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“Leadership is not about position; it's about influence.”
-John C. Maxwell
Dispelling the leadership myth
About two years ago, I began mulling over the idea of going back to school to obtain a masters degree in Educational Administration in order to become a school leader. Leadership is influence and I was determined to spread my influence beyond my classroom walls and inspire an entire school. What I came to realize, was that I had already reached that level. I was already contributing to my school’s success and slowly becoming a catalyst for change: I was a teacher leader.
Effective leadership is generally directly tied to school success. Research has certainly shown that leadership matters. Teacher leadership, however, still is not always an accepted norm. The notion of an educational leader always tends to conjure up the same images: District superintendents and building-level administrators. These images, I believe, are misleading representations of leadership in education. They give off the impression that one has to be in one of those positions in order to develop influence in a school setting. Often, when asked about leadership roles, teachers reply, “I cannot lead because I’m not at the top.” How can we dispel this all-too-common myth? Even, in the midst of the 21st century, there appears to be a general lack of teacher leadership awareness.
Defining successful teacher leadership
While teacher leadership isn’t a new concept in education, it is one that is often misinterpreted. It has been long realized that teachers take on many roles. Teacher as leader is more than leading a class of students and being a great teacher. A teacher has many opportunities available to become influential and contribute to their school’s success.
From corporate offices to the military, and in a diverse array of cultures as different as The Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States, there is overwhelming evidence of a common set of practices that any successful leader calls on, as needed. Many of these same practices define today’s teacher leaders and the roles they take on:
1. Direction Setters
Successful teacher leaders are aimed at helping their colleagues develop shared understandings about the school and its activities and goals. Effective communication is key. Whether it’s guiding new teachers or trying to influence seasoned veterans hesitant of change, leaders play a key role in identifying and articulating the school’s vision. Teacher leaders have a responsibility to help foster the acceptance of their school’s goals and in creating high performance expectations.
2. Teacher Developers
Teacher leads take on various roles that assist in the development of their colleagues’ instructional practices. Vital roles include curriculum specialist, learning facilitator, resource provider, and mentor. Successful teacher leaders lead in-school or district professional development. They may aid in curriculum mapping. Sometimes it is as simple as helping other teachers to understand state content standards and local curriculum initiatives, as well as how to plan and assess lessons meeting these guidelines. Ultimately, effective teacher leaders strive to unlock their colleagues' potential to become better.
3. Catalysts for Change
The field of education is ever-evolving and there is a great need for independent research, or teacher inquiry, about new instructional strategies or practices. Many effective teacher leaders even take on roles in their teachers’ union or groups working toward school reform. They advocate for their school, for teachers, and above all, student learning.
4. Life-long Learners
This one is a given. John F. Kennedy used to say, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other," and true teacher leaders never really end their pursuit of knowledge or quest to become better educators. They are often the first ones to arrive to school in the morning and one of the last to leave at night. Teacher leaders are the ones who attend professional development sessions during school breaks to stay tuned in to the pulse of education in an ever-changing world. They engage in education twitter chats or reflect upon education in their professional blogs on the weekends. Successful teacher leaders are passionate professionals, always striving to learn and improve in order to be the best educator they can be and provide their students with the highest quality education possible.
The bottom line is- You don’t have to be a district superintendent or building administrator to be a leader within your school community. You need only the courage and determination to spread your influence beyond the walls of your classroom and an interminable passion to inspire the world around you.
Trusting relationships are a key factor of successful schools. Building a positive professional level of trust forms the foundation that allows staff, students, and communities to take risks, succeed, fail, and find success again. All staff need to be vested in building positive trusting relationships, especially the school’s administration. Recently a colleague of my mine shared that at a recent staff meeting her new Principal announced, that due to budget issues, several staff members may lose their positions. Then the principal asked the staff to trust her, and said by the same token she was trusting them, as they move through this process. It was quite an emotional time for her school.
