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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friedman's Book, Thank You for Being Late, Inspires Change and Development in Schools

Friedman's book, Thank You for Being Late, similar to Darling-Hammond & Others' book, Empowered Educators, inspire school change and development. As I review my notes, I advocate for the following changes.
  • Match school learning with real-world experiences, service and internships
  • Make sure that every student has one or more teachers that take a real interest in their aspirations and mentor them with significant time and attention
  • Emphasize skill building in relation to empathy, cooperation, flexibility, 
  • Explicitly acknowledge, illustrate and engage students in the changes in world w/regard to globalization and technological advancements
  • Ensure that high school students start high school by learning about and joining essential networks such as Linkedin, Twitter, FB. Teach the networks, share network experiences. In the early grades model use of these networks and use as a class with teacher guidance to assist learning.
  • Allow students to create and utilize algorithms from early on in meaningful ways. Demonstrate how intelligent algorithms are at play with regard to all they do today. Start with demonstrating the algorithms that impact their Google searches.
  • Expose students to graphs, algorithms and metrics regularly. Analyze the metrics and allow these metrics to impact learning choices and activity.
  • Identify helpful online/offline intelligent assistants and provide students opportunities to engage with those to further their learning and deepen valuable experience. Having high school students explore sites like LaunchCode and LearnUp will help them to gain valuable work skills and knowledge.
  • Ask students what "intelligent assistants" they use to forward their learning and living. Keep a list and grow that list as the year goes on. Let students demonstrate how they use the intelligent systems they use to one another. Khan Academy is one example of an intelligent assistant students may use to learn content, do well with SATs, study coding and more.
  • From early on teach students about learning paths and learning flows. Help students to create their own learning paths or expeditions by identifying and accessing impactful experiences, experts, smart tools/programs, teamwork, multimedia resources and more.
  • Work with colleagues to forward meaningful, interdisciplinary projects and problem solving. 
  • Build partnerships with change agents and helpful organizations including businesses, nonprofits, universities, hospitals and more outside of school to develop student/teacher learning, experience and capacity.
  • Work with colleagues to foster networks and systems to continually improve and innovate to serve students well.
  • Look at current positions and directions and update as needed. For example make sure to include a focus on computer gaming for learning and problem solving in your ed system.
  • Introduce and involve students in crowdsourcing and open source efforts and resources online and off. 
  • Blend learning and take advantage of online resources, courses and networks that respond readily to technology leaps.
  • Help students to acknowledge that they are, in effect, their own "start-up" and that their efforts to develops skill and passion as well as market their abilities will be critical to their future success. Help students to do this by creating reflective ePortfolios that work to identify mission/vision, valuable experiences/accomplishments, identifying data such as address, phone number, image and more.
  • At start of school year, ask students what they believe they'll need to succeed in class and in today's world. Have a meaningful discussion about that, list skills, attitudes and abilities, and then focus on how they can individually and collectively growth those capabilities.
  • Have students think about, read about and even converse with counterparts across the world. Together think about how those students will access today's amazing tools and technology to impact the world.
  • Consider the intelligent assistants that aid your organization and how teachers and administrators in your system utilize and share that assistance to develop capacity.
  • Figure out how to maximize the "collective genius" of your organization by creating dynamic networks of share, growth and support.
  • Re-look at the way you develop skill and talent in your organization and think about how you might inspire greater effort and growth in this regard.
  • Transparently and inclusively create, share and direct organizational growth and development. Use timelines of near and far changes to come. Invite employees to create and join in this effort and provide avenues for this involvement. 
  • Update blended online/offline curriculum efforts with greater attention to tech integration, coding, environmental studies, meaningful interdisciplinary study that boosts literacy, numeracy, creativity, communication, collaboration, perseverance, self motivation and critical thinking skills. 
  • Reimagine the working relationship of students/teachers, teachers/administration to build modern teaching/learning organizations. 
  • Invest in student success and teacher efficacy (human capital) as cornerstones of all efforts done in teaching/learning organizations. Potentially extend the organization to all community members in light of today's requirement that all people are motivate, lifelong learners.
  • Take advantage of the awesome technological tools that exist to teach well. 
  • Discuss the "motivational divide" with students--ask, "Why are some students self motivated and others not? What does self motivation look like? How can you grow greater self motivation and why does that matter?
  • Pose Sims quote to students and discuss, Today, ". .you have to know more, you have to update what you know more often, and you have to do more creative things with it."
  • Tell students that they will probably be "inventing" their future jobs. Ask what that will look like and why they think that is true. Have them create a future job for themselves given their interests, present and future skills, and the needs that exist today and will exist in the future.
  • Discuss with students the fact that physical technology (the change in things we can touch and see) have changed faster than social technology (policies, laws, networks). Discuss why that's problematic and invent new social technology related to jobs, government, policies and more to help our communities keep up with and maximize acceleration.
  • Make sure that sustainability is a thread from K-12. Discuss how we can change our behaviors and attitudes to positively affect the planet. Study climate change, and look together for solutions. Support solutions through service work, presentations and outreach. 
  • Work with your education organizations to look for optimal ways to integrate public-private partnerships for the benefit of all.
  • Work with students and colleagues to identify optimal human-machine integration when it comes to learning and living. 
  • Discuss the positive role that education and freedom play with regard to protecting our planet? Look at education and population statistics to identify trends and create/activate solutions. Identify people and populations that receive less support and freedom, and determine how you might foster change in these areas.

