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Take a second and think about the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. If Ferris would have arrived home late, his whole ploy (to outsmart his parents by skipping school) would have been ruined. This is an example of a case when lateness has detrimental effects. On the other hand, think about filing your taxes. Filing late with the appropriate extension paperwork is no deal breaker-you will not have to sell your soul or give away your first born son. This latter example is a case when lateness is less critical for an individual.
So, in addressing lateness (late work) in the classroom, I think it is important to look at the consequences which impact student success. I was interested in how other educators faced the late work dilemma and this is what I found:
“Can I still turn this in?” How do you respond when you hear this from your students-is it frustrating or motivational in the classroom policy sense? What solutions have you tried in addressing student late work and how feasible were they? Sometimes, I find it useful to change my policy based on the students I am working with that particular year. How have you changed your late work policy over time?
Recently I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad to recharge and refresh. During this trip I had an opportunity to snorkel over a barrier reef for the very first time. On the day that we went, the ocean was very choppy and the guide asked our group if we preferred to stay in shallow, calm waters or deeper, rough waters. The caveat of all this was that we were likely to see more wildlife in the rougher waters. Ultimately our group opted for the deep sea experience.
Riding out on the ocean with the boat bouncing and sea water spraying, I admit that I became a little nervous about our recent group decision. Soon enough we were at our starting point and I found myself taking a deep breath and jumping in to the deep blue sea. The cool water felt invigorating, but as I rose to the surface the rough waters distracted me and I could feel myself starting to panic. My mind flashed to the snorkel techniques my husband and I practiced prior to our trip and realizing that I was getting nowhere other than more panicked by trying to stay above water, I took a deep breath and dove under.
Beneath the rough waters was a colorful world of fish, coral and other sea life. As I let my body ride the choppy surface and my breathing finally returned to its normal pace, I was in awe of all that I was able to see. I found myself gesturing emphatically to my husband all the wonderful things I hoped we would remember later. Our guide zipped just ahead of us, pointing to other creatures and leading us over the world’s second largest barrier reef.
In my life I have willingly taken on many personal and professional challenges, all of which I have never regretted. For someone who has been quite accustomed to change, even this brief experience, out of my element, was for a moment terrifying. So what has this experience reminded me about change? What can leaders bring to a community that is going through a change process?
Recognize that people need to know why change is important and help them to make sense of it
One of my favorite TED talks is Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action. The premise of his talk is about articulating the why before the how or what. When we embark on change in our communities, individuals need to know why the change is important and more importantly, the reason should be one that resonates with the community. At times in education, we can be too focused on the change process itself and we must slow down to involve those impacted by the change. In our ocean adventure, our guide clearly explained our options for the day and ultimately let our group’s feedback shape the outcome.
If you are the leader of the organization, jump in with your team.
Change is never easy and it takes courageous leaders at all levels of a community to inspire others to be a part of the journey. I suspect if our guide had not jumped in to the rougher waters first, he may not have had many volunteers to jump in. Once he did, a few others were quick to follow and within minutes the whole group was in the water. For added support, there were staff that remained in our boat, not very far away from where we were snorkeling at all times. So leaders, invite others willing to take the first steps with you and also look for others who will be able to support the initial risk takers and ultimately the group, along the way. Failures and mistakes are an inevitable part of the process and with the right team can turn these situations into learning opportunities.
Take a look beneath the surface and explore, don’t be too focused on outcomes right away.
Of course when we embark on any change, there is an ultimate goal we hope to achieve. I support the use of goal setting and success criteria as they are essential to any endeavour. It is also important that individuals in a community have time to acclimate and dive beneath the rough waters under their own terms. I needed that moment when I first dove in to the water be slightly panicked, to catch my breath, and dive in when I was ready. When I saw what was beneath and how surprisingly more calm it was underwater, than above, you couldn’t get me out of the water.
The point is people need time to explore and adjust when change is in progress. If you stay solely task oriented and rush too soon to the next task, you miss opportunities for individuals to see the beauty in the change and embrace it. More importantly, they will not have a chance to engage in their own explorations that could bring great value to the team’s overall process and goals.
Let the group explore, but also remind them of the focus.
Our guides were great about letting us explore, but also did not let us wander way beyond our limits. Our guide in the water wore bright swim shorts so we could easily identify him from afar and he would take the time to show us the beautiful wildlife that he thought would make the most of our experience. Change is messy and while it is important to let individuals find their own way (see above) and work through this process, it will be necessary to bring individuals together and remind them of what is most important.
Change has never been easy and never will be, but with these few reminders from my recent vacation experience, I hope to make future change processes I am involved in meaningful to my community.
What other analogies could you add about change? What opportunities should leaders take to make the change process a more meaningful one?
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog about one of our son’s teachers, along with the frustration that he and we, as his parents, have been experiencing. In case you missed it, I liken her to a teacher that I had in 1978––suffice to say, it was not a positive comparison. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote, about this teacher, and about the feedback that I’ve gotten from that blog. While the feedback has been nothing but positive and supportive, I feel that I should do something to help this teacher, instead of just criticizing her. Therefore, I am offering to her my 5-point professional development plan:
(1) Find ways to vary your instruction. Each day in your class should not look like every other one. Find ways to change what you do. Get your students more involved. Some days, have them lead the instruction, perhaps by doing examples for the rest of the students. Find ways to incorporate group work. Model for them how collaboration can be highly beneficial in the teaching and learning process.
(2) Get up out of your seat (please!). An active, more energetic classroom is by far a more interesting classroom. I sense that your students get bored because there’s very little interactivity from the beginning of class to the end of class, as well as from day to day. Similar to #1 above, mix things up a little bit––it’s hard for your students to be energetic and interested in learning when you don’t appear to be. Surprise your students from time to time with activities they don’t expect––I guarantee that it will keep them more interested in what you’re doing, as well as in learning what you want them to learn. When they know exactly what’s going to happen every minute of your class time with them, they will be bored––that’s simply human nature.
(3) Provide your students with scoring rubrics––or other specific forms of feedback––for their assignments and tests. No one expects all of your students to ace every assessment you administer. However, if you truly want them to learn from the assessments, you must provide them with concrete and formative feedback on how they can improve their performance. Simply marking the number of points that they’ve missed and not providing them with explanations of why they missed those points may make your job easier, but it’s completely counterproductive to their learning. Providing them with rubrics for constructed-response items––such as problem-solving on a math test––will not only provide them with sound feedback on their mistakes or misconceptions, but distributed in advance of your tests can inform them of exactly what your expectations are from them on the assessment. This is simply good assessment practice.
(4) Be supportive of and try to work with students who struggle in your classes. With the number of students that you see every day, this can be a challenge. Trust me, I know––I’m a former high school teacher who used to see more than 150 kids every day. However, when students struggle in your classes, your first line of defense should not be to brush them aside and simply tell them to get a tutor. After all, YOU are their teacher; YOUR job is to help them learn, even when they struggle. After you’ve worked with them, and you’ve determined that they clearly need some sort of additional support, then recommend that they see a tutor. But, please remember that it is your primary responsibility to help them learn the content that you are charged with teaching them.
(5) Listen to your students. Look, I understand that this is your classroom, but you may not always know what’s best for your students’ learning. When you have a high number of students who have been extremely successful during their previous 9 or 10 years of schooling and they are failing your class, something isn’t working right. Sometimes, students will come out and tell you that they are struggling; other times, you must discern this in other ways. Regardless, listen to what your students are verbally or nonverbally communicating to you about the struggles that they are having . . . and then do something to address those issues, as the professional educator that you are.
