Twenty-four Things Successful Schools Do

In 2007, Karin Chenoweth (@karinchenoweth) wrote a book titled It’s Being Done.  Her work highlights numerous schools that are successful with diverse student populations.  These schools prove that all students can learn when principals and teachers maintain high expectations and a commitment to the needs of each and every child.

Through a compelling narrative, Chenoweth identified 24 things that successful schools do to meet the needs of all students.  How does your school measure up?

  1. They don’t teach to the test.
  2. They have high expectations for all students.
  3. They know what the stakes are.
  4. They embrace and use data.
  5. They use data to focus on specific students, not just groups.
  6. They constantly reexamine what they do.
  7. They embrace accountability.
  8. They make decisions based on what is good for students.
  9. They use school time wisely.
  10. They leverage community resources.
  11. They expand the time students have in school.
  12. Discipline isn’t about punishment.
  13. They foster an atmosphere of respect.
  14. They like children.
  15. They make sure that students who struggle the most have the best instruction.
  16. Principals are a constant presence.
  17. Principals are not the only leaders.
  18. They pay attention to teacher quality.
  19. Teachers have time to meet and plan collaboratively.
  20. Teachers observe each other.
  21. Professional development is valued.
  22. They train and acculturate new teachers with great thought and purpose.
  23. Office and building staff consider themselves part of the educational mission.
  24. They are nice places to work.

In this era of accountability, the noise created by school reform shouldn’t drown out the important work that is being done in schools across America.  Is your school a nice place to work?  It’s such a simple question, yet it speaks to our priorities.  Can you imagine how great our schools would be if we tried our best to address the 24 practices above?  Luckily, Chenoweth’s book shows us that we don’t have to use our imagination…it’s being done.

Differentiating Staff Development to Grow Teacher Leadership

This is a condensed version of an article I wrote for the spring 2014 edition of Living Education eMagazine.

The National Staff Development Council’s Standards for Staff Development provide guidance to school leaders focused on fostering high-quality professional learning communities.  Principals who are willing to utilize the standards will find that they enable them to address the varied needs of teachers, which, in turn, enhances the learning of an increasingly diverse student population.  School leaders should consider using a differentiated staff development model aligned with the pedagogical practices they expect of their teachers.

The NSDCs context, process and content standards offer a structure that promotes the development of school-based staff development programs capable of creating enduring educational change.  A brief examination of the standards provides insight into how school leaders might differentiate their school-based staff development.

Context Standards

Organizing adults into learning communities does not happen magically.  School leaders must provide the structure and time needed for teachers to collaborate with their peers.  A culture of learning needs to be built in order for teacher capacity to increase (Rutherford, 2006).  While the goals of the learning community should be aligned with district goals, they should be specific to the needs of the local school.

Teachers need time to discuss strategies for getting students to achieve, share their teaching practices, improve their techniques, and set communal student achievement goals (Sawchuk, 2007).  This requires strong leadership and the ability to obtain the required resources.  Principals can share their leadership without risking a loss of control.  In fact, by sharing leadership, they empower their teachers to become partners in the school improvement process.

Process Standards

The end result of all staff development must be improved student performance.  Teachers will support staff development efforts when they can make the connection between what they are asked to do and how it will lead to improved student performance.  Educators in the 21st century are being asked to do more with data than ever.  Formative and summative assessments can assist teachers in making informed instructional decisions.  It is the building principal’s responsibility to structure the school day so that teachers have the time and materials to disaggregate data.

Teachers play a critical role in educational reform and need opportunities to engage in high-quality professional development (Goodnough, 2005).  Data-driven decisions can be made by teachers only when they have the time and support to analyze and interpret data.  Given the time to work with data, teachers are highly capable of analyzing assessment results to identify appropriate instructional strategies.  With guidance, they will be able to modify their teaching to address the specific strengths and challenges of the individual student.

Content Standards

Staff development efforts should ensure equity, quality teaching and family involvement.  In the pursuit of educational excellence, we cannot ignore the social and emotional needs of our students and community.  We are still responsible for educating the whole-child.  The reliance on quantitative data should not preclude schools from actively collecting qualitative data to support their efforts in providing safe, orderly and supportive learning environments.

Teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists and support staff play a vital role in establishing schools that meet the affective needs of all learners.  Their role can easily be extended to staff development directed at encouraging family involvement, equity and school safety.  Meaningful formal and informal staff development should be tailored to the specific needs of the school.  Through these opportunities, teachers become intimately and effectively involved in their communities (Gabriel, 2005).

What Does Differentiated School-based Staff Development Look Like?    

Differentiation for the adult learner parallels differentiation in the classroom.  Principals who expect their teachers to meet the needs of all learners must model effective differentiation practices.  School leaders who value the unique abilities of their teachers, and plan staff development with that in mind, send a message of empowerment to their teachers.  Differentiated staff development builds teacher leadership capacity.  It means utilizing staff members in the decision-making, planning and implementation phases of school-based staff development.  A differentiated approach operates from, and builds on, teacher strengths.  It includes, but is not limited to the use of study groups, action research, collaborative planning, vertical teaming, school developed mini-sessions, and district-wide initiatives.

Study Groups 

There are ample resources available for school leaders to use study groups as an effective differentiation tool.  The key is to include teachers in the selection of the topics and texts they will study.  In planning for a school year, administrators will need to schedule time for teachers to both read and discuss material.

Study groups should operate under short-term parameters.  Depending on the volume of material covered, study groups should last no longer than half of the school year.  Ideally, study groups that conclude by the middle of the year allow teachers to use the second half of the year to integrate what they have learned.

Action Research

School districts are collecting more data than ever and teachers should be given the opportunity to use that data at the building level.  Action research has the potential to answer questions that teachers have about their students and their school.  The most exciting aspect of action research is that it allows schools to take a focused look at their school-specific concerns.

School leaders should support the collection of anecdotal, qualitative data, which often provides insight into student performance that cannot be gleaned from quantitative data.  The introduction of SLOs (student learning objectives) has made familiarity with action research a must for all teachers.

Collaborative Planning & Vertical Teaming

School districts must support vertical teaming among elementary, middle and high schools.  While this can be complicated, it allows teachers to stay current on what skills their students need to be successful at the next level.  Principals will have to balance the individual planning needs of teachers, while also engaging them in the value-laden process of collaborative planning and vertical teaming.

School-based Mini-Sessions

Staff members often have skills or training in areas that might not fit in neatly with school-wide initiatives.  It is important to give these staff members a forum for sharing their knowledge.  Technology, classroom management, school climate, teacher morale and an array of other topics can be covered by offering mini-sessions throughout the school year.

By actively seeking out teachers and by understanding their strengths, school leaders can “recruit” more staff members into the collective intelligence of their school.  Mini-sessions can be offered before and after the school day.  As optional, or alternative staff development, they give the teachers choice in the scope and depth of their involvement.  The “edcamp” approach is another vehicle for capitalizing on the strengths of your teachers.

District-wide Initiatives

Most school leaders understand that district-wide initiatives often come with mandatory staff development for their teachers.  School leaders need to stay current on what is coming from the district level to avoid overloading the staff development plates of teachers.  That means sometimes they will have to balance the needs of their school with the needs of the district.  However, circumstances may also provide opportunities for schools to combine their staff development efforts with the district.

Conclusion

The NSDC standards provide a structure that school leaders can use to meet the diverse needs of their teachers.  School-based staff development in the 21st century requires non-traditional thinking.  While this requires organization and planning, it is ultimately worthwhile, productive and empowering.  The development of a professional learning community requires meaningful interaction and engagement on the part of teachers.  Differentiating school-based staff development may serve as a catalyst toward those efforts.

References

Gabriel, J. G. (2005). How to thrive as a teacher leader. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Goodnough, K. (2005). Fostering teacher learning through collaborative inquiry. The Clearing House, 79 (2), 88-92.

Hannon, S. M. (2003). Building a better staff. School Library Journal, 49 (2), 4-5.

Morrow, L. M. (2003). Make professional development a priority. Reading Today, 21 (1), 6-7.

Rutherford, P. (2006). Leading the learning. Leadership, 36 (1), 22-26.

Sawchuk, S. (2007). Groups endorse peer driven, job embedded development. Education Daily, 40 (196), 2.