Friedman's Book Inspires Action to Protect Earth

As I continue to read Friedman's book, Thank You for Being Late, I am struck by the call to action to protect planet Earth. He succinctly demonstrates our collective responsibility to act now to save our planet for generations to come. If we care about our children, we will do what's right by changing the way we live and advocating for change throughout the world.

How can we make this message and call to responsibility visible in our schools?

First, we have to re-look at curriculum and begin teaching students early rather than later about the impact of their daily habits and efforts with regard to their responsibility to planet Earth. Students need to recognize the direct correlation of their efforts with regard to environmental protection. How can we do this?

Environmental Education
I work with educators and community members who commit substantial time to this endeavor by fostering school recycling, less to no use of plastics, school yard gardens and composting, rain collection, water conservation and environmental education. We can do a better job with this by matching our curriculum standards to conservation and environmental education that is memorable and impactful for children. We need to help students, from an early age, become well educated, responsible, positive stewards of the environment.

Global Education and Service Learning
We also have to consider our global education and service learning efforts. Students need to understand that what they do in their neighborhoods and homes affects the whole world and that through service work, good decisions and education, they can have a positive impact on the world. One area that we can focus on is working to advocate for good education for all the world's people with education for girls and women as a priority since the education of women has been tied to positive development.

Reproductive Education
Further, in our families and communities, we can help to educate young people early about reproductive opportunity and rights. To understand early both the responsibility and opportunity of what it means to parent children in ways that matter is to foster greater potential and promise for generations to come.

Conservation
As school communities we can continually model conservation efforts with regard to the products we purchase, the way we recycle, protection of our natural lands and more. I really need to commit to this effort more and will look for ways to better integrate this into our teaching/learning efforts and experiences throughout the year.


Take the Long View: What Matters?

As I spoke to a colleague the other day, I was amazed at the dedication, diplomacy and care she brings to the profession. I've watched this colleague over the years make one good decision after another in an effort to serve children well and be an active, positive member of the teaching profession. She's an inspiration and a teacher's teacher.

Her example lends wisdom to our paths as educators and begs the following questions:
  • Who are you in the profession? What are your gifts to contribute and how will you use those gifts with good collegiality to uplift your own practice and the collective practice of the team(s) your work with?
  • How do you purposefully develop, contribute to and work to create positive teams in your midst?
Then, as I thought more, I recognized the countless acts of good collegiality I witness regularly on the many teams that I work with. In many ways these acts don't stand alone, but instead, work in tandem with collective efforts to make teaching and learning teams strong. These actions include the following:
  • Taking the time to recognize and show interest in individual's feelings, needs and contribution. The best team members send a note, lend a hand or find other ways to empathize, encourage and support one another.
  • Regular, positive and helpful communication. Good team members keep you abreast of their efforts and teamwork with regular, informative, positive, streamlined updates. This regularity also helps you to join and contribute to the work that's being done.
  • Honest, helpful feedback and questioning is another way that colleagues help to forward collective efforts. This kind of feedback and questioning can help us help each other to focus our individual and collective work in ways that matter.
  • Lead time and good scheduling affords us to be part of a team, contribute and gain support.
  • Shared research and learning supports our need to be well-informed. No educator has the time to read all books, attend all conferences or study every issue related to their work and field, but if we differentiate our efforts in this regard, we can all contribute to giving everyone a strong, holistic knowledge foundation.
Organizations need to look carefully and work inclusively to create dynamic systems of teamwork and share. Individuals and teams also have to maximize the potential those systems bring by contributing the best attributes of teamwork and collaboration--the kind of attributes my inspiring colleague and others bring to our field of education every day. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creating and Supporting Fair Systems of Collaboration and Result

