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Capacity building is one of the buzz phrases in education due to the complex nature of how society defines student success: “academic achievement; engagement in educationally purposeful activities; satisfaction; acquisition of desired knowledge, skills, and competencies; persistence; and attainment of educational objectives” (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 10). Capacity building within schools could not focus on only one aspect of development within the school because a single group within the school community could not possess all of the capacity necessary to fuel student success. Research indicates that capacity building increases student achievement (Cooter, 2003). All educators in effective schools take responsibility for improvement and professional capacity (Eaker, DuFour & DuFour, 2002; Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007). Capacity builds as schools focus on learning and getting resources into classrooms to directly benefit students (Machtinger, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Many authors have tried to articulate a definition of capacity. Ervin, Schaughency, Goodman, McGlinchy, and Matthews (2006) simply define capacity as skills, know-how, and available resources. Gewertz (2007) describes capacity as “building the school’s and community partners’ skills to improve, securing the resources to do it” (no page #). Fullan (2006) focuses on marginalized students when he articulates that
capacity building involves any policy, strategy, or other action undertaken that enhances the gap of student learning for all students. Usually it consists of the development of three components in concert: new knowledge and competencies, new and enhanced resources, and new and deeper motivation and commitment to improve things…all played out collectively (p. 28).
Knowledgeable education leaders understand that capacity building relies on the mission and vision of the local context which probably does not include academic achievement as primary to the futures of marginalized students (Schutz, 2006). Low performing schools do not have the capacity to turn themselves around in academic achievement when principals and communities are simply trying to survive concentrated poverty, low expectations, weak courses, burnt out teachers, run down facilities, overcrowding, and poor student behavior (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Narrowly focusing expectations of schools in the form of AYP for all students as measured by one unattainable and not always relevant standard, when schools were on the brink of realizing the importance of participation by marginalized populations and opening up the possibility of class mobility of these populations, deflected attention away from what should be the true purposes of education (Noddings, 2006). By focusing attention on education’s inability to teach 100% of children to read and calculate on grade level in grade three through eight and the resulting distrust and dissatisfaction of the school community, schools have an even harder time building the capacity necessary to reach a critical mass in affecting true educational reform to create a truly powerful school-community coalition that could realize greater economic support for low SES schools, more democratic decision-making within low SES communities, and ultimately, better informed and equipped citizens of the future from all classes that might disrupt the status quo of the dominant class (Noguera, 2004). Low SES schools that were led by forward thinking and steadfast administrators continued this course of building the capacity of the school community to ensure truly unlimited opportunity for their student populations where the resources were available to students to be successful academically, socially, and culturally (Nesbit, 2006).
The problem for meaningful and sustainable school reform is not attributable to a lack of energy, ideas, or a willingness to change in education. Fads, competing priorities, and unreasonable mandates deluge leaders immobilizing efforts to sustain and expand promising initiatives (Henig et al., 1999). As funding resources shrink, efficiency and capacity building become more and more important (Kezar, 2006). Teaching specific practices to families over making the effort to build capacity may result in advantages in certain times and places, but a “right way” approach causes action to lose its distinctive character providing the advantage (Lareau, 2000). “We need to reframe our entire reform strategy so that it focuses relentlessly and deeply on capacity building and accountability—a difficult but…doable high-yield strategy” (Fullan, 2006, p. 28).
Capacity building is closely related to organizational learning. Knowledge and understanding moves from tacit to explicit back to tacit. “Teacher change, like most human change, must emanate from within” (Bonner, 2006, p. 41). Education becomes more than parents deferring to teacher professional judgment and only being involved to the extent that teachers value (Henig et al., 1999). By understanding capacity, the “lonely teacher… reaches out to and joins the community and family [as] school is a network with permeable boundaries connecting it to the other institutions comprising society” (Musial, 1999, p. 120), instead of “erect[ing] barriers with one hand while reaching out with the other” (Schutz, 2006, p. 726). Often, in unsuccessful schools, agents simply “do not know how to improve it, or they do not believe it can be improved” (Fullan, 2006, p. 60) when collective efficacy holds the potential for a better future (DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Authoritative leadership is not sustainable; but collective, collaborative, distributed leadership can build capacity and commitment to changing school culture in marginalized communities successfully through cooperating and competition, boundary conversations, dialogue, and productive conflict (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Copland, 2003; Patterson & Rolheiser, 2004; Stacey, 1996).
As part of capacity building, principals actively build leadership capacity in others by “broad-based, skillful participation; a shared vision; established norms of inquiry and collaboration; reflective practice; and improving student achievement” (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 1, p. 1; Copland, 2003) and by developing learning communities where staff growth expands their capacity to provide for students (Eaker, et al., 2002). School reform rooted in the efforts of individuals and dependent on individual academic success cannot be sustained and will fail; working class learning is determined by the cultural context in systems dependent on sociocultural capital as opposed to individual capacity (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005; Musial, 1999). If capacity relies only on relationships or only on structure, capacity will be too soft or too rigid. Capacity is essential. “Because social systems are uncertain by their very nature, schools are fragile places (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 10, p. 1).
Many factors interact to determine educational capacity (O’Day et al., 1995). Yet, education experts agree, capacity building “must become a core feature of all improvement strategies” (Fullan, 2006, p. 104). Education has progressed to the point where discussion about capacity involves lists whose discussion centers around lines of responsibility versus lines of authority. These discussions describe capacity as built through clear accountability, relevant data available for analysis and application, and high expectations for staff with support of professional development (Walk, 1998). O’Day and colleagues (1995) feel “interdependence of organization and individual capacity” contributes to an understanding of instructional capacity (no page #). These authors list the five dimensions of organizational capacity as vision and leadership, collective commitment and cultural norms, knowledge or access to knowledge, organizational structures and management, and resources.
McREL (Dean et al., 2005, p. 5) defines capacity in three ways:
Complex descriptions alluding to practices evident in High-Performing High-Poverty Schools (HP2S) get past the tendency to create lists and begin to open the door to envisioning improving instructional capacity in schools as an interaction of multiple elements to “produce worthwhile and substantial learning” (Cohen & Ball, 1999). Capacity building efforts result in “adoption, sustainability, and evolution of innovation” to allow HP2S to emerge (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006, p. 162).
One of my favorite arcade games is Whac-A-Mole. When you drop your token in the machine, you have a limited amount of time to ‘whac’ as many moles as you can. In the beginning of the game, one or two moles pop their heads up and it is fairly easy to hit each one. About twenty seconds into the game, the moles start popping up three at a time and when you smash a mole with the mallet it may pop up again.
Whac-A-Mole is similar to the daily routine of a principal. From the time you arrive at school in the morning until late in the evening, moles pop up. Your job is to address each mole and to prioritize which one is most important. In this article, I am going to describe the ‘Six Moles’ a principal must address in order to be a good leader.
Six Moles A Principal Must Address
Principals receive phone calls, emails, and face-to-face messages from families. If you work in the car rider line at an elementary school, a parent or grandparent may share a concern with you as they drop their child off at school. When you check your email, you may have an email from multiple families with a concern about something that happened the day before. There are times when a family member has a concern about something that is a district level concern, but it is the principal’s job to advocate for families and contact the central office or assist the family in navigating communication with the central office. Families are not ‘moles’, but concerns pop up frequently and the principal cannot ignore family concerns. It is not wise to ‘whac’ a family member, but the concern must be addressed.
A principal wears several hats and the instructional leadership hat is critical to the success of the school. If a principal is focused on email, returning phone calls, developing professional development, and attending meetings, he or she will not be able to focus on the main thing. When a principal visits classrooms for formal or informal observations, it helps him or her get a pulse for student achievement and curriculum implementation. A principal should be a coach, cheerleader, critical friend, and more! If a principal does not visit classrooms on a regular basis, then the school will not continue to grow. Instructional rounds cannot be something that a principal does when the ‘mole’ pops up. This important leadership role must be part of the principal’s regular schedule.
Student Discipline pops up unexpectedly. There may be a student issue on the bus ride to school. Students may have a dispute on the playground. A student may break a school rule on the way to the next class. Handling student discipline is one of the main roles of principal leadership. Teachers and staff assist with student discipline, but when this ‘mole’ pops its head up, the principal cannot ignore it and move to the next three moles that pop up. Some of you reading this article may be thinking, “If student discipline is a mole, then ‘whac’ it.” You cannot use a hammer to hit every problem. When you use the Whac-A-Mole approach to student discipline it means you handle the problems as they arise, rather than waiting for more problems to pop up.
