlock ways to boost teacher and leadership effectiveness. Attendees will choose from more than 350 sessions that will enable them to prepare our world's learners to be creative, critically minded, and compassionate citizens. Read the full press release.
ASCD Kicks Off Yearlong “Membership Means More” Campaign, Announces Insurance Benefits—ASCD announced today new benefits available to current and future members as part of a yearlong rollout of new member perks and benefits during the association's “membership means more” campaign. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Eric Jensen’s Book about Engagement Strategies to Help Students in Poverty Succeed—ASCD announces the release of Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement, a new book by seasoned educator, prolific author, and brain expert Eric Jensen. Read the full press release.
CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter received the Best Health Promotion Practice Award at the 21st IUHPE World Conference in Thailand for his service promoting a whole child approach to education and fostering greater alignment between the health and education sectors. Dr. Carter was selected by the Global Scientific Committee of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) as one of the three award winners for best health promotion practice. Dr. Carter urges educators to promote and view health as fundamental; not only for the individual, but also for the success of education itself. Read the entire press release.
Baruti K. Kafele’s New ASCD Book Shows How to Close the Attitude Gap to Improve Student Learning—ASCD has released Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success by award-winning educator and best-selling education author Baruti K. Kafele. Read the full press release.
New ASCD and McREL Book Presents Simple Approach to Maintaining Focus in the Classroom—ASCD has released The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day by McREL experts Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell. Read the full press release.
ASCD Welcomes New Teachers to Profession, Offers Resources—ASCD is pleased to welcome new teachers to the education profession and offer professional development resources to ensure their success during the coming school year. Read the full press release.
ASCD Launches New Educational Leadership Subscription Offering—ASCD now offers subscriptions to its flagship magazine, Educational Leadership (EL).Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases New Professional Development Offerings for Educators Heading Back to School—As students head back to school for the start of the 2013–14 school year, ASCD offers a new selection of professional development opportunities to enable educators at every level to support the success of each learner. Read the full press release.
Dr. Carter Receives International Award for Best Health Promotion Practice
Recently, our elementary school designed a Learning Commons. The Learning Commons is an extension of the media center. We remodeled a traditional computer lab, with straight rows and desks. School staff replaced the desks and computers with student friendly furniture, carpet, a futon, neon signs, and a space that encourages the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity). Laptops and iPod Touches will be used in the new space. Students will be able to have Socractic Seminars, create videos, mentor younger students, and more.
According to Linton (2012), a Learning Commons must meet several criteria such as the following: the space must be flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical. Recently, I gave some parents a sneak peek at the new Learning Commons. One family asked, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?" This is a powerful question for a parent to ask a school administrator. I did not need to share the theory behind the room or distribute journal articles about learning space or instructional strategies. This parent immediately understood that the new room looked like the real world. She said, "Children don't recognize desks and metal chairs."
How Is Your School Creating Classrooms That Are:
What does a flexible classroom look like? Furniture that is flexible allows students to work in different groups or teams throughout the day. The teacher has placed students in charge of their learning (November, 2012). Procedures are in place to assist students with staying on task, yet meeting the learning goals in their own way. While this may look much different in an AP U.S. History class than it does in a first grade class, I have seen flexible furniture and grouping at both levels.
Open spaces are unconfined. When you walk in the traditional classroom, it is difficult to walk around the classroom. The classroom furniture is bulky and heavy to move. One look at the furniture would tell you that the furniture was designed for different educational goals. I read a great article this week by John Kotter, Change Leadership guru. Kotter (2013) wrote an article that describes the difference between Knowledge Workers vs. Knowledge Networkers (Forbes, 2013). When you visit software companies, website design studios, corporate headquarters, and modern university libraries, you will find open spaces. Clients and co-workers are inspired to collaborate with one another based on the open space. When you look at classrooms in your school ask, "Does this space encourage Knowledge Workers or Knowledge Networkers?" As Kotter described, the workforce is seeking Knowledge Networkers. If your school claims to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, then we should redesign classrooms to look like the real world.