In the USA, we have always relied on our fair legal systems, yet with growing complexity and information share, we notice that we have to shore up those systems so individuals' rights to speak up and live in ways they choose are protected.

In every place of living and endeavor, this is an important issue. I face it in that my writing and share which is often chided. I share a lot and some feel I share too much. Yet, I find that our systems, in many ways, are outdated and not reflective of modern research and effort, thus the share. It's a difficult dilemma and I hope that upcoming, planned meetings will help me to strike a good balance in this regard. Currently there's less than ideal share of ideas, modern-day updates, and related collegiality, in my opinion, that reflect the tech-infused, global and interdependent age that we live in.

Also, we have a President of the United States that name calls and puts down hard working men and women who speak up, act and advocate for what they believe in. Never before in the USA was I afraid to voice my opinion, speak up and act on behalf of my beliefs, but now when I do write, I do fear because President Trump lashes out in ways that are disrespectful, demeaning, and humiliating. It's similar to the experiences so many of us faced as young children when the school yard bully and his friends made fun of you or went after you.

In today's world what constitutes optimal systems of collaboration and result? How do we architect those systems and the protocols we use to take from and contribute to those systems with good collegiality, share and intent? I know this will differ from organization to organization, and I'm curious what others are doing to build and develop these systems where they work and learn? I'll keep my ears open to hear about this. And in the meantime, if you have related stories to tell, please share.

Reading Friedman's Thank You For Being Late

I heard the President of Union College, Stephen C. Ainlay, PhD refer to Thomas L. Friedman's book, Thank You for Being Late twice last year. I ordered the book since I wanted to read a synthesis of the evolution that's happening in our midst, an evolution from the industry-age to the tech-age, and I wanted to think about how this evolution should impact the way I teach and lead students as well as advocate for optimal change in schools and learning organizations everywhere.

The book is fascinating as Friedman tells the story of many encounters with innovators and leaders who have successfully worked over time and/or are currently working in modern-day organizations and systems. His facts and figures support a vision for education that many educators are advocating for--a vision that supports students' active tech-connected learning and networking to boost their abilities to create, innovate, communicate, make good decisions and navigate a global society that is accelerating at a rapid, exponential pace.

As I read the book, I thought about teaching fifth graders and what I need to do to help ready them for the "dynamic stability" they will need to navigate an ever-changing, interdependent global community.

First, just reading the book helps me to learn the vocabulary of this new tech age and then to use that vocabulary with students. For example when we discuss knowledge, we can think about knowledge flows--what those look like, how they act and the ways that we can successfully contribute to and learn from these flows. We can use examples of worldwide communities that are successful such as Airbnb, communities where members create profiles, connect with one another, rate their experiences, share a platform (go-to place), and utilize/build trust. We can also use open source models as we learn by creating a virtual and real-time environment where information is available for those who need it and collaboration is supported, encouraged, and accessible all the time.

Further in modern-day schools that prepare students for this exponentially accelerating world of global interdependence, we can encourage real-world, meaningful explorations that both develop knowledge, skill and concept standards while also fostering processes that enable students to study real-world problems with technology/smart tools and strategies/processes to impact, inform, and innovate.

With these tools, we can learn about modern-day tech by having fun. We can foster "Viral Competitions" where students are given the task of creating multimedia presentations, posting those presentations, and noticing whose projects gained the most traction by using available metrics. We can research and analyze why some projects gained more traction and then we can try again. This real-world, meaningful and positive interaction with technology's capabilities will immerse students in the experience with computational thinking, data collection/analysis, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

We can tell students the stories of successful entrepreneurs across the world and connect as individuals or as a class to those inventors' knowledge flows. For example, just yesterday it was announced that a young man from India made the smallest satellite ever--we could read his story, reach out to him on Twitter, and discuss the timeline of events and actions that led to this innovation.

