Search ASCD EDge
School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
The continuously shrinking world and the bout towards a knowledge-based economy impacted every aspect of human life in diverse ways. Even education could not escape this. Educators have sought various ways to make learning more relevant, real-life, and responsive to the changing needs of time.
Inspired by all of this, LIFECOLLEGE, the school where I am working, came up with a unique program that is an eclectic mix of educational and international exposure and travel for 4th year high school students between 15-16 years old. The travel program commenced in 2006 where students first traveled to Australia. The following year, the school traveled to Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia was included in the succeeding year. And by 2012, students have been traveling to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
As the school envisioned to become a cutting-edge learning hub for global champions, it seeks learning opportunities anchored on 21st century skills that to prepare its students to gain a global perspective without losing their heart for local community development.
This travel program called Global Competence Class include fun and exciting activities such as visit to museums, landmarks, cultural centers, historic places, science centers, theme parks and the most important of all, one-day immersion in various partner schools.
Each activity is linked to a learning competency in various learning areas including developing skills in communication, collaboration, and respect for cultural diversity.
Through this program, the students also learn how to budget their time and money, how to commute in buses, trains, and ferries, how to read maps and follow directions, how to observe keenly and write about what they have observed, and how to understand our identity as Filipinos vis a vis our Asian neighbors.
All learnings are documented on a travel journal produced by the schools. This is a collection of mindmaps, observation notes, reflections, photos, collectible items, and daily devotions to make the educational travel a memory escapade to remember for life. To prepare for this kind of trip isn't very difficult.
The following steps would be of help.
1. Secure passports and DSWD travel clearance. By The beginning of the school year, parents must be aware of the trip's requirements, expenses and itinerary. Legal documents such as passports must be secured from DFA while Travel Clearance is secured from DSWD. These are the necessary papers needed for minors to travel.
2. Finalize itinerary. The next step is to scout for educational places to visit according to the learning goals? send proposals. Once the itinerary is finalized, search for affordable airline ticket prices and book immediately. Then look for hotels. The group would normally stay in the hotel during daytime.
3. Prepare travel logs. Since the itinerary is already set, a journal will help to document what the students learned. This is the most important part of the travel and a source of grade for those who participated. Included in this log are the worksheets for each place to visit, the checklists for the itinerary, contact persons in case of emergency, things to bring, and the evaluation sheet.
4. Predeparture and Travel briefing. Orient the students with the guidelines on proper behavior in various places such as airports, trains, ferries, and places to visit. It would be best if they know what to do, where to go, and how to behave in places where cultural diversity is the norm.
Educators who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their students must learn how to venture out and take bolder steps to innovate. Travel, at the least, is just one of the many options. In this country, where travel is now made available for every one, edu-tours is an exciting way to expose, prepare, and push our students to the real world.
Normally, I am not one to write on controversial issues, but there is freedom in the provocative, and the time is now (or yesterday) for action in education. Although this speaks to one state's journey through the massive budget cuts and the looming additional injustices, I think that most educators in the nation have experienced a degree of this. I humbly share my thoughts with legislators considering budgets for next school year and the community of ASCD advocates:
How will your child suffer? We must stop this ridiculous abomination of a proposed budget now. The incessant and continuous hit that education has taken in the last 5 years has been beyond reason. However, this year's proposals fall just shy of criminal. As a voter, a parent of children in the school system and a school principal, I have many perspectives to offer. First, as a voter: We elect officials into office who we believe will stand for the things that we hold close to heart. Public schools are the birthplace of some of the best minds in America. What does it mean to be American? Please ask yourself this, as our elected representative. Americans value critical opinions and diversity but stand united when someone attacks our home or our community. To my esteemed elected officials, I say: We are under attack. Make no mistake... this is a war of interests. We must not let the future of our children and ultimately our country falter to other priorities. We know that you are under pressure to invest in the political interests that got you into office, but we beg you not to sacrifice our children, your children or the future of our great nation in doing so. As a parent: We cannot provide quality schools without adequate funding to do so. Should we settle for mediocrity? Would you settle for mediocrity for your own child? Absolutely not. I want my children to get access to teachers with skills that will challenge their minds and inspire their hearts. Teachers deserve pay worthy of the countless hours they spend planning. Let Principals hold them accountable to that. I want my children to have adequate support in their classes as they are acclimated to the rigor of public schools. Teacher Assistants provide this support. They are educators, advocates and probably teach your child in a center or reading group. I want my child to have access to the equipment, books and materials needed for 21st century learning. As a school principal: Is the public aware that kids in most counties are still using outdated books, so teachers have to develop their own curriculum materials to match the new standards? And what justice do we pay teachers when they do this with a smile on their face and protect our children from the perils of society? We cut their support (TAs), cut their pay (furlough), cut their money for supplies (instructional money), increase their class size (class size waiver elimination), increase their insurance premiums and cut their access to resources and support (district funding going to charter/private schools). Teacher Assistants are not just secretaries for the teacher, and I wonder if the public realizes that. They are instructional assistants... they help your children and grandchildren learn. Also, as a school administrator, one of the ways in which we can provide a duty-free lunch for teachers (which is a state requirement) is through the use of teacher assistants. Similarly, I wonder if the public understands the correlation between effective instruction and the number of students in a class. There is an inverse relationship between time for critical learning and the number of students in a class. This state and this nation is in a dire place of certain demise, if we cannot commit to providing safe, quality schools for our children today, so they can solve nationwide and worldwide problems tomorrow. With the proposed legislation about class size, harsh cuts to public schools (again), elimination of Assistants, sequestration at the federal level, and funneling the leftover pocket change to charter/private schools rather than public schools... I must ask the question... how will your child suffer?
