One of the most prominent issues that affect K-12 public schools as social organizations is a propensity to operate from the position that "We're going to do what we've always done because that's what we've always done." This notion is pervasive and widely unrecognized and acknowledged. Likewise, the habits that arise from this notion are formed subtly yet become deeply ingrained in (and debilitating to) the system operations. Practically speaking, systems tend to employ practices or habits that are undocumented in policy, unsupported by data and are not effectively educating students. The negative consequences of this mindset include parents withdraw their students in favor of the more flexible and responsive systems of private and charter schools; educators' efforts are constrained and academic performance is weak; the best and most innovative educators are recruited by other systems or possibly even leave the field; and students suffer because they are not prepared to meet the demands of an ever-changing society. Left unchecked, poor organizational habits within systems ultimately weaken our nation's ability to compete on the global level.Read More
Summer is in full effect. Swimming, family trips, and other leisure activities are also in full effect. As a result, I am sure that professional learning is not ranked very high on the summer fun list for most teachers. The funny thing is the summer presents the most optimal time for exploring very meaningful professional development ideas. I have come to understand the value of the of a well-timed summer professional learning task, and I would like to solicit other educators for their ideas for teachers of various levels of experience. Please comment below with a professional learning idea that you have benefited from and would like to share with others.
Throughout an academic year, an instructional coach can find themselves going through cycles when working within professional learning communities (PLCs). When you reflect on the function of your PLC group, it is easy to see how the PLC could loose focus on the main goals. If the facilitator of the PLC doesn't recognize the need for re-calibration early enough even the most dedicated group of educators could become completely derailed and discouraged. As a result of experiencing PLC train wrecks as well as PLC success stories, I developed the following short refocusing exercise for the instructional coach or PLC facilitator to implement with a team of teachers. Every team has different dynamics, but usually, around mid-year, a very observant instructional coach could begin to notice the signs that suggest it is time for a PLC Refocus. This is simple in concept, but it requires skillful execution. If the timing is right and the approach is non-judgmental the PLC could benefit greatly. Give it a try, and share your results.
Revisiting PLC Norms
Present each question to the entire team for collaboration and ask them to share their thoughts one question at a time. Ask clarifying questions like those below to simplify the group’s responses and collect their final answers.
What will you say and do when you disagree?
What will you say and do when you are not comfortable with a concept or teaching strategy?
What will you say and do when a colleague achieves a goal?
What will you say and do when a colleague doesn’t follow the PLC Norms?
So you have to work with an adult learner, and you have some concerns. Below is a comparison of the learning characteristics of adult learners and youth learners adapted from Rochester Institute of Technology. Of course, these are generalizations with exceptions occurring in each group of learners, but you may want to keep these differences in mind as you consider the learner population you will be working with.
|Adult Learners||Youth Learners|
Problem-centered; seek educational solutions to where they are compared to where they want to be in life
Subject-oriented; seek to successfully complete each learning task, regardless of how the task relates to their own goals
Results-oriented; have specific results in mind for education - will drop out if education does not lead to those results because their participation is usually voluntary
Future-oriented; youth education is often a mandatory or an expected activity in a youth's life and designed for the youth's future
Self-directed; typically not dependent on others for direction
Often depend on adults for direction
Often skeptical about new information; prefer to try it out before accepting it
Likely to accept new information without trying it out or seriously questioning it
Seek education that relates or applies directly to their perceived needs that is timely and appropriate for their current lives
Seek education that prepares them for an often unclear future; accept the postponed application of what is being learned
Accept responsibility for their own learning if learning is perceived as timely and appropriate
Depend on others to design their learning; reluctant to accept responsibility for their own learning
In summary, adult learners usually approach learning differently than younger learners:
- They are more self-guided in their learning.
- They bring more, and expect to bring more, to a learning situation because of their wider experience - and can take more away.
- They require learning "to make sense" - they will not perform a learning activity just because you said to do it.