I asked her if she did trust her principal, and this led to a discussion about what it takes for a new administrator to earn the trust of their staff. While we thought there were probably as many ways to earn trust as there are schools, there were a few common things that most school administrators could do when it came to earning trust. Here are our top 5 (in no particular order):
I have been thinking lately about professional relationships and what role they play in how we learn as professionals, and as people. It would be difficult to learn much in total isolation. We are social beings, so exchanging ideas and opinions is a natural occurrence for us. I think we tend to seek out people with whom we can share things. We have personal relationships to share personal things, professional relationships to share professional things, and casual relationships to handle everything else. These relationships validate, negate, or modify our ideas. We learn from this.
Our culture’s support of these relationships may best be reflected in our support of the Restaurant and Bar industry. I guess these casual, and personal relationships are as much a part of that industry as food and booze. Places of business, and education are where professional relationships mostly reside. Although many faculty have been known to gather on a Friday afternoon at a watering hole outside the school district limits.
Many of these relationships are very fluid depending on our need to share and learn specific things at various times of our lives. People come and go in our lives continuously. Many of us have people that we refer to as our mentors. A mentor, I believe, is a person who heavily influenced us at specific times in our careers by exchanging, supporting, questioning, and validating our ideas about our profession. All of this is based on trust, which can only be established within a relationship.
Professional relationships prior to the 21st Century were, with the exception of the occasional pen pal, a face-to-face endeavor. As educators, professional relationships were most often within the school building in which an educator worked. Depending on the size and quality of the faculty, as well as the school’s culture, this was a hit or miss proposition for professional learning. If an educator was limited in professional relationships within the work environment, he, or she could attend classes in local colleges seeking out professional relationships with other teachers attempting the same collegial connections. As the rates for taking courses, continued to rise, higher Ed became a very costly drain on a teacher’s salary. Local, statewide, or national education conferences also provided exposure to more professional relationships, but many teachers were not privy to attending these conferences on a regular basis.
I was recently made aware of the principle of 10,000 hours. That is the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to completely master a complex skill. If there ever was a list of complex skills, teaching would be at the top. To make it even more complex it is also a moving target. Teaching today is constantly changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant and up to date, today’s educators need to be in touch with those changes. They need to embrace, experiment, and improve, or reject new pedagogy and methodology in education. They need to absorb and understand new and developing content that pops up every day. Education is not a static profession.
Educators, more than ever, need to be able to take a new idea and “run it up the flagpole”. The responses to that idea however need to come from people who have a clue. The relationships that educators count on need to be with people who are relevant and open to new ideas. This type of educator may not be found in large numbers in all schools across our country. Relationships with people who are rooted in the past will be of little help in a world driven by technology and a need for evolving an education system to meet the needs of kids who will not be living in the 20th century.
If technology is seen as the problem in driving the culture too fast for education to adjust and keep up, it may also be seen as a solution to that very same problem. If relationships are the stuff of better learning, then let technology provide better ways to relate. It is technology that can expand an educator’s relationships beyond the limits of a school, or district, or state, or even a country. Relationships with other educators, without the expense of taking costly courses are made possible. Contacts can be made with leading thought leaders, authors, and renowned experts in the field of education. Webinars are rapidly replacing the lecture halls. Through technology face-to-Face interactions are now possible with multiple people in multiple locations. The potential for meaningful relationships through technology are endless.
All of this is taking place today with connected educators worldwide. It only takes about twenty minutes a day, at any time of day, to maintain. That 10,000 hour goal will be whittled away after awhile, but it would go more quickly with more time spent in these relationships which are both uplifting and thought provoking. Those factors encourage more engagement with each visit to the connected community. Learning becomes self directed, authentic, and, dare I say, fun.
The big picture of this can be overwhelming to a novice. It is a mindset change that requires understanding the culture of connectedness before a real immersion can take place. Educators need a basic knowledge of digital literacy to get started. This will quickly, and very painlessly grow with continued connectedness. There are several connected communities to help educators get started. The Educator’s PLN is a start. www.edupln.com.