By the way, every one of these 5 professional development strategies above can be effectively implemented and assessed by integrating an action research approach into how you do your work as a professional educator. Come up with strategies to implement one or more of the points above; collect data from your students and assess the effectiveness of your efforts; appropriately revise how you approach these issues in the future. You will become a better educator––and your students will become better learners.
If anyone of you has not read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, then you are really missing out on some effective communication strategies to use with your students and staff. Chapman describes 5 different ways to communicate effectively to the ones we hold dear to us. Now, you may be freaking out a little because that kind of language sounds too intimate for the workplace, right? Wrong!! Actually, he did write this book for more intimate relationships, such as spouses or close family and friends. However, after reading this book for about the fifth time, I had a revelation! Why didn’t I see it before? I think it was because, like you are thinking, the words “love language” sounded too mushy for a working environment. Nevertheless, Gary Chapman has inspired me to be a leader who loves. When I use the word leader, I do not mean just an administrator but any person who leads others. A leader could be a classroom teacher, an interventionist, coach, nurse, secretary, content specialist, bus driver, etc.
Chapman discusses five languages desired by human hearts. His languages are recipes for healthy, happy relationships. According to the author, most of us have a preferred way to be treated by others in order to feel worthy. Reciprocally, we also have a favored style we use to show others we care about them. For many of us, we will demonstrate to others we care in the same way that we choose to be loved.
Below are the five languages discussed in the book along with examples, which I’ve added:
• Words of Affirmation- saying nice or kind words to the person
• Quality Time- Having a meaningful, quality conversation; listening
• Receiving Gifts- a coffee, favorite snack, an inexpensive token of appreciation
• Acts of Service- teaching a class for someone or doing their duty
• Physical Touch- a hug, a pat on the back, or a touch on the shoulder that says you care
As a leader, you also yearn to be esteemed by one of these languages; you may even have two. In fact, you may desire all of these to some degree, but you probably have at least one or two dominant languages that feed your soul. More often than not, you show others you care by reciprocating with your dominant language(s).
For instance, I am “words of affirmation” and “quality time”. In order to have my emotional tank filled, I need to hear kind, positive words about something I am doing or who I am. I also love spending time with others. As a wife, mom, and assistant principal, I tend to show others I care by participating in the same actions; that’s just human nature. I do have to be aware that others may not share my same dominant language. Their heart could thrive on one of the other three. So, even though my tank is getting the fuel it needs, the person I am with may not. I have to pay careful attention to signs that will help me identify their dominant language. It may take experimenting and time, especially with students.
As a school leader, it is important to realize our students and staff have emotional needs. These language identifiers really help! Just think about how you could get children to do what they are supposed to do by simply speaking their language! On the flip side, you must be careful and sensitive whenever critiquing or disciplining them. If you use a lot of words that may be considered “put-downs” to a person who attains some of their self-worth from words of affirmation, you can actually degrade the individual. It does not mean the student or staff member cannot take constructive criticism; we just need to be mindful as to how we deliver our words. Many times, our well-behaved students and staff might feel neglected, especially if their language is quality time. Really, think about this…. Who gains most of our attention? Yes, those who require more of our time and attention for learning or behaving.
Building relationships is key to sustaining a great educational environment for our students and staff. You really have everything to gain in just trying. It can’t hurt to affirm or care for someone a little too much as long as it is genuine. In my opinion, it is a win-win situation.
Next month I will travel to Los Angeles to join many of my students, almost all of whom I have only know through our Adobe Connect online classroom, for commencement from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. As a full-time faculty member at USC, I have the privilege to work with students from across the country and world in our face-to-face, synchronous online Masters of Arts in Teaching program. I prepare teachers for certification or to advance their practice.
One of my students was able to “score” tickets for us to go see a taping of the new Disney series “Girl Meets World” on May 14. To say I am excited, well, that would be an understatement! Maybe “totally stoked” would be more apt a description. When I was a middle school social studies teacher and later a middle and high school principal, the original series “Boy Meets World” was at the peak of its popularity. One of the greatest memories (and greatest honors) I have of my middle school students was when they would liken me to Feeny. Since I am overdue for a blog post, I decided to consider some of the many lessons that Feeny could teach all of us as educators. Here are my top ten (each scene is quoted first and then it is followed by what I have deemed “the Feeny Lesson” from that quote):
Season 1, Episode 1 (1993):
Cory Matthews: Mr. Feeny, who cares about a guy who killed himself for some dumb girl?
Mr. George Feeny: The tragedy here, Mr. Matthews, is not about a dumb girl, or the boy who kills himself because of her. It's about the all-consuming power of love. And the inevitability of its influence on each of our lives.
Cory Matthews: [pauses] Are you aware that I'm only eleven years old?
Lesson: Don’t talk down to your students, believe that they can understand and learn by being spoken to like adults—even if they don’t realize it!
Season 4, Episode 17 (1997):
Mr. George Feeny: Even though this isn't a classroom at the moment, would you mind if I taught you a lesson anyway?
Topanga Lawrence: Please.
Mr. George Feeny: Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I cared for someone as deeply as you two care for each other now.
Cory Matthews: You believe we love each other?
Mr. George Feeny: And for no reason I understood, my wife was taken from me, and I haven't been so deeply in love since.
Cory Matthews: [to Topanga] Feeny believes we love each other!
Mr. George Feeny: I believe that when you find love, you hold on to it, and cherish it! Because there is nothing finer, and may never come again. And that, my dears, is the most important thing I could teach you.
Lesson: Our work as educators is not and should not be bound by the walls of the classroom—there are important life lessons that we can teach our students that extend far beyond the formal curriculum.
Season 2, Episode 9 (1994):
Katherine 'Kat' Tompkins: This Jonathan Turner guy, what's the deal with him?
George Feeny: It's really not my place to comment, from one teacher to another.
Katherine 'Kat' Tompkins: Oh, come on. He asked me out! I just wanna know if he's an axe murderer.
George Feeny: It wasn't on his resumé.
Lesson: How to handle gossip in the teacher’s lounge—enough said!
Season 7, Episode 23 (2000):
Mr. George Feeny: Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good
Topanga: Don't you mean "do well"?
Mr. George Feeny: No, I mean "do good".
Lesson: Doing “well” and doing “good” are not the same thing—and as teachers, it is not that we must work to merely do our jobs well, but we must strive to “do good” for our communities, our schools, and, most importantly, our students.
Season 1, Episode 8 (1993):
Cory Matthews: Shawn, what was your mother's maiden name?
Shawn Hunter: Cordini.
Cory Matthews: Cordini, so that would make you a WOP, right?
Shawn Hunter: What did you call me?
Cory Matthews: You heard what I called you.
Shawn Hunter: [to Feeny] Did you hear what he called me?
George Feeny: I heard what he called you.
Shawn Hunter: What're you going to do about it?
George Feeny: He's the teacher, what're YOU going to do about it?
Shawn Hunter: I'm gonna knock his head off!
Cory Matthews: What if you couldn't? What if you couldn't do anything about it?
Shawn Hunter: What?
Cory Matthews: What if you lived in a country where I could KILL you just because of your mom's last name.
Shawn Hunter: Cory, what're you talking about?
Cory Matthews: A 15 year old girl is DEAD! Doesn't anybody care? She was really smart and totally cool. Her name was Anne Frank, she wrote this book. They say she died of typhus but they killed her, BECAUSE her name was Anne Frank.
Lesson: Sometimes our students can be the best teachers of each other—and our job should include giving them opportunities to do so.
Season 4, Episode 11 (1996):
George Feeny: Eric, in the play of your life all your great scenes lie ahead of you.