Book Review-The School Improvement Planning Handbook

The School Improvement Planning Handbook:  Getting Focused for Turnaround and Transition. Daniel L. Duke, Marsha Carr, and William Sterrett. Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013, 287 pages.

The school improvement process can seem daunting to even the most seasoned administrator.  Many school districts are focusing on turning struggling schools toward increased achievement.  However, deciding where to start, what to include, and how to address the needs of a school community remains extremely challenging.

So, how should school leaders approach the improvement process and how do we turn schools around? The authors of The School Improvement Planning Handbook provide readers with a framework for developing specific strategies that may pave the way for success.

The authors offer a structured approach to targeting the key elements in a school improvement plan. They note that, “[s]uccessful school improvement plans are not merely the private product of savvy principals. They are the result of a number of carefully executed steps, a good deal of teamwork, and lots of open and honest reflection.”

While the book is much more than a “handbook,” its handbook format makes it very user-friendly. Section one takes the reader through the seven steps to good planning, assists school leaders in finding their focus, and offers suggestions on how to avoid the many pitfalls faced by school improvement planners. Section two uses several scenarios to demonstrate how school leaders can use research-based strategies to focus on challenges in reading, math, school culture, teacher performance, ELL students, at-risk students, attendance, and the achievement gap. The third and final section takes a more in-depth look at comprehensive school reform. The authors provide guidance on effective turnaround planning, sustaining improvement, and reaching the ultimate goal of educational excellence.

The School Improvement Planning Handbook is ideal for principals looking to invigorate the improvement process, or for any school leader interested in developing a “living” school improvement plan. New principals should find the seven-step process described in section one as an excellent guide for structuring a comprehensive plan. The authors intended their book to be “a practical book for practitioners.” Their focus on real-life examples and research-based best practices makes it just that.

This article, written by Christopher Wooleyhand, was published in the March/April 2014 issue of Principal magazine. Copyright 2014 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All Rights Reserved.

https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/Wooleyhand_MA14.pdf

Leading Change in Education

The process of leading change in education is complex and challenging.  John Kotter is recognized as an expert on the topic of leadership and change.  He wrote Leading Change in 1996, which Time magazine selected as one of the 25 most influential business management books ever written.  Kotter’s work has been adopted by many graduate schools of education.

The use of business strategies when training future educational leaders can be problematic.  We should be cautious when extending the values of business to the field of education.  Not all business practices translate well to teaching and school leadership.  Schools exist to serve children and families.  We should never look at students in the proprietary way that businesses do their products.

Many would argue that the seminal work on leading change in education has yet to be written.  Until that happens, let’s consider Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change and apply it to education.  Can his business-based ideas on change leadership be translated to education?

1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency

Our children don’t have time for us to decide to act on their behalf.  Urgency should be a catalyst for the change needed in our schools.  Urgency, however, should never lead to people feeling like they have been run over.  New leaders have to assess what is truly urgent versus what can be done over time through partnering and collaboration.

2. Creating a Guiding Coalition

Team-building is an essential skill for the modern school leader.  Not much will be accomplished if stakeholders are not part of the change process.  School leaders will have to possess strong skills when assembling their team.  Unlike businesses, however, schools need to be inclusive in their team-building efforts.  Without a broad base of support, change efforts are less likely to succeed.

3.  Developing A Change Vision

For Kotter, vision is the product of an individual.  You possess the vision and then you share it.  In education, vision should be the product of collaborative efforts.  The model of a heroic leader swooping in and saving a school diminishes any prior efforts made toward improvement.  When vision is developed collaboratively it is also more comprehensive.

4.  Communicating the Vision for Buy-In

The concept of “selling” a vision is a business-like approach that leaves others out of the equation.  If we develop the vision together, then no one needs to sell it to me.  I am already in.  The more people included in the development of the vision, the more who will learn about it through word-of-mouth.  A cooperatively developed vision sells itself.

5.  Empowering Broad-based Action

Kotter’s views on empowering action blend well with current school reform efforts.  Once the vision is set, school leaders need to work to remove any of the obstacles that stand in the way of progress.  They should create structures that foster the vision while encouraging risk-taking and “no box” thinking among their teachers.