Recently, I worked with Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 at an educational conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Steve is a marvelous conversationalist and has fantastic stories to share.
In the car on the way to the conference, Steve and I were discussing the “institution” of school and the “system” of school. The largest part of our conversation centered around the fact that we have, collectively as a nation, created a massive operation for educating children that does not work. Students are not graduating with the skills they need to be successful in the world they are graduating into. No surprise to many of you reading this--it isn’t “new” news. We know it’s not working.
The “institution” is the bureaucratic, policy side of public education that demands that “each get some.” The “system” is the mechanism for delivering the “some” to all. The good ideas that created the system and thus the institution around it are lost in the shuffle. Doing what’s best for kids and doing what’s fair for all have each become a separate megalopolis each on a separate continent.
Education has become so institutionalized that the act of “doing” something equates to readiness for the next checked off item on the “to do” list of instructional practice. The ebb and flow of “doing” becomes the barometer for success as measured by standardized high stakes tests that, in one moment, assess a student’s ability to “do school,” measure a teacher’s effectiveness, and be a checks and balances sheet to maintain the system as directed by the institution.
Note that in the previous paragraph, the word “learning” was not used. In a Huffington Post article from last March, Connie Yowell describes education as what institutions do and learning as what people do. What’s happening, though, is the system and the institution are methodically destroying learning. I think it’s high time we refocus on the learner.
My friend and colleague Jennifer Borgioli recently wrote a piece for the Gotham Schools blog about standardized testing, in the wake of the recent Common Core aligned New York state tests. In the blog post, she describes learning as a construct. We can measure variables that indicate that learning is happening but cannot quantify the whole of what learning means. In Jen’s words, we can’t “pull out a child’s brain, slap it on a scale, and say, yup, they’ve learned this much.”
The system and the institution would have you believe that it is possible to well quantify the learning with one high-stakes assessment that serves as a good indicator of year to year growth, how well a teacher teaches, and whether or not the school as a whole is an effective system. The problem is with the variables. In science, we draw conclusions based on the experimentation of one variable at a time, a process approach that helps winnow the possible outcomes of comparative observation. In our current model, the system and the institution are on a multi-variable train that not only amounts to bad science but, in turn, leads to bad practices.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, students in New York State took the first version of the new Common Core aligned tests. They were asked questions that were more rigorous than ever before in an attempt to measure the learning of the Common Core standards. The stories that came out of the woodwork over the course of the week involved students walking out of the test, kids crying, kids unable to finish, kids just giving up, etc. The test was designed to measure the degree to which the students met the Common Core standards. The test does not allow for variations in home environment, parental support, socioeconomic status, etc., all of which are variables that are not necessarily considered as important but in the end, majorly affect the data collected. (Other variables here would also include teacher support, teacher training, schools as systems supporting the standards versus pocket buy-in, etc.)
The test was designed to evaluate the system and perpetuate the institution. The tests in other states that are being designed to evaluate the “learning” are all heading in the same direction.
Do we want our students ready for college and careers? Absolutely.
Do we want them ready to meet the challenges of the world they will graduate into? You betcha.
Do we need assessment? Of course.
Do we want them suffering through assessments that were designed with the institution/system rather than the child in mind? Not at all.
Steve and I discussed how the people with the best ideas are usually not the ones running the companies that develop and market and sell the product that the idea people generated. Wonderful ideas are snagged up by companies or companies are created around them. In order to sell to the masses you need a system set up for production and delivery. You also need an institution to maintain and advance the ideas, normalizing everything for the benefit of impacting the most people possible to increase the bottom line over time.
The problem though, lies in the fact that once the ideas/learning lose the focus of priority in favor of the system or the institution because of a mistaken belief that “some” of the original ideas are best for “most” in the system, the system falters. How well does that work when the institution or the system becomes the priority? You tell me: Polaroid. Enron. Commodore. Hollywood Video. Madoff Investment Securities. The list is long...
Assessment is not bad. In a previous blog post, I wrote about why in the world we would practice for a game we never played or rehearse for a performance we never give? I also don’t disagree with checks and balances in the system, but the system must have integrity. That integrity lies in the priority of keeping the learner at the center. That means that we must not only find ways to more rationally assess students without causing complete psychological breakdowns on test days but also that we address some of the other variables that the system and the institution keep in the periphery, primarily poverty and family/environmental support.
Hmmm. “Test days.” Now that I’ve said those words specifically, perhaps that’s the beginning of the new conversation. Instead of the grimness of the dark and scary hell week of assessments, perhaps we start looking at what can be embedded in instruction. Perhaps we look at leveraging opportunities for choice and differentiated products through performance tasks and problem-based scenarios that not only generate a product but also are a launching pad for the next learning moment. These aren’t new ideas. I’m not innovating here. I am talking about something though that is difficult for institutionalized implementation. It is difficult for systemic production and delivery. It’s expensive and messy and would involve much more local control.
We can send a man to the moon but we are still having trouble negotiating the creation of a better assessment of student learning? I wonder how many one size fits all, end of the year, high stakes assessments those NASA engineers took before they were finally ready to, according to the system and the institution, design and implement their ideas? I wonder if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have been comfortable putting their lives on the line for a bunch of scientists that did REALLY well on their one moment in time, end of year state tests?
There are no easy answers here, I know that. But I also know that there are still kids at the heart of all of this. The institution and the system need to refocus on that. We have an unbelievable challenge and a massive obligation to get this right.
Originally blogged on Smartblogs.com/education. Portions added.