Recently the Texas Commissioner of Education, Michael L. Williams, announced that he was deferring implementation of a 15 percent grading requirement for the 2012-2013 school year. This news was received by the vast majority of educators across Texas with jubilation and relief. To put this reaction in context, you would have to understand the policy’s origins and scope. When the state of Texas decided to upgrade its assessment and accountability system in 2009, it included a ruling that made a student’s score on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course examinations count toward15 percent of the student’s final grade in each tested subject area.
Now at first glance that would seem alarming, but when you consider the fact that students would be required to take several more assessments with more rigorous content and testing conditions, it became a serious anxiety accelerant for school administrators and educators. Commissioner William’s decision marks the second year the rule has been deferred. In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 1,100 of the state’s more than 1,200 school districts notified the Texas Education Agency that they would be selecting the voluntary deferral option.
Even though school systems have been given a reprieve with regard to the 15% grading requirement, students still must take all STAAR tests and meet all requirements for graduation.Even though most of the state appears to be finding a resolution, I am troubled by the majority reaction and am left with several yet-to-be answered still questions for theTexas Education Commissioner and K-12 School system educators throughout the state.
Why do we have so many conflicts with the 15% rule in the first place?
Who is looking into the nearly 100 out of the 1200 independent school systems that did not request a deferral of the 15% ruling during the first year of implementation, and how are these school system fairing? What led them to reject the deferral?
What does all the conflict with the 15% ruling really reveal about the Texas Educational System?
In summary, I am left with wonderments of the potential of the new state of Texas assessment and accountability system. One can not help but notice how that the system is being altered from what its planners originally intended. This is not to say adjustments are not needed, but the goal is to improve student achievement, all of these backtrackings no the 15% rule could be the proverbial beginning of the end. This end is the political dismantling of a once-promising state assessment and accountability system that supports more rigor and better student preparedness for their post-secondary endeavors. Perhaps we are simply witnessing an assessment accountability system deferred.
I have come to learn that reflective feedback plays a major role in learning. The key to opening up more opportunities for learning for teachers is to utilize the appropriate form of reflective feedback. According to a study done by Costa & Garmston, feedback usually is given in the following forms:
Options for reflective feedback
Clarifying questions or statements for better understanding
Feedback statements that identify value or value potential
Feedback to mediate thinking through the use of reflective questions for possibilities
Another necessary part of providing reflective feedback questions should be to presume positive intent. Whenever you presume reflective thinking on the part of educators you run the risk of causing a teacher to withdraw. Once the language of positive presupposition is a part of one’s natural way of speaking and thinking, the use of reflective questions is as natural and easy as finding a word dictionary.
Questioning with Positive Presupposition
Try these strategies next time you work with teachers as you refine your art of reflective feedback.
Use positive presuppositions that presume a person has capacity, positive intention, desire, and prior and ongoing consideration.
Honor the speaker by demonstrating belief or trust in the speaker.
Model acceptance and respect
In a world of ever-increasing productivity, it is easy to feel the pressure to do more. I know many educators, including myself, have been forced to learn how to do more with less in this down economy and diminishing education budgets. I, in fact, have been reflecting more on my current realities and have been trying out different strategies for increasing my teachers' effectiveness. So far one of the most effective strategies has been helping teachers establish and follow through with a traffic light reflection. If you work in a coaching role with teachers, try these three strategies for helping increase teacher effectiveness.
1. Examine your practice. When I work with educators, I constantly try to help them make connections between their efforts and their desired results. Well, that involves two important steps: understand clearly what you are trying to achieve and recognize the actions you are taking to accomplish your goals. I believe it is essential that a coach have clarity in both before successfully helping an educator reach his goals. Basic questions like, what evidence should you see to inform you that you are reaching your goals, what would success look like for you, or what moves have you made as a result of these on to the next challenge, should become a regular part of a teacher's reflection and should be answered with clear measurable steps or actions for the coach.