Eric Matthews: So you're saying in thirty or forty years I could write a play that you would wanna come and see?
George Feeny: No, tonight pretty much killed any interest I had in the theater.
Eric Matthews: Mr. Feeny you know everything. Where does my life go from here?
George Feeny: Well, now, you have passion. You have drive. You certainly have guts. I frankly can't wait to see what happens to you.
Eric Matthews: So you're not gonna tell me to give up my life as an actor and go get a college education?
George Feeny: Eric I told you to get a college education ten-thousand times. I don't have to tell you anymore.
Eric Matthews: What about my life as an actor?
George Feeny: Get a college education.
Lesson: Encourage students and support them in even their wildest dreams—but tether them to reality as well, and guide them toward choices that will open doors rather than close them.
Season 6, Episode 1 (1998):
Mr. George Feeny: You can't tell Cory and Topanga what to do. I've been trying to do that since the first grade. I remember when I tried to separate their desks. She kicked me. He bit me. And some little punk kept saying "Leave 'em alone. They should get married."
Shawn Hunter: I was cute then, huh?
Mr. George Feeny: Precious.
Lesson: Looping works—when we stay with students year after year, we develop a better understanding of who they are as people and what their unique needs are. Even if we don’t loop, it is important for us and to them that we maintain continued relationships with our students even after they move on to another teacher.
Season 4, Episode 15 (1997):
Mr. George Feeny: [passing by] Good morning, Miss Lawrence, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Hunter.
[stops, then turns to Shawn, who is dressed as a girl]
Mr. George Feeny: If there's anything you need to talk about, my door is always open.
Shawn Hunter: It’s for an article we’re writing, Mr. Feeny!
Mr. George Feeny: I'm not here to judge.
Lesson: Notice when our students may need someone to talk to—then remind them that we are there to listen and that we will listen without judgment, that we will support them no matter what.
Season 4, Episode 19 (1997):
Cory Matthews: Mr. Feeny, look, the show's proving that we're absorbing the right kind of knowledge, I mean that's why we're the champions.
[the class applauds]
George Feeny: Hold it, hold it, wait a minute. Champions of what, Mr. Matthews? Of a generation whose verbal and mathematical skills have sunk SO low, when you have the highest technology at your fingertips? Gutenburg's generation thirsted for a new book every six months. Your generation gets a new web page every six seconds. And how do you use this technology? To beat King Koopa, and save the princess. Shame on you. You deserve what you get.
Lesson: Technology is only as effective as the users—and just because we use technology for something does not make the thing we are using technology for somehow inherently valuable or worthwhile.
Season 7, Episode 23 (2000):
[Eric hugs Mr. Feeny and follows Topanga and Shawn out the door]
George Feeny: So Mr. Matthews
Cory Matthews: You think we've known each other long enough for you to call me Cory?
George Feeny: I think I've known you long enough to call you Cornielius
Cory Matthews: Ssh! Mr. Feeny! Not even Topanga knows that.
George Feeny: Your secret is safe with me.
Cory Matthews: Well. I got Topanga to go to New York.
George Feeny: Good for you.
Cory Matthews: She's not even scared anymore.
George Feeny: Nor should she be.
Cory Matthews: I am.
George Feeny: Well, you have a right to be.
[Cory finally breaks down and hugs Mr. Feeny]
Cory Matthews: You coming with us Mr. Feeny? You gonna sneak up on us in Central Park or something?
George Feeny: No, I shall remain here.
Cory Matthews: No. You'll always be with us. As long as we live okay?
[Cory walks out the door. Mr. Feeny looks around the room]
George Feeny [the last line of the series “Boy Meets World”]: I love you all... Class dismissed
Lesson: Know your students well, even better than they want their friends to know them—and love them, even if you wait until they all leave the room to tell them, because you will always be with them (whether you’ve done them right or done them wrong).
The inimitable William Daniels, who played Feeny in “Boy Meets World,” had two other roles in his career that hold special places in my heart: As John Adams in the 1969(?) musical AND 1972 film “1776,” he was with me every year that I taught middle school social studies and taught that very play and as the voice of K.I.T.T. in the TV series “Knight Rider,” he was a significant part of my own childhood television watching! I would feel remiss if I did not include two bonus lessons from Feeny, but in each of those other two significant roles:
Act I, Scene 3 – (1972—“1776”)
John Adams: Now you'll write it, Mr. J.
Thomas Jefferson: Who will make me, Mr. A?
John Adams: I.
Thomas Jefferson: You?
John Adams: Yes!
[Jefferson—6 feet 4—steps up, towering over Adams—5 feet 8—and looks down at him]
Thomas Jefferson: How?
[tapping his chest with the quill pen]
John Adams: By physical force, if necessary.
Lesson: There are times when we must make a stand—even when the odds are stacked against us—so that the job will get done. Teachers are often the little guys and we must stand up to the big guys, for what we know is right, even when (like Jefferson with Adams) they are actually on our side (although, history tells us of the extraordinary love-hate relationship those two Founding Fathers really had).
Season 2, Episode 5 (1983—“Knight Rider”)
K.I.T.T.: Michael, I've been thinking about David Dudley's sportscar. I'm afraid it may have met with a dreadful end.
Michael Knight: I don't follow.
K.I.T.T.: It's occurred to me that in so far as the car is essentially evidence in a shooting, those hoodlums may have disposed of it in that crusher at the wrecking yard.
Michael Knight: Oh, well that would make a compact out of it, wouldn't it?
K.I.T.T.: I fail to see the humor in that. It's a most humiliating way to go, transformed into a tin can..
Michael Knight: Well, I'll remember that the next time I have sardines.
K.I.T.T.: Really, Michael. Sometimes you're so insensitive.
Lesson: Have empathy and realize that the lived experiences of our students may not be the same as our own—the things that may seem inconsequential or fodder for a joke to us may actually be genuinely and deeply personal for them.
It is worth the side note for me to explain why “Girl Meets World” is really the full circle for me. Like Feeny, I was a classroom teacher turned principal. And like Cory Matthews (who grew up to become a teacher like his own mentor/second father “Mr. Feeny”), I grew up to become a teacher in (I can only hope) the likeness of my own mentors/second fathers, Mr. D and Mr. E and, of course, my own father who was also a teacher and then school administrator.
As I understand it, William Daniels has reprised (or will reprise) the role of Feeny in some capacity for the new series and I can only hope that he will appear on the episode taping on May 14—but in any event, I can’t wait! And so concludes this blog post and my tribute to “Feeny” a.k.a. William Daniels a.k.a. K.I.T.T. a.k.a. John Adams. Class dismissed!
Have you ever worked hard at teaching your class something only to discover that they don’t apply that learning on the test? I’ve noticed many students seem to struggle with on-demand writing during test taking.
On-demand writing: a situation in which students are presented with a prompt (question or scenario) and are given a specific time limit to complete it.
From the prototypes we are looking at, we are finding that on-demand writing is especially prevalent in Smarter Balanced and PARCC. On-demand writing is also an important skill for students to have in situations such as the rise of social media and for college and career readiness.
Time management is the ultimate solution for student success with on-demand writing. I’ve found that by teaching my students how to allot and judge time during their writing, they’ve become more confident when it comes time for on-demand writing. I did this by having my students practice writing with different timed allocations, beginning with 40 minutes. I then gradually lowered their timed writing to 10 minutes. As your students become more comfortable with timed writing, you will notice their skills improving, especially in their shorter on-demand writing pieces.