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available at the ASCD Bookstore
Arne Duncan recently gave a speech at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. In the speech he emphasized the importance of non-cognitive, or social and emotional skills stating, “We know . . . that the development of skills like grit, resilience, and self-regulation early in life are essential to success later in life.” He later continued,
Ultimately, a great education involves much more than teaching children simply to read, write, add, and subtract. It includes teaching them to think and write clearly, and to solve problems and work in teams. It includes teaching children to set goals, to persist in tasks, and to help them navigate the world.
Duncan’s words were not all that surprising considering his own U.S. Department of Education had just released a publication titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century” a month earlier. Surprising or not, it is always good to hear that there is a push (with some real muscle behind it) for teaching these skills.
Duncan didn’t stop with simply promoting non-cognitive skill development, however. Instead, he went on to suggest,
. . . testing experts need to further expand the range of assessments in the years ahead by developing better, reliable, and valid assessments of children’s non-cognitive skills. This is the next frontier in assessment research—and it is hugely important to me.
I would love to see assessment experts work with schools and districts to develop more reliable, meaningful, and easy-to-administer assessments that help us understand whether we are teaching the non-cognitive skills that predict students’ success in college, careers, and life.
The whole idea of assessing non-cognitive skills is an interesting proposition in and of itself because it would require all teachers to actively teach these specific skills. It becomes even more interesting, however, when we realize that something must be done as a result of it. The reality is that just as with academic skills, an achievement gap will exist for non-cognitive skills. In fact, it’s already there. In Washington State the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) revealed that only 74% of students demonstrated the characteristics of entering kindergartners in the area of social and emotional development. Kindergarten readiness in the area of cognitive development (which includes problem solving) was only 71%. Furthermore, similar to academic skills, these so-called soft skills become more sophisticated as one gets older. For example, whereas the ability to work cooperatively might mean simply joining in a game of tag for a kindergartener, it could mean building consensus for a project idea for a middle schooler. Therefore, the gap that exists in kindergarten will only widen unless intensive interventions are done.
This begs the question: If a student has low academic skills and low non-cognitive skills, will one be given priority in terms of time and resources?
This commentary examines criteria for selecting effective curricula and instructional models in a 21st century world, and also provides eight examples of relatively unknown yet powerful curricula-instructional programs that should be considered for adoption.
In the same way that it is hard to build a building without an architectural blueprint, so too it is hard for a teacher to be effective without strong curricula-instructional frameworks. Curricula/instructional frameworks lay out the goals, methods, strategies, approaches, assessments, and resources needed for successful teaching and learning. The better the framework, the more likely will be the sturdiness of the foundation and the effectiveness of instruction. The more that curricular-instructional models available to teachers are consistent with the goals and practices of the teacher and school, and the needs of students, the more likely it is that teaching will have good results.
Just imagine how an architectural blueprint influences and affects the construction of a building. Building construction based on a poor design may make it difficult to walk from one part of the building to another, make communication among building occupants difficult, make furniture arrangements impossible, make lighting too dark or too light, make the building safe or unsafe. In the same vein, a poorly designed curriculum may lead to too many unclear, vague goals that do not match student needs, include too much to teach, limit “deeper understanding” of a subject, teach the wrong skills, provide few connections between its different parts, have little meaning for learners, foster passive learning, and make alignment of content among teachers and grade levels difficult. When teachers work from poorly designed curricula and instructional frameworks, they have to work very hard to redo the curricular and instructional practices encouraged by these frameworks, and many times powerful learning is difficult if not impossible to create within the given framework.
What are the components of successful curriculum/instructional frameworks for teaching in a 21st century world? Some framework characteristics might include:
Teachers, schools and districts need to regularly review their curricular programs in order to update them and create programs more attuned to this new age that we live in. Ultimately, this will make a huge difference for children in this new age.
The following curricula and instructional models exemplify powerful “21st century” program elements built around many or most these criteria. You are probably unfamiliar with most or all of them. They, and programs like them, should become familiar to educators and achieve greater use throughout the educational community.
NOTE: Many of their descriptions are adapted from the program’s website.
1. LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
SERP-Word Generation for the Middle School
SERP - Word Generation is a research-based, highly motivating “vocabulary” development program for middle school students designed to teach words through language arts, math, science, and social studies classes. The program consists of weekly units, each of which introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages describing controversies currently under debate in this country. The paragraphs are intended to help students join ongoing "national conversations" by sparking active examination and discussion of contemporary issues. The target words are relevant to a range of settings and subject areas. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week will enable students to understand the variety of ways in which words are related, and the multiple exposures to words will provide ample opportunities for deeper understanding.
The Word Generation program is designed to build academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language. Interpret, prohibit, vary, function, and hypothesis are examples. Academic vocabulary includes words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, like element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them.
For more information, go to: http://wg.serpmedia.org
For information about other SERP programs in development, go to: http://www.serpinstitute.org/2013/
Other literacy development programs you might want to examine:
Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) http://www.cliontheweb.org
Reading and Writing Workshop: http://readingandwritingproject.com/about/overview.html
100 Book Challenge: http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/
Touchstones discussion Project: http://www.touchstones.org
Jr Great Books Program:
2. CREATIVE THINKING
Design Thinking is a structured approach to generate and develop new ways to solve difficult problems and challenges. Design Thinking starts with a challenge, and then works through a series of steps to help find creative solutions to the challenge, such as empathy, interpretation, brainstorming and choosing alternatives, building models, and planning for implementation. The process can be used to help solve school challenges or world-wide challenges. It includes learning additional skills such as finding reliable information, developing surveys and questionnaires, and building interview skills. It can be adapted to be used with students at all ages.