2.Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light. In everything a coach should strive to help a teacher take a structured approach toward reflection. As I mentioned earlier, it is easy to get into the routine of adding on more things to do or taking on more responsibilities. In my work I have found that more attention should be given to identifying the actions that are contributing to the goal as well as those that are not contributing. To do this I recommend using what I call a traffic light approach to reviewing action. If followed one should look at the actions that should be started - the "green light", the actions that should be continued - the "yellow light", as well as the actions that should be stopped - the "red light". I have personally found it easier to find the green and yellow light tasks that should be added or continued, while the red light tasks that need to be discontinued are sometimes less obvious.
3. Take a 30 day challenge. This step is simple. Now that you have clearly articulated the end goal and have applied a traffic light reflection to your actions, make a concerted effort to keep track of your efforts for 30 days. I have found that making this short-term goal allows you to ease into the new reflection habit while giving you enough time to measure a change in your effectiveness. With a new year right around the corner this could be a perfect fit.
By now many of you have heard about the recent reports of rampant teacher cheating and unethical practices in the Atlanta public school system. What kind of world are we living in when the adults responsible for shaping the minds of our future leaders resort to cheating of this magnitude? Since the reports surfaced, I have been trying to understand why or how this could happen. Now, I'm not saying that it is implausible for anyone to cheat, after all, it is an element of human nature to cheat. I also realize that cheating takes place every day in different forms, but isn't there a line somewhere? Actually, there isn't.
You better believe that this is not the first time the teachers in Atlanta, or teachers all over America for that matter, have cheated. I believe this cheating is a symptom of a more substantial problem. So much of our educational system encourages this kind of behavior. Since the advent of the era of high stakes testing, many school systems have felt the pressure to meet standards with limited or no additional resources including highly qualified teachers. I have personally seen teachers succumb to the pressure to get students to pass the test that they simply "teach the test" in an effort to get higher scores. This only creates an even bigger problem for the school system in subsequent years which leads to more pressure to cheat. Some public school systems fall in line with similar behavior by constantly manipulating data to satisfy the ever-growing political pressures to meet or exceed standards (often self-imposed standards). Together, these behaviors seem to suggest that the accountability system, which includes the high stakes testing, data reporting, and a whole host of other political constraints, is what drives public education today and produces the right conditions for cheating on all levels.
Well, that is what I think about this scandal, but I would like to know what you think about the sad state of affairs in the Atlanta Public School System.
Check out this Get Schooled blog post by Maureen Downey on the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools. I would like to know if you agree. Set unrealistic test score quotas and people will either fail or cheat | Get Schooled.
Are you the type of teacher who looks forward to summer professional development, or are you trying to avoid anything related to learning until you absolutely have to go to a training seminar? Chances are you are somewhere in the middle. If you find yourself looking for a relaxing yet meaningful way to grow professionally this summer, try these quick and easy activities
Write a book or article review
How often do you get the chance to really get engulfed in academic reading? If you have ever had the urge to get to the heart of a troubling issue in education or simply have wanted to learn something new about your craft, the summer break is the perfect time to dive right in. Even during the summer, our lives can be busy, but without the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day classroom and school activities, we can really take the time to dissect an academic topic at your leisure. Make a list of the educational topics that pique your interest or get you on a soapbox the quickest. Then, search for relevant journals, books, or research articles, and strive to make the complex plain. Analyze the reading as though you were going to be responsible for supporting a new teacher on that topic. Before long, you will discover just how much you can grow professionally from simply researching topics of your choice during the summer break.
There have been many books and articles written on the theory of change but since we live a result oriented world, how do we practically get through it? The world of education is not immune to the ever-growing pressure to change. In fact, we may be at the very heart of it. According to the latest Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rankings, American students scored 32nd in math ability and 23rd in science achievement. With more and more rankings, reports, and achievement data pointing to the fact that America's educational system is in decline, one has to ask how can we turn it around. Currently, the debate is center on education reform. Some experts speak of the need for broad sweeping reform, while others lean toward shifting the focus to more economic growth and development. Regardless of where you stand on reform, one thing rings true. We have to change. That is not to simplify the magnitude of the needed change. After all, we have data supporting the need for change in our teacher recruitment & retention, curriculum focus, instructional practice, teacher evaluation, and assessment & accountability. My goal with this blog post is to begin taking a look at the conditions needed for changing our instructional practices in the classroom.