Twitter is probably the best way to experience the need and benefit to connectedness in developing both professional and personal relationships with other educators. Remember that in a group of like-minded people, as smart as any individual is, the group is always smarter. Of course, if you are reading this online, you are probably already connected and all of this makes sense, since you have already drunk the Kool-aid. Please print it out and share with an unconnected colleague. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.
Students never appreciate working hard on a homework assignment, only to have it go ungraded for days, sometimes even weeks. It’s easy to get behind, but with this 3-step homework hack, you’ll be able to cut down on your grading time and get back to what you do best—teach.
A student collects the homework and, on a separate class roster page, marks a check next to the student’s name for an assignment handed in.
The papers then go to another student who checks to see that the entire assignment was done. If so, he or she places a second checkmark on the roster. At this point, only papers with two checkmarks are on the roster. All others are incomplete assignments.
The third check may be added in a number of ways: If the answers are either right or wrong, a key given to another student might allow that student to correct the papers. Or, papers may be redistributed to the class at large, with no one having his or her own paper, and corrected as part of the lesson.
Now that it’s time to record the grades, you have an easy way to assess each effort. If you substitute the checkmark for numbers 0-3 in your marking book, it will make averaging out a homework grade relatively easy.
This homework hack comes from the April issue of Think Teachers.
“Soil is made of hummus,” my daughter read.
She was reading one of the leveled reading books that her teacher sends home with her weekly. This one had to do with farming.
“Let’s look at that again,” I said, “that word is HUMUS.” I underlined the word with my finger and asked her to say it with me. “Humus is dirt with decaying plant matter mixed in with it.” We said the word together and I extended the definition by asking her to remember last spring when we first planted our seeds for our vegetable garden. “The potting soil we used is humus,” I said.
We went back to the book. I asked her to read the sentence again.
“Soil is made of hummus,” she said, pausing slightly as she got to the word and sounded out each syllable in the word as she read. She looked at me and knew it wasn’t right.
We went down to the syllable level to analyze what she was doing. Note that I didn’t tell my first grade child that I was analyzing her every move, I was simply pulling from a toolbox of improvement opportunities at the authentic moment that one of the tools was needed.
I asked her to show me how she was breaking the word apart, a strategy her teachers had taught her and her classmates to help them figure out new words. Her strategy was rooted in prior knowledge. She showed me with her finger how she separated the word: HUM/ US/
She sees and says the known word “Hum” followed by the known word “Us.” It was apparent that just telling her the correct pronunciation was not going to do the trick. I had to ask her to re-apply the strategy. I asked her to break the word differently, after the “u,” like in human. Thus, her brain would see HU/ MUS/ instead.
She practiced a couple of times and then re-read the line.
“Soil is made of humus.” She punctuated the syllables in humus but got it right. We continued reading.
All of this happened over the course of just a few seconds. I didn’t belabor the actions nor did I repeat the correct pronunciation over and over. I recognized what she was doing and I tweaked her strategy. I didn’t focus on key ideas and details for the sake of making meaning across the entire text. I focused on making meaning of just one word in order to knock down a roadblock so that she could continue to access the rest of the text. When we were done reading, we went back to the page and re-read the sentence again, correctly and without hesitation.
I consider this a mini close reading moment, but at the word level rather than the sentence or paragraph level. The evidence for thinking what she’s thinking lies in the knowledge she gains from using known strategies and growing those strategies when she encounters new words. I asked her questions about her text and she answered them, leading her to comprehend with greater accuracy. She is becoming an independent reader and a roadblock problem solver so that there is continued improvement over time.
While this might not be a perfect match to the Close Reading standards around Key Ideas and Details, I do think it represents a quick analysis appropriate for the grade level. Even at the word level, I’m asking questions about both the text and the strategy.
The key here is that she’s reading and we are navigating both skills and processes while she’s reading. Sometimes the reading is more guided in nature and represents an improvement zone. Sometimes it’s her reading to me so that I can hear what she’s doing. Sometimes I still read to her when she lets me, not so much anymore because I want her to hear me being a fluent reader but because I still can. I hope that lasts for a little while longer.