One of the most challenging ‘moles’ for a principal is email. If you sit at your desk from 8:00 am – Noon, you will see multiple moles pop up on your screen. More building principals are carrying a personal or school assigned smart phone on their hip. At one point, it was easy to avoid email because you could walk away from the computer. Principals have the ability to check email in the hallway, in meetings, while they are off campus, at home, and any time day or night. If principals focus on each email as it pops up then they will get distracted and miss out on other important leadership duties. Email is a great analogy to the game Whac-A-Mole. When you reply to email it continues to pop up. Time management is important and Whac-A-Mole Leadership involves more than whacking each email, hoping to bop all of the ‘email moles.’
Leading professional development is important. When a school staff stops learning, they stop growing. It is easy for principals to spend several hours developing a video, presentation, or hands-on learning activity. Quality professional development requires planning, learning goals, and materials. Principals are wise to develop a teacher leadership team who can assist with professional development. This will allow the principal to have a role in leading professional development, without having to plan the entire session. This year, our school has conducted professional development on the Six Instructional Shifts (Common Core State Standards), Technology Integration, Literacy, and School Safety. If the principal ignores professional development, then it may not happen. However, a building principal cannot sit in the office and develop every PD, while ignoring other ‘moles’ throughout the school.
Communication is an important responsibility and it cannot be ignored. Principals need to communicate through the school website, email, newsletters, video, blogs, face-to-face meetings, PTA meetings, Coffee Hour, phone calls, and informal meetings in the parking lot. Principals need to be intentional about communication. Principals need to communicate with classroom teachers through classroom observations, email, blog, faculty meetings, notes, and informal meetings. A principal could spend his or her entire day developing communication documents or preparing a speech for the next meeting. It is important to see communication as a mole that you ‘whac’, but also as something you plan for. If you are not communicating and marketing the great things about your school, then who is marketing your school? You cannot afford to let the ‘communication mole’ pop its head up too many times.
Whac-A-Mole Leadership is a humorous way to describe the day of a principal. We can all laugh and relate to the moles that pop up throughout the day. You can probably describe several more moles that principals must address if you reflect on your past week. “Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to think big. But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, and they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism” (Sanborn, M.). If the goal of leadership becomes whacking the next mole, we may miss the most important things. Stephen Covey shared the Leadership Matrix (as shared by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership). Principals must ask, “Is this mole important and urgent?” or “Is this mole urgent, but not important?” As the moles pop up at your school, I wish you the best. Keep whacking moles, but make certain you are focused on the right mole.
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.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
The ASCD Forum Has Begun
For the first time, ASCD is hosting a forum to focus on a topic of importance to educators across the globe. Nations, states, and provinces all around the world are grappling with the issue of educator effectiveness. ASCD invites all educators to make their voices heard in an ongoing discussion of the question, “How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” The current discussion theme is:
Educator Preparation (February 3–16): What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?
Upcoming themes include:
The ASCD Forum concludes April 12. To join the conversation, educators are invited to blog on ASCD EDge®social network, comment on other blog posts, take a survey, and attend a live session at ASCD Annual Conference. Results from the ASCD Forum conversations will inform the ASCD Board of Directors’ position development process. To learn more about the ASCD Forum, join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASCD Releases 2013 Legislative Agenda
ASCD’s 2013 Legislative Agenda (PDF) urges Congress to immediately reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replace it with a comprehensive rewrite that fixes the current law’s flaws; aligns with and supports current state and local initiatives; and guides revisions to other federal programs, such as special education and career and technical education.
The legislative agenda, developed by ASCD members and recently released at ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA) in Washington, D.C., offers three key policy recommendations to Congress as part of any ESEA reauthorization. Together, the recommendations advance the goal of educating students who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, and who graduate ready for the demands of college, careers, and citizenship.
As part of LILA, ASCD educator advocates from across the country discussed these recommendations with their federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill. We ask you to build on their work by sharing the 2013 Legislative Agenda (PDF) with your colleagues and elected officials.
Alabama Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
ASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the fourth post of the series, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia writes about the challenges and successes that Alabama has had with CCSS implementation.
ASCD Leaders to Ignite ASCD Annual Conference
With the tagline “Enlighten us, but make it quick,” Ignite presentations are a fast-paced, breathtaking, and inspiring way to share stories. Each presentation is 20 slides long, and each slide automatically advances every 15 seconds; this format keeps the presentations moving quickly. The following ASCD leaders will present their Whole Child stories in Ignite session format at ASCD Conference on Saturday, March 16:
Please join us for an exciting Saturday afternoon session from 1:00–2:30 p.m.!
Join the ASCD Forum Conversation
The ASCD Forum has begun, and you’re invited to be a part of it! Check out these ASCD EDge posts on teacher and principal effectiveness:
Throughout February at wholechildeducation.org: Safe Schools
Safety is and always will be a fundamental concern for schools. Students who aren’t or don’t feel safe at school cannot learn, and schools must ensure that their environments are both secure and supportive. The current debate on school safety brings with it a renewed interest in addressing safety, school climate, and mental health concerns at schools and promises to improve school policy and practice.
Yet while the current debate has engaged the nation in community-wide discussions, it also has the potential to overlook the voice of educators. Join us throughout February as we look at what educators (teachers, administrators, and counselors) believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but safe places to teach and learn. What can educators do to implement and reinforce the conditions for learning where students are physically and emotionally safe; learn to manage their emotions and relationships positively; and are connected to the school, community, and caring adults?
Opportunity to Learn, Teach, and Lead
What does it mean to be a teacher, a learner, and a leader in today’s schools and classrooms? What do we need to be effective? How will the current standards movement affect us, as professionals, and our students? How do we find the answers to these questions? Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In December and January, we looked at what we can do to implement the Common Core standards within a whole child approach. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Arnold Fege, president of Public Advocacy for Kids; Craig Mertler, professor and dean of the Ross College of Education at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.; and David Griffith, director of public policy at ASCD, who leads the development and implementation of ASCD’s legislative agenda (PDF) as well as ASCD’s efforts to influence education decision making at the local, state, and federal levels.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read January’s 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.
The Time Is Now: Make the Case for Educating the Whole Child
Whether you are a parent, educator, or community member, you can help turn political rhetoric about “investing in the future of our children” into reality. Updated with crucial research and real-world examples of education policies and practices that ensure students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, Making the Case for Educating the Whole Child (PDF) is a free advocacy tool that you can use as you work with policymakers, the media, and other groups. You can also add your local statistics and success stories so that decision makers in your community understand the difference a whole child education can make. Learn more.
Something to Talk About
· Results-Only Learning the Subject of Pioneering Educator Mark Barnes’s New ASCD Book—ASCD is pleased to announce the release of Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom by Mark Barnes, 20-year classroom teacher and creator of the Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE). In this groundbreaking book, Barnes walks middle and high school teachers through the fundamentals of a ROLE. Results-only learning eliminates traditional practices—homework, worksheets, tests, and even grades—and replaces them with student-driven, yearlong projects that enable students to sharpen and expand their skills. Read the full press release.
· Pinellas County Schools and ASCD Partner to Support Common Core Implementation—The award-winning Pinellas County Schools (PCS) has chosen ASCD as its newest professional development partner. The seventh largest school system in Florida, PCS serves 104,000 preK–12th grade students in more than 145 schools. Read the full press release.
· ASCD Releases 2013 Legislative Agenda—ASCD released its 2013 legislative agenda (PDF). Developed by the association’s Legislative Committee, which is a diverse cross-section of ASCD members representing the entire spectrum of K–12 education, the 2013 ASCD Legislative Agenda outlines the association’s federal public policy priorities for the year. The key priority for ASCD and its members in 2013 is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Read the full press release.
· ASCD Introduces the New PD QuickKit—ASCD introduces the new PD QuickKit® digital packs. PD QuickKits are a cost-effective, powerful new professional development option that combines engaging multimedia resources focused on the most important issues in education today. Read the full press release.
Because of the requirements of No Child Left Behind and the current emphasis on implementing the Common Core standards, reading and math are given priority time and attention in many, if not most public schools and Districts. Due to these circumstances, there is relatively little priority given to teaching and learning science. We frequently read in the media about the importance of science in today’s 21st century world, yet there is little emphasis on creating comprehensive, high quality science programs at all levels, pre-school through high school. It is rare to find coherent, active learning, inquiry based science programs at the pre-school and primary grade levels. Many teachers at the elementary level indicate that they have limited time to include science activities in the curriculum. High quality science programs emphasize active learning through inquiry strategies, investigation, hypothesis testing, experimentation, and science projects, but in too many middle and high school science classes, the key science program ingredients are the use of textbooks as the primary science resource, coverage driven teaching and learning, and traditional multiple-choice, short essay tests. Other priorities, time limitations, lack of attention, fragmentation, a traditional coverage based focus – all conspire to reduce the effectiveness and excellence of science programs in most schools and Districts.