We have to educate our way to a better economy. We have a 25 percent drop out rate in this country. We're losing about a million children each year from our schools to the streets. That's just economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable and we all have to work together and challenge the status quo.— Arne Duncan
When I am working with teachers to help them improve their effectiveness in the classroom it is easy to underestimate what conditions are necessary for change to take place. In Jim Knights book Instructional Coaching, he describes two conditions necessary for ideas introduced to survive and be implemented. He states that (1) the teacher must see that the new choice is more powerful than their current practice; and (2) the new choice must be easier for the teacher to implement. In addition, I have noticed that when I have been successful at motivating a teacher to try a new practice, I was deliberate about how I demonstrated my support for them while provided implementation the new practice. After ensuring the conditions for change are in place I had to have a realistic expectation about the time it takes for this process to take place. Nothing can be taken for granted about the different backgrounds, experiences, and understanding of each individual teacher being asked to change. Now, this is where the fun begins.
Well, I can't believe 2010 has gone by so fast. What I have to show for it? Hmm. I have to be honest this year has not been my finest. Much of has to do we the amount of change that took place in my life during the year. I am not trying to make excuses for it but I need this year to realize a few things about myself. I would like to share a few of them with you in this blog so hopefully, you don't have to repeat my mistakes in 2011.
For starters, I realized that routines get you through the weird times. This past year I gradually became committed to framing my daily work with well worked out schedules. The more I stuck to it when things were good the more it will be useful to me when things weren't so great.
I also realized that not to do lists are just as important as to do list. I can't take all the credit for this one because I got the idea from a great article, but I did make it my own. It is very easy to become consumed by the need to do more. I learned the hard way that the ability to do more is not as good as the ability to do more quality work. It was hard, but forcing myself to identify the things that I needed to stop doing caused me to reflect more on the impact of my actions. As a result, I could recognize what were the true ingredients to successfully completing higher quality work.
Lastly, I realized that you have to always remember who you are and what you make you good at what you do. This may sound unpractical, but surprisingly it is very helpful when done correctly. Who doesn't have work-related stress, demanding clients, and looming deadlines? Well in all that it is easy to lose sight of what makes you successful or what do you actually do well. Both of which are needed when times are tough and the workload is piling up. It does not hurt to keep a record of your successes and acknowledgments. It could be as a simple as box or folder that you collect artifacts supporting your "genius". Maybe it would be easier for you to keep an electronic record, regardless of your preference, just do it. Now you can't stop there, you will have to review it from time to time to keep it fresh. After all, if you keep up with your successes who will?
Well, I know that I will have many more lessons this year and I look forward to learning them all! Try these out and hopefully you will be able to move on to bigger and better lessons this year. May you have a blessed 2011!
"Happy Thanksgiving." This is something I am sure we all hear often this time of year but does it really mean anything to anybody any more. Just look around, the economy is in shambles, many people are without jobs, the government is divided, and the Dallas Cowboys lost! Personally, I have a job that challenges me every day, a healthy growing family, as well as tests and trials, so what should be my mindset on Thanksgiving?
When I look around me I don't things are not always "black and white" when it comes to having a Thanksgiving mindset. This country has become accustomed to so much material wealth and prosperity that even in times of financial crisis we continue with many of the lifestyle habits that not only contradict a true Thanksgiving attitude but also contribute to the financial downturn. Ironically, over the years we have moved further and further away from giving thanks on the day of Thanksgiving. Think about it, what would Thanksgiving be these days without our fixation on turkey, football, gluttony, and Black Friday?