6.  Generating Short-term Wins

Short-term victories are important in education, especially when they lead to long-term wins.  School leaders should celebrate their short-term wins while continuing to articulate the long-term goals.  Celebration is even more important in education than in business.  Sometimes, celebration is the only positive our teachers experience, particularly in these times of fiscal austerity.

7.  Never Letting Up

Education is the one profession that renews itself every year.  A new school year brings with it great hope.  For schools with a clear long-term vision, the new school year is also an opportunity to continue focusing on key initiatives.  If schools are truly seeking to improve, their plans and strategies must focus on enduring goals.  “Dripping water hollows out a stone…”

8.  Incorporating Change Into the Culture

School leaders rarely stay in one place for very long.  Is the change that you are fostering dependent on you?  If you left your school today, what would continue?  These are questions you should ask yourself every time you consider new initiatives.  If the change you are seeking is dependent solely upon your leadership, then it might not be as important as you think.  Change for the sake of change undermines effective school reform efforts.  Developing a culture of change and innovation leaves your school with a natural succession plan.  Isn’t that what change leadership is all about?

School-based Edcamps- Redefining Professional Development

In November, I blogged about the great experience I had at EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland:

http://christopherwooleyhand.edublogs.org/2013/11/10/extending-the-edcamp-philosophy-to-school-based-pd/

I ended my post with this statement:

“The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession. How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways? I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out. Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp. Now I’ll never get to sleep!”

Well, I did tell my teachers and last week we held our first ever school-based edcamp, EdCampRHLee!  It was a very successful event (see the teacher comments below) and it’s the kind of PD that all schools should consider trying.  Here are some tips that may help you plan your own school-based edcamp:

Sow Seeds

The idea of an edcamp can be hard to explain to others, so start talking about it well in advance of the day.  If you can attend an edcamp before you host your own, do it.  It’s not essential, but it will help you share a clear message.  In the weeks leading up to your edcamp, touch base with staff members and encourage them to share what they are working on or passionate about.

Build Momentum

Once the idea has been shared, you need to keep it out there.  I posted signs everywhere a staff member might travel (even in the restroom stalls).  The signs simply said, “#EdCampRHLee is coming! Professional Development Redefined, What will you share?”  This created interest and reminded the staff that edcamps are inclusive, anyone can share or present.

The Twitter Connection

This tip is not a must do, but it is a critical part of most edcamps.  In the past year, we have been encouraging teachers to sign up for Twitter as a PLN tool.  By the time we held our edcamp, over 90% percent of our teachers had joined.  Regional edcamps use Twitter as a promotional tool and for backchanneling the event.  Backchanneling gives others a chance to follow your conference in real-time.  It is a great way to share links and resources with others.  If you search for #EdCampRHLee on Twitter you will get an idea of what this looks like.

The Schedule

Creating the edcamp schedule is exciting and scary.  Until it starts to come together, you have no idea what will happen.  Our edcamp was held on an early dismissal day and was three hours long.  When staff members proposed sessions, they used post-it notes with the title of their session, their name, and the room they would use.  As the proposal ideas came in, it was helpful to have one person looking for duplication (similar sessions could be combined into one timeslot).

Our schedule looked like this:

1:30   Schedule creation, brainstorming, discussion, proposals
2:00 iPad for beginners Conferring   with writers Morning   Meeting Teach Like a Pirate Multi-cult Music
2:35 Yoga for teachers SLO writing Math Sign Language Mentor Text Websites
3:10 Math   Rotation/NumTalk New ideas for using novels Common   Core/ DiscoveryEd Social   Thinking Haiku Deck
3:45 iPad advanced Math Work Stations KidBlog Twitter for beginners STEM Night ideas
4:15   Resources Smackdown

 

Once we got underway, I traveled to every session and tweeted out pics of our staff members in action.  I also used the PA system to keep everyone on schedule.  The day ended with a resources smackdown.  The smackdown is an opportunity for staff members to share ideas that may have not fit into the schedule for a whole session.  Our teachers shared popular apps, websites, and resources.

What did the teachers think?