In terms of advocacy, we can work for more modern schools where new-age technology including social media, sensors, networks, open source, coding, software, robotics and more are more open, accessible and integrated into the learning and teaching we do. We can work with our teams to collaborate around new-age learning design that meets systemwide expectations in ways that foster deep engagement, the design process, technology integration, use of open source systems, and share/development. And we can look for better ways to collaborate to connect and contribute to knowledge flows at our schools, systems and beyond. By availing ourselves more to the wealth of knowledge, skill and interest that exist in valuable individuals near and far, we will boost what we're able to do with and for students.

The modern world of learning is a networked, democratic world where old-time hierarchical organizations and expectations are losing their foothold and being replaced by a much more open system of creativity and share for all the world's people. As Friedman notes, countries that embrace these knowledge flows of contribution and exchange will be most successful. It's important to take note of this as we want to give our students the tools they need to succeed and be happy today and into the future.

I took a lot of notes as I read which can be found via this Storify.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wearing Your Mistakes

Some of us wear our mistakes. A person can look at us and see where we've erred. For others, those mistakes are hidden. Whatever the case, we all have them and it's been to own those mistakes and learn from them. It's also good to be compassionate towards others in this regard to. For the most part, most people are trying to do their best to live well. In fact, I actually may know no one who is aimed in a direction different than that.

How do we embed future-ready skills and practices into our teaching/learning efforts?

As I continue my reflection related to Empowered Educators, I want to bring it right back to the work I do daily to teach well with my grade-level team and students. What activities will I employ to help students develop the skills and capabilities they'll need to be successful, happy people in the world to come? As I analyzed the attributed of future-ready students below, I recognized that we have area for greater attention and growth, areas that will profit from a team approach as we strive to meet today's expectations and teach for tomorrow too.


What activities prompt students to make sense out of complex information and events?
I know that we foster this with our Global Changemakers project which leads to all kinds of great research, analysis, questioning and reporting. This is positive. I also know that we scaffold these skills when it comes to problem solving, literary analysis and writing. I believe we can do this more by adding relevant, meaningful, deeper, more thought-provoking questions to unit study. Questions like this will marry study to important issues, problems, and events that will spark students curiosity and interest. I have work to do in this area.

Think creatively to solve novel problems
Our STEAM efforts lend themselves somewhat to this. Again, as above, I believe we can develop this area of our curriculum more. By embedding some of Boaler's floor-to-ceiling math explorations I will be able to do this better.

Work well with others
Last year we worked a lot on this beginning with initial STEAM efforts as we focused on the "TEAM in STEAM." We also did this by embedding social-emotional learning (SEL) into our classroom efforts and fostering lots of collaboration in learning. I believe we can continue to build our efforts in this regard. Our focus on strong relationship building with revised orientation efforts will help us to move in this direction since knowing one another and good relationships lead to positive collaboration, empathy and respect.

Engage effectively in cross-cultural contexts
We made considerable time in the year to focus on our diversity as a team. We spent time on identity projects and embedding more culturally proficient programming, debate and discussion. This was positive. We plan to continue to develop these efforts as we move forward.

Measure and analyze many forms of media and quantitative data in sophisticated ways
I know that many educators focused on this from having students analyze "fake news" on the Internet, to looking at and working with real-world, relative statistics and analyzing informational text. Again, we can do more of this and this effort would profit from targeted attention, discussion and creativity during a PLC.

Find, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and apply knowledge to new ideas, answers and solutions
We do this in part, but can do more. I'd like to make mini posters of these important words and point to them as students solve problems, develop and react to new ideas, and evaluate answers/solutions. We can better build this in during STEAM time and as we employ the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMPs). Identifying and solving real-world problems in students' context is a good way foster this kind of thinking and work. I will be thinking about how to better embed this.