Wireless classrooms are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. Gone are the days of going to the back bookshelf to look up your answer in a World Book. A classroom with three computers is helpful, but a wireless classroom opens new doors for teaching and learning. There are issues with chat rooms, blogging, and searching the Internet for appropriate content. However, this is where teaching Digital Citizenship is important. A wireless classroom is like the real world for most students. Have you ever seen a two year old in a shopping cart at the grocery store? Chances are the child was playing a game or using an app on a SmartPhone.
This is the most difficult part. Unless you are building a brand new school, you probably don't have the funds to purchase new furniture, lamps, or accessories. Our school received a $2,000 Matching grant from our PTA and the Board of Education. The funds allowed us to purchase dorm room-style furniture, a used futon, lamps, cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars and Monsters U characters. The furniture and the accessories are in neon colors, which is in style. The room looks like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, but a little louder. The cheapest accessory we purchased was international clocks. We purchased wall clocks for $4 per clock. Each clock is set to a different country and time zone. The center clock is a neon clock and we paid $20 for the center clock. It reads HES - Eastern Standard Time.
Teachers are great at finding bargains. You will also be surprised how many families will donate items or support you with creating a comfortable space. Recently, a parent donated five large pillows to our new room. Another parent went to Wal-Mart and was able to secure a $100 gift card to purchase additional items. Garage sales, Craig's List, and Going Out of Business Sales are additional ways you can create a comfortable classroom. I struggle to imagine how we could fund another classroom with a $2,000 renovation, much less every classroom. However, I know it can be done.
Inspiring students is easy. Teachers do this everyday. If you follow the other guidelines listed in this article and referenced by Linton (2012), you will create a more inspiring classroom. What inspires students? Neon colors, a graffiti wall, art, collaboration, technology, a green screen, interacting with students in other countries, blogging, Twitter, The 1970's, music, a lounge theme, zoo animals, student created posters, video games, challenging puzzles, books, e-Readers, and multimedia are examples of things that students find inspirational. The easiest way to find out what inspires students is to ask students what they would like to see in a classroom. Let students design the learning environment. Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you sit on the couch? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when we/they design inspiring spaces.
There is no need to turn your classroom into a theme park, purchase a flat screen tv for all four corners of the room, or take out a student loan to redesign your classroom. In 2000, I observed a middle school English Language Arts teacher who purchased four lamps for her classroom. She paid $25 total for the four lamps. The lamps were mood lighting for the classroom. Some teachers use motivational quotes in the classroom. Practical is difficult for teachers, because teachers are constantly spending their own money to support teaching and learning.
I recommend that you start small and redesign your classroom in phases. Can you afford dorm-room furniture this year? If you cannot afford 25 chairs, can you afford three dorm-room style beanbag chairs? Music is another way to change the mood and feel of your classroom. I have seen an elementary teacher effectively use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when they face each other. Another teacher used children's beach chairs. Beach chairs are low to the ground. How many people went to the beach this summer and bought beach chairs? These chairs are often sold in garage sales or placed by the curb, following the vacation. There are several ways to redesign your room. Once again, ask the students to design a dream classroom with the existing furniture.
Teaching has changed. I see instructional strategies that are inspiring and I see teachers working hard to integrate technology across the curriculum. Mathematics and science are not taught the same way that they were twenty years ago. Teacher collaboration and the use of common formative assessments have also improved teaching and learning in the United States. Teachers and administrators are using Twitter as a way to learn about new instructional strategies and are communicating with educators around the world. Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. We need to look at our schools and ask, "Is this classroom flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical?" As the parent asked me, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?"
As we begin a new school year, it is an exciting time for educators. We understand that our influence will have a positive or negative impact on students. The main goal of education is student achievement. However, some educators place such a heavy emphasis on student achievement that they end up forgetting their purpose. In today's K-12 setting, the purpose of K-12 schools has been defined as preparing each student to graduate college and career ready.