Here are one dozen reasons why we must counter these trends and find ways to implement high quality science teaching and learning for all our children at all educational levels:
1. Science is interesting, important, meaningful, and motivating.
Science questions provoke interest in the mysteries and wonders of the natural world. Students learn to think about important questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? How does life exist? Why do things grow? Learning science provides students with an understanding of its massive contributions to everyday living and the comforts of life. Science programs provide an important avenue for helping students to develop a passion for inquiry and a better understanding of the world around us.
2. Science career opportunities will be important in the future.
High quality science education experiences develop scientific talents and interests. Good science programs interest, motivate and encourage students to prepare to work in the growing science-related professions, as scientists, health care professionals, technicians, and other science-related fields.
3. Science promotes democratic thinking and values.
Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. Conflicts in science are resolved peacefully through discussion, argument, further investigation and the collection of evidence. Scientists learn to “disagree without being disagreeable”. Thoughtful criticism is the norm, not the exception. The expectation is that, as Einstein once said, “critical comments should be taken in a friendly spirit”.
4. Science builds positive lifelong learning habits, behaviors and attitudes.
Good science programs emphasize the value of inquiry, encourage curiosity, and reward persistence and patience. Students learn to focus on science as a series of mysteries. They learn how to develop and explore interesting questions. They learn to solve problems and answer questions by taking small steps, being persistent, having patience, and overcoming adversity. They learn that finding “truth” is often messy and inconclusive. Students learn that successful achievement and learning often require trial and error, making mistakes, even failure. In other words, science teaches habits, behaviors and attitudes that support self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learning.
5. Science enhances creativity and imagination, tolerance for and adaptation to change
High quality science programs encourage students to ask “what if…?”. Students learn to explore open-ended questions, to consider alternatives that are “outside the box”, to invent and test creative solutions, and to try to solve problems in different and unusual ways. Science teaches students that change and adaptation is part of the nature of learning and growing by testing new ideas and adapting to changing circumstances.
6. Science teaches that knowledge is “tentative” and that knowledge, theory and explanation are all part of the learning process.
Too many students come away from school thinking that that knowledge is fixed and immutable (especially if it comes from a textbook) – that there is always a right answer. A study of Galileo’s or Einstein’s discoveries help students to see that what once was thought to be “correct” turned out to be wrong, that scientific knowledge needs to be tested, studies need replication, and theory is only an empty idea until there is data to support and explain it. Good science programs teach students that knowledge is frequently tentative and changing.
7. Science develops critical intellectual skills.
Science fosters the development of critical thinking skills that carry over to learning other subjects and daily living. Through science, children learn to carefully observe (What do you see happening to this plant as it grows?) interpret and hypothesize (Why do you think this is happening?) conduct experiments (How can we prove it?), see different perspectives and points of view (What are different points of view about why this happened?) analyze (What are its component parts?) synthesize (How does this all fit together into a pattern? What are the connections and relationships?) and draw conclusions (What are our results? Conclusions? Why?) Students learn how to create an argument with supporting evidence to justify a point of view, to question opinions that have little backing to support them.
8. Science builds reading and “learning to learn” skills.
Good science programs build strong reading skills! As students investigate physical forces, chemical reactions, biological growth, or the solar system, they also learn how to read a variety of science resources, understand new concepts, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn the language of science and science inquiry. The investigation skills they learn – defining problems and challenges, searching for and processing information, thinking critically and creatively, drawing conclusions and applying learning, and communicating with others and explaining results - are a significant part of the “learning to learn” skills they will need for college and future careers.
9. Science helps students to learn and apply mathematical thinking.
Math is the language of science. As students learn science, they learn that mathematics is an important tool to help solve real problems and questions. Measurement, number manipulation, and proportional thinking are critical tools of science. As students “do” science, they learn how to collect and analyze data, form patterns, develop spatial and geometric relationships, and apply many of the higher level and complex math systems to scientific problem solving.
10. Science enriches learning in other subjects.
All subject areas benefit when a student understands science concepts and ideas. For example, science concepts are helpful for understanding historical forces, technological and social changes over time, and current issues and concerns such as global warming. Science problems can be used to help students understand and apply statistical analysis. The arts are integrated into science through graphic designs and drawings that complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations and provide visual demonstrations of learning. Science concepts are intertwined with understanding healthy living habits and good nutrition.
11. Science develops teamwork skills.
Through science, children learn how to work together to investigate, test hypotheses, interpret data, and draw conclusions. As they work together, they learn to understand and tolerate difference and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to significant learning. Science can also contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful by teaching students how to work together and resolve conflicts.
12. Scientific understanding is critical for good citizenship in a 21st century world.
An understanding of science, science concepts, how science arrives at results, and science research is critical if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. An understanding of today’s complex issues, concerns, challenges and problems require an understanding of scientific principles, concepts and ideas. Global warming is the most obvious, but others include what to do about atomic waste, how to get clean water, agriculture and food issues, health and illness, hurricane damage prevention, energy issues, automation and robotics.
High quality, inquiry based science programs motivate children and provide them with intellectual skills and positive attitudes and values that help them to succeed in school and in life. Science learning raises and examines critical questions and promotes understanding about the natural and physical world, and provides students with inquiry and investigation skills that will encourage a lifetime of learning. They increase interest in a subject that is of considerable importance to the development of highly educated citizens who understand critical issues for the future and to student preparation for well-paying science-related careers. Good science programs help students learn to work together and to learn methods that help them resolve conflicts peacefully.
Teachers, Boards of Education, superintendents, principals, the community at large, and governments at all levels – all need to make a commitment to support and develop high quality science programs at all levels, including pre-school. There are many ways to do this – for example, to widely share and discuss these dozen reasons on why it is critical to develop strong science programs, to adopt high quality science curricula at all levels[i], to develop teachers’ science knowledge and skills, to train teachers on how to incorporate high quality science experiences into their classrooms, to involve local science organizations in promoting and fostering high quality programs, to apply for funds to implement and support high quality science programs at all levels, and, ultimately, to develop competent science educators in every school and at all levels.
Every child should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent science program. It should be priority for a 21st century world education. Science education can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and it can make a significant difference in the lives of children. What it takes is understanding, commitment, dedication, passion, persistence, and hard work over time.
[i] Curricular programs that meet the high quality test include active, kit based elementary science programs such as FOSS (http://lhsfoss.org), secondary programs such as Active Physics (http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html), and the adoption of teaching methods that promote active learning and support science understanding, such as those created by Eric Mazur at Harvard University (http://mazur.harvard.edu/education/educationmenu.php).
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and former Director, Curriculum/Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching, learning, and curriculum in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
- President George W. Bush,
Florence, South Carolina, January 11, 2000
Does technology integration improve student achievement? If your child is entering kindergarten in 2013, you may see a SmartBoard instead of a chalkboard. Your child may come home with a blog, rather than an essay. Animoto, Doodle Buddy, Glogster, Story Buddy, Symbaloo, Tagxedo, and VoiceThread may require parents and guardians to purchase a dictionary just to understand the teacher’s assignments. It is an exciting time in education and students are entering classrooms with opportunities that their parents did not have. As teachers continue to use technology as a tool to teach students key skills and concepts, it is important to focus on the learning targets rather than the technology or online tools.
In 1949, Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. In the introduction to the book, Tyler outlined four fundamental questions which should be answered in developing any curriculum and plan of instruction.
Tyler’s Four Fundamental Questions:
1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
2. What educational learning experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?
These questions are just as important in 2013 as they were in 1949. Tyler never had the opportunity to Skype or create a VoiceThread, but he had a clear understanding of curriculum design. It is easy for teachers to get wrapped up in the activity and teaching students how to use the online tool. “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” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 21)? If teachers desire for students to have an Alphabet Soup vocabulary of Web 2.0 tools, then they should focus on teaching every tool that looks fun and kid-friendly. However, if teachers want students to understand key skills and concepts outlined by standards, then Tyler’s four questions will support curriculum planning. Prior to mobile labs, 1:1 initiatives, SmartBoards, and Web 2.0 tools, teachers designed lessons which led to student understanding. While the tools available to teachers and students will continue to multiply, the basic goals of teaching for understanding remain consistent. President Bush may have been right. Parents and teachers need to ask, “Is our children learning?"
Recommended Resources Which Support Technology Integration and Teaching for Understanding:
Ferriter, W.M. (2013). Digital immigrants unite. The Tempered Radical.