Here are four tips we’ve learned that help prepare students for on-demand writing:
1. Assigning writing prompts will help with on-demand writing.
Within a WriteSteps unit you’re given the opportunity to assign a prompt or a “free choice” write. Have your students write in response to the prompt in a specific time frame. When assigning a prompt, choose one that relates to your other subject area s. By having students write about what they’ve read in ELA, science, social studies, or math, you’re helping prepare them for the on-demand writing they will do on tests, in other classes, and in the work place.
2. Planning helps students focus their thoughts and organize their on-demand writing piece.
I always have students plan before they write. This is taught in a step-by-step, strategic way. The goal is that through repetition, students will start to plan automatically whenever a writing assignment is given, whether it is a long writing piece or a shorter on-demand piece.
Students in kindergarten begin practicing stating the topic. 1st graders write a paragraph for which they have planned the topic and include three facts or reasons. Students in grades 2-5 become skilled at planning multiple paragraph essays.
3. Conferencing with students boosts their self esteem and confidence, which is needed for on-demand writing.
Help each student identify their personalized goals by using a rubric, editing checklist, or revising checklist, and by asking your student to reflect on their writing. I’ve found this helps students find their errors when they’re writing an on-demand piece for which they will have no time for peer editing and revising.
Students will not need to identify all errors in a timed writing piece, just those that might impede understanding. It is the philosophy of many standardized tests, including PARCC and Smarter Balanced, that spelling and grammar do not harm a student’s score unless they make it difficult for the reader to understand what the writer is saying.
4. Self-assessment and reflection help a student to know themselves as a writer, which is beneficial for on-demand writing.
One of my favorites tools that I like my students to use is the six traits rubrics. Students score their own writing and use the document to set goals for their writing improvement. Not only do students fill out the rubric, but they answer a short questionnaire that asks them to identify their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and areas for which they would like teacher assistance. This type of self reflection helps students prepare and improve from one writing piece to the next, regardless of length and time frame given.
The on-demand type of writing is becoming more prevalent in social media, CCSS testing, and in preparing students for college and career readiness. One of the four ways teachers can increase students’ aptitude for writing on-demand is by including both longer duration writing with all steps of the writing process, as well as shorter on-demand writing.
Have you noticed a difference in your students’ longer duration writing versus their on-demand writing? What stories can you share with us?
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #18)
“Are you OK, Am I OK?”
How do I ensure that today I am wiser, calmer, and more relentless than yesterday? As I continue to learn, I find that leadership in its easy silence of my thoughts, is truly as simple and complex as – “to be or not to be”. I have found that in this time of year, we are both tired and excited. It is an interesting time for educators, communities and most importantly our students. During the spring many would like to rest. Some lose their urgency and others may never have had it. Yet, I see others that thrive during this time. I am left to wonder if urgency is lost or mistaken for crisis when we are tired. How do we continue to be urgent until the very last minute? As an organization, can we handle relentless urgency?
For our students, this time of year is filled with the realities of time running out and excitement of the unknown. What will I do this summer? What will next year be like? What will my next school be like? What will it be like after graduation? Will I make it this year? Will I make it today? Additionally, there is a sense of running out of time. I heard one student recently say, “It is isn’t because they (staff) haven’t been telling us too, we just haven’t done it.”
As a leader how do you “check yourself”? How do you know if your vision is just? How do you know if those who you are trying to serve value your service? We are in the final stretch of the school year, we will blink and we will be headed into summer. As we relentlessly drive forward, we must be clear. For those who put their own interest ahead of the students that we serve, we must have no time. Amid the doubt and unknown, we must relentlessly put our trust in our students’ abilities and in our staffs’ commitment to serve each of them. Am I Ok? Are we Ok? Our pain and our struggle is our everyday life. I pray that we never become numb to them, for I know that we will have given up. The time is now to become urgent, one last push, our best effort, and I am confident that we will ensure student success.
Finally from, “Edmund Vance Cooke”
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way?
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
Where the hell have you been?
Pardon my language, but I do want to ask this to those of you who are vehement about how bad lots of testing is and how horrible high stakes tests are. I have hated all the testing and the Big Test for twenty years now. Where were all of you? Why didn’t you ever join me? This testing mania has been around for decades and now suddenly you figure out that it’s bad for kids? And why do you blame it on Common Core?
A little history. We have had high stakes testing for about twenty years now. I was teaching when Colorado adopted the Big Test, the Colorado Student Assessment Program. The governor at the time was sure education would improve if we had a Big Test For All To Take. I was outspoken at the time that the test was unnecessary and bad for students. The governor and a congressman who was a big supporter of the test were persuaded to take the 11th grade test. The governor refused to have his test scored; the congressman said he hoped his test would be shredded. I was livid and I wrote a guest column for the paper: how valid is the test if very successful people can fail it? It must measure something that doesn’t matter in life. And what a waste of time and money! This was 15 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.
My district purchased test prep packets and we were supposed to go through them for the month leading to the Big Test. Students and teachers got seriously stressed at CSAP time. I felt the packets were not the best use of instructional time and, in defiance, never used them. (My students test scores were as high or higher than my peers who used the packet in fear of the big test.) This started 15 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.
I had my son opt out of the Big Test. I felt it wasted a week of his life, had no instructional value, and told teachers nothing about him that they didn’t already know. This was 10 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.
My district added MAP testing two times a year, DRA testing two times a year, and a district-created writing assessment four times a year. I gave the first writing assessment and realized that it had no instructional value so I never gave it again. I was prepared to use the “asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission” defense, but no one ever noticed. I was livid again. Why all this testing? No one can keep up with it! This started 8 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.
I was teaching 8th grade when the district added the EXPLORE test. The EXPLORE test predicts how well kids will do on the PLAN test which predicts how well kids will do on the ACT test which has almost no predictive value about how well kids will do in college. I was an outspoken critic. More money wasted, more instructional time gone, no information that I didn’t already have. This started 4 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.
Where was the outrage all of this time? Why was I the only voice against non-stop testing, test prep, and the Big Test? If you think this is a Common Core issue, you are way wrong. If you hate the Common Core because of testing, you are way off base.
Are people making money from new tests? Probably, but I never hear a peep from you about the insane SAT or ACT preparation industries. Are there glitches in the new online tests? Of course, but at least testing is finally getting into the 21st century instead of looking exactly like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills I took half a century ago (46 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE!). But still, I agree: this testing mania is insane!
And here is the mind-blowing part: I don’t hate the Common Core State Standards.
For some time now, I have been asking haters to tell me exactly which standard they don’t like. You don’t like “Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea?” You don’t like “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation?” You don’t like “Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate?” Well then, tell me exactly which ones need to be tossed out? NOT ONE PERSON HAS EVER ANSWERED THIS QUESTION. Only a fool sees things in black and white; all good or all bad; everything or nothing. Aren’t there some good ideas here?
More history. When I started teaching, I was told to teach language arts. I had some ideas of things to do, but I never had a clear idea of what the end result was supposed to be. I was told to assign book reports and teach topic sentences and other things, but everyone was weak on where we were all supposed to be headed. I would not have minded at all someone saying, “At the end of this year, see if you can get kids to recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).” Ah, that’s what appropriate for this age! That’s my goal. We’ll shoot for that.
And that is all a standard is.
No all or nothing.
No “I hate Bill Gates.”
And definitely no “But testing is horrible!!!!”
I am happy that after twenty years, people are joining me on the Too Much Testing Bandwagon. I am seriously disappointed, however, that people can’t see a distinction between a standard and a test. And I am shocked at the number of folks who haven’t figured out that you can have standards and not have ridiculous amounts of tests. They do not logically have to go together. You can (and should?) hate testing but not standards.
I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.