Recently, policymakers, educators, and national education organizations have called for a shift from increasing high school graduation rates to a new goal of College and Career Readiness for all students graduating from high school (Achieve and The Education Trust, 2008; ACT, 2008; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009; Career Readiness Partner Council, 2010; Common Core State Standards, 2010; National Governors Association, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010; The White House, 2010; United States Department of Education, 2010; ConnectEd, 2012; Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012; North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 2013). According to the National Governors Association (2012), “There is a national consensus that schools should focus on students’ college and career readiness” (p. 3).
How can educators inspire all students, accelerate the gifted students, remediate and accelerate the struggling learners, focus on student understanding, and teach life skills? A narrow focus on skills or test prep will no longer support the goals of teaching and learning. The following recommendations will promote lifelong learning, while teaching the standards. Educators want to make a difference. Here are five ways they can in 2013-2014!
Focus on the Whole Child
According to ASCD Whole Child, schools should develop school goals around the following tenants: Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged. What does your school do well? Are all students challenged? Do you have school policies in place which promote healthful living? Do students in your school feel supported? Some schools claim to have high expectations. The only problem with this declaration is that they base their rationale for being excellent on last year's test scores. Some high schools may focus so much on their AP and IB programs that they overlook the rest of the student body. If teachers and administrators focus on the Whole Child, it will change the way they make decisions at faculty meetings, in school improvement meetings, at PTA meetings, and during conversations about interventions.
Revisit Your Norms
When educators begin a new school year, the focus is often on unit planning, assessments, curriculum alignment. During the first faculty meetings of the year, administrators review school and district policies, introduce new programs, and provide an overview of the school goals. Most teacher teams begin the school year so focused on students and procedures, that there is little time for establishing or revisiting team norms. Team norms are critical to the success of a grade level or content area team. If the science department has goals for students, then the team will need to have a clear understanding of the goals and team norms. Team norms are evident in schools who have embraced professional learning communities. However, even in these schools some teams struggle due to the absence of team norms. Student achievement can be the goal in each classroom, but a teacher team needs to have clearly established and agreed upon norms.
Remove Barriers for Students
Goal one addressed the tenants of a Whole Child School. Barriers can be financial circumstances for a family, a lack of food for a student, or a learning disability. Another barrier could be when a student enters the ninth grade and struggles with reading. School staff need to identify ways for the student to get additional reading support and intervention. Some students enter high school with a low self-esteem. Educators who focus on GPA, Class Rank, and SAT scores alone may overlook the opportunity to provide the student with a mentor or help the student find a club which assists with a positive self-esteem. When you look at your class of 25 students, you can probably identify a barrier that needs to be removed for each student. You don't need to remove barriers alone. Utilize your counselor, social worker, assistant principal, band director, coach, student resource officer, principal, club sponsors, and more. Once barriers are removed for students, learning will accelerate. Establishing College and Career Readiness for all students means that barriers need to be removed.
Be A Risk Taker
Teachers and administrators need to be 'Risk Takers.' When I observe classroom teachers, I enjoy seeing teachers who take risks and push students to do the same. When we take risks, we grow as learners. For some teachers, technology integration comes easy, but for others it involves Risk Taking. Be a Risk Taker. Some schools may be implementing Understanding by Design for the first time. Curriculum development can be a carbon copy from one year to the next, but risk takers reap the benefits. Be a Risk Taker when you develop new units. Teachers across the United States are implementing the Common Core State Standards. Some teachers say, "This is the way I have always taught." Risk Takers approach the Common Core State Standards with excitement about new units and new ways of assessing student learning. Be a Risk Taker. When you take risks, you are modeling what you want students to do with their assignments and when they enter the workforce. Multiple choice tests don't require risks, unless you take the test blindfolded. Teaching and learning in 2013-2014 requires risk taking.
If we want to develop critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication, educators must ask questions. Essential questions are one of the best strategies for forcing students to think. When educators ask students questions with one correct answer, it discourages students to think. There are still times when teachers need to ask questions with one correct answer.