Image via http://www.freeimages.com/pic/l/d/ds/dspruitt/1330845_55088931.jpg
Is there a word for being both very pleased and angry at the same time?
Because that's what I am.
I'm so pleased that one of my initiatives has proven valuable to my peers. The use of a midcourse update in which we let course participants know how they're doing and, if relevant, what they need to work on or complete, has received very positive feedback. These (roughly) personalized updates are designed to enhance motivation and touch base on a personal level. Most of our course emails are coursewide, but this one goes out to each person separately.
The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. However, I find myself in this strange happy/angry state. For example, one participant wrote:
Thank you for your encouragement! It is not often I get to hear things like that! Made my day!
This response brought a tear to my eye. First, I was really glad I made this person's day! But, then I thought, I didn't do anything big or huge, here.
And then I thought, "Why HASN'T this teacher been offered this sort of encouragement more often? Really, this effort took only a moment. Why is this such a surprise?"
School administrators have a daunting task, granted. Further, they're limited on time, and much of their "attaboys/attagirls" come via generic school-wide emails or on evaluations.
However,the generic email is just that...positive, but lukewarm. A recipient may or may not connect with it. Further, the school-wide or coursewide email goes out to those who may not really deserve to hear the praise, so it's incumbent upon the recipient to self-evaluate with those memos. This approach works for special occasions (We did a great job with Open House!), but not for the kind of morale-boosts that teachers really need.
And hearing praise on an evaluation is also somewhat...meh. It's sort of required, so it doesn't offer the same motivational jolt that a personalized message would.
People need to hear what they're doing RIGHT. That way, we can subtly (or not-so-subtly) reinforce that behavior. Do we bother to do that?
Teachers need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well or reflects best practices.
Students need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY and HOW what they're doing works well.
For that matter, school administrators need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well with staff and faculty or reflects best leadership practices.
Our children need to hear what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well, helps others, or contributes to the family.
Our spouses, significant others...The list goes on...
And don't give me that "There's not enough time in the day."
There is time enough in the day to prioritize those things that will make everyone and everything run more smoothly.
There is time enough in the day to send out an "attaboy/attagirl" email, which could, if sincerely offered, offset the later need for a full one-on-one conference to discuss an issue.
There's time enough in the day to write a quick positive on a sticky note and put it in a briefcase, purse, backpack, or lunchbox.
And not just "I like your artwork" or "You are the best!" This positive criticism needs to express both WHAT works well and WHY or HOW. Otherwise, the recipient may perceive you as inauthentic, which is counter-intuitive.
Pre-emptive positives such as these quick emails may take a bit more time, initially, but they ultimately save time and serve to create a powerful foundation of communication and rapport.
How long has it been since you've heard or provided a personal attaboy or attagirl? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, below!
Mirror site: www.joyfulcollapse.blogspot.com
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?
Here’s a working hypothesis:
The organizations that most need change agents probably are the least likely to hire them because change agents typically make people with non-change orientations scared or nervous. If the people within were already oriented toward change and innovation, their organizations wouldn’t be the ones in the most need of change agents.
So a change- and innovation-oriented job candidate has a steep uphill battle to get considered and hired. The challenge is how to get people on hiring committees in non-change-oriented institutions to recognize the value of hiring for innovation, not replication… Got any thoughts on this?
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!
Use the Web to find texts they want to read
In the past, finding books that piqued our struggling readers’ interest was challenging, but with the help of websites like Bookwink, Whichbook, Shelfari, Your Next Read and BookLamp.org, finding good books has never been easier. Use these sites, and show your students how to use them, too.
Pair struggling readers with younger readers
Even when we give our students their choice of reading materials, many struggling readers continue to choose books that are too difficult for them. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Most sixth grade students don’t want to be caught with the Magic Tree House books when their friends are reading the Divergent series.