My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.
Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.
My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees? The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.
This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone? Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.
Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.
If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose. A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.
Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?
Many school districts in America have a Service Learning requirement. An idea well-intentioned but poorly implemented in most schools. Teachers and Administrators who have never even done volunteer work now demand that their students do what they have never done. Needless to say these administrators offer nothing but lip service to the cause. We set the requirement but then we back off, we want nothing to do with these service learning requirements. "That's your problem kiddo" go get it done. And by the way stop whining about it, just go do it. The teenager is now left to fend for themselves with little help from the adults in their world. Oh, sure we offer the opportunity for the students to meet after school with their counselor or the service learning coordinator to discuss upcoming opportunities but what about the adults who stand in front of them every day? Where are they? They are nowhere to be found.
Let's be honest we forced this requirement upon our students because we believed it's so damned important but the truth is we do not walk the walk and talk the talk. If teachers and administrators truly believe that service learning is so damned important (and even if they do not) it is about time educators began to support the service learning agenda. It is about time educators stopped hiding behind empty rhetoric and began including service learning into the curriculum.
Every single requirement for students is supported at school except service learning. Driver’s education is supported with classes and books, so is physical education, the constitution exam, health, sex education and the arts. But when it comes to service learning we kick the kids to the curb and wish them luck. Then we blame them when the appropriate number of hours is not met in the given time frame. If schools are going to make service learning mandatory then it's about time these educators began supporting this requirement with more than slogans and suggestions.
The solution is simple. Every teacher at school must include two service learning projects into their unit plans every year. If the subject you are teaching is relevant then there must be some practical way to integrate this into your instruction. If you cannot do this then your subject is not worth teaching.
Schools exist to prepare our young to be productive members of society. How is this possible if we do not demonstrate how the topic presented in class each day applies to a real world situation? Service Learning is the only graduation requirement we throw at students with little or no support. If we really believe in the value of service learning then let's start supporting that requirement in deeds not just with words. Let’s bring service learning into the curriculum front and center. Let’s give everybody a stake in the responsibility to complete and implement the service learning requirement
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html
How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention? As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching. In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone. However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth.
During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential. My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development.
It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.
1. Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.
Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating. Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood. Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking. Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.
2. Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.
Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices. Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action. Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below). These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered.
3. Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.
Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish. Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.
4. Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.
Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students. Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks. Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.
5. Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice - and reflect with them afterward.
Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration. Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved. In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” ― W.B. Yeats
Content Curation is a relatively new term for educators to consider as they flex their Web muscles. After all, many of us are used to content being synonymous with "what's in the textbook." Or from a student perspective, we've hopefully moved past the bibliography cards (shudder) as a way of gathering content. We may not have started out with the idea that information or strategies or tools are available with a search, but now we need to know that the act of gathering them is also a skill. It's time to figure out the best way to get students on board with this crucial 21st century skill.
Mullan (2011) defines content curation as "the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter." Thus, our role as a facilitator of learning is to figure out the general why and how, so we can help students better understand their specific why and how.
1. Start with the end in mind.
Our planning of the use of content curation will be somewhat backwards from our presentation to students because we first need to figure out why we want them to curate content before we jump into having them do it.
If you don't have a good reason for kids to curate, then...don't.
Without a clear alignment of this task and the learning, you'll soon find them off-task and/or whining and complaining, no matter the tool. So, we need to first consider:
What is the end goal of the assignment or project?
What do we want students to be able to "do" with it?
These questions come before the "curation" question:
Why is curating content the BEST thing to help students reach those goals or demonstrate their
For example, let's say I have a project idea that I want students to complete a research project on one aspect of education for sustainable development. The topic is certainly significant, and I want them to decide on one problem they want to tackle under the umbrella of this topic, and research solutions and ideas for overcoming it. Finally, I want them to present their findings in a comprehensive way for others to learn from. They are expected to choose their intended audience for this compilation of information. My reason for curation is then germane to the learning. They need to find the sources, so having a spot to put them all is a logical, practical exercise.
2. Scaffold the skills.
Then, I'll want to brainstorm some thoughts on what the kids will need to know about content curation before they tackle this project.
What immediately stands out for content curation as a skill is the credibility and/or reliability of what is discovered or gathered, etc. Evaluating sources can be tricky, so students may need some help understanding what is/is not a viable source. Providing them with examples in discussion prior to sending them out on their own would allow them more solid footing. They should be asking questions such as:
Who is the author of this source, and why is he/she credible?
Does the source provide references or at least links to information that supports the discussion?
How will this source help me reach my goal?
3. Distinguish the tools.
Another thing kids will need to know is what kind of tool will work best. There are so many options! Paperli, Pinterest, Symbaloo. Since the use of the tools is probably not going to be too much of an issue (they are very user-friendly and easy to figure out), then, we'll need to do a bit of background on a few. What is it that curation tools can actually DO?
From Webby Thoughts http://www.webbythoughts.com/content-curation-tools-resource/
For example, some curation tools, such as scoopit and paperli lend themselves to actually being the final project whereas Symbaloo, Diigo, and Pinterest are more like warehouses that store information for something else. Thus before you open up Pandora's box of tools, make sure you know what you want it to do.
A quick comparison of a few--you can find some listed in Moss (2014) "Content Curation Tools"--can aid you in guiding students to the choice that will work best for them. This is actually good spot in the unit/lesson to offer students some choice because you want them to hone the skill. The tool is up to them!
4. Set clear expectations.
Of course, you'll want to make sure your expectations for the final product are clear! Using rubrics and checklists that help students understand how you'll be assessing their skills of curation for the purpose of the final project will offer them a solid foundation for moving forward in the magic of content curation.
Working with the backwards design approach really offers us a powerful way to approach this valuable skill! Students who can curate have a definitive advantage over those who don't know what it is or how to use it.
And they need all the advantages that we can give them.
There’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources I find during the week, so I decided to start a Best of the Week List where I share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources I come across every week. Here's this week's list:
Reading and Language Arts
Technology in the Classroom
History and Social Studies
While schools seem like historical institutions that anchor a community with continuity, they are always changing. While one school can provide a connection through generations in a neighborhood, the school that existed for the baby boomers is not what exists for the millennials. I went to a high school that just celebrated its centennial and while the name over the door remained the same, almost everything else has changed.
Every year the students, staff, and community change. New educational policies and reforms are instituted and old ones are forgotten. New events become traditions and new initiatives become protocols. One of the reasons that schools are so hard to change is that they come with history that was created through the efforts of the many people that were part of moving a school from a building to a monument to community accomplishment.
While some traditions provide connections within a neighborhood, others hang on long
past their usefulness.
As we have moved forward to change things in my school, there has been continuous discussion around how we got to where we are today. My school is less than fifteen years old, but there have been many changes since its inception. Many of the policies where put in place in order to solve problems that we are still facing, but others have lost their relevance. As we push forward to make the necessary changes to address our current student, staff and community needs, we are often stopped by these irrelevant policies, procedures and traditions. Last year, I began to call these policies ghosts because they continue to haunt us long after they are no longer relevant.
These ghosts haunt us for many reasons: we have failed to reassess their ability to meet the needs that we currently have, we lack an understanding of why they were put in place, and or we simply are still doing them because we have always done it that way. Most of the time, they do not cause problems. We have adjusted them to meet our needs each year, but in adjusting past practice, we find it difficult to develop new practices that better meet our needs. They continue to hang around and distract us from the work ahead, clouding the next steps in the process, and make us a less flexible school. Instead of developing something new, we are consumed with making something we have always done survive for another year.