Other creative thinking programs you might want to explore:
Creative Problem Solving: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org
The Future Problem Solving Program: http://www.fpspi.org
3. POSITIVE ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Champions of Caring: Journey of a Champion Middle and High School Programs
The Journey of a Champion Middle Grades curriculum is a year-long course of study divided into 4 modules. It promotes academic excellence, character development, service-learning and citizenship. The curriculum is a catalyst for encouraging caring, thoughtfulness and good judgment through service and civic participation. Students gain civic engagement skills as they design community and school service projects. Civic skills developed include:
The Journey of a Champion High School Program is a character education and service-learning curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Through this program, students learn how to act as responsible, caring and involved citizens who respect themselves and others and succeed academically.
Journey of a Champion invites students to learn about and reflect on the challenges they and their contemporaries face. It places those challenges in a historical context and leads students to develop strategies and skills that will help them confront those challenges. The journey "destination" is students creating and planning sustainable service and civic participation. The curriculum affects positive change in students by:
For more information, go to: http://www.championsofcaring.org
Other programs to look at:
Second Step: http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step.aspx
4. ECONOMICS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
Entrepreneurship education is a tool that can equip young people to not only start businesses and create jobs, but also to be opportunity-focused, flexible employees ready to fill existing jobs.
NFTE fosters the creation of entrepreneurship skills, businesses and the development of an adaptable, driven and opportunity-focused workforce that ultimately promotes economic stability. External research has shown that NFTE graduates start and maintain businesses at substantially higher rates than their peers. Other research findings indicate that students develop:
Working with schools in low-income communities where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, NFTE targets young people who are at risk of dropping out of school, and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success. The program, Highly Academic, is a semester or year-long class with a NFTE-certified teacher who guides students through one of the curricula: Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future or Exploring Careers for the 21st Century. Lessons include the concepts of competitive advantage, ownership, opportunity recognition, marketing, finance, and product development - and all tie back to core math and literacy skills. Lessons include field trips, games and experiential activities. Classes regularly have guest speakers. Students are paired with coaches who help students work on their business plans, and business plan competitions are judges by local entrepreneurs and business people.
Each young person who takes a NFTE class works toward completing a business plan, then goes on to present and defend it in a classroom competition. The winners of these competitions go on to compete in citywide or regional competitions, with the hopes of reaching our annual national competition.
For more information, go to: http://www.nfte.com
Other Economic-Entrepreneurial Programs:
General information about entrepreneurial education programs can be found at: http://www.entre-ed.org
Information about Economic and Financial Education resources can be found at: http://www.councilforeconed.org
5. INQUIRY-BASED SCIENCE
Full Options Science System (FOSS)
Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think and “search for the truth”. Scientists value open communication, investigation, and good evidence for drawing conclusions. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world. FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.
FOSS K–6 is a complete program consisting of 26 modules for self-contained elementary classrooms. The components exclusive to K–6 are
FOSS Middle School components consist of nine units for students and their teachers in departmental science grades 6–8. Each unit requires 9–12 weeks to teach. The Middle School program includes the following five interconnected components:
Two components that apply to both FOSS K–6 and FOSS Middle School are the FOSS Assessment System and FOSSweb.com.
For more information, go to: http://www.fossweb.com
Other programs to consider:
Active Physics: (high school): http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html
6. CONCEPTUALLY-ORIENTED MATHEMATICS
Cognitively Guided Instruction
Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is a professional development program that increases teachers’ understanding of the knowledge that students bring to the math learning process and how they can connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The program is based on the premise that children throughout the elementary grades are capable of learning powerful unifying ideas of mathematics that are the foundation of both arithmetic and algebra. Learning and articulating these ideas enhance children's understanding of arithmetic and provide a foundation for extending their knowledge of arithmetic to the learning of algebra.
CGI is guided by two major ideas. The first is that children bring an intuitive knowledge of mathematics to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing formal mathematics instruction. This idea leads to an emphasis on working with the processes that students use to solve problems. The second key idea is that math instruction should be based on the relationship between computational skills and problem solving, which leads to an emphasis on problem solving in the classroom instead of the repetition of number facts, such as practicing the rules of addition and subtraction.
With the CGI approach, teachers focus on what students know and help them build future understanding based on present knowledge. The program aims to improve children's mathematical skills by increasing teachers' knowledge of students' thinking, by changing teachers' beliefs regarding how children learn, and by ultimately changing teaching practice. In 1996, CGI was extended into the upper elementary school levels to assist first through sixth grade teachers in integrating the major principles of algebra into arithmetic instruction.
There is no set curriculum. Teachers use the CGI framework with existing curriculum materials, or they use CGI principles to help develop their own math curriculum.
For more information, go to: http://www.promisingpractices.net/program.asp?programid=114#programinfo
Other math programs that might be considered:
Project Seed: http://projectseed.org
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)(High School): http://mathimp.org/general_info/intro.html
7. SOCIAL STUDIES/CIVICS PROGRAMS
Social Studies School Service
Social Studies School Service offers teachers, K-12, a variety of alternative and unique materials, programs, and curricula for social studies at all levels. The materials have been developed for the many aspects of social studies – government, history, geography, and civics – and often are interdisciplinary, incorporate conceptual understanding, develop research skills, big ideas and essential questions, and use data-based test questions (DBQ’s), performance tasks, and multiple readings. Catalogues of available materials are frequently sent out and shared.
For further information, go to: www.socialstudies.com
Other social studies/civics programs to consider:
Teacher’s Curriculum Institute social studies programs: www.teachtci.com
Center for Civic Education: http://new.civiced.org
Zinn Education: http://zinnedproject.org
A History of US: http://www.joyhakim.com/works.htm
The Choices Program (Middle and High School): http://www.choices.edu
8. STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS) PROGRAMS
Engineering is Elementary
EIE consists currently of twenty STEM units designed for the elementary grades. Each EIE unit ties in with an elementary science topic and is meant to be taught either concurrently or after students learn the appropriate science content in life science, earth and space science and physical science areas. Each unit has five “lessons” (lessons can be more than one day).