Pairing these students with younger readers is a simple solution to this. The “indignities” associated with “babyish” books are no longer an issue when we pair our struggling readers with younger readers and have them read aloud to them.
Find creative ways to create independent reading time
If you timed it out, we bet you’d be surprised by how much of the day is squandered on interruptions—you know, special deliveries, messages, forgotten lunches, notes, or quick questions from other teachers. Train your students to always have a book out on their desk. When an interruption occurs—and they will occur—students should immediately begin reading.
Here’s another idea: When students finish their work early, skip the extra dittos and busy work; instead, allow them to read silently until their peers are all finished.
Take Phonics instruction beyond “sounding it out”
Encountering big words can be daunting for the struggling reader. Relying solely on teaching readers to “sound out” letters can prevent growth and lead to frustration, especially when encountering words with many syllables or words that don’t follow the standard rules. Teach readers to break words down into chunks – called “chunking” or “reading by analogy.”
Handle struggling readers with care
We have best intentions when we say, “Stop and reread this sentence,” or “Can you read a little bit faster?” but we should really avoid this type of coaching. To learn how to handle your struggling readers with care, check out a video by Amy Mascott called, “What Not to Say to Emerging Readers.”
R.A.D. Neurological Lesson Plan
Elementary Level or Beginning Foreign Language
By Paula Berlinck and Luciana Castro
2nd grade Portuguese Teachers
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Unit Title: Where does the bread come from?
Subject(s): Portuguese Grade Level(s): 2nd grade
Lesson Concept/Topic: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
Lesson Goals/Objectives: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
(and how they will be Neuro-logical)
How will you begin this lesson to engage learners’ attention?
The attention filter (RAS) gives priority to sensory input that is different than the expected pattern. Novelty, such as changes in voice, unusual objects, songs playing when they enter the classroom, will peak students curiosity and increase likelihood of the related lesson material being selected by the RAS attention filter.
1-As soon as each student arrives in the classroom they will find one wheat stalk on top of your own desk.
2-The students are going to watch and listen to the music “O cio da terra” de Milton Nascimento e Fernando Brandt
What will you do to sustain students’ attentive focus throughout the lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to making correct predictions. When students have the opportunity to make and change predictions throughout a lesson, attention is sustained as the brain seeks clues to make accurate predictions. Individual response tools, such as white boards, can be used to make predictions and reduce mistake anxiety.
1-Make the link with the Field trip to the Bread Factory and list the Previous Knowledge about “Where does the bread come from?”
2- The teacher will start to read the book “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
3- Treshing the wheat and grind to find out the flour
Motivation and Perseverance:
Which dopamine boosters will be included in your lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to increased dopamine. Incorporating dopamine boosters (e.g., humor, movement, listening to music, working with peers) increases attention, motivation, and perseverance
4- Finishing the reading aloud of the book
5- Watching the video “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
6- Using a Graphic Organize to compare and contrast the information in the book and the video
How will you help students see value and relevance in what they are learning – so they want to know what you have to teach?
Positive climate and prevention of high stressors promote information passage through the amygdala to the PFC. Motivation and effort increase when the brain expects pleasure. Buy-in examples include personal relevance, prediction, and performance tasks connecting to students’ interests and strengths.
7- Bake the Bread in the classroom
Every student will take part on the process, in group of 4 students at a time.
How will you tailor the lesson to address students’ differences in readiness, learning profile, and interests?
Differentiation allows students to work at their achievable challenge level. The students who understand the new topic, if required to keep reviewing with the group, may become bored and therefore stressed. If it is too challenging they will become frustrated. By providing learning opportunities within their range of achievable challenge, students engage through expectation of positive experiences.
8- Students will be able to choose one of the videos from the series “Kika: De onde vem?”, (Kika: Where it comes from?) where they can find different subjects that explain things like: the waves, where the eggs comes from, how TV works, etc)
Students will work in pairs, considering their complementary abilities
They are going to watch, to learn about the topic, take notes and then write it down to explain to another person. They could use different formats of graphic organizers, with more or less parts to drawn and break it down the information. They will be assisted by the teacher depending by their level.