Over the past year, a few teachers have engaged in a ghost busting process. We started getting together to discuss where we want the school to go and what ghosts haunt us from getting there. Throughout these meetings, I have seen that three steps are needed to bust ghosts.
This process is long and we have had real challenges at my school with making it happen. One person’s ghost is another person’s sacred cow and worth defending. We have taken steps forward and steps backwards, but we are working together. Schools are buildings with long institutional memory full of ghosts, but also the great work of generations committed to making it a great place. By ghost busting we hope to only to continue building that monument to community accomplishment.
As a high school teacher, I used an array of diverse assessments to measure and evaluate student achievement and success. Many varied components would go into each student’s grades and narratives – test and quiz results, the quality of projects, writings and self-reflections, observations of students, and judgments regarding effort, growth, and class participation. Given the multiple student cognitive abilities, attitudes, character traits, and strengths and problems, it would have been foolish of me to use only one type of measure to determine a students’ success in my class.
Given that multiple types of assessments such as the ones I used above are used by most teachers, one would expect that appropriate, multiple assessment approaches would be also used to assess school and district success. Thus, it is surprising that “one size fits all” standardized tests, with their major emphasis on multiple choice-short answer questions, are touted as the major, and often the only way to judge school success, student achievement, and even teacher effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the sole use of these traditional tests pose many problems for assessing actual student knowledge, skills, abilities, talents and interests. First, many educators and lay people suggest that standardized tests often do not do a good job of measuring the purported skills associated with them. For example, as recently pointed out by a New York State teacher in a NY Times op-ed piece, the New York English Language Arts test questions do “a poor job of testing reading comprehension”. A student’s answers to the questions on this test have “little bearing on [his or her] reading ability and yet [have] huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools”[i]. Some students also might be good readers but do poorly on the reading test because of their poor test-taking skills.
Second, standardized tests have limited use in evaluating whether students have learned many of the most important skills required for college work or for living in a 21st century world, such as interest in learning, motivation to learn, research and study skills, coherent writing abilities, effective oral communication skills, project and problem-based development skills, problem finding and question asking, the ability to apply learning to authentic situations, scientific investigation skills, “deep” thinking, student “grit”, and the development of each individual student’s talents and abilities.
In addition, the tests usually provide schools and teachers with limited, if any, feedback to help them figure out how to improve teaching and learning. And, unfortunately, they also have a number of negative side effects, such as increasing sterile test-prep activities, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student anxiety and frustrations, and reducing student interest in learning. Many of our best teachers write about how the emphasis on testing plays havoc with their curriculum, the interest and motivation of their students, and their joy of teaching. Some have even left the teaching profession altogether because of their school or district emphasis on preparing for standardized tests.
As opposition to the use of these tests increases, and a greater understanding of their limitations and negative consequences develops, it is imperative that opponents to standardized testing suggest alternatives. In fact, there should be many varied assessments used to determine school and district success, just as there are many and varied types of educational goals, results, and students. This is a very different paradigm from the “one size fits all” standardized testing results model of measuring success. So, described briefly below are some examples of types of measures that might be combined into an assessment plan useful for judging district and school success, student achievement, and the school or district conditions that limit or reinforce success. The first number of measures are designed to measure output – achievement and successes of students, their involvement and participation in multiple types of activities, perceptions of stakeholders in how the school is meeting their needs, and so on. The second set of measures focus on input: characteristics of student population, conditions under which students learn, amount of resources available, the quality of curriculum and teaching, and others.
Achievement, Successes, Activity Involvement, and Perceptions
Student graduation data
What do students do when they graduate, where do they go and how successful are they both during their time with us and after they leave us?
In analyzing school success, data should be regularly collected on the % of students who graduate and what they do after graduation (types and names of colleges and universities attended, financial aid obtained, military enlistees, technical school attendees, etc.); what % of those who attend college graduate and why do they drop out; college majors. Student data also should include surveys and interviews with graduates to find out their levels of satisfaction with their K-12 school programs;
Mission-related achievement data
How well do our students meet the mission of our school or district?
Student data should be collected and analyzed that demonstrate achievement and success based on mission-related goals. For example, a school specializing in the visual arts might collect data on the type of artwork students complete and a sampling of student portfolios; a school with an emphasis on music may focus assessments around the types of student performances given by students and the skill level of its music students. Vo-Tech schools might collect data on the types of training received by each student, their post high school plans and career goals, their job placements and acceptance levels into advanced programs.
Report card results
How successful are our students, based on the results of their daily and yearly work?
We know that the best predictors of student achievement and success lie with how well students do in their classes and in the recommendations of teachers and others in the school. We therefore need to make sure that each school or district develop specific, “standards-based” report cards, built around measures of 21st century goals, that reflect how well students succeed and grow in their classes and courses. Report cards should be broken down into specific cognitive and social expectations, with ratings that use levels of achievement as well as grades. Narrative comments convey specific information to parents-guardians about the strengths of individual children and areas that need improvement.
Report card data can be summarized to provide a picture of how well the school or district is doing to meet the needs of its students. Randomly selected report cards, along with narrative comments, can also be collected and shared.
Cornerstone-graduation project(s) results
How well do our students complete “cornerstone” projects that both develop and assess core 21st century skills?
Cornerstone projects consist of research projects and “authentic” performance tasks that culminate in presentations and exhibitions and demonstrate in-depth understanding of ideas, the ability to use 21st century skills, and the ability to transfer and apply learning. Students who are able to develop questions around their interests or suggested topics, conduct research, read and comprehend, write essays and research papers, and make presentations to others demonstrate an understanding of content and competence in using significant skills.
Cornerstone project results at different school levels demonstrate progress towards the development of these skills as well as final mastery of them.
Student plans for the future
What are student plans for the future?
Every student should be required to develop a plan for his or her future, indicating their next steps after graduating from high school and their more visionary goals for the future. Part of the development of a plan should include research about future educational goals, career options and choices. A summary of these plans is an important indicator of school and district success.
What is the comprehensive nature of individual student work?
Portfolios - collections of student work - help us to assess actual student work and incorporate “real learning” into the assessment process, not the artificial, “out of context” kind of learning assessed through standardized tests. Portfolios are also individualized and customized to demonstrate an individual’s nuanced and varied skill levels, talents, abilities, and interests. Today, with Internet capability, an individual student’s best writing and/or artwork, project results, tests, self-reflections, plans for the future, and other student work can be scanned and placed electronically into portfolios.
Students should be asked to develop portfolios of their work throughout their K-12 experience. Sample portfolios, or parts of portfolios, can be used to illustrate the types of work students are doing within the school or district, and how well a school or district is helping students master key 21st century knowledge and skills.
Survey-focus group data
What do parents, students and teachers think about us?
In this day and age of the Internet, it is relatively easy to develop, post, and summarize survey data. Every school and district should collect data from parents, students and teachers at least once a year, and then use the data to review its programs, applaud its strengths, and figure out ways to improve what it does[ii].
What do graduates and dropouts think about us?
Once students leave school and move on to colleges and other post high-school experiences, they have greater perspective on their experiences and can often provide valuable insights into the strengths of a school program and “needs improvement” areas. Data from graduates should be sought after, even if it is often difficult to collect.
Attempts should be made to collect and analyze data from dropouts, even if this data might be difficult to collect, in order to indicate why they dropped out of school and therefore suggest ways to help other students stay in school.
How do students view our school? What do they see as our positive and negative features?
Students who will be leaving one school to go to another school within the district (e.g. from elementary to middle school) or leaving a school to transfer to a school outside the district, or graduating from high school should be the focus of special attention when it comes to surveys and data collection. These students should be asked to reflect on their school experiences and focus on what they perceive as the strengths of the school they are leaving, the major learnings resulting from their school experiences, and suggestions for improving their learning experience. This data should be collected, analyzed and shared.