Ferriter, W.M., & Garry, A. (2010). Teaching the igeneration: 5 easy ways to introduce
essential skills with web 2.0 tools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fisher, M., & Hale, J. (Coming in Feb. 2013) Upgrade your curriculum: Practical ways to
transform units and engage students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design: Expanded 2nd edition.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
As we enter 2013, teachers and administrators will reflect on the school’s existing strengths and weaknesses. High performing schools ask questions such as, “Which students are struggling? What will we do to support them in 2013?” New Year’s Day is a time when people around the world establish new personal and team goals. Among the most common personal goals are weight loss, financial goals, spending time with those you love, and volunteerism. How can school leaders capitalize on this transition from 2012 to 2013? How can goals drive the work of teachers and schools?
New Year’s goals and resolutions are shattered annually. In some cases, creating a goal on New Year’s Day is a ritual and follow-through is an afterthought. If school leaders want to move their students and staff to the next level, then they need to adopt a 3D School Leadership mindset. 3D School Leadership includes Direction, Differentiation, and Dedication.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new year and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
School leaders often boast that they have a mission and vision statement framed in the front office. While there is a time and a place for mission and vision, 3D Leadership defines the ‘What’ and the ‘How’. What are we going to commit to as a school staff between January and June 2013? How will the direction of the school impact our grade level/course? Based on my teaching assignment or administrator role, how can I help the team stay on course in 2013? DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in most schools. When teachers and staff return in 2013, revisit the school’s direction.
If you have been in a faculty meeting, participated in a webinar, or served on a School Improvement Team, it is likely that someone has offered differentiation as a strategy for supporting student achievement. 3D School Leadership emphasizes differentiation for students, families and staff. A one-size fits all approach to education is not going to work any better in 2013 than it did in 2012. Differentiated instruction, assignments, and assessments will increase student engagement and achievement. Tomlinson, Brimijoin, and Narvaez (2008) highlighted the non-negotiables of differentiation: “respecting individuals, owning student success, building community, providing high-quality curriculum, assessing to inform instruction, implementing flexible classroom routines, creating varied avenues to learning, and sharing responsibility for teaching and learning” (p. 3).
How can a school leader differentiate for families? In 2013, a 3D School Leader can provide communication to families through Facebook, Twitter, Email, Phone Messages, Blog, and the traditional newsletter. If you are not reaching all of your families through existing communication strategies, you may benefit from a differentiated communication plan. Another way to involve families in school events is online through surveys, responses to social media posts, and a Twitter Chat with a unique hashtag. You may find that families are more involved in the school when they have a voice in determining the events at Open House, PTA meetings, and school events. Utilize a differentiated approach in 2013 and see if you are able to reach more families.
One final focus of the 3D School Leader will be differentiation with staff. Flipping the Faculty meeting, meeting individually with grade level teams, creating a school discussion thread or corkboard.me, and encouraging teachers to lead professional development are a few strategies for differentiation with school staff. You may be surprised with the results!
It is difficult to find classroom teachers who aren’t dedicated to their students. I am amazed by the time, creativity, and teacher leadership that I see on a daily basis. 3D School Leadership requires the entire staff to dedicate their time, talent, and efforts to the school’s goals. Classroom goals should be aligned to the school’s goals. In education, it is easy to focus on my class and my students. 3D School Leadership will embrace the abilities of each staff member and use their strengths to support school goals. One strategy for increasing dedication is for each grade level team, or course (at the high school level), to develop S.M.A.R.T. Goals. A template for developing S.M.A.R.T. goals is available at All Things PLC.
Increase the number of students who graduate College and Career Ready
Increase the number of students who are reading on grade level
Support my co-workers in implementing the Common Core State Standards
The S.M.A.R.T. goal template will help your team become dedicated to the goal, rather than having an awareness of the goal. Use your collective skills and abilities to make a difference in 2013.
3D School Leadership is more than establishing goals or identifying existing weaknesses. Once teachers and administrators embrace 3D School Leadership, they will begin to move in the right direction. Too often, schools approach goal setting like many individuals approach New Year’s Resolutions. Purchasing a gym membership, buying an alarm clock, reading a motivational author, and using a day planner or Google Calendar are all great ways to start the new year. It’s not where you start in January, but where you are as a school team in June.
Determine to make 2013 different than the rest. Identify the school’s direction. Use differentiation with students, families, and staff in an effort to meet your school goals. Remember that dedication to a goal is much more important than having a goal. Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens [educators] can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Steven Weber is the principal at Hillsborough Elementary School located in Hillsborough, NC. He blogs at ASCD EDge. Recently, his blog titled A Bucket List for K-12 Students made the Top 10 Blogs of 2012 on ASCD Edge. Connect with Weber on Twitter @curriculumblog.
by Terry Heick, TeachThought.com
With instructional strategies, data collection, curricular planning, personal communication, and classroom management to consider, where technology fits in to a teacher’s workday isn’t obvious—especially a new teacher. But if you can consider technology as a macro tool rather than a micro task, this simple paradigm shift can make all the difference.
A Means and an End
Technology is as much an end as a means.
While it can act as a powerful tool to actuate thinking, curate performance, and connect learners, technology can create its own need to know, and even obscure the reasons for learning in the first place.
On a simple level, there is the matter of function. While hardware (iPads) and software (programs and apps) are designed to be accessible, there are inevitably problems. Passwords can fail, broadband access can be problematic, and even the simplest act—such as copying a file from one drive to another—can take up more time than they save, and suggest a point of diminishing return.
On a murkier, more complex level is the idea of workflow.
Technology workflow refers to the role of technology in learning facilitation—specifically what is used when for what reason.
If a student is taking notes using an iPad, then needs to share those notes with a partner, the technology workflow is simple. The student internalizes materials, interfaces with the technology to capture thinking, then uses an app or function of an app to share the file. At this point, all is well.
But if ten lab partners need to access unique databases, return to a shared physical (or digital) space to share ideas, communicate priorities, then re-disperse, the workflow is more complicated and recursive. This matters less with individuals (though it matters then, still), and more when large groups like classes or entire schools access similar hardware, software, and even content.
Workflow can make or break technology use.
Luckily, there are some ideas to keep in mind as you plan.
1. Think Function First
As you approach technology, think first of what it is doing. What exactly it is doing.
To do this, you’ll need to observe some barrier to learning—otherwise the technology use is, at best, gratuitous, and at worst, leading students away from what you’re wanting them to come to understand.
Rather than think “What’s a cool way to use twitter?”, you might notice that students are missing out on real-world access to content experts. Then you might notice that blogging, twitter, and RSS feeds are all three powerful ways to connect students to said experts.
Technology use here becomes strategic, intentional, and more likely to result in additional capacity for learning with technology.
2. Let Students Lead
Students may or may not know technology better than you. This is difficult to judge because their knowledge here can be so uneven.
Regardless, they likely know it differently than you do. So let them lead.
Let them choose new applications for existing technology—a new way to use Evernote, or a smarter way to use hyperlinking in Microsoft Word.
Let them corral emerging trends in social media use and work them into the learning process.
Let them figure out the logistics of turning work in, sharing feedback, and maintaining a digital portfolio. While this is necessary in a BYOD environment, it is possible anywhere.
3. Start With What You Know
While you’ll gradually need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, start where you’re comfortable—and not comfortable as a teacher, but as a technology user yourself.
If you’re an avid user of facebook or pinterest, figure out a compelling way to integrate it into the learning process. Same with your Android smartphone or the new digital multi-meter you just picked up on Amazon.
This will help you learn how technology actually works in the learning process while not having to juggle mastering a new technology while you’re at it. As a new teacher, you’ve got enough to keep you up at night.
4. Experiment Constantly
Whatever you do as you grow as a teacher, do not become complacent. Step out of your comfort zone, seek out better ways to complete the mundane tasks that sabotage your free time, and try new things with technology.
This experimentation can come as the result of collaboration with your professional learning network, business leaders in the community, or the students themselves. Make sure that in your daily use of social media, physical print, or in-person observation you have access to powerful uses of technology, or your “idea well” will be self-contained and likely unsustainable.
5. Be Mindful Of Your Own Biases
Both new and experienced teachers will need to prioritize what’s most important in their classroom. There’s only so much time and so many resources. This is understandable.
For new teachers, before you know it your first year becomes your fourth, and built-in habits that were formed during the storm of your first classroom experience can be difficult to even see, much less break.
For experienced teachers, constantly seeing education technology with fresh eyes can help you see function first while also staying ahead of emerging trends. If you hold fast to this app or that operating system you risk creating your own personal learning environment rather than one for your students.
Resisting this requires a solid framework for technology integration from the beginning that is catalyzed by your own interests and passion, but is also interdependent with students, experts, and your global learning network.