Personally, I am tired of the cycle. This year I am going to be thankful for my faith, family, friends, employment, health, and everything else that comes along with them even if it kills me. I refuse to fall into the trap of overeating and regretting it on the scale. I refuse to be glued to the TV watching football while ignoring all of the family members sitting around me. I refuse to be influenced by the commercials and advertisements dead set on getting me to want more and buy more of the latest greatest gadgets. I also refuse to continue wasting precious time away from what matters most in my life. First I will strive to live a thankful week. Then I will look forward to experiencing a thankful month. Ultimately, I am going to try to avoid all of the things that have come to symbolize Thanksgiving. Now I am not talking about the things we say this day represents, but the things that have come the represent Thanksgiving today. Here is to really giving thanks on the day of Thanksgiving!
African-Americans have made many advances socially in the 20th century, from segregated schools to an African-American president of the United States. Through all of the great accomplishments of African-Americans over the years remain a vast educational and professional chasm to the field of science.
Here, in the 21st century, we continue to see a shortage of African-American science teachers, and consequently an extreme shortage of African-American students going into the hard science courses or science careers. Smaller proportions of African-American students tend to complete advanced science course compared with whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders. (National Science Board 2004) As a concerned educator, I desired to change the status of black students in the field of science.
The first years of my professional experience as an educator were spent teaching physics and mathematics in the inner city with predominately low socioeconomic, African-American students. My motivation for teaching in that environment came from my desire to make a difference in black students' achievement in the hard sciences and to give them exposure without turning them away from careers in science or engineering. Mostly, I wanted to let them know that it was okay to be an African-American and like science. From my personal accounts, I recognized an elevation in student attention but no significant increase in achievement. I began to wonder if I was making any significant impact. This intrigued me deeply and inspired a study to examine the part a science teacher's ethnicity impacts the motivation of African-American students to take courses in the hard sciences. My intentions were to identify specific areas of influence African-American science teachers have on African-American science students. In a future blog entry, I will share some of my findings and their implications.
Do you have a great math textbook? What makes it great? How does it address problem-solving?
In the video, Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover, Dan highlights an ingenious way to add rigor to a typical math textbook based transforming key problem solving and critical thinking strategies from what is presented in your textbook. Actually, the principle behind Meyer's methodology could be utilized in different courses to bolster a teacher's classroom instruction. It is truly amazing what you can do with a little technology and carefully placed ambiguity.
Meyer's video presents us with a bigger challenge. How can we change the learning culture of our students? If you are like me, you are getting pretty tired of lazy learners and dare I say, lazy teachers. Now I am not trying to point fingers or downplay the challenges many teachers experience when preparing for their students. More than ever before, teachers have limited time and resources, and they have to prepare for students with diverse instructional needs. Instead, Meyer's video should be viewed as a challenge to how we approach problem-solving with our students.
From Haiti to America
If you were on planet earth this week, you have been exposed to the heart-wrenching devastation in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Haiti. I can't stop thinking about the agony and bewilderment those people are going through. I also can't stop thinking about how foreign those experiences are to me here in America. Many Americans are watching a nation brought to their knees crying out for help on our HD flat screen televisions. Sure we are probably tearing up while trying to get involved in the aid effort after praying for the people. Or we may just be watching in utter amazement. Regardless of what we are doing, what should we be learning from this?
Taking Things for Granted
I have been really trying to wrap my brain around this question for the last two days. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so what can I learn from this? Could this just be an exercise in all peoples coming together as one human race to help out those in a time of need? I don't think so. Could this be an opportunity to look at what I have in life and learn to appreciate it? Again, I don't think so? So what could the lesson be? Why such devastation? Maybe the lesson here is to look at the how we spend our time. Yes, I said how we spend our time! Now hear me out on this. We are living in a materialistic world with an insatiable appetite for more wealth, goods, attention, and pleasure. Even when we think we are living modestly, when we compare ourselves to nations like Haiti, we are living the high life. It is time we start living each as though each day we breathe in peace, it is the most important day in our lives. We need to surround ourselves with the things that matter most and spend our time doing things that truly enrich the meaning of one's life. Now I am sure the Haitian people did not think that their last day on earth would come so soon, but who really knows when it is their last day. So let's walk away from this life-changing event with something that really means something. Let's live each day like it could be our last and pursue those things that positively impact in this world.