Community service and field-based activities
What are our students’ opportunities to connect with and apply their learning to the outside world?
How do students provide service to the community? How do students connect with the outside world via field trips, career days, and so on? How do outside individuals and groups provide services to and work with students within a school? These and other similar questions should be part of data collection that is shared and used to provide feedback on connections to real world, outside resources.
Extra-curricular, support, or enrichment activities
What opportunities are there for students to participate in extra-curricular, support and enrichment activities? How much do our students take advantage of extra-curricula, support and enrichment activities?
“Extra curricular” activities provide opportunities for students to explore and learn about a variety of options that are beyond academics. What extra-curricular activities are available? Data should be available that indicates which students are partake of which extra-curricular activities, and how often they do so.
In a similar vein, are their support and enrichment activities available for students? Data should indicate which students participate in these and why.
Conditions, Culture, Teaching, Curriculum, Resources,
School and district student population, resource availability and conditions
What are the characteristics of our student population? What resources do we have available to support our teachers and students? What school or district conditions help or hinder us in meeting achievement goals?
This data helps us to understand the characteristics of the school, district and student population, and resource adequacy, needs problems and challenges. The data include information about student populations, such as ELL, special education, identified gifted populations; the number of students on free or reduced lunch. Other data includes the % of students who drop out of a school or district before graduation and the reasons why they leave; % who are “lifers” within the same school or district, % of students who are absent 10 or more days a year, % of students given suspensions and other discipline data, and mobility rates.
District and school information include, among other things, resources available for technology, supplies, materials and other needs; class sizes; adequacy of library-media centers, art-music, and extra curricular programs; and support personnel available (NTA’s, nurses, counselors, community laiasons).
Curricular programs and instructional activities
What are the common types of curricular programs and instructional activities used in classrooms?
One part of a school or district assessment plan might include examples of the kinds of curriculum, teaching and learning experiences that are incorporated into classrooms and other activities. Suppose, for example, that the school or district promotes inquiry learning. Do teachers in the district use an inquiry learning model in their classrooms? If yes, what does learning look like? What are the essential features of the mathematical curriculum? The reading-language arts curriculum? Are there any special programs in place (e.g. leveled books, writing process, deep learning, competitions) that provide the opportunity for a different type of learning experience for students?
School and program reviews
How can we increase the amount of “objective” assessment data in order to determine our successes and improve our programs?
When I was on the staff of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency in Bucks County, PA, we conducted a number of program reviews for our constituent districts each year. We would enlist a number of teachers, administrators, and experts from across the county and the area to spend three days in a district examining and analyzing all or part of the district’s program. Our final report would list the strengths and needs of the program, and also make suggested recommendations for improving the program.
These types of reviews are extremely valuable for a school or district, especially since an outside agency is conducting the review. It provide a wealth of objective information and data, along with suggestions for improvement, that help to assess a program and provide the impetus for making changes.
Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP)
Just as we should expect teachers to build a comprehensive assessment plan to measure student success and achievement in their classes, so should we expect schools and districts to build a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP) that measures both output and input: a broad array of types of achievement, successes, involvement, perceptions, conditions, culture, and resources. The plan should both assess student achievement, growth, and development, and also be useful in improving school conditions and success in the future.
The selection of a set of a core set of assessments, built into a Comprehensive Assessment Plan, may be best determined by each school or district, depending on its resources, options, and viewpoints. My own view is that a combination of student population and school and district conditions-resource data, strong report card and student portfolio data, cornerstone project results, and surveys of and reflections from current students and graduates will provide significant and important data on how well a school or district is doing as well as the conditions under which schools, districts and teachers operate.
In today’s world of e-mails, Internet surveys, smartphones, computers, tablets, much of this data would be relatively easy to collect. Many of these measures, taken together, can become part of a holistic school-district annual report card, presented by a principal or superintendent to school boards and available to the general public. They can be used to identify problems that need to be addressed. They present a much more nuanced picture of how well a school is doing, the qualities of student graduates, what issues a school or district are facing, and what steps need to be taken to improve the results.
Unfortunately, a broad, varied array of assessment data just doesn’t get collected and developed by itself. A school or district needs to assign someone who is responsible for the development, collection, and analysis of this complex data. The person responsible might even be part of a collaborative, regional effort. The development of this more comprehensive approach will also take time to develop, and a long-term goal should be to enable every school and district to develop a significant assessment process for judging success with students and the conditions and resources necessary for success.
How Federal and State Officials Can Help This Assessment Process
Here are some ways that state and federal officials can provide support for a the use of a much more comprehensive assessment process:
Ultimately, a trust in a decentralized assessment process, a belief in the value of multiple, diverse assessments to measure school and district success, along with a combination of strong leadership at all levels, will provide the necessary impetus to move us away from the primary reliance on standardized tests to assess student, school and teacher success. We should be moving towards the use of varied sets of data that provide nuanced, helpful pictures of success and student achievement and help to improve the conditions of learning. Let us hope that we move in the right direction soon, because the current direction is leading us away from the kinds of education that our students need to prepare for living in a 21st century world.
Elliott Seif, Ph.D. is a long time educator, author, consultant, educational advocate, and trainer. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, read more his blogs on ASCD Edge and go to: www.era3learning.org
[i] Elizabeth Phillips, We Need to Talk About the Test: The Problem With the Common Core, The New York Times op-ed page, April 9, 2014.
[ii] A High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) is available free of charge from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Go to:
This blog post is listed in its entirety at :http://blogs.falmouth.k12.ma.us/simplysuzy/2014/04/13/9-ideas-you-can-steal-from-teachers/
After stumbling across Portent’s Content Idea Generator, I had a bit of fun… I threw in some favorite topics and generated some pretty giggly blog post ideas:
10 Freaky Reasons Creativity Could Get You Fired.
How Learning Can Help You Predict the Future
12 Ways Technology Could Help the Red Sox Win the World Series.
20 Things Spock Would Say About Schools. <~someone should totally write this!!
So I started thinking about one of the topics that Portent generated…. What are ideas we teachers have, that others would find worth stealing?
1: Attention Please
Whether teachers are clapping, chanting, counting, calling out, or throwing up Peace Signs – they are getting the attention of students coast to coast. So, next time you need to get attention at the dinner table, or at the deli, or on the subway – try some tried-and-true teacher tricks. Clap a rhythm, shut the lights off, or count backwards from 10. Soon you’ll have the rapt attention of all those around you.
2. Everything is more fun with Music
Music is a powerful medium. I can still remember all of the words from all the Schoolhouse Rocks videos of my youth. I can still sing my multiplication tables from 3rd grade (thank you, Mrs. Lynch!). Classical piano and guitar help drown out all of the distractions of Real Life so I can focus on one thing at a time. Sharing music in the classroom helps keep things calm and lively; serene and silly. Students respond to rhythm, to rhyme, to rap, to relaxing tones. So, try rapping that pesky list of chores to be done around the house, or singing the steps to cleaning a bedroom. A little classical music during dinner never hurt anyone.
3. Read-alouds are good for everyone.
Read-Aloud time is one of our most favorite in Room 204. Whether we are sharing the next chapter in Charlotte’s Web, or rhyming along with Dr. Seuss, during read-aloud every student is engaged and involved. Perhaps the next time you’d like to get an important point across to a family member, you could do it in the form of a read-aloud. Gather them on the rug in front of you, muster up your best fluency skills, and have at it. Whether you read the DVR user’s manual, summer camp brochures, or the latest junk mail, I guarantee you’ll have a committed audience. Sell it.