Don’t be afraid to fail; everyone fails. Just be sure that failure comes in pursuit of better technology integration that is dynamic and evolving, rather than a stunted system of tried-and-true that will eventually catch up to you in your career.
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
Why You Should Attend the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy
ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA), one of the association’s most unique experiences for educators, provides participants with the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s leading education thinkers and policymakers in a much more personal setting than the usual conference. Register for LILA now to take advantage of the conference’s hands-on format so that you can gain the skills and knowledge to make a difference.
LILA takes place January 27–29, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Read on for some of the features that set this conference apart.
Space is limited and the registration deadline is fast approaching! Register for this premier legislative conference today and check out the conference agenda as well as the registration and travel information. Questions? Contact ASCD’s policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New ASCD Policy Points on Sequestration and Education Now Available
Learn all you need to know about sequestration and its consequences for educators and schools in the latest issue of Policy Points, ASCD’s newest policy publication.
Sequestration, the 8.2 percent deep, across-the-board cuts to nearly all federal spending, will happen in January 2013 unless Congress acts to stop it. For education programs, this means a loss of more than $4 billion in federal funding. Unless lawmakers act soon, the potential loss of educator jobs, programs, transportation, and key school services could have a devastating effect in every state.
Policy Points explains how we got to this point, outlines what sequestration means for education, and shares action steps that educators like you can take to help stop sequestration. Take one of these steps today, and urge your federal lawmakers to stop sequestration before time runs out and our nation’s students are forced to pay the price for Congress’s inaction.
Check out the new Whole Child Tenets document
The Whole Child Programs Unit within Constituent Services has released a new copy of the whole child tenets document (PDF). In addition to having an updated design, the new layout allows users to see connections between the indicators that describe a tenet, and their correlating components, which were also identified for the ASCD School Improvement Tool. We hope users will find the new format more user-friendly as you work with schools, districts and states to support a whole child approach to education. We believe it to be the most comprehensive way to help educators in the field understand the real scope of a whole child approach.
Emerging Leaders Featured inASCD Inservice Blog Series
In an effort to highlight more educator voices on the ASCD blog, we recently initiated a series of Q&A sessions featuring ASCD Emerging Leaders. Learn more about 2012 Emerging Leader Daina Lieberman and 2011 Emerging Leader Doug Paulson.
Florida ASCD Leader Post Featured in ASCD Inserviceand Core Connection
ASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the first post of the series,Florida ASCD President and Emerging Leader alum Alina Davis writes about the challenges and successes that Florida has had with CCSS implementation. This post was also featured in the December 5 issue of ASCD’s Common Core e-newsletter, Core Connection.
Please Welcome Montclair State University to the ASCD Student Chapter Program
ASCD is pleased to announce that Montclair State University has been accepted into our ASCD Student Chapter Program. The student leaders are enthusiastically planning recruitment events and other activities for the coming semester. To learn more about ASCD Student Chapters, go to www.ascd.org/chapters.
ASCD Leaders on ASCD EDge
Check out these great posts from ASCD leaders on the ASCD EDgecommunity site. Please read, comment, and share!
ASCD Can Help Support Your Common Core Efforts
Are you interested in having a session presenter or keynote speaker on Common Core implementation at your next event? ASCD has resources and assistance available to state affiliates that will help to inform your members and educators about implementing the Common Core standards. ASCD’s recent reportFulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards: Moving from Adoption to Implementation to Sustainability illuminates activities educators at all levels can undertake to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards across the nation. The report and its implementation recommendations have already been successfully presented at events held by Utah ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and North Carolina ASCD. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, e-mail Efrain Mercado, lead strategist for the Common Core State Standards, at both email@example.com andConstituentServices@ascd.org.
A Progress Report on Teacher Evaluation
Teacher quality is the most important in-school factor influencing student learning and achievement. Research shows that students with high-performing teachers can progress three times as fast as students with low-performing teachers and each student deserves access to highly effective teachers in every subject. In turn, all teachers deserve a fair and accurate assessment of their skills, how they perform in the classroom, and how they can improve. Teacher effectiveness is dependent on accurate and fair evaluations, based on multiple measures, including—but not solely based around—their students’ performance in the subjects they teach.
If the ultimate goal of teacher evaluation is to improve student performance, what should evaluators look for? Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In November, we looked at the current teacher evaluation landscape. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Mike Blakeslee, deputy executive director and chief operating officer of the National Association for Music Education, a whole child partner organization and member of ASCD's College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness Coalition; Bryan Goodwin, vice president of communications at McREL, based in Denver, Colo.; and Cindy Weber, superintendent of Durand Area Schools in Durand, Mich. Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read this month's 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.
ASCD’s Educational Leadership also focused on fair and effective teacher evaluation in its November issue, featuring articles by Robert J. Marzano, Charlotte Danielson, Tony Frontier, Thomas R. Hoerr, Carol Ann Tomlinson, and other experts and practitioners. Topics, research, and commentary include peer review, classroom observation, value-added measures, school district examples from across the United States, and lessons from South Korea.
Something to Talk About
· New Professional Development Resources from ASCD Support Problem-Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Common Core Implementation—ASCD announces the release of a series of new PD In Focus® videos, as well as two PD Online® courses. These new resources focus on supporting educators in implementing problem-based learning, differentiated instruction, and the Common Core State Standards. Read the full press release.
· Thomas Armstrong Presents Strength-Based Model for Teaching Learners with Special Needs in New Book—ASCD is pleased to announce the release ofNeurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life by seasoned educator and best-selling author Thomas Armstrong. This new professional development book is available in paperback and e-book formats. Read the full press release.
· ASCD Authors Headline 2013 Annual Conference Pre-Conference Institutes— ASCD announced the pre-conference session lineup for the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, being held at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. The three-, two-, and one-day Pre-Conference Institutes will be held March 13–15 and offer intensive learning experiences on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and more. Read the full press release.
· Atlanta Public Schools Select Digital Solutions from ASCD to Support Professional Development Goals—Atlanta Public Schools (APS), serving more than 51,000 students in the greater Atlanta, Ga., metro area, has become the latest school system to select digital solutions from ASCD to meet theirdistrictwide professional development goals. Read the full press release.
How often have you heard a co-worker say:
Baseball is Timeless. Unfortunately, school begins in August and ends in June. Teachers have second jobs, serve as Girl Scout Leaders, volunteer on the weekends, coach soccer, teach children's church, serve on district and state-level curriculum committees, lead professional development, write blogs, serve as advocates for education policy, raise their own children, run marathons, and develop innovative units for the next semester. Some presenters and education consultants promote the idea of a "Stop Doing List." In recent years, a "Stop Doing List" creates a chuckle from teachers and administrators. You can't stop any of the following: Teaching the Common Core State Standards, Administering and Analyzing Common Formative Assessments, Planning Units, Attending Faculty Meetings, Watching Required Webinars, Report Cards, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Providing Students With Quality Feedback, Modifying Instruction to Meet the Needs of Each Learner, or Implementing Local Initiatives.
Is there a solution to having no time? One of my favorite videos on the topics of time management and priorities is an old video by Stephen Covey. Covey asks a participant in the audience to Identify the Big Rocks in her life. Consider your personal life and the decision-making process you use to identify your daily routine and which things you will choose to eliminate. Is exercise important? Do you skip your son's basketball game, because you would like to type three more emails at work? Do you miss your anniversary because there is a great webinar with your favorite speaker? Do you skip church on Sunday so you can work on curriculum mapping? Do you let the grass grow for three weeks, because you don't have time to mow it? Do you let your three year old daughter put herself to bed, because you are enjoying grading papers? Do you spend your paycheck on the first day of the month because it is easier than trying to develop a budget? These scenarios may seem ludicrous, but it is similar to a teacher saying, "I don't have time to read a journal article."
John Maxwell wrote a book titled, Today Matters. Maxwell asks, "How does today impact tomorrow's success?" If you look at professional development, a PLC meeting, reading a blog, attending professional development, working on a district initiative, developing a new unit with your grade level team, or scoring common assessments through this lens, you will see that today's activity is not a waste of time, but an investment. Maxwell shares more about Today Matters at John Maxwell on YouTube. He states that many people look for quick fixes. "You don't win an Olympic Gold Medal with a few weeks of intensive training." Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller recently wrote a book titled, Great Leaders Grow." In a video that highlights Great Leaders Grow, The Blanchard Companies state, "Personal Growth is not a 'Nice to Have.' It's Essential to Your Career." Are you growing as a professional or is there no time to grow?