In today's politically correct world, it is hard to call it like it is. This is especially true when it comes to race and culture. The term "color blind" or the statement " I don't see race" is actually contributing to many of our racial problems today. We have to rise above the fear of ignorance and start becoming racially aware or culturally educated. This would allow us to recognize the God designed difference in the races as a good thing, not something of shame and regret.
So what does this have to do with reverse racism in schools? Well if we can not have the right perspective on who and what we are, how will we ever be able to recognize the hypocrisy and racial ignorance we perpetuate in our educational system today. Far too often we simply let racial injustices go uncontested in the spirit of tolerance (often times this is code for fearfulness). I never realized how this way of thinking was actually a perversion of the true perspective of race. We also have to stop acting like racism is the same as prejudice. Every human being has prejudices, it is a part of human nature to make inferences or to develop beliefs before knowing. In fact, we have to learn how to go against the tendency to prejudge. Racism, on the other hand, is totally different. To develop racism takes a cocktail of ignorance, pain & frustration, confusion, and perversion. No one race or ethnic group is immune to the destructive influence of racism. As long as we are human, there will be someone hating and trying to bring down another. Let's strive to truly open our minds to the pervasiveness of racist views throughout this world and seek real tolerance by asking God for the courage to confront the roots of these unjust views wherever they occur.
High Stakes Testing Culture
In an age of accountability and high stakes testing, we have accomplished a lot. We have managed to learn how to analyze assessment data to determine trends. We have also learned how to break down objectives or learning standards into their most intricate parts. Most of all we have learned how to make ourselves feel good about our data.Everybody is "data-driven" these days. But what does that really mean? There still exists a culture of assessment "I got ya". Frankly, we are so focused on assessments that we have missed the whole boat on instruction. If we put the same energy and intensity that we have invested in assessments into quality instruction, we might actually have more accurate assessments. Now I realize having quality assessments can and should drive instruction, we just need to vary it a little.
How can we, as school systems, transition from a culture assessment for accountability to one focused on students learning? any of you may have experienced an educational system that has figured how the "game" of high stakes state testing. The more intimately involved you are with teaching and learning the more repulsive the idea of playing with what state standards are taught and tested to merely make a school district look good.I am ready to buck the system by actually teaching and assessing for student learning first. I am not saying we should do away with summative assessments of learning. I realize how necessary it is for every school system. I would just like to see the focus put in the proper balance. Maybe we could even move toward looking at project-based work or performance-based assessments. In future posts, I will share some different strategies for assessing for learning. In the meantime, I guess we will keep plowing away at making more new tests.
Assessment for Learning vs. Assessment of Learning
The United States of America is at a critical phase in its history because of the unique challenges facing the public education system today. Educational factors include increasing achievement gaps between students of race and economics, over-reliance of standardized tests, problems with recruitment and retention of effective teachers, limited professional training and support for teachers, principals, and central office staff, and high drop out rates. Psychosocial factors include student violence, teen pregnancy, family difficulties, limited family support for educational achievement, and issues related to socioeconomic status.
These problems interfere with optimal academic performance. What would happen if we could take a different approach to mitigate the impact of these problems, by strengthening the family? What would happen if students could articulate to their teachers their needs? What would happen if teachers could inspire their students to learn within the context of their obstacles? What would happen if teachers had all the tools (i.e., educational policy, resources, and training) needed to help them be most effective? What would happen if…
I am sure you are one of those individuals that love to learn. If you are anything like me, you even think learning is fun. But have you ever asked yourself why? Or better yet, have you asked, how long has it been that way? Many of you urban educators are facing students daily that don't seem to be infatuated with learning like yourself. So why don't we challenge ourselves to understand why we can't wait to learn something new and what was it that cultivated the craving for knowledge in our lives? If we can tap into that, maybe we can tap into our students.