Six Benefits of Essential Questions:
1. Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
2. The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
3. Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
4. Essential Questions can be used with project-based-learning, community service learning, class debates, research, experiments, outdoor learning, and essays.
5. Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
6. Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.
Teaching and learning require educators to focus on students, while taking time to focus on the craft of teaching. It is easy for schools to teach for one semester and then realize they were focused on the wrong thing(s). In 1903, a professor at the University of Missippi wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (Saunders, p. 73). In 2013, the goals of a K-12 education have changed. College and Career Readiness is the new goal for the youth of our nation. Each teacher has a role in supporting this goal and preparing students for life after high school.
It is what teachers do all the time and it is a great way to replace hodgepodge professional development planning with professional developing planning that is effective: begin with a baseline; provide support; and evaluate.
Begin with a baseline: What do teachers need in order to continue to grow professionally and to enhance student achievement? How do these needs relate to the school’s goals? Anwering these questions require two things. One is teacher reflection that determines where the teacher is and what she wishes to improve, or, add to her instructional toolbox. The other is having an honest conversation with the school leadership about how the teacher’s needs are linked to the school’s goals. This information is recorded by both parties as part of the teacher’s professional development plan.
If the school plans to introduce new iniatives, it is a good idea to ask the teacher if and what she knows about these initiatives. Responses will provide further insights to the type of professional development opportunities that would be useful. Also, a good way to ensure that all teachers are interviewed is to list meetings on the school’s internal planning tool.
Evaluation criteria are established during this step and are based on the questions posed earlier. Hence, enhancement of teacher practice, student achievement, and impact on the schoolwide community are factors that are measured. These factors typify Danielson’s framework domain one (planning and preparation), domain three (instruction), and four (professional responsibilities), respectively.
Provide Support: As noted earlier, recorded goals and responses to questions about initiatives are great sources to use to plan appropriate, group and differentiated professional development. In addition to providing internal professional development opportunities, school leadership should also consider allowing teachers to attend external professional development sessions during school hours. However, in keeping with the effort to create an effective professional development plan, these sessions should also be included as part of the school’s internal planning tool to ensure a smooth transition of instructional changes that are needed in the teacher’s absence.
Additionally, teachers are to be encouraged, after a reasonable time has passed, to share what they have learned, what challenges they faced when implementing new learning, how implementation affects their practice and urged to provide a demonstration for their peers. And, they are to be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments.
Evaluate: Now that goals have been set in accordance with teachers’ and the school’s needs and a support base has been established, evaluation can take place. How has the professional development that teachers have engaged in enhanced practice, student achievement and the school community as a whole? The criteria established during goal setting are used to conduct the evaluation that will help to answer this question.
One other area that is often overlooked but that must also be evaluated is the process. How effective has the process been in promoting professional development? This can be determined by using feedback from teachers together with implementation results.
This approach of using a baseline to meet specific needs, providing support by making it possible for teachers to practice and share what they learn and evaluating to determine the value of professional development, is simple but useful for promoting a healthy environment for effecting growth in teaching and learning.
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #1)
Throughout my travels and in my reflections this summer, I have become fascinated by the words we use to describe our world, our lives and our dreams.
James MacGregor Burns defined leaderships as, "Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations-the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations- of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their follower's values and motivations".
As we go into a new school year, have we defined or redefined what leadership is for us individually and collectively? Do we know the goals for which represent our values and motivations. Finally, do we know our followers well enough to ensure that we are acting on their behalf?
There are many days when I struggle to find where I belong and many days I can find where I went wrong. When I think of what we as a Nation our attempting to do for every child within our borders, I am not sure I feel more pain for what still has to be done or pleasure for the opportunity to participate in such a noble cause. Throughout the unknown and the certainty of what I have not yet got right, I remain resolute to our students, our community and our team. As educators (teachers, administrators, support staff), we cannot be divided against ourselves. Our commitment to every child must be in trusted to each of us and we must conduct ourselves with such firm conviction knowing no one else, cares or works as hard as we do to reach every child.
The new school year is here and we have an opportunity to positively change lives. As we collectively fight to fulfill the “Dream”, I wish you all the best. Make no mistake, it is with pride and complete faithfulness that I walk with you.
Finally by Stella Stuart
Why Should I Fear?
“Behind me is infinite power.
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?”
Teachers: Here are ten questions to ask yourself, answer, and consider as part of a self-reflection about your teaching…
Administrators: Here are ten questions to suggest that your teachers answer and consider as part of a self-reflection and teacher renewal process…
Each question also has sub-questions to help refine thinking, ideas, and practices. These are also good questions for shared reflection and group discussion. They might lead to a rethinking of teaching and learning as well as suggest thoughtful ways to set new goals, teach in different ways, assess more effectively, customize learning, and make instructional improvements during the school year.
1. What am I trying to accomplish with my students? What’s the core?
What are my short-term goals versus long-term goals?
Why are these goals important? Essential? Core?
Where do these goals come from? Are they helpful to someone living in a 21st century world?
How do my goals connect and relate to the school’s goals? The district’s? Other teachers that I work with?
What critical skills am I trying to develop? Attitudes? Understandings? Behaviors?
Are these goals specific enough to suggest what they will look like in practice?
Do these goals suggest the ways that my students will differ at the end of my teaching them from when I began teaching them?
2. What are my beliefs about how students learn?
How “up-to-date” are my beliefs? How much are they based on research or on my own opinions and ideas? How do my beliefs influence the way I teach?
3. How do I create a positive climate for learning?
How do I build strong, positive relationships with my students? Engage and motivate all my students to learn? Inspire my students to learn and to continue their learning after they leave me?
4. What “essential” questions do I want my students to explore?
Instead of thinking about my teaching in terms of goals and objectives, how can I design core, essential questions to promote inquiry among my students? What questions should be the starting points for my teaching during the year?
5. What are the primary, core types of instructional strategies that I use regularly?
Are these effective? Are they “powerful”? Engaging? Why do I use these? Do they work? Why or why not?
6. How do I know when my students have accomplished my goals?
What are the best ways for me to determine whether my students have accomplished my goals? What types of student work will best demonstrate success? Student performances? Behaviors? Use and application of skills? Attitudes?
7. How do I get feedback from my students on how well they are doing? How do I use feedback to improve student learning?
What types of student work demonstrates progress on the part of my students? How can I provide constructive feedback so that students improve on what they do over time?
8. How do I customize and individualize learning for my students?
What can I do to help every student achieve my goals? What can I do better to make this happen?
9. What’s special and unique about my teaching?
What makes my individual style of teaching unique and special? What makes it work for me? Why do I do what I do?
10.How will I work on my teaching in order to improve what I do?
What opportunities are there for improvement? Who and what helps me to improve? What resources do I use? How do I collaborate with others?
Feel free to add additional questions, delete questions, or modify these if you so desire. And GOOD LUCK!!!
“A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another." - Roland Barth
Schools across the United States have faculty meetings, weekly grade level meetings, and attend required professional development. What makes a great team? Aside from the required meetings, high performing teacher teams possess three common characteristics. How does your team measure up?
Successful teams establish goals and when the team begins to succeed or fail, members return to their established goals. 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).
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 reflect on how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose.
According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust "occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible."
A PLC that operates with trust will ask:
Which students seem to struggle with the key concepts and skills identified by the team?
Which skills or concepts do I struggle to teach?
If our students do not do well on the state writing test, then what strategies should we incorporate at our grade level? At the grade levels prior to our grade?
Some students are struggling with note taking and organization skills. What can teachers do to support students who are struggling in school, due to a lack of study skills?
Our students are struggling with Algebra I. Are there areas of the curriculum map that could be revised to support teaching and learning?
Solution Tree created an interactive survey for teams called the Trust Survey.
See if this survey helps your team rise to new heights in 2013-2014!