As 2012 comes to an end, reflect on how you spent your time. Are there areas in your life where you could create more time by making better choices? Are there things that are preventing you from maximizing the time you have each day? School administrators can help teachers by creating opportunities to learn, opportunities to collaborate, and designating time for professional development. Teachers can also assist administrators by offering suggestions for supporting the professional development goals of teachers. For example, is Thursday the best day to meet? Could someone offer to do morning duty, so three teachers could have an additional 45 minutes to collaborate? Are there obvious barriers in the current schedule that could be moved or removed in January? Could Flipping the Faculty Meeting (see Bill Ferriter's article on this topic) create additional time? Simply stating, "I don't have time" without looking for possible options may hinder student achievement or professional growth. Legendary UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden told audiences, "I’m not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I’m going to be, But I am thankful that I’m better than I used to be." At the end of January, will you be better than you were at the end of December 2012?
As the election plays itself out this coming week, we as educators continue to work on behalf of children and our communities as a whole. Whatever the outcome of the vote, the work goes on and our efforts must continue. So I want to keep this post simple and straightforward. Whatever your political persuasion, there are certain objective, observable realities we can all agree on in looking across the education landscape:
When you look at these statements in the progression in which I offer them here, does it seem that there are forces at play far beyond our immediate influence? There are. These forces are forever changing society and, therefore, will forever change education. Are these forces of a particular political bent? No. regardless of your personal views or even those views of the candidates running for office, this kind of seismic sea change will continue to happen in spite of ourselves. Of course one party or another will sway the dialogue on the methods and priorities for getting the job done, but in the final analysis the transformation of public education is bigger than all of us. What a sobering realization. So...does this mean all our efforts are for naught?
No, of course not. Whichever candidates you choose, get out there and vote on Tuesday. And after the election results are in, continue to work to make a difference in the life of each child and each colleague with whom you come in contact each and every day. Because when your career is complete and you look back at the difference you have made, it won’t be measured in monetary or political terms. You will see the difference you have made in the life of each student you become reacquainted with in their adult lives...and this has become much more commonplace with the rise of social media. So here's a political primer you can actually reconcile with your professional life:
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
In a recent tweet, The Timmy Tebow brings up a valid point on the issue of priorities:
Almost a billion dollars has been spent on campaign ads so far. It's a good thing schools & the economy are in great shape or I'd be mad.
He implies that the spending on campaign ads demonstrates a mis-step in priority and values, but he doesn’t articulate WHO makes the mis-step. In other words, who has spent the money on the ads? Who has provided the funding for the money to be spent?
I know that at least some of the money comes from voters. As of August 2012, Obama raised $348m to Romney’s $193m so far. However, this doesn’t take into account fundraising from their parties – the Republicans have raised $239m to the Democrats’ $210m – or the money generated by the campaigns’ political action committees (PACs) or nonprofits. (McGuiness).
So, we’ve got these categories of organizations that sound so vague and general, we sometimes forget that these organizations are comprised of people. Individual people. Primary voters.
When we give donations, we give an organization the right to use it however that organization sees fit to do so. Whether we donate $3 or $3 million, our priority is made clear in the giving. Every time we choose to spend aka donate a dollar, we’re making an argument of our priority.
We do love to say that we prioritize education. (Focusing on education as this is an education blog.) We want our students to be on “top”, but we don’t want to pay a penny more in taxes. We cannot have the educational system of Finland, for example, which provides for truly equal opportunities for students. Why? Consider these points from Kaiser’s article:
Finns live in smaller homes than Americans and consume a lot less. They spend relatively little on national defense…Their per-capita national income is about 30 percent lower. Private consumption of goods and services represents about 52 % of Finland's economy, and 71 % in the US. Finns pay considerably higher taxes -- nearly half their income -- while Americans pay about 30% on average to federal, state and local governments.
Willing to live in a smaller home so that our children can have a better education? Ready to spend less on national defense? Ready to pay half of your income to the government?
Sorry, Mr. Tebow. Until we’re ready to demonstrate, through our choices of donation and spending, what our priorities are, then you will see millions of dollars spent on these and similar endeavors. It's far more accurate to tweet:
American voters have spent almost a billion dollars on ad campaigns so far.
Mirror site: Joyful Collapse.
Assessment is the cornerstone of all curriculum design.
When we begin with the end in mind, a la Jay McTighe’s and Grant Wiggin’s work in Understanding by Design, we set a path for success focused on a target. (Read Chapter 11--it’s an eye opener!)
Some of you may remember how the Triple A company used to prepare Travel Triptiks for customers in a pre-Google Map world. Triptiks were a trip planning tool that were designed with the destination in mind. As you traveled from your current location to your intended destination, you were given different routes, points of interest, and drop-in suggested side trips that would enhance your journey while still achieving your desired destination. In order to create the Triptik, though, you had to identify the destination. Otherwise, how would you plan your trip?
I think of these often when I think about curriculum. The assessment is our destination. Our path is the Triptik. Side trips are awesome, different points of interest are engaging, and we don’t have to travel the same linear path as everyone else.
The problems arise when we know our destination, but travel to other places instead. For instance, if I lived in Jacksonville, Florida and wanted to travel to San Antonio, Texas; I wouldn’t stop in Chicago first. I’m sure that comparison is clear enough, but it’s not so neat when we think about curriculum design. Whatever our objective is, depending on the standards we are addressing, it is dependent on the instruction we offer to our students. If an assessment asks students to evaluate and create but our instruction asks only that they remember and comprehend, then we’ve taken a wrong direction somewhere and end up in a swamp of learning limbo.
So how to remedy the opposite of symbiotic planning? Think cognition. Think purpose. Think of how you’re going to ask kids to prove what they’ve learned.
Most of the states in the country are aligning instruction and assessment to the Common Core. In the course of upgrading curriculum and/or curriculum maps, many are paying attention to the instructional elements but not necessarily the assessment elements.
In a recent conversation with second grade teachers, I discovered that students were really falling down on the common assessments that the teachers were using in math. I asked the teachers what they thought was going on. Some responded that the students were just lazy and others thought that the tests were just too hard. I asked them if they had really looked at the test questions. I asked them if they were teaching the skills that the students would need to answer the questions successfully. I asked if the skills to answer the questions correctly were part of their “planned-for” instruction and whether or not they were represented in their curriculum maps.
They weren’t sure. So, question by question, we broke down the skills a student would need to answer a particular question correctly. What we discovered was that those skills aren't necessarily being taught. It was an uncomfortable conversation, but the teachers were using worksheets that came with their math textbooks, as they always had, and using assessments that represented the standards and were created by the teachers. There was a mismatch. The rigor of the instruction rarely matched the rigor of the assessment.
I have to admit, there were some tears in that workshop. The reliance on the worksheets and the assumption that they were building fluency were flawed. They were preparing kids for Chicago, but not San Antonio.
In order to impact learning, we have to be cognizant of and plan for the intricacies of curriculum symbiosis. That means that instruction and assessment must have a high degree of parallelism in terms of levels of cognition, types of activities, individual student priorities, content, etc. Our main curriculum priority upgrade focus, then, must be assessments. I know some may read this and see the message: “teach to the test.” Just to clarify, that is NOT what I’m saying here. What I’m advocating for is to teach FOR the test. If instruction prepares students well, then the assessment will be a true measure of learning versus a hope and a prayer that students “get it.”
In our upcoming ASCD book, Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students, (Tentative Feb. 2013)Janet Hale and I discuss assessment as an entry level to transforming instructional design and practice. This includes the examination of curriculum, assessments, instruction of the future versus instruction of the past, and more. We recently found out, as planned in the writing of the book, that we will be able to leverage ASCD Edge to amplify the book and have interactive moments between us and our readers.
This interactive/social element will be coming in mid-January / early February just before the book is to be published. In the meantime, we’ll be blogging about the elements of the upgrades and transformations that we are describing in the book. With this post, and our previous post on “Planting A Seed,” we will be looking at advancing curriculum design and practice as well as share additional examples of Upgrades and Transformations from the field.
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Cure for the Common Core eBook now available...
Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.
Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.
What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.
Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.
Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.
Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.
Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.
If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?
And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.
My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is and from now on will always be a moving target.
As always this is just my humble opinion.
With all of the priorities in schools and education today, what are the most important things that principals (new and veteran) should focus on? Reflecting upon my experience, and also drawing upon the work of Dr. Todd Whitaker, I have create a "short list" of focal points that will pay off in the short, and long, run. You may already have a short list, which are the things that need the most immediate and/or most intense attention. You might also have a long list, which are things that need to be addressed in the near future. For this blog I will focus on the short list, which are items that are of increased importance. It is important to note that 'short list' items do not infer that these things are short in terms of time invested, nor that they are easy to do. However, I believe that these five things are somewhat like "power standards" for Common Core... they will continue to pay off in years to come. Some of these things are grounded in Dr. Whitaker's book "What Great Principals Do Differently", but they are mostly based upon my own experiences as well.