This was a great opportunity to connect colleagues with a shared interest.  As students like to choose what they are doing in the Daily 5, we also like to choose our professional development.  I came away impressed at the talent and knowledge of our community of learners.  Thanks for providing this awesome opportunity.”
Linda, kindergarten teacher

I was skeptical at first, but really enjoyed the whole afternoon.  I enjoyed both teaching and being an active participant.  The staff came up with a wide selection of topics.  Edcamp provided variety.  In some of the sessions, we could be “taught” something WE wanted to know about.  Other sessions really allowed us to dialogue on something we were interested in.  It wasn’t just a “turn and talk” time, but was really a chance to actually TALK with peers to get their feedback and ideas.”
Brenda, special education teacher

EdCampRHLee was a great opportunity to meet with our peers to share information.  Knowing the presenters made it a lot easier to ask questions.”
Kerri, fourth grade teacher

I really appreciated having a choice in what I learned today at #EdCampRHLee. It was also impressive to see the knowledge our staff has about so many diverse topics.”
Lindsey, second grade teacher

At first, I was very skeptical about today’s professional development.  I loved the idea of edcamps in theory. What is there not to love with all of the choices, opportunities to learn from peers, and short, flexible mini sessions?  However, with it being new to so many of us, I thought that the sessions would be very simplistic.  I was pleasantly surprised with how much information I was able to gather from my colleagues.  I have always been impressed with their wealth of knowledge, but I assumed that our first attempt would present our staff with a huge learning curve.  I was amazed with the high level of engagement, support, and choice when participating in my first edcamp experience.”
Michael, fifth grade teacher

I loved having the freedom to move around to things I was most interested in. I loved being able to “move on” if it didn’t hold my interest and find something that did. I thought it was great that we had such diverse topics, including yoga. I learned so much about Social Thinking just listening to everyone. It was great being able to discuss as opposed to just being “talked to.”  I liked sharing our book study informally as well.”
Lisa, kindergarten teacher

Edcamp is a great way to differentiate staff development and collaborate with other staff based on individual teacher needs and interests.  I enjoyed sharing ideas and learning from other teachers that I may not normally have the opportunity or time to chat with.  Little planning was needed ahead of time and I received ideas I can use immediately in my classroom.”
Julie, third grade teacher

Final Thoughts

Edcamps should be a natural extension of the professional development that schools offer.  Teachers need to connect with their colleagues.  With the pace of change in education, our teachers have been taking on more and more.  The concept of collective intelligence should not be ignored by school leaders.

School-based edcamps celebrate the knowledge of teachers.  When we tap into the creativity of our teachers, we open up avenues for student learning.  If our schools are to be successful, we must include teachers in decisions related to their professional development.  Edcamps are a great way to start in that direction.  Give it a try, there is much to gain!

Ten School Leadership Lessons Inspired by The Godfather

The Godfather is arguably one of the best books and movies ever produced.  While the violence associated with the film should never be glorified, there are many messages in the movie that can be used to inspire thoughtful leadership in education.  My wife, Debbie, and I collaborated to bring you the following ten lessons inspired by the Godfather:

1.  “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Leave the hostility. When working with families and staff you will get farther with patience and tact.  Give yourself a buffer of time if you feel emotion creeping into your decision-making process.

2.  “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”

This reflects the importance of building a strong community.  We should rely on each other- teachers, parents, and the community. Teaching is still a service industry and when we treat it that way our customers truly benefit.

3.  “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.”

A staff should have common goals, a philosophy that drives decision-making.  When we speak to parents, we need to speak with one voice.  Differences should be handled behind closed doors, when we exit, we should present a united front.

4.  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

School should be a welcome place for all.  This includes school staff, children, parents, and families. Strong community schools are the heart of education.  We want our schools to be so engaging they can’t refuse to come.

5.  “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

Ignoring the “bad news” in education keeps us from proactively making changes. Responding in an efficient manner to potential negatives gives us time to react, time to let it sink in, time to strategize, and most importantly, time to respond.

6.  “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

To keep your saw sharpened, you need to be connected to people and passions outside of work.  Spending time with family and friends helps keep things in perspective. It makes you a better person and a more able leader.  Establishing family-centered values provides reassurance to your staff which will make them better at what they do.