Communicate in multiple forms
This is one area we do a good job in. Students utilize online writing, blogs, research sites, video, audio and more to create and communicate on their own and with others. Educators also expect that students will use websites, learning menus and social media (with parental/teacher support) to learn and communicate. Further students are introduced to coding and invited to continue that learning and application. And, our school assembly offers students a chance to lead by acting as emcees or anchors of the event. Student presentations via music, art, sports, research and more provide even more opportunity to communicate in diverse and important ways.

Learn on their own throughout life
We foster the use of individualized and collective learning paths throughout the year through modeling, online menus, individual/small group coaching, setting goals and multiple learning experiences. We talk with and to students a lot about this. I think we do a good job overall in this area.

In general we have to focus on the aspects above that make our teaching richer and deeper. The one challenge in this is that as we shift, there's the potential that our state scores will suffer a bit since the breadth and depth of standards foster an approach where we have to move quickly through the curriculum. Sadly this approach does not lend itself to the depth of future-ready skills and practice and it fosters a teach to the top mentality since the grade-level to advanced students can learn quickly and get good scores, but these students miss out on richer, deeper learning experiences.

I know there's a balance here and as my teammates and I review our curriculum map, we'll think about the elements of future-ready students as well as the expectations to do well on the tests and teach an engaging, empowering program. We'll work to strike a good balance with that in mind.

If you have any related thoughts or ideas, let me know.


Does Our Team Foster Future-Ready Skills and Abilities?

As I continue to reflect on the wealth of information in Empowered Educators, I'm struck with the question, Does our team develop and utilize future-ready skills and abilities? Using the list the book provides, I assessed each element.


Understand content deeply and flexibly
We all put considerable effort into this element, yet I believe that our professional learning efforts within our system can better use time and modern-day approaches to forward this critical component of teaching well. Still, many of our systemwide professional learning endeavors are top-down, one-size-fits-all affairs with little to no teacher voice, choice or leadership and this is troubling to me. Our on-our-own professional work seems to be rich overall, yet I believe our evaluation system can be better tied to development and personal learning and application tracks rather than focused on simply completing the evaluation tasks and checking the boxes. Further I believe that we can use better systematic processes with regard to identifying and carrying out both personal and collective content learning--often I think we rely on past structures, data points, and vision rather than asking and discussing critical questions that could inform our professional learning paths with greater depth, utilizing questions such as:
  • Where are we doing a great job in helping children succeed?
  • Where are we missing the mark?
  • How are we targeting our professional learning, both individually and collectively, towards areas of concern?
  • How can we identify optimal learning efforts to develop our repertoire and capabilities to do better in targeted areas?
Understand the science of learning
Educators where I work are reading and studying all the time, but we have little opportunity to meaningfully share what we are learning with good process. This lack of share means that we are learning in silos and our learning is not getting the traction and having the impact that it could have if we had better streams of share, debate and discussion related to new learning. This is a missed opportunity, and an area where we can develop our collective work well. With regard to the science of learning, we are all reading and studying a lot, and what we need to do is find avenues to direct our collective practice in ways that mirror new research through dynamic share, debate and discussion. This will help us to better reflect the science of learning with regard to cultural contexts and across discipline areas.

Strategically support language acquisition
In Massachusetts almost all educators had to be trained in Sheltered English Immersion (SEI). This has helped us to support language acquisition. We also emphasize vocabulary teaching/learning across all disciplines and foster rich multi-modal engaging learning experiences with lots of conversation and discussion to foster language acquisition and development for all. We have English Language Learner (ELL) programs and fidelity to those programs will help in this regard too. We use technology strategically to support this work as well. 

Research, create and develop teaching strategies that foster analysis, reasoning and creativity
Teaching and learning strategies and efforts are too top-down to foster rich creativity, research and development in this area. Too often teachers' ideas and questions are chided and/or ignored and this serves to dwarf the great potential that exists amongst our extraordinary educators. This happens much more at the elementary level than middle school or high school where teachers have greater autonomy. I am not in favor of top-down decrees that include little teacher voice, choice, expertise, experience or leadership since these directives are made with distance from the students and often don't respond to the needs, challenges and opportunities educators research, notice and want to work on daily. in Empowered Educators, the authors note that successful systems use curriculums as guides not "straitjackets" and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' research, practice and community emphasizes that educators need to lead their work in systematic ways by managing and monