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I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.
Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.
Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:
I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.
This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.
The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.
Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.
Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them most every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?
I love getting my hands on new software, especially when it’s free, but I’ve noticed something: While all of these pieces of software are ultimately “cooler” than Power Point, student presentations aren’t necessarily more engaging or organized because of them. In fact, the presentations are almost exactly the same—they’re simply dressed up in a different outfit.
But it’s not just students who are giving bad Power Point presentations
Most of us do way too much telling and not enough showing. Instead of providing our audience with an engaging image and a half dozen words, most of us load up each slide with a bulleted list, a crutch, that we not only read directly from, but rely on to convey our message.
Power Point or not, how do we teach our students to give better presentations? And how do we start giving better presentations ourselves?
To help answer this question, I’d like to share a few ideas from blogger and teacher technologist, Clint Walters.
How to Put a Little Power Into Your Students’ Power Point Presentations
Don’t write everything you want to say on your PowerPoint slide
Presumably your audience already knows how to read, so there’s no reason to load up your slide with text and read it back to them.
Stay away from bulleted lists
Use no more than six words on each slide
Unless you are quoting someone, stick to as little text as possible.
Do use a variation on the PechaKucha (20x20) technique
If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s all visual—there’s no text at all in a PechaKucha presentation.
Here’s how it works: twenty slides, twenty seconds of talking accompany each one. Each slide contains a sleek, visually engaging image and no more than six words.
While the 20 slides, 20 second formula is probably too much to ask of students right away, you might start with 10 slides, 10 seconds.
If you are looking for free, high-quality, creative-commons images, check out a few of the sites below:
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #11)
“A time of peace.”
The more I explore a topic and subject it to the mental scrutiny of reflection, the more I come to understand the iceberg that it truly is. The term “peace” has captured me in recent days. Like many others, I have seen and/or heard the word “peace” almost everywhere I go. “Peace” is personalized in the most heartfelt moments and commercialized by the season. This week, after the loss of one of our students, I found myself using the word in my silent prayer for the family. Almost immediately, I was paralyzed by the reality of how hard peace is to come by and what a gift it truly is. Peace: freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.
In the complexity of investigating and defining a topic like peace, one comes to understand that peace is not only the daily interactions with others but also one’s interactions with self. The absence from disturbance of emotional and physical pain and suffering is extremely difficult to come by. The freedom that silence and tranquility bring to the human spirit may be the greatest gift. In life it is impossible to eschew disturbance completely. Our culture is in a constant state of “becoming”, it is not finished and this change will often cause a disturbance for some. However, my personal optimism rests on my belief in the individuals’ infinite possibility to develop peace within in themselves. You see, I have come to realize, peace cannot be bought, sold, or even an appeal to the brain. Rather it must be cultivated by the heart. In our daily work, for our students, for our society, we must relentlessly seek to find other caring individuals that understand our work. We must teach them that it is not only our job to cultivate learning but also cultivate peace, a quiet and tranquil heart among those we serve. In a time when gifts are exchanged to show our appreciation for each other, may peace be with you, those who you live for, and those who you serve by and with.
Finally from The Dalai Lama,
May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy.
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.
May the frightened cease to be afraid,
And those bound be free.
May the weak find power,
And may their hearts join in friendship.
What is the narrative of his life?
Why is he so famous?
What was happening in SA during his lifetime that made him and his South African countrymen so angry?
After so many of his countrymen in SA were tortured or murdered, and after he spent 27 years of his life in prison, how did he “keep his hatred in check” and work out a negotiation with white South Africans?
What was Mandela’s moral vision? Why is it so important today?
When he came to power, Mandela supported the South African rugby team. Why was that such an important symbol for South Africa? What was its meaning?
Why is it so important that Mandela only served for one term as president of South Africa? What example did this set for South Africa and all of Africa?
What can we learn about compassion and forgiveness from Mandela?
Do you agree with his views about compassion and forgiveness?
How did he and others put these views into practice?
What was Mandela’s message about “hope” and “change”? Why was it so important?
What lessons can he teach us in today’s America? What personal lessons can you learn from his life?
In fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. K. She was a no-nonsense kind of lady, but like any master teacher, she was able to maintain a perfect equilibrium of toughness and tenderness. She demanded excellence, but she also knew when it was time to pull back and nurture. That’s a rare and special talent.
Two decades later, I can still remember things Mrs. K said, or the way that she could effortlessly transition between teaching long division and improvising songs on the piano—songs, I might add, that included the vocabulary and spelling words we were studying.
I wager that most of us have warm feelings about at least one teacher. We may not have seen this teacher in decades, but the impression made by him or her never quite leaves us. Excellent teachers come in all forms, but I’d like to share five things about my teacher that not only inspired me as a student, but turned me into an aspiring educator.
5 Lessons I Learned From a Master Teacher
She demanded excellence
Mrs. K knew how to have fun, but that never stood in the way of her demand for excellence in both our conduct and work. Anything less than the best and most urbane was not tolerated. We learned this quickly and rose to the occasion—and she did too.
She knew that there was a time for play
The first time Mrs. K joined our recess kickball game—ankle-length dress and all—surprised all of us. At our school, the teachers rotated recess duty: two would supervise while the others ate lunch in the cafeteria or prepped for the rest of their classes. On several occasions, Mrs. K gave up her prep time so that she could join in on whatever game her students were playing. When this happened, large groups of students would migrate to the baseball field to watch. Like us, they were impressed by this playful side of Mrs. K. I’m sure they also found it odd that the same woman who scolded them for dawdling, or marched them to the gym with the precision of an army sergeant, actually owned tennis shoes and knew how to thrown down on the kick ball court.
Joining in on our games showed us that our teacher could cut loose, laugh at herself, and that she genuinely liked spending time with us.
She found a way to incorporate her talents into the curriculum
Mrs. K wasn’t a virtuoso on the piano, but that never stopped her from playing “Happy Birthday” or banging out an improvised song that included creative ways to spell vocabulary words. Not only were these sing-alongs fun, they taught us something.
The lesson I took from this: Use your talents creatively, share them with students, and find a way to bring them into the classroom. This will keep things engaging for both you and the students.
She was forgiving
I’ve never given them a lie detector test, but I know a couple teachers who claim they never cheated in school. I happen to be one that did and, as you might have guessed, Mrs. K was the teacher who caught me. The details of the incident probably aren’t that important, but Mrs. K was no pushover; she knew there was no way I could have calculated the math problems she assigned our group in my head.
Once the rest of the class left for recess, Mrs. K called me up to her desk, handed me my paper and said, “You have the right answers, but I don’t see any work. Where is it?” Before I could answer, she added, “I just want you to be honest with me about this assignment.” I fessed up and to my surprise, she smiled, held out her hand, shook mine and said, “I admire your honesty.”
I didn’t receive a detention and I didn’t fail the assignment. Instead, she allowed me to redo the assignment for homework.
What did I learn from this? When I eventually had my own students, my classroom was not exempt from cheating. After weeks of going over plagiarism and proper citation, I would always find that two or three students had copied large sections of articles they found on Google and pasted them into their own papers. I felt betrayed, insulted and frustrated with these students. I may not have always handled these situations as gracefully as Mrs. K did—but I always strove to.
She made a big deal out of greeting us
What I always appreciated about Mrs. K was the way she greeted us every morning. As we would come into the class, she would stand outside the door, smile and greet us by name. This showed the class not only that she was pleased to see us, but that she was ready and eager to explore a day of learning with us. It was a simple, but important gesture that still sticks with me.
Dear Colleagues and Bloggers,
Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
I remember all the times that I have asked my children for their opinion. I have asked, "How do I look?" before a trip to the movies. After spending hours in the kitchen, I have also asked "How was the home made soup?" To no surprise, I was not thrilled with their feedback (my daughter typically begs me to change my outfit immediately. As for the soup, I interpret their addition of much salt to represent the need for more flavor).
I didn't go through many changes, or much preparation before asking for my children's opinion, but I tend to think that for the classroom, asking our students for feedback should require a system or at least a plan. We understand the value of student feedbakc, but now, lets focus on how we can begin the process. Because I am a believer in the learning potential within mistakes, I will identify considerations to avoid when pursuing student perception.
1. Don't Reinvent the Wheel.
There is research available to show you the different ways to gather student opinion. There is no need to start from scratch and develop your own system. There are online surveys (survey monkey) or online polls that you can use to measure student perception of a lesson (polleverywhere.com). In addition, there are ways to get more personal feedback with the use of group conferences or individual conferences. You can indirectly obtain feedback through the use of a classroom profile by examining trends in your classroom such as attendance, submissions of late work, extra credit, and the frequency of visits to your classroom blog. Keeley (2012) in a pulication called Science and Children illustrates a great example of creating a classroom profile as a means of collecting information about your students.
2. Dont Overlook the element of Time.
Typically teacher evaluations are completed at the end of a year, but think about the drawbacks to this approach. If you approach your students early and often, there is a greater likelihood of utilizing the data to inform your teaching practices sooner and more frequently. There is a great article in the New York Times (Lewin, 2012) that discusses how professors that wish to go the extra mile collect feedback weekly.
3. Dont Be Vague.
Try to be very specific when aksing for feedback. Instead of asking what the students "like" or "dislike", require the students to share what they found particularly "useful" or what may have created "barriers" to their academic success.
4. Don't Sit on the Sidelines.
Even though you wish to focus on student feedback, allow the students to ask you questions as well. This is an opportunity to share your thought process on how you developed your curriculum map. Also, based on the questions that your students ask, you can learn what elements of the class they desire to have a voice or a role in the decision-making process.
5. Dont Personalize the Information.
It is likely that the student evaluations will yield some negative comments. That is fine. Remember that the focus of the eval is your teaching practice, not you as an individual. The goal is to learn specific things about your teaching that you may improve upon in the future. So, yes, it hurts my feelings when my daughter slams my outfit, but at the same time, I am able to learn a little about fashion (and hopefull learn to later present myself as a fashionista later) due to her feedback.
*Please note that the first post in this series is titled "There's no Crying in Baseball". For the final follow up post, I will outline important things that teachers should do after collecting the student feedback.
I discovered this great education infographic and thought it would be worth sharing with all of you. The flipped classroom method is a fairly new teaching concept I find interesting. It reminds me of the Montessori way of teaching because it allows students to completely master a subject before moving on, enabling them to work at their own pace. Students watch the lessons at home and are able to spend more individual time with their teachers mastering the subject content in the classroom.
Have you used the flipped classroom method? What was your experience? Are you considering using it? Please respond in the comments below. Check out the great infographic about flipped classrooms, created by Dan Grafton, below.
Thanksgiving is always such a hectic time of year. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the tasks that need to be completed prior to enjoying that long-awaited, delicious dinner with family.
I sometimes find myself caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday that I forget to step back and take a moment to really think about what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for so much, but right now I want to take a moment and say how thankful I am for all of you making a difference in the lives of children.
Your impact is HUGE. Your dedication and passion for being a leader and role model to children can’t be thanked enough.
As a special thank you, here is a poster created just for you.
Print a copy of your poster here. (http://edu.writestepswriting.com/morethanateacher)
You are so much more than a teacher. You play the role of counselor, police officer, travel agent, confidante, banker, librarian, doctor, detective, dietician, and many others in the eyes of your students.
Grades hurt your children, and I never want to grade them again. Grades are harmful in every imaginable way, and they are inhibiting your child's learning. You may not realize this, because you have only encountered one education system, and it has always been built on measuring success with numbers, percentages and letters.
What the many educators and researchers suggest is that students are conditioned to believe that numbers and letters are the sole indicator of success. When handing out assignments, teachers constantly hear, "What's this worth?" Furthermore, in virtually all cases, these one-size-fits-all measurements are subjective, because the teacher creates the activities and the tests. Where one teacher might score your child's work an A, another teacher might score the same work a C. So, you see, this arbitrary letter says nothing about learning.
Worst of all, though, is that instead of learning for learning's sake, students strive to get a particular grade -- typically the one their parents' want. If you demand A's, they will likely do whatever it takes to get A's. If you're satisfied with C's, they will decrease their effort.
What this system breeds is children who learn to manipulate a system in order to earn a number or a letter, when what we should have is independent learners, eager to acquire knowledge and to become critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Do we really want to measure these important qualities?
The beauty of this question is that the answer is so simple. Teachers and students must evaluate learning together, using an ongoing dialogue. Teachers must provide both written and verbal narrative feedback about what students have accomplished and what may still need to be learned. This dialogue, accompanied by follow-up activities and further study can lead to mastery learning.
Until school administrators nationwide realize that any sort of grading is inherently problematic, final report card grades should be decided by both the teacher and the student, in a conversation about what was learned in a marking period. If coached properly, students will understand that self-evaluation is one of life's most important skills. In the end, your child's opinion of her work is more important than anyone else's.
So, please support me in changing how we evaluate learning. I want to eliminate grades, as much as our system will allow. I will provide ongoing narrative feedback for your children and for you. Most important, I promise, my students, your children will become amazing independent learners, who never again ask, "What's this assignment worth?"
To learn more about feedback over grades, check out Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
As an aspiring educator, I knew exactly what kind of teacher I would be: I would facilitate dynamic discussions; the students would not only read all of the assigned texts, they would devour them. Sure, teaching would be work, but I mostly saw myself as a facilitator—someone who would ask all the right questions and look on as my students marched towards intellectual victory.
You can probably see where this is going. Once I was handed the keys to the classroom, I was surprised when things didn’t magically fall into place like they were supposed to. (Does this sound familiar?)
It wasn’t that things were disastrous, but they just weren’t the way I imagined. Why weren’t students talking? Why weren’t they as excited as I was about what we were reading? Why weren’t they making connections and thinking critically about what they read?
It wasn’t until later that I discovered that I (not the students) was the reason our discussions fell flat. To spark discussions and critical inquiry, I asked my students a lot of questions. Questions are good, but most of the questions I asked students were what we would call nonessential questions.
To give you a clearer sense of what I mean by essential and nonessential questions consider the following examples from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ book, Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.
Essential question: “How do the arts shape, as well as reflect, culture?
Nonessential question: “What common artistic symbols were used by the Incas and the Mayans?”
Essential question: “Is there ever a ‘just’ war?
Nonessential question: What key event sparked World War I?”
Essential question: “What does it mean to be a ‘true’ friend?”
Nonessential question: “Who is Maggie’s best friend in the story?”
As you may have noticed, unlike nonessential questions, essential ones are timeless. Some can even be grappled with indefinitely; they are neither immediately apparent nor can they be answered with a fact or a simple yes or no response. Essential questions force us to interrogate our presuppositions, dig in, explain, defend, question and—hopefully—grow.
If you still sketchy on the difference between essential and nonessential questions, here are seven of McTighe and Wiggins’ defining characteristics of a good essential question.
A good essential question:
I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
As a novice in certain areas of life, I have learned a lot about what I expect from experts. For example, I trust my doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc to stay up-to-date with relevant research & experience that informs the advice they give me. I trust their expertise and I choose to work with these experts because of their approach and knowledge.
On the other side of the coin, I'm aware of my expertise, training, & experience in aspects of education. I have learned from being both a novice and an expert. As an expert who leads, I have learned it's my responsibility to (1) help others understand the current landscape by cultivating the need and (2) lead KISS interventions.
Cultivating the Need
It's important for experts to present data to inform decisions. I visited my doctor the other week and he performed a few tests, printed out information about a potential diagnosis, and explained my test results to me in relation to the symptoms listed for potential concerns. In the end, everything ended up just fine with my health. Through this experience, though, I realized the process my doctor went through with me is what needs to happen on a regular basis in education.
Educational leaders must present information and data about potential concerns before beginning interventions. This can help create a shared understanding of the need. On top of that, just as a farmer cultivates the soil to make sure crops grow each season, leaders must continually cultivate the need with stakeholders.
This makes me wonder: How are we, as educational leaders, purposefully identifying & communicating needs to change/intervene/update antiquated systems with stakeholders? How are we using data to inform our cultivation of a shared understanding about the need? How are we using data to inform how we communicate with stakeholders on a regular basis? How are we connecting our work back to our strategic plan in a relevant way for stakeholders, leveraging a data informed and results driven approach?
Example: My school has been studying the 90-90-90 schools approach over the last few years. Teachers looked at the data and interventions. They've discussed the need for ongoing, job-embedded professional development (PD) and a shared understanding of this need was created. Then, when a PD Plan that involved monthly PD instead of occasional inservice days was voted on, teachers passed it this fall. We continue cultivating this need by developing PD that's responsive to shifting needs, collecting feedback from teachers about PD, aligning our work with research, & communicating about the PD with stakeholders.
Keep It Simple & Sustainable (KISS)
I met with an educational leader the other month who told me many leaders say interventions should involve KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. In his district, however, KISS stands for Keep It Simple & Sustainable. Two things I've learned about sustainability are to have a "Who else?" mindset and to move ahead with clarity amongst stakeholders. Keeping It Simple supports these pieces.
Sustainability means consistently thinking "Who else?" on a regular basis. Who else...in our feeder pattern/region should we involve? ...should we connect with from our community organizations on this? ....should we communicate progress updates with? ...should vet this before we send it out? ...is passionate about this topic? ...is knowledgeable? Who else?
Once we live with a "Who else?" mindset, we can focus on clarity- around the need, intervention, monitoring system, evaluation timeline/protocol, communication plan, etc. All of our stakeholders are potential marketers and we can generate an even deeper sense of sustainability if stakeholders understand the need for an intervention, the intervention itself, & why we're going with a certain intervention. Again, this understanding must be cultivated as stakeholders turnover, new research emerges, and data on the evaluation of our intervention develops.
Example: I've learned a great deal about developing sustainable systems from my work at the district and site level. Several years ago, I started at a district office working as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for instructional technology. I quickly realized a professional development (PD) program developed around my skills and expertise wouldn't last long - we needed both an intervention to the current setup and a system of support. I worked with district administration to develop a train the trainer program for teacher leaders. In order to maintain high quality PD, we created a gradual release protocol where trainers collaborated with me to co-write PD lesson plans, co-trained/presented with me several times, participated in coaching sessions with me, and eventually engaged in a monthly PLC with other teacher trainers. We implemented program evaluation best practices to support the analysis of feedback from PD participants and determine the value added by the PD system. Our trainers used PLC time to examine data that informed their decisions in moving forward with strands of PD. Although I am no longer working with the district instructional technology program, I'm happy I see the PD system continues to support teachers and leaders in a sustainable manner.
Just as I trust the experts in my life - doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, dentist, etc - stakeholders trust us (educational experts) to provide visionary leadership and to lead the best educational systems possible. They trust us to prepare the students of today as leaders for tomorrow. Each day, it is our responsibility to do just that through cultivating the need and utilizing a KISS approach.
Want additional reading?
ASCD is venturing into a new market through their arias publications. These books are designed for the busy professional that can be read in less than an hour, but can provide resources for improvement well beyond the time spent reading. Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? by Bill Sterrett was a great read! It took me about 38 minutes to read it. I found myself hooked from the beginning.
Short on Time will help you with the following:
- Help you take action and realize change in school and professional life
- Gain insights into specific steps that you can apply to your situation
- These action steps involve teaching, innovating, and leading which will require planning, action, and reflection
Sterrett developed a 4 point acronym DISC (District, Instruction, School, Community) to help educational leaders manage their professional schedule. Each of these areas require the educational leader to determine their own allocation of time, but all are important. According to Sterrett, all of the DISC activities should be placed in your master schedule, which should be accessible to key stakeholders.
In addition to providing tips and resources for the educational leader’s own time, Sterrett spends a considerable time discussing the importance of maximizing instructional time for students and teachers. He suggests leaders develop a collaborative scheduling team to examine the master schedule to maximize time for collaboration, reflection, outdoor learning, and time for the whole child.
Sterrett posits that teachers should be provided time for their personalized and school-based learning. In order to use time effectively, leaders should provide time for teachers to improve instruction through meaningful faculty meetings, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), peer observations, and collaboration.
Understanding that we are all “short on time,” Bill Sterrett provides an amazing resource in this arias book for educators to maximize their time on what matters most. Once you read this book, you will see that becoming organized, communicating effectively, and prioritizing your day is not as hard as you might imagine. Although the book is titled “Short on Time” it is long on resources!
Unfortunately, some of my undergraduate classes are not very diverse. Maybe out of 20-25 students in an introduction education/psychology class, only a handful are black. Recently in class, durinng the time dedicated to independent practice, one of my female black students wore ipod earbuds. This really got to me. Correction. It truly bothered me. Here, I had a student that had been presented with similar experiences as myself (we were both minorities), and yet she refused to engage in the lesson/practice that I created for her. I felt betrayed. I couldn't help but think about the root of her behavior:
Was she bored with the material or the classroom routine?
Was she testing her boundaries with me, the classroom, the university?
Was she unaware of proper classroom etiquette (afterall, she was a freshman)?
Was she going through something personally and needed music to help cope/block out everything around her?
I believed that the cause may stem from something deeper. Something more personal in nature. Was it me? I began to wonder just how I may have contributed to the student's behavior:
Did my thick afro-like loosely curled hair suggest that the classroom environment would be mor lax (and thus suitable for listening to ipod music during class)?
Did my wooden ethnic inspired earrings suggest that my lesson (or me as the instructor) was somehow less relevant (to the mainstream) or should be taken less seriously?
Did my conversational lecture, embedded with slang (some may say Ebonics) suggest that I was less educated than other leaders in academia and thus warranted less attention?
In short, I wondered was my young black student unprepared, uncertain, or even unwilling to receive a leader in the likeness of her own image? Further, I wondered how might I work to move my student and myself through this academic barrier? Finally, I needed to consider the "teachable moments" within this experience that would benefit other educators in the future.
In closing, I had reservations about sharing my private thoughts/experiences. I find that often race is one of those topics (like money, politics, and religion) that people shy away from talking about openly. I found inspiration to share my experience from a quote based on a radio speech by Gerritt Bolkestein that motivated the infamous Anne Frank to share her diary:
"History can not be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents--a diary... Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
There are several reasons principals should regularly conduct classroom walkthroughs.
Keep in mind that classroom walkthroughs do not need to be long, invasive or formal for them to be meaningful. If you simplify the observation process and stick to the five steps outlined in Countdown to the Principalship, your observation should really only take about three minutes.
The 3-Minute Classroom Walkthrough in 5 Steps
Observe student engagement
It only takes a split second to observe whether or not students are engaged in their work. Are they listening, writing, interacting with the teacher or other students, or working alone?
Observe the lesson and learning objectives
Assessing what is being taught and determining whether or not the objective of the lesson is aligned with curriculum and ethical standards is where you should spend most of the next couple of minutes.
Observe teachers’ instructional strategies
Now that you understand the curricular focus, you are ready to look at the teacher’s instructional strategies. Is s/he using Socratic questioning or giving feedback? Are students working alone or in groups, are they taking notes, problem solving, etc.?
Always complete the first three steps and do your best to withhold judgment; you are simply gathering data and looking for patterns in classroom instruction.
If time permits, conclude your walkthrough with the following two steps:
Does the lesson connect?
During this step, you should be looking to see if you can make any connections between this lesson and previous learning objectives. Ideally, every lesson should build upon the preceding lesson.
Observe safety and health Issues
Are there any noticeable safety or health issues that need to be addressed?
If you decide to make brief classroom walkthroughs a regular part of your routine, you’ll want to inform your staff first. Here are five things you might mention to your teachers:
As we continue to fight to keep the Arts in education, it is time to realize that the real fight is keeping the Art in education. When I first started teaching many years ago, teaching was primarily seen as an art – an innate ability to use creative skill and imagination to communicate and build relationships that facilitate learning. The curriculum guide was a small grey book covering all subjects. Now, teaching is seen primarily as a science. Attention is paid to specific teaching techniques, core curriculum, testing and narrowly focused results. Data is collected, analyzed and used more for accountability than to personalize student programs.
We need to create a balance of art and science as we nurture the students in our care. Granted, research over the past few decades has provided us with evidence of how the brain functions, how students learn in different ways and that they have multiple intelligences. This valuable information has only found its way into the education debate in limited instances. The focus has been more on defining what students need to know, how they should be taught, and measuring results. This is much easier and more scientific than using brain functioning, learning styles and multiple intelligences to empower teachers to personalize education and create safe and caring learning environments.
The science of teaching helps us to understand concepts such as that the brain remembers information when it is relevant and evokes an emotional response, that we have a basic human need for safety, and that living in poverty has a definite impact on a child’s ability to maximize his potential. Science creates the structure underlying the art of teaching.
It takes artists to see the big picture, think creatively and critically, and begin to shape the future of education. Artists celebrate human individuality. The Art of teaching requires that we:
2. Know our students as individuals.
3. Empower students to be the best they can be.
4. Understand that students must first feel safe and secure if they are to take the risks necessary for them to become the person they want to be.
5. Focus on creating positive, supportive school cultures.
6. Engage students in their learning at the deepest level possible by creating an emotional response.
7. Ensure that curriculum is personalized and meaningful.
8. Focus on building connections and relationships.
9. See the big picture by dealing with the whole child.
10.Seek the complexities and depth in the big picture.
Although this Blog may evoke a response of , “Yeah but we’re accountable for raising test scores through processes and programs that come from above…”, I hope you will let your inner artist shine through and see what you need to do as a teacher and as a leader. It is only when we find the balance between the Art and Science of education that we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of our students.
Note: This blogpost initially appeared in SmartBlog on Education on November 25, 2013.