7.  “What’s the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft.”

Though sometimes uncomfortable, leaders need to hold people accountable.  Ignoring employees who are unable to work up to the accepted standards only adds to the burden of those around them.  Establish consistent expectations for everyone and speak up when it’s important.

8.  “It would be a shame if a few rotten apples spoiled the whole barrel.”

There are great things happening in classrooms every day.  Don’t let media coverage, or poorly informed public opinion, distract you from the amazing job teachers do every day for kids.  School leaders should shine the light on all of the great things going on in their buildings.

9.  “Never get angry,” the Don had instructed. “Never make a threat. Reason with people.”

We need to remember that when it comes to children, parents are protective.  We all want to believe our children are bright and capable and when someone tells us differently we can get angry.  In the schoolhouse, it is especially important that we keep our emotions under control.

10.  “Great men (and women) are not born great, they grow great . . .”

Every day we are fortunate to be part of the growth of children and witness the evolution of the greatness that is within every student in our school.  Despite the challenges that our students face, we CAN make a difference.  If we maintain that belief, our students will reach the highest heights!

Who knew?  So much wisdom in a classic film.  What movie quotes can you connect to teaching and leadership?

Debbie Wooleyhand (@ppw78) is a veteran educator and pupil personnel worker for a large Maryland school district.

Finding Common Ground Response

In his recent Finding Common Ground (Education Week) blog, Peter DeWitt outlined ten critical issues facing education today.  He listed the following areas that need our attention:

Common Core State Standards
Student Learning
Technology
Social Media
Politics
High Stakes Testing
School Leadership
Pre-service Teaching Programs
School Climate
Poverty

That’s a pretty thorough list.  Peter ended his article with a question:  What would you add to the list?  Here are three that I would add:

Parent Involvement
Students whose parents are involved in their education achieve greater success than students with uninvolved parents (http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED315199).  Schools must find ways to increase parental involvement.  Invite them into the schoolhouse, support them, and never assume that they are unable or unwilling to help their child.

Connected Teaching/Learning
Peter touches on this under “student learning.”  Teachers must be supported and empowered to connect their teaching to “real world” issues.  Thomas Friedman noted in The World Is Flat, that the United States needs to continually update the skills of its workforce.  Politicians and school leaders must support teachers in their efforts to make learning meaningful.

Early Childhood Education
If we are to address the disparities our children face before they ever enter a school building, we must take a stand on mandatory pre-kindergarten programs.  These early childhood education programs should focus on the development of the whole child.  Early childhood programs should be language rich, stimulating environments that give children the opportunity for the same experiences that affluent children have.  They should not be over-tested, data-collecting warehouses that take all of the fun out of learning.

So, there are three more for Peter’s list.  That makes thirteen.  Hmm, can someone help a certified triskaidekaphobic by coming up with at least one more?

Peter DeWitt’s full blog:

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?DISPATCHED=true&cid=25983841&item=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.edweek.org%2Fedweek%2Ffinding_common_ground%2F2014%2F01%2F10_critical_issues_facing_education.html%3Fcmp%3DSOC-SHR-TW

Weingarten Gets It

“We can’t reclaim the promise of public education without investing in strong neighborhood public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcome environments for students, parents, educators and the broader community. Schools where teachers and school staff are well-prepared and well-supported, with manageable class sizes and time to collaborate. Schools with rigorous standards aligned to an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music, civics and the sciences — and where all kids’ instructional needs are met.”

-Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers in the Washington Post Answer Sheet column by Valerie Strauss.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has made a stand that resonates with many educators.  It is possible to embrace the Common Core Standards while being critical of the testing that has accompanied their roll-out.  Being quick to find fault is a habit engrained in American culture.  Many are critical of the new standards.  Ironically, few of those critics are actually educators.

Weingarten is president of the second largest teachers union in the country.  One might suspect that she is only looking out for her constituency.  That, of course, is her job.  Yet, advocating for her teachers ultimately benefits children.  Weingarten makes a connection that so many policymakers have missed.  When teachers are treated fairly and rationally, they are better educators.