1) Hire Great Teachers and Develop the Ones You've Got
This is so critically important. Dr. Whitaker says "what if every teacher in your building was like the best teacher in your building?" Schools would be destined to succeed. The best HR advice I could give new Principals is: Do not 'settle' for a mediocre candidate just to fill a vacancy. You will spend more time documenting a poor teacher than you will interviewing to get a great one.
As for the teachers already in your building, develop their skills, delegate leadership tasks to them and depend on them to do great things, while you hold them accountable. Developing leadership capacity in the school is something that will pay dividends in many aspects, and for a long time. We excel at what we lead... it's just another way of saying we learn what we teach.
2) Monitor the Alignment of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
This is time consuming, and not all principals come with a background in teaching. Fortunately, I do have that background in both teaching and curriculum leadership, and it is very useful to know how to observe that in the classroom. If you do not have a teaching background, attend a workshop or an institute or take a graduate level class in curriculum supervision. Great teachers teach specific curricular objectives in the way that is most instructionally relevant, and then assess in a variety of ways to make sure learning can be transferred. Take the curriculum with you during walkthroughs, require lesson plans and view assessments.
3) Connect with your Parent Community
When parents see you as a welcoming and calming force, you are sure to see benefits long-term. When difficult decisions have to be made that parents are unhappy about, it is easier to swallow if they already perceive you to be open, caring and rational.
4) Identify Your Best Teachers and Utilize Their Strengths
Putting the right people in the right seat on the bus (we are talking adults here) is very important. Facilitate some professional development as in-house, teacher-led PD. As I do walkthroughs or observations, I take note of certain strengths. Then I use those as needed to impact instruction school-wide. Some teachers may be asked to lead a professional development activity with staff...teachers have buy-in with their colleagues and it gives them praise in front of their colleagues. Last year, I asked teachers with strengths in a subject to help tutor struggling students not assigned to them. Although some of the receiving teachers felt uncomfortable accepting the assistance, in the long-run, it paid off. Students received the interventions needed, and it highlighted professionals in our own building who can offer new ways to make an impact. It will also push others to work up to that level.
5) Provide Timely and Specific Feedback
This is true for our communications with teachers, parents, central office staff and all stakeholders. If people feel like you are ignoring them, they lose both respect and direction. Nothing is more frustrating that the stereotype that principals do not return phone calls and emails in a timely fashion. It is our job to ensure that we are providing both timely and constructive communications. This applies to the specificity of feedback given to teachers and the quality of information given to parents. Have 'Crucial Conversations' when needed (there is a great book on this, entitled "Crucial Conversations)." The message you communicate is determined mostly by: your tone and nonverbal cues, what you say, when and how often you say it. Refining your communications skills is one of the most important things you will do as a leader of a large organization.
Cited Work: Whitaker, Todd. What Great Principals Do Differently. Eye on Education, New York, 2003.
To all new Principals, this is sure to be an incredibly busy time of year. But you will find that you will probably say that each and every month, "this is an incredibly busy time of year." As the new year starts, I reflect on my first days of the Principalship, just over one year ago. Expect the unexpected is usually a good motto to live by. New Principals will find themselves buried behind so many tasks, agendas and interests that it can be difficult to prioritize what is most important. With a background in teaching, district curriculum leadership and former experience as an Assistant Principal, I remember thinking, "is the upset parent more important, hiring for this unexpected vacancy more important or doing walk-throughs to monitor instruction more important?" As any educational leader in the 21st century should know, it is all important. So how do you manage the priorities? You could rank every issue in terms of priority but that would just add to the neverending checklist of things to do... to rank your things to do. It is rather easy to assign in email a color coded tag to each email as you read it, if you use Outlook. I use Red, Yellow and Green for priority levels and odd colors for a common topic, like orange for applicants for an open vacancy. This saves time when you look back at your email inbox to know which items to re-read first. Being an exceptional leader takes great skill in juggling many priorities and also knowing your human capital well enough to be able to delegate with confidence the items that can be handled by someone else. My suggestion to consider urgency, importance to student learning and impact on school climate when you have to decide which to do first. Building leadership capacity in your building is surprisingly one of the best things you can do to, not only get buy-in from your teachers, but also save your sanity, allowing you to focus on instructional leadership.
"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep" (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5).
Back-to-school takes on a new meaning in 2012-2013. Many states will implement the Common Core State Standards. As the quote above mentions, standards are not new in K-12 education. In 1994, Dr. Andrew Porter wrote, "Almost no one believes that standard setting in and of itself will lead to school improvement. Direct efforts at school improvement, such as strengthening the teacher corps and improving curriculum materials, need to follow" (p. 446). It is important to remember that implementing the Common Core State Standards will require ongoing professional development, risk taking, communication, and a mindset of College and Career Readiness for all students. As Dr. Porter wrote in 1994, the implementation of standards will not change teaching and learning in the United States. 2012-2013 marks the beginning of a new generation of standards. Does your school district have an implementation timeline? How will teachers receive ongoing support as they implement new standards? How do you plan to measure the implementation process? What is your district's communication plan for families and stakeholders?
"Educators must decide if they will work together collectively and collaboratively to overcome the inevitable barriers they will confront or if they will simply say the task is too hard and the challenges too great for them to do what they know must be done to support high levels of learning for all students. Will they expend their energy explaining why it cannot be done in their setting, or will they work together to do it" (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2010, p. 206). I wish you and your professional learning team the best as we work together to impact the next generation.
As your school and district staff begin the implementation process, you may benefit from the following resources.
Developing a Common Core Vision
Learning Forward (as published in Education Week)
The standards are not a vision; they define outcomes. When districts and state departments of education take the time to envision what successful standards implementation looks like, it gives them a resource to measure progress, guide actions, and stay on course.
Common Core for School Leaders
Michael Fisher and Steven Weber
School leaders must create a schedule which allows for continuous improvement, rather than hoping teachers will meet before and after school. The schedule that school administrators create reflects a matter of priorities and curriculum development should be a priority.
How Will You Prepare to Make Shift Happen in 2012-2013?
As districts begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, district leaders need to develop processes and short term wins. It is easier to make shifts happen when all stakeholders can see the Big Picture.
Curriculum Developers should ask these questions in order to create a purposeful curriculum.
Learning Targets: Classroom teachers should have a great amount of flexibility when it comes to 'how' to teach key concepts and skills, but 'what' to teach should be clearly defined by the team. It is unethical to allow some students to 'end up someplace else.'
The Fear of Failure
Failure is part of the learning process. If K-12 schools are going to make the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards, then failure will be part of the implementation process.
What Are Your Three Circles?
Do educators in your school have a Hedgehog Concept? (Jim Collins) The Three Circles activity may indicate that there are numerous programs and initiatives among buildings in a school district, but many of the initiatives seem to be in conflict with each other.
Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms. Standards also help students and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success. Standards are a first step – a key building block – in providing our young people with a high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and work. Of course, standards are not the only thing that is needed for our children’s success, but they provide an accessible roadmap for our teachers, parents, and students.
I heard a fantastic speaker today, Jason Zimba, a professor of physics and mathematics at Bennington College in Vermont discuss what we really need to be considering as we align our curriculum to the Common Core. While what we discussed largely centered around Math Standards, I think the message is important for all areas.
Jason asked that teachers focus on a couple of guiding questions when looking at their current curriculum practice:
I thought this was important for a couple of reasons. One, it helps to understand what resources we can continue to use (perhaps with some deepening of instruction and assessments) and two, it helps foster vertical conversations in schools. If there is too much of a focus on the review, or too many review moments over the course of your instructional year, then something is falling apart from one grade level to the next. You need to discover what’s happening, and that can only happen with conversation and collaboration between grade levels.
When you look at the major work done in your grade level/content area, what are your priorities? Those priorities must stay in place. How do those priorities align with the Common Core standards? How much of the review that you do can be cut to give you more instructional time around new learning? This is similar to a conversation I blogged about last summer around aligning standards to current practice in a process I called Common Core Crosswalk EZ. It’s also similar to the prioritization that we do when mapping around discovering those standards that represent the most important for instruction, that every kid must leave with. We determine those priorities by looking at our curriculum through particular lenses, including leverage, endurance, and readiness.
As Jason spoke, my mind was making all kinds of connections, many related to mapping and quality curriculum work. It also reminded me of my last diet. What we call dieting is really what we should call living because my version of dieting is really just about eating right and exercising, not depravity or missing out. When I’m not doing those things, I’m making a choice to not be healthy or accept laziness or inappropriate food choices as just the way things are. (I’m making this metaphor specifically about me, by the way!)
