It is hard to imagine a segment of our American society in 2019 that has not been impacted by the dysfunction of our current political and social structure. Nevertheless, our inability to find unifying solutions to matters that we agree upon is an indicator of a much deeper problem that we have not begun to understand. Sadly, these issues are magnified in the public education system in America. I am sure we have all heard the adage derived from the writings of Thomas Reid, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unfortunately, today the strength of character of the individual educator is the "weakest link" and is often overshadowed by the debate over the effectiveness of the United State's public education system.Read More
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
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?
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.