States are using value-added models to evaluate and rate teachers.  These measures are attached to the funds that states have received through Race to the Top.  In other words, states have been coerced into using test scores to develop complicated evaluation tools for teachers.  There is little evidence that VAM-based evaluation tools have been, or will be, accurate and fair to teachers.

By circumstance, principals stand in the middle of this political mess.  They have been thrust into a quagmire of illogical formulas designed to quantify the art of teaching.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this predicament, principals should be a voice of reason and sound thinking.

While diligently serving as the interpreters of educational change, principals can make sure that good teachers don’t flee a profession they love.  The adoption of the Common Core should be separated from the assessment-focused milieu that has been forced on schools.  Principals can, and must, do this for their teachers.  Principals can foster a transition to the Common Core that does not alienate teachers in the process.  If they can’t accomplish this, who can?

Link to full Washington Post article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/13/weingarten-slams-teacher-evaluation-by-student-test-scores/

 

Meet Peter DeWitt, Ed.D.

Author, speaker, and school leader, Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) will guest host #mdeschat on January 9th at 9:00 p.m.  Peter is a NY principal currently on sabbatical.  He is a great resource for educators who are seeking to understand many of the national issues currently affecting schools.  I sat down with Dr. DeWitt for a Q&A to find out more about him and his professional pursuits.

You are currently on sabbatical.  What are you doing with all that “free” time?

Not sure I would call it free time! Seriously, I’m working on a variety of projects. First and foremost I’m a Visible Learning trainer for John Hattie. I will be working with schools around North America on his approach to learning, which I will get into a little more in the next question.

Secondly, I’m co-authoring a book with Sean Slade, the Director of the Whole Child Initiative (ASCD). He and I are writing a book for ASCD that focuses on school climate. Sean and I are both on the National School Climate Council (I’m the co-chair) which is the steering committee for the National School Climate Center.

In addition, I am writing a book for Corwin Press on flipped leadership which is something I did a great deal of as a school principal, and I’m working as an independent consultant working with schools on flipped leadership, school climate and teacher evaluation.

I’m very fortunate because, although they are all great projects, it was a hard decision because I love my school community. I work with great teachers, kids and parents. I’m thankful my school district offered me the leave of absence.

One of your current interests is “visible learning.”  How do you define visible learning?

Visible Learning comes from Professor John Hattie. Hattie is a Professor of Education and the Director of Research at the University of Melbourne. He did the largest meta-analysis in education which involved over ¼ billion students.

Although it’s a huge amount of research, I would quickly define Visible Learning as the teacher and student working together on a combined goal that they both can see at all times. Three questions to ask, whether you are the teacher or the student are:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going?
  • Where am I going to next?

What have you learned from writing your Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week?

This is such a great question because I feel that we should always learn something as we go through the writing process. Writing for Education Week has really changed my life. I’ve gotten the chance to get to know the people that I have long admired like Michael Fullan, Todd Whitaker, Diane Ravitch and Carol Ann Tomlinson. I have also had the opportunity to connect with educators around the world which has been a great experience.

Over all, as I write I am usually questioning something. I may not be questioning another person’s ideas as much as I’m questioning my own long held beliefs. Education is really complicated and it’s often the adults involved who complicate everything. Everyone has strong ideas on what they believe works.

One of the areas that I’m passionate about is making sure every student has a place at the table when it comes to decision-making. I did my doctoral work on how well school leaders safeguard LGBT students, which became my first book for Corwin Press called Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. I found that in too many schools we have marginalized populations that are not treated very well and that needs to change. I believe writing Finding Common Ground has helped me find my own voice so that I can speak for students and teachers who don’t have the power to speak for themselves.

New York is ahead of many states in implementing and assessing the Common Core.  What lessons can you share with the states that are a few steps behind?

The New York State Education Department, under the leadership of Regent’s Chair Merryl Tisch and Commissioner John King, has done a deplorable rollout of the Common Core to the point that parents want to see the Common Core go away. Before schools were ever provided with the proper resources King and Tisch made sure the 3rd – 8th grade high stakes assessments were tied to the Core, which were ultimately tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

What’s worse is that the state assessments only provide schools with a number of 1,2,3 or 4 which is based on a cut point. They do not provide an item-analysis of where students did well and where they faltered.