The units attempt to combine learning in a science area with engineering concepts. Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math and science and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate students to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications. They foster problem-solving skills, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions.
Learning about engineering increases students' awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in high school.
For more information, go to: http://www.eie.org/
Other STEM examples:
Engineer Your World: http://www.engineeryourworld.org (high school)
Project Lead the Way: http://www.pltw.org (high school)
Some Final Thoughts
Every school and district should have some mechanism to help staff members regularly review the many available potential curriculum and instructional programs and approaches, and to select those that provide students with opportunities based on the criteria suggested at the beginning of this commentary, such as focused, meaningful goals; targeted key skills, attitudes and values; multiple formative and summative assessment options; a focus on deeper learning; and active student engagement and inquiry.[i]
The programs listed above are only some examples of the many powerful curricula and instructional options that are often neglected and put into place too infrequently in schools and classrooms.[ii] Many others that meet the criteria cited above and match 21st century goals should be considered. Through continual review and renewal, every District should move towards having a set of powerful curricula and instructional programs, tied to appropriate staff development training, that help prepare students to live in a 21st century world.
We also now have the technology to develop curriculum review websites, comparable to Amazon’s book service and reviews or TripAdvisor’s travel site that rates hotels and bed and breakfasts in all parts of the world. The website should include a comprehensive set of curriculum programs, all reviewed by experts and rated by users. Such a site would provide educators with data that would be helpful in a curriculum review and renewal process.
[i] For additional information about curriculum renewal criteria and strategies, go to www.era3learning.org, then to resources, then to curriculum renewal, and then to the article by Elliott Seif, Reconfiguring Learning Through Curriculum Renewal (unpublished).
Soon millions of school children will be celebrating the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. For many children this will entail family trips, swimming and camping out under the stars among other quintessential summertime activities. Yet for many children from low-income households it will mean summer school—half days back at school for remediation in math and reading in an attempt to thwart the dreaded, but very real “summer slide.”
These types of summer school programs have their roots in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and its most recent reauthorizations as the No Child Left Behind Act. Included in these acts is Title 1, which provides funding to close the achievement gap for students from low-income households. It’s a good thing, too, because it is well documented that there is a direct relationship between household income and academic achievement. Specifically, students from low-income households have lower levels of academic achievement than their more affluent peers. In addition, students from low-income households show a larger decline in reading skills over the summer than their middle-class counterparts. While remedial summer school programs have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ knowledge and skills, a large achievement gap still exists between income groups.
In further addressing the achievement gap, schools would benefit from broadening the scope of their summer school programs to include social and emotional skills. In fact, social and emotional skills become even more important during summer school because it is largely directed at children from low-income households. Research shows that students from low-income households are the very students that need social and emotional skill development the most. Similar to its effect on academic performance, household income is directly related to a child’s social and emotional development. That is, children from low-income households are at a greater risk of having weaker social and emotional skills than their middle-class counterparts. Strong social and emotional skills, in turn, have been linked to improved academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement gap persists because low household income negatively affects not just academic achievement alone, but also social and emotional skill development. Therefore, summer school programs unintentionally maintain the achievement gap by ignoring social and emotional skill development and only targeting one contributing factor of the achievement gap—academics.
If many of our students from low-income households will be spending their summer days in school instead of in ways that mirror our visions of idyllic summer days; let’s at least commit to make their learning as idyllic as possible. To truly make a difference for these students and reduce the achievement gap, social and emotional skill deficiencies need to be addressed along with academic deficiencies. Then, summer will become a bit more ideal.
Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers forSmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.
In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.
Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.
I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.
According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:
After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?
Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?
At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?
Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.
Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?
Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?
Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.
Full disclosure: I am a New York Network Team Representative that is charged with taking the message of NY State Ed back to my participating districts. I attend meetings in Albany several times a year and then share this information with the schools I work with and help them understand and implement all that is coming in the wake of Race to the Top.
I believe in helping teachers help students. I believe that students are the focus of everything I do. I believe that some of this initiative, including the new Standards, is working and is good but I also believe some of it is not. I believe that teachers are professionals that deserve better than they’ve been treated in the last couple of years (particularly in the media) and I believe that if we trust them with children, then we should trust them with how to instruct and assess those children as well. I believe in fairness and I believe in calling attention to inconsistencies, not for the sake of argument or anger, but for the sake of solving solvable problems and getting this right. I believe in our obligations to our children.
I also believe that NY State has an opportunity here to build a new bridge.
But first, a little background:
In August of 2011, I began attending the NY State Education Network Team Institutes--the first of many that I’ve attended where State Ed rolls out initiatives, resources, upcoming expectations, etc. At one of these meetings, I had the very good fortune of meeting Mr. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, author of Driven By Data. Data Informed Inquiry models were to be part of our message that we took back to schools as schools were expected to form their own inquiry teams for the sake of letting the data guide instructional decisions. The assessments were meant to be more frequent and standards-based with a quick turnaround so that teachers could use the data and make necessary tweaks and improvements to the instructional program in the moment, rather than waiting until the end of the year to see if students “got it.”
The most important part of Santoyo’s message is transparency in the assessment. In order to do the deep analysis required, teachers must have the assessment in hand so that the skills that a student needs to answer the questions could be analyzed. Additionally, having the test in hand means that there are further opportunities for professional development around the structure of the test, the deconstruction of the questions for type and strategy, and the levels of cognition (Bloom’s, Webb’s, etc.) on the assessment and how those compare to the levels of cognition in instruction. Understanding by Design 101.