Teacher teams enjoy collaborating and sharing ideas. Risk taking is rarely seen in most team meetings. Often, teams follow an agenda, share ideas, give each other a high five and type the meeting minutes. Discussing grading practices involves risk taking. Developing a rubric for a student project involves risk taking. Another form of risk taking is challenging the process. In the famous leadership book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote,
They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.
If teachers are going to transform teaching and learning, then they must be comfortable with risk taking. Implementing a new unit and trying technology integration involves risks for most teachers. What if it fails? This is the beauty of a team. If the unit or lesson fails, then you have a team that can offer support, share how the same activity went in another classroom, or support you in tweaking the lesson. As education continues to change and the world requires a different type of high school graduate, educators must take risks. What would Joe Montana do in the closing seconds of the game? What would Michael Phelps do on the final lap? How would Keri Strug respond on her final vault at the 1996 Olympics? Winning teams and winning athletes take risks. Don't play it safe. Students are depending on you to think outside the box and to prepare them for the next level.
There are other characteristics of high performing teams such as team norms, highly qualified professional teachers, a desire to learn, and more. As you begin the 2013-2014 school year, reflect on your team's strengths and weaknesses. You may be part of a new team. Perhaps your strongest teacher leader retired at the end of last year. Teacher teams provide leadership, ideas, and a strong foundation for students. In the absence of a strong foundation, students may not graduate college and career ready. That would be a shame.
Teaching entails many things, but at its core, teaching is about relationships. Relationships breathe life into a curriculum that would otherwise be static; relationships also create a safe space for open discourse, they encourage exploration, confidence and respect. Most of us believe this and while we do our best to nurture strong relationships with students, we often feel them getting lost in the hum of daily activity and the increasing demands of our profession. Thanks to Diane Mierzwik’s book, Quick and Easy Ways to Connect With Students and Their Parents, we’ve got five simple ways you can strengthen your relationships with students.
5 simple ways to strengthen student engagement
Handing back papers
Returning papers is a perfunctory activity; it doesn’t require any preparation or expertise, so often we ask one of our students to hand back papers while we take attendance or make last-minute preparations. But there’s a good reason for teachers to reclaim ownership of this activity.
When teachers return papers, they have the opportunity to connect a student’s performance to that student. “But why not simply glance at my grade book?” you say. Sure, you can do that too, but we’ve found that handing back papers helps connect specific assignments and lessons with that particular student; this makes it easier to remember when our students are succeeding and struggling.
Many of us collect work by having students “pass up” assignments from the back row to the front. This is efficient, but it is another lost opportunity to connect with students. Walking up and down the row to collect each assignment may take another minute or two, but the payoff can be huge.
When you collect homework, you know immediately who did not complete the assignment. Instead of literally getting lost in the shuffle, now you know exactly who you should speak to after class to find out why the assignment is missing.
Commenting on your students’ work
Imagine a track runner; every time she completes a lap and passes her coach, he simply shouts, “B minus!” That’s not very helpful, is it? Based on this “feedback,” the runner is able to ascertain that she could be performing better, but she still has no idea what she’s doing wrong. Now apply the analogy to your students.
Regardless of where we teach, most of us are expected to issue letter grades. Fine, but is there a way to supply your students with more information about their performance? Where could they improve? What did they do well? All it takes is a sentence or two to encourage, congratulate and instruct.
What do your students think about their work?
Teaching our students to self-assess is an important life skill. Too often our students look to us to give them the answers or tell them what is “wrong” with their work. Having students write self-reflections and attach them to their homework gives us the opportunity to see their work through their eyes; it also gives students the opportunity to think critically about their own work, what they did well, and where they could improve.
Informal, 5-minute conferences
Another effective way to connect with students is through informal conferences. The purpose of these conferences is simply to catch up and ask your students how they think things are going. We encourage students to openly share their thoughts. We usually ask them the following questions:
While you can run conferences during class, we recommend having them before or after school, or turning them into an informal “lunch with a teacher” event.