All of this came when they were rolling out the Common Core and now school leaders are scrambling to try to differentiate between the Core and high stakes testing. There is absolutely no trust between the public school system and the state education department which is really sad because it wasn’t always that way.

I think if I could offer any advice to states is that they should see what NY did and do the opposite. I typically try to find common ground but I can’t where this situation is concerned.

How do you balance your personal life with your professional commitments?

Not very well! It’s always been one of my biggest issues. I get so passionate about education that it is hard to turn it off. I love learning and thrive on the connections that I have made with people in my life as a school leader, workshop facilitator or speaker, and through my connections I’ve made on Twitter.

When I was young, my grandparents had all passed away by the time I was 7, my dad passed when I was 11 and I was retained in fourth grade. I struggled academically throughout my school career, was a sub-sophomore because I lacked the credits to be a full-fledged sophomore and graduated fourth from last in my graduating class. I dropped out of two community colleges and was working at a liquor store. Fortunately, I was a long distance runner and I went to a community college for my last attempt, because that school had a X-country team. My coach encouraged me (forced…) to go to the Learning Assistance Center. That semester my grades went from a 1.7 to a 3.86 and they never went down again.

Something clicked with me, due to the family, friends and teachers around me, and I became successful in the very thing I failed at so many years ago. It’s hard to turn that off when you know there are many kids in that same position.

Can you give us 5 “must follow” people on Twitter?

Uh oh…the pressure is on! Only five??? This is not an easy question because there are so many great educators out there worth following. Besides two powerhouses, I’m going to have to go to a few of my New York friends for this one.

Todd Whitaker – Everyone knows Todd but he wrote the single best book I ever read as a leader. That book is What Great Principals Do Differently and it’s a must read for any school leader. Besides that he is an outstanding speaker and has some of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard.

Eric Sheninger – Eric is doing tremendous things when it comes to connected leadership. I’m in the middle of reviewing his new book for Corwin and it is going to be a huge success.

My NY Colleagues:

Tony Sinanis – https://twitter.com/TonySinanis

Vicki Day – https://twitter.com/VictoriaL_Day

Lisa Meade – https://twitter.com/LisaMeade23

Thanks, Peter!  We appreciate your support of #mdeschat and the example you set for school leaders across the country.  To learn more about Peter DeWitt, visit his webpage:

http://www.petermdewitt.com/

Here’s to a “promising” 2014!

I held fast to December, but 2014 is upon us and I am determined to welcome it with my full enthusiasm.  While I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, I think it’s a good practice for educators to look inward at key points during the year.  January is a good time to reflect on what the second half of the school year will bring.

When I reflect on the remaining months of the school year, I wonder what significant contributions I can make to my school community.  What can I do for students, teachers, and families that will make a difference to them? After almost 27 years in education, I still question whether I make a difference.  I know it will be time to retire if I ever stop asking that question.  So, here is what I will try to do. You can call it a list of resolutions, but it is really a list of promises.

-Show up. Okay, that sounds weak, but our profession requires our presence. Outside of my family, my school has to be my biggest priority.  Schools require leadership that is consistent and supportive.  I will be there for my students, teachers, and families.

-Make decisions based on what is best for children. This seems like another obvious promise, but I’m sure that my colleagues have been challenged by all of the external factors that can cloud a school leader’s vision. I will keep my focus on children first and handle the adult issues within the context of what is best for children.

-Listen before problem solving. I have the word “listen” taped to the wall I face when I sit at my desk. School leaders are (or at least should be) natural problem solvers. Often, however, we try to get right to the bottom of an issue so that we can solve it as quickly as possible. The first step to helping someone is truly LISTENING to their concerns. I will give my full attention to students, teachers, and parents BEFORE assisting them with their challenges.

-Bring joy to my work. This is not hard. I LOVE what I do. Oh, I don’t love it every day, but I love it most days. School leaders who bring joy to their schools set a tone that permeates every fiber of their buildings. When students, teachers, and families feel that joy, they pass it on and it multiplies. I will try, every day, to bring joy to my students, teachers, and parents.

That’s it, just four simple promises (resolutions). If I can do those four things then everything else should fall in line, right? Maybe I’ll print this out and tape it to my wall.