Don’t we do the same thing with curriculum? We know there are good ways to design and implement curriculum but sometimes we don’t make the best choices in favor of what is comfortable or easy, i.e. worksheets, lectures, memorization, decades-old novels that only the adults value, etc. We don’t necessarily need to go on a curriculum diet or anything, but perhaps we could consider upgrading one thing, at least for now, that is a step in the direction of a healthier and more robust curriculum. Look to my blog post on CLEAR for some questions you could pose to yourself around the design of new aligned curriculum.
One of the things that Jason seems to value is action. I’ve been reading Steve Jobs’ Biography and the major thematic elements in his book are both a quest for perfection and a keen eye for design. I’m all aboard for good design, but I think action is a better goal than perfection.
Jason shared that he remembered sitting in his dirty living room one day, thinking about the best way to clean up the room. His wife suggested that he stand and just pick something up. That’s kind of what I think we should all be doing: just start. Don’t seek perfection, seek the boot straps to pull yourself up by and be a pioneer through this fumbling and rumbling phase we’re all going through as we align our curriculum to the Common Core while simultaneously navigating Data Driven practices, new Assessments and new teacher evaluations.
Be a Pioneer! Be a Dominant, Persuasive, and Forceful Battle-Ram through these challenging times. Be a persistent advocate for children!
Cure for the Common Core on Amazon
One of the legacies of the Industrial Age is the ideal of standardization: creating products of consistent quality that can be mass-produced. Coming out of the Agricultural Age, this was a huge step forward; without standardization much of what was accomplished in the twentieth century could not have been attained.
Along with standardization came specialization, as specific standards of quality had to be met by specific experts. On any assembly line each worker knows expertly his or her one piece of the whole standardized assembly process. It serves its purpose well in manufacturing.
An intriguing concept in specialization is the notion of compartmentalizing: to separate into distinct, discrete parts of a whole product. By compartmentalizing, we are able to isolate specific processes and problems and focus on solutions without being distracted or overwhelmed by the bigger picture. There’s a safety in compartments. When people compartmentalize, they can focus on what they want without allowing themselves to feel the impact of other parts of their lives. Likewise, building the hull of a ship by compartments makes it more seaworthy; if one set of compartments takes on water, the ship can remain afloat as long as the rest of the compartments remain intact. Barn silos. Office cubicles. Individual serving packets. Compartments are everywhere.
But compartmentalizing has its limits. When we compartmentalize, we never deal with the bigger issues. We seal in quality but also seal out any further chance for improvement. Whatever we place in a compartment becomes frozen in time, unless and until we break the compartment open again. In the case of a seaworthy ship, opening up compartments isn’t desirable. For people, we all eventually have to break out of our compartments to become whole, happy, healthy, functioning people. For silos and cubicles and packets of instant oatmeal, we want to be able to break the seal and bring value out for our use.
Working and living in compartments - in isolation - prevents us from realizing our full potential. It can feel safe to seal off specific parts of ourselves, but in reality each of us is one whole, complete self-contained system of wonderful potential that can make the world a better place. The same goes for organizations. Each department can have its own self-contained expertise that contributes to the whole, but to be successful in the quickly-changing Information Age, each group of experts need to connect and communicate and collaborate across departmental boundaries. To continue working in isolation is to ensure organizational extinction.
This holds true for education. We have compartmentalized ourselves by subject matter expertise, grade levels, geographic boundaries, political boundaries, and local management. We identify ourselves by pedagogy, practice, textbook adoptions, proprietary technologies, budget priorities, and so much more. Education is the most splintered, compromised, compartmentalized public institution in existence. This is why, in my humble opinion, it is struggling to be successful in the Information Age.
At some point standardization reached its optimal potential, and a new ideal began to come into focus: individualization. You can’t meet the needs of individuals when your expertise and resources are locked up in compartments. Society is being opened up in the info-technical explosion we now know as the Information Age, and education is unable to keep up because of its compartmentalized structure. How do you capitalize on all the benefits of individualizing for students when you are set up for one-size-fits-all standardization?
If we can break down the walls and open up the free-flow of ideas and resources, education has the potential to become a game-changer in the Information Age. What would that look like? There are numerous models around us of children being educated individually to meet their needs and interests so that they are prepared for the wide-open society they are about to inherit. Technology can make that kind of unique individual education experience possible on a massive scale. Perhaps the first step is to stop trying to force technology to fit the model of standardized instruction…unleash its transformative potential and let innovative education practices show us the way. Change is not an easy thing for any public institution…but students are already using tech tools in every other aspect of their lives…and if schools do not transform to reflect how students learn and work and interact today, they will become irrelevant in the not-too-distant future.
Standardization has had its day. Unfortunately, the process of becoming extinct is slow and often hard to discern…especially when it’s happening to you. In order for organizations to remain relevant in the Information Age, they must break out of their various compartments, open the flood gates, and let the resulting flow of energy and ideas wash over them and take their course.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
My last post, Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, seems to have gotten quite a few people talking about educators needing to learn more. Of course there were some who disagreed, which is an inevitable consequence of blogging. One of the comments that caused me to think even more about this educator/learner topic was a comment that I had received concerning the methods I suggested might need a revisit of learning. Authentic learning and project-based learning were two that were specifically mentioned by a commenter. The comment was to the effect that these were methods of teaching that have been with us for years, so why would educators need to learn them? That set me to examining why, or even if, we need to revisit any of the things we should be teaching. What is different about: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation from 20, 50 or 100 years ago? Obviously, the function, and purpose of those skills remains the same, so what is different? Why are we being told our students need better preparation in these skills? If we have always taught these skills before with success, what makes it different now?
We always taught kids how to write and encouraged them to get published. This was the goal of any good writer, the success of publication. The idea of submitting transcripts to publishers in great numbers as a buffer against the inevitable rejection slips was also advised. For many English teachers their greatest pride came from having a published student. What’s the difference today? The computer is the publisher. There are no rejection slips other than an audience response. Kids understand this, but many educators are playing catch up if they get it at all. I recently listened to two college professors describe their writing program and not once did they mention the words “Blog”, or “Post”. Writing for a post for an audience is different than writing a composition for your teacher to read. This is an area that all educators need to discuss and learn.
We always taught critical thinking, and how to vet sources. We taught which newspapers and magazines were reliable, trustworthy sources. Today newspapers and magazines are disappearing. They are being replaced by 24/7, cable news cycles, websites, blog posts, and social media. There is much more of a need for critical thinking skills than ever before. There are fewer reliable sources to count on. The super-pacs have proven that sound bites and images are more persuasive than facts. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.
Communication has always been taught. We have always had kids stand before the class and deliver reports and presentations. Science fairs in every county in America have kids communicating their data on poster boards. That happens with such frequency that Poster Board manufacturing became an industry in this country. How many job seekers will put “great poster board skills” on a resume’? Yes, I know there are other important things kids learn from this beyond the poster board, but why not take them beyond the poster board? Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.
Creation is the highest point on Bloom’s Pyramid. Some educators think that it is the peak of the pyramid because it is so hard to get to without mastering all the other skills. Some people may not think everyone is capable of getting to that peak of higher order thinking skills. We might find that the reason many students don’t reach a point of creating is that we have always limited the means they had to do so. We were only equipped to receive prescribed reports, oral projects, and an occasional video project. That has all been blown up by the evolution of technology and social media. Justin Bieber was barely in his teens when he launched and promoted his creations into a multi-million dollar industry. He did not use a report, oral report, or a video tape to do this. When it comes to creation, we as educators shouldn’t limit our students. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.
Technology has evolved at a rate which has changed our culture as a society, and has had a profound effect on education. Society’s demands on what it expects from contributors has evolved, so that what we turned out as literate in the past, is no longer literate in today’s world. Even with that being said there are many who doubt it. There are schools that refuse to recognize technology as a factor in education. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.
I am not attacking educators on this. Our society in general needs to discuss and learn. We need more people to be connected. Technology is not going away or standing still. It will continue to evolve whether individuals accept that or not. If it is a factor in our society as a tool for: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation, then we must teach our citizens how to use it as a tool. Our kids will be required to do so in their world, which is not here yet. It should change priorities in education as to what we teach and how we teach it. Authentic learning and critical thinking are now huge factors because kids are learning and interacting without the benefit of a classroom or a school. Education must not be limited by standardized testing. Our responsibility as educators is too great. These topics of discussion would best be served through leadership. Education administrators may need to prioritize these discussions over those of budgets and tests. These are the concerns that need to be driven by Professional Development. This is an area that educators and parents need to discuss and learn.