At these Network Team meetings, we spent HOURS understanding this methodology, preparing to turnkey it to our participating districts by exploring the models and creating our own data analysis spreadsheets and understanding protocols for data meetings. Throughout every single bit of this, we had the assessments in our hands. Again, let me say, WE. HAD. THE. ASSESSMENTS. IN. OUR. HANDS.
We taught our districts to do this exact same thing through their data meetings. Test in hand, begin analysis, use the observations to make changes in instruction to benefit students and their success.
This is not intended to give teachers ammunition for teaching TO the test, this is about understanding skills and strategies that enable students to be successful on assessments. This is not just about multiple choice either--it’s meant to analyze multiple types of assessments but to do so quickly so that students reap the benefits of deep understanding and teachers reap the benefits of planned student successes. This is an opportunity to leverage our professional development to do well what we were trained to do: TEACH.
Jump to now.
New York State just finished administering the first tests that are aligned with the Common Core. They were way more rigorous than previous assessments and both teachers and students struggled. Sometime over the summer, scores will be released, but the test will not.
The test will be embargoed and teachers will not be able to see it. State Ed Leadership will say that there are sufficient samples available online. They will say that there are curriculum modules to help with understanding skills and cognition to prepare for the assessments. They will say that it’s too time-consuming and expensive to share the tests as new ones will have to be developed.
They will also continue to promote Santoyo’s model on one hand, but deny teachers access to the central message of the model on the other hand. This is the inconsistency.
With all of the stress that teachers are under to both perform and be evaluated on that performance in ways they never have before, there needs to be some team-building going on, something that will bring everyone together for the sake of our students.
There is an opportunity here: Release the tests.
Teachers need an anchor right now, a shelter in the storm of changes. They need something concrete that will help them and their students be more successful and help them to feel that they have more control over the flawed teacher evaluation system currently in place. There are so many across the state just treading water and releasing the test would be a major lifeboat moment.
Many of the teachers I’ve talked with over the last couple of years of implementation will tell you that the Common Core Standards are not bad. They will tell you that with time and continued professional development that we can use those standards as a basis for modern learning practice and to prepare our kids to succeed in the world they will graduate into.
These teachers will tell you that data driven inquiry is important and that they agree that it is necessary. They will even tell you that they are fine with teacher evaluation and that, for the most part, there is a desire to improve professional practice and discover opportunities to do things better and implement new ideas.
They will also tell you that the current evaluation plan is inauthentic, inspiring a checklist of “to-dos” that meet the requirements of Race to the Top but do little to impact practice. They will tell you that a single test score has too many uncontrollable variables such as parent support, home environment, and poverty status to be a reliable measure for any part of a teacher’s evaluation. They will tell you that doing the same thing for all may be equal but it is not fair.
They will also tell you that it is difficult to prepare for an assessment when the potential exists for only a narrow secret set of assessed standards which in turn need broad preparation, leading to missed opportunities in instruction and inconsistent results.
Release the tests.
Teachers need to see that they are trusted and valued. They need to see that they are viewed as capable collaborators in this quest for college and career readiness. They need to see themselves as part of the whole team.
Release the tests.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available from ASCD.org
If you’re an educational leader, you know how important it is to have teachers feel supported or be on board with new ventures. The last thing we want to hear, or want teachers to feel, is “not one more thing” or “how can we fit it all in?” But it’s not about everything but the kitchen sink; it shouldn’t all fit. Something’s got to give. If we don’t acknowledge that and help teachers modify, we’ll get overworked teachers throwing it all in, or students who need what was left out. We need to continually reevaluate and “remodel” to make room for what’s important.
Picture this: a new teacher pulls out a curriculum guide, talks to her colleagues and creates a year-long plan to include concepts and objectives. Being new at this, it looks like a lot to fit in. She decides to start small; one unit at a time. The manuals and guides are helpful. Her team shares activities for her to use in her classroom. This is all a great start...
A different picture: an experienced teacher of more than 10 years, well respected by students, parents and peers, has just been told of a new program in her curriculum. There’s now a wrench in her well-oiled teaching. There’s no room for anything else...
When we’re busy “trying to fit it all in,” it’s easy to forget the big picture. We get caught up in planning activities, teaching concepts and moving on. If we’re honest, I think this can happen to all of us sometimes. Here are some good reminders and questions for new teachers and those of us who’ve been at this for a while. It’s important to stop, reflect and remind ourselves of ultimate learning goals.
If teachers are to feel supported, curriculum leaders need to regularly reflect as well. When presenting new or revised curriculum, leaders need to be explicit in communicating transfer as the ultimate goal. Essential questions and big ideas should drive student learning. When we open the conversation to why and how we can use curriculum, it's more likely we'll all be on the same page.
The traditional structure of and approach to education in the U. S. treats education as complicated versus complex. Educational scholars seem confused about the differences between complicated, complex, and chaotic. Complicated systems consist of many static, connected, dependent parts more mechanical in nature to perform a specific function such as “teaching”. Many parts of the school day are mechanical and require ordinary management skills to maintain. Complex systems include layers of shifting, changing, overlapping agents and systems more organic in nature dedicated to learning and surviving in a specific environment. Instruction, curriculum, public relations, etc. interact in a complex, holistic manner and require emergent leadership to sustain (Barr & Parrett, 2007).
Metaparadigms, macropatterns, and archetypes allow school leaders to focus on the emergence of success from HP2S instead of reductionist practices by homogonous affluent schools in a sort of “backwards design of leadership” reminiscent of the classic by Wiggins and McTighe (Church, 2005). Complexity does not have a list or recipe, but acts as a framework or archetype of what happens during an educational cycle around a strange attractor (Stacey, 1996). “Any given moment the novelty of experience and the multiplicity of alternatives will be organising(sic) themselves thereby making learning not a rationally deduced abstraction but a meaningful encounter expressed in terms of students’ literally making sense out of their own experiences” (Semetsky, 2006, p. 33).