The remaining 6 ideas can be found here:
As a teacher, what ideas do you have worth stealing?? Share them!!
The Importance of Protocol
Jonathan T. Jefferson
Ineffective leadership is reactionary. There are other forms that ineffectual leadership takes, but this essay will focus on reactionary people in leadership positions who do not understand the importance of protocol. Protocol can be defined as “the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.”
The following scenarios are based on true accounts, but the perpetrators will remain nameless. A school district superintendent recommends cuts to the school district’s budget for the following school year. He explains to his board of education that the cuts come from every department to be fair. Student participation, and per pupil cost, are taken into consideration. A parent of a child on the middle school bowling team is disappointed that the bowling team has been cut. This parent speaks to a board of education member who happens to be her neighbor. Said board member calls the superintendent to inquire about the bowling team. Instead of explaining the legitimate reasons why the bowling team was eliminated, the superintendent feigns ignorance, and directs his business administrator, and athletic director, to reinstate the program. Clearly, this is not leadership, but reacting in fear to one voice from the community.
What would proper protocol have been in the above scenario? Firstly, board members have no authority acting independently. Board members must act as a unit (board of education) to monitor, and set, school district policies that do not violate their state’s department of education mandates and laws. The board member could have told the parent that he would revisit the issue the next time the board met. The superintendent could have reminded the board member that his budget was approved by the board, and that the matter could be readdressed during their next budget meeting. The manner in which the superintendent reacted led to the reinstatement of another team later that school year when one parent inquired about that team at a PTA function. Leadership requires making decisions that will not please everyone, and having the conviction to defend those decisions.
In this scenario, a teacher learns that she is being transferred to another school, and decides to fight the transfer by speaking with a board member who happens to be a retired principal of her school. This board member speaks to the superintendent, and the superintendent immediately calls his assistant superintendents, and department director, to tell them to reconsider the transfer. The department director, who does have the courage to defend his decisions, explained to the superintendent that the decision was made in the best interest of instruction after meetings with the principals of both schools.
Once again, a weak reactionary person in a leadership position can cause chaos by ignoring protocol. If this teacher were to be successful at thwarting a transfer, what authority would her principal or directors have in future dealings with her? Especially disturbing is the fact that a former principal (now board member) would act in a manner that would undermine the current principal. This board member should have told the teacher that the decision was within the unilateral purview of the school administrators. An effective superintendent would have politely reminded the board member of the proper protocol in place (if any) to appeal such decision in this instance.
As a school district administrator, the most effective superintendent I have had the pleasure of working with was a former Marine. She believed fully in the benefits of protocol, and held everyone to it. If a member of the community raised an issue at a board meeting, she would redirect them to the appropriate administrator and through the appropriate channels for such matter to be addressed. She was a stickler for following through with her decisions, and never backed down or shied away from the procedural soundness of her decisions when questioned. Through courage, conviction and commitment to community (rather than personal) objectives, this former marine more effectively managed a nine member board than the inept superintendent worked with his five.
Test anxiety needs no formal introduction. Most of us have experienced it—and if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the impact it can have on your students’ performance and self-esteem. Below we’ve pulled a few stress-management tips from Neal A. Glasgow and Cathy D. Hicks’ book, What Successful Teachers Do: 91 Research-Based Classroom Strategies for New and Veteran Teachers.
6 Ways to Reduce Your Students’ Test Anxiety
Model low levels of anxiety in front of your students
It should be no surprise that research shows a connection between the way we negotiate stress and the way our students handle it. If we’re stressed, chances are that it’s going to rub off on our students. We can apply every stress-management strategy in the book, but if we fail to create a positive classroom culture, even the best stress-management activity will fall flat.
As Tim Haston, a 7th grade math and science teacher at Earlimart Middle School, suggests, teachers would do well to approach test days like athletes do game day. “It is the performance; it is the thing we grow all year to be excited for. I don't want them to work around any anxiety, I want to teach them how to channel it as athletes do for a game, musicians do for a concert, and actors do for their play/movie/show.”
In addition to modeling low levels of anxiety in front of our students, we can also teach them how to be in tune with their bodies and minds. Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise we like to use before tests:
With erect posture, breathe in deeply through the nose and hold your breath for a count of 8-10 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through the mouth, counting 8-10. Repeat this procedure several times until relaxation occurs.
This mindfulness exercise fits in nicely with what Tim Haston said in our first point.
Tell students to try what Olympic athletes do to develop confidence in their performance. Picture yourself in a tense situation, such as taking a test, and visualize yourself looking over the test, seeing the questions, and feeling secure about the answers. Imagine yourself answering the questions without too much difficulty. Complete the picture by imagining yourself turning in the paper and leaving the room assured that you did your best.
Where do your students feel most at peace? One spot could be at the ocean. Have students identify a place and use all their senses to imagine themselves there and how they feel when they are there. Guide them in an activity: Watch the waves with the whitecaps rolling up the shoreline onto the beach. Listen to the waves and the seagulls. Smell the salty air and feel your fingers and toes in the warm, soft, and grainy sand.
Keep in mind that this activity should be done with some reserve. It may not work for all of your students, so gauge the class and encourage students not to give up on relaxation exercises just because this one doesn’t work well for them.
Write Letters of Encouragement
This activity will require more effort on the part of the teacher, but it’s one that will certainly stick with students. Before a major exam or standardized test, write a letter of encouragement to each student the day before. If you have the time to custom-tailor each note, your effort will go a long way, but a generic note will also have a positive impact on your students.
We’d like to thank Angela Oliver, a 7th and 8th grade teacher from Leggett, Texas, for sharing this idea with us!
Watch This Test Does Not Define You
This Test Does Not Define You is one video we always show students in the weeks preceding big exams. Not only does it do a nice job of dispelling a few myths about testing, it also sends them an important message: They are not defined by test results! The video also highlights some simple research-based activities that reduce test-anxiety.
Most of us have counted down the days until spring. But this year, March, April, and May bring a bit of trepidation to many in the education community. With the heightened demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and forthcoming next-generation assessments—which require a renewed emphasis on writing—many districts are concerned that students won’t be prepared.
No longer will students find tests comprised of dozens and dozens of “bubble-filled” multiple-choice questions. Instead, writing—assessed at every tested grade level—will be a key factor in the next-generation assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
The importance of writing skills on these new tests far exceeds traditional expectations. Students will now be required to explain and defend their answer to math questions in writing. On some math questions, the point-value of the written explanation may be even greater than the point-value of the correct numerical answer. The bottom line is that students with good writing skills will have a distinct advantage on these assessments.
During the first half of the school year, I traveled across the country delivering presentations on CCSS writing and upcoming assessments. And, from my discussions with educators, I’ve noticed a recurring theme—a common anxiety that students will not be prepared for the heightened expectations in writing.
In order to ensure that students are ready for new standards and assessments, schools must change the way writing is taught. Early, focused attention to writing is critical to ensure that students are prepared for increasing academic demands in middle school, high school, and beyond. Here are six specific steps that teachers and educational leaders can take now to prepare students for writing success:
To make sure your students are prepared for success on next-generation assessments, and ready for college and a career, you must renew your instructional emphasis upon writing at all grade levels. Writing must be explicitly modeled and taught. Making writing instruction a priority will undoubtedly result in higher academic achievement and greater economic success and civic engagement for your students. You cannot afford to wait; the need is urgent and the time is now.
At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.
I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.
I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.
I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.
Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.
Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.
Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.
Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.
It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.