Frequent Formative Assessment and Feedback:
How will you monitor students’ progress towards acquisition, meaning making, and transfer, during lesson events?
How will students get the feedback they need and opportunities to make use of it?
Effort is withheld when previous experiences have failed to achieve success. Breaking down learning tasks into achievable challenge segments, in which students experience and are aware of success on route to learning goals (e.g. analytic rubrics, effort-to-progress graphs) and reflect on what they learned and how they learned, builds their confidence that their effort can bring them closer to their goals.
Students will be active in some paces of the process. The summative assessment is the nonfiction text that they will write using movie information, translating it in a graphic organizer and/or nonfiction text like “how to” or “all about”.
Short-term Memory Encoding:
How will you activate prior knowledge to promote the brain’s acquiring new input?
Helping students to realize what they already know about a topic activates an existing memory pattern to which new input can link in the hippocampus. Graphic organizers, cross-curricular units, and bulletin boards that preview upcoming units are examples of prior knowledge activation tools.
Create a chart with the students remembering the prior knowledge that they have about the unit ALL ABOUT and HOW TO, that they had studied in their English class.
Mental manipulation for Long-term Memory:
How will students make meaning of learning so neuroplasticity constructs the neural connections of long-term memory?
When students acquire the information in a variety of ways e.g. visualization, movement, reading, hearing and “translate” learning into other representations (create a narrative, symbolize through a video, synthesize into the concise summary of a tweet) the activation of the short-term memory increases its connections (dendrites, synapses, myelin) to construct long-term memory.
As the students were exposed to a lot of different inputs, considering visualization, movement, reading, writing etc, we expect it will be built as a long-term memory.
Which executive function skills will be embedded in the lesson, homework, and projects? (e.g., analyze, organize, prioritize, plan goals, adapt, judge validity, think flexibly, assess risk, communicate clearly.)
It is important to provide ongoing meaningful ways for students to interact with information so that they apply, activate, and strengthen their developing networks of executive function. Assignments and assessments planned to promote the use of executive functions (e.g. making judgments, supporting opinions, analyzing source validity) activate these highest cognitive networks developing in students’ brains most profoundly during the school years.
All executive functions are in place
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?
On March 15, 2014, a friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Allison Rodman, and I had an opportunity to present at the ASCD Annual Conference in Los Angeles, California. The topic was "Teacher-Leadership" and the goal was to organize our ideas in the Ignite format.
While we were both used to speaking at conferences and in front of large groups of people, neither of us had experience with this format. Ignite limits the presenter to 20 slides, each on a 30-second timer. This organizes the presentation to a manageable five minutes, but forces the presenter to remain focused in order to efficiently convey the true message of the presentation. The task at-hand was exciting, challenging, and daunting. Could we actually do this and be successful?
Allie and I live about an hour away from one another, but our crazy schedules did not allow us to meet in person to organize our ideas or to practice. We worked through google docs and phone calls to compile the PowerPoint, divided up ownership of the slides, then finally were able to practice together just 30 minutes prior to the actual session.
Other Emerging Leader-friends were also part of this session, presenting their own insights into Teacher-Leadership. We jested that we'd be the only ones to show up to the session but that at least we'd be there to support one another. Our jokes became obsolete when the room filled to capacity of 150 people and others had to continually be turned away due to lack of seating and safety regulations. Needless to say, our nerves were getting the better of us!
I am incredibly proud of the work that Allie and I did leading up to that presentation, as well as the actual presentation itself. We shared our professional experiences with one another, divulged our fears with one another, laughed with one other, learned from one other, and ultimately, achieved success together. We challenged ourselves, stretched beyond our comfort zone, and drew on the wisdom of others for guidance (shout out to Alina Davis!). Now we have a story to give back to those who come after us.
We are teacher-leaders.
P.S. Allie organized our slides and spoken words into a beautiful blog post on her site, The Learning Loop. Please visit and enjoy!
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