In a recent meeting about student behavior the discussion turned to spring fever and the stress students take on as state testing approaches. A colleague shared an experience that reminds us all that it’s not just students that feel the stress of state testing or the anticipation of summer. The teacher was working with her students on writing conclusions, a skill they had been honing throughout the school year. With the state test approaching, it was time to review and practice. When asked to write a conclusion, students acted like it was a foreign concept. The teacher’s reaction, however, was anything but foreign to those of us in similar positions: she lost it. The usually calm and considerate teacher ripped into the class, “What do you mean you don’t know how to write a conclusion? We have been working on conclusions all year! You have to be able to write a conclusion!”
Listening to her regret her uncharacteristic outburst it reminded me of similar scenes in my classroom recently. Her call for all of us to be aware of how the stress and excitement of the season affects our behavior drove me to think about how social and emotional skills are equally important for us as adults as well as students. Here are a few ways teachers can benefit from CASEL’s five SEL competencies:
Self-awareness: As teachers we must maintain our awareness of how we are feeling. As the above story highlighted, this time of year is ripe with emotion: the stress of state testing (especially in an age of increasing accountability based on test scores), the excitement of summer vacation and general exhaustion from a long, hard-fought year.
Self-management: Once we identify our emotions we can begin to manage them effectively. For example, in stressful times perhaps a lunchtime walk in the fresh air might be a better use of time than grading that lingering stack of papers. If we are aware of our emotions we can also anticipate situations in which they could lead us to uncharacteristic and undesirable behavior. During moments of extreme frustration in the classroom we need to regulate ourselves so students are not the target of our unleashed emotions.
Social awareness: We also need to be cognizant of what our students are feeling. They also feel the stress of state testing and, depending on a student’s homelife, the anticipation of summer brings uncertainty and anxiety rather than excitement. We simply must be able to walk a mile in our students' shoes.
Relationship skills: During these strenuous times we must maintain positive relationships with our students. More than ever (even though they would probably never tell us) they need us. They need us to listen, they need us to connect with them and they need us to be there when they need help.
Responsible decision-making: By paying attention to all the above we will be in a position to analyze the probable outcomes of our actions and make decisions that truly respect our students.
As the pull of summer and anxiety brought on by state testing increase, let’s remember that social and emotional skills are critical, not just for our students, but for us as teachers as well. By practicing and modeling positive social and emotional skills we can all end the year on an upbeat note without losing our cool.
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at email@example.com.
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
In a recent article in Slate, Nicholas Day discusses new research from Sara Harkness and Charles Super about cultural differences in parenting. In the simplest of terms, Harkness and Super, both University of Connecticut professors, researched the words parents from different western cultures used to describe their children. These descriptions reflect what each culture believes is the “right” way to raise children and values in their children. The research revealed that American parents’ descriptions were very different than those from the parents from the other western cultures researched. American parents were much more likely than their counterparts from other western cultures to describe their child in terms of intelligence or cognitive ability. In his article Day quotes Harkness, “The U.S.’s almost obsession with cognitive development in the early years overlooks so much else.” I think the overlooked aspects Harkness refers to are social and emotional skills and well being. Day provides further evidence,
So although both the Americans and the Italians noted that their children asked lots of questions, they meant very different things by it: For the Americans, it was a sign of intelligence; for the Italians, it was a sign of socio-emotional competence. The observation was the same; the interpretation was radically different.
In her Atlantic Monthly article, Olga Khazan begins to question what societal factors could explain the cultural differences highlighted in Harkness and Super’s research. As a teacher, I see a direct relationship between what parents value in their young children and what is valued in our schools. In large part, our schools are almost singularly focused on academics evidenced by standardized test scores. It seems to me that through their personal experiences in our school system, Americans have adopted a similar “one track mind” when it comes to parenting. It makes sense, then, that in preparing their children for success in our society, American parents would focus on what they have been shown to be of highest importance—intelligence and cognitive ability. Much of the research, however, puts social and emotional skills as equally (if not more) important in predicting success than pure cognitive ability. In a Washington Post article, Roger Weissberg comments about the future of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in our schools, “This is the future of education. Persistence. Self-management. Problem-solving. This is what our kids need to learn.” And herein lies the future of parenting. If parents value in their own children what was valued of them when they were in school, it follows that parenting will change along with changes in the school system. As schooling becomes more balanced between cognitive and non-cognitive skills, American parenting too will become more balanced. Using Harkness’ words, perhaps as American schools’ “obsession with cognitive development” eases schools and parents alike will “stop overlooking so much else.”
I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.
My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.
What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.
I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.
In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.
I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?
If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.
Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?
We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.
The current requirement that public and charter school students demonstrate their proficiency through standardized, top down tests has in many schools narrowed the curriculum, increased sterile test-prep classroom activities, and focused the public measurement of school and student success narrowly and imperfectly around a few traditional tests. This “test-centered” focus makes it more difficult for many schools to educate and assess students so that they are prepared for a world with exploding amounts of knowledge, fundamental changes in technology, and the new skill sets required for successful careers.
By contrast, a “learning-centered” focus starts with establishing meaningful, purposeful educational outcomes for a 21st century world, such as preparing students for both lifelong learning and citizenship, focusing on the development of key skills for a new era, and customizing learning in order to develop each student’s talents, interests and abilities.
Based on the above learning centered outcomes, here is a checklist of potential characteristics and qualities that we might expect to observe in classrooms, schools and districts:
√ A conscious effort to develop positive learning attitudes and values, such as curiosity, wonder, responsibility, motivation, persistence, effort makes a difference, and collaboration.
√A “deeper learning” curriculum in all subject areas, including the arts and social studies, that help students build focused networks of core background knowledge and understandings about the world around them.
√Inquiry based learning approaches that engage students in learning and support the development of critical learning skills, such as questioning and problem finding; reading for understanding; processing information and data; many types of writing; research and study skills; logical, inductive and creative thinking; discussion and presentation skills.
√Preparation for citizenship through rigorous, engaging, interactive history, geography, current events, and service-learning experiences.
√Customized learning opportunities that develop individual interests, talents and strengths, as when students can choose from an extensive array of classroom, school, curricular and extra-curricular activities and electives[i].
√ Research projects, field trips and other experiences that help students connect to “real world” events, activities, and individuals.
√ Internships and Internet course options for high school students that expand student horizons.
√An accountability system that uses multiple types of assessments to determine student progress and success[ii], such as writing of all kinds, research projects and performance tasks, essay tests, self-reflections, and plans for the future. Traditional tests are only a small part of the assessment process. Student portfolios – collections of student work - become part of a multi-faceted growth and evaluation process.
√Technology in the service of all of the above that supports students as they conduct research, process information, develop and write papers, collect work in electronic portfolios, create on-line presentations, conduct simulations, contact outside experts, and the like.
Does your classroom, school or district have a test-centered or a learning-centered approach to teaching and learning? Are the above components in place in your classroom-school-district? Not all of the checklist may be appropriate for your own situation, so feel free to adapt, change and add as necessary. Use this guide and checklist as a catalyst for your own thinking, discussion, and planning.
Many will say that these ideas are unrealistic in light of the current emphasis on standardized tests, state standards, and the Common Core standards. My view is that a systematic learning-centered education will provide a long-term vision of a good 21st century education that will be a framework for educating students for many years to come. With a meaningful and purposeful learning-centered framework, students will be well prepared for standardized tests, programs will satisfy Common Core standards requirements, and we will be ready for any other regulations and changes that come down the pike!
We can only hope that, instead of a test-centered approach, “learning-centeredness” -defining and implementing a set of 21st century student learning outcomes, assessments, and practices - will become the predominant educational focus for governments at all levels, the educational community, and the public at large in order to think about, define and plan for educational excellence in the future.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author, school volunteer, and Understanding by Design trainer. You can read more about this learning centered approach to education in a new age at his website: www.era3learning.org
[i] Thematic schools, such as schools for the arts, sciences, engineering, business, culinary arts, and the like, would be likely to customize according to their themes.
[ii] This broadened accountability system suggests a different way for individual classrooms, schools and districts to judge success and achievement. For example, school superintendents might present a more complex picture of accountability to the public and school board by providing examples of the types of student work completed at different levels (average, excellent, and poor, with percentages of each), examples of books read by students at different levels, sample self-reflections, student survey data, research paper examples, and student presentations. The same broad-based data might also be presented by schools and individual teachers. While this data may be harder to collect and summarize, they should give a much better picture of student success and achievement.
At WriteSteps, we realize the importance of integrating technology into elementary classrooms. Students have higher motivation, immediate access to quality instructional materials, and increased engagement. Utilizing technology in your classroom also prepares young students with the skills necessary to succeed in our technology driven lifestyles. Technology provides teachers like you with an unlimited wealth of resources and tools to teach and expand your knowledge; there is no limit to the resources you can use to help your students in today’s information age!
We also know teaching writing can sometimes be a challenge. And when you aren’t inspired, neither are your students! Our new animated video highlights the benefits of using eWriteSteps: it saves time and makes teaching writing and grammar easier. Check it out!
As educators we have a firm belief that the small efforts we make today will have big payoffs down the road. It would seem then, that the opposite must be true: That missed opportunities will have large penalties in the future. These notions hold no more true than in the area of social and emotional learning (SEL) and were illustrated recently, interesting enough, by fast-food giant McDonald’s recent webcast company executives had with franchise owners. Apparently McDonald’s hasn’t been lovin’ it when it comes to customer satisfaction. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “1 in 5 customer complaints are related to friendliness issues.” The article goes on to explain, “ the top complaint (was) rude or unprofessional employees.”
Whereas I understand that a fast-food establishment would receive lower customer service ratings than its table service counterparts, it did surprise me that McDonald’s employees were downright “rude or unprofessional.” In fact, as a teacher I was disheartened by it. Certainly, these employees—all products of our education system—had been taught to “be nice” and “be respectful,” so what went wrong?
Over and above any attempts to justify these employees’ actions and vilify McDonald’s, let’s acknowledge their personal responsibility for their actions. In doing so, it is clear that our small efforts in teaching kindness and respect did not result in big payoffs. Instead, perhaps, the situation McDonald’s finds itself in is a result of our missed educational opportunities. Thinking about it this way, it might be easier to think about what could have gone right for these employees while they were in school. Or, similarly, what small efforts could their schools have made that would have had big payoffs in terms of social and emotional skills when they got jobs at McDonald’s?
Let’s think about the outcomes of a comprehensive SEL curriculum. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) five SEL competencies exist: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. It is easy to envision how well-developed skills in these areas would have prevented any issues with “rude or unprofessional” behavior from these McDonald’s employees. Instead, these employees would have been aware of their emotions, managed them, and in reflecting on ethically and socially accepted behavior for the workplace, would have made better decisions.
This issue with McDonald’s seems to be just one in an increasing number of similar instances which call attention to a growing deficiency in social and emotional skills. Can we as educators, regardless of our students’ academic accomplishments, deem our efforts successful when increasing numbers of our past students are “unprofessional and rude”? Is it simply coincidence that this trend is growing along with our schools’ sole focus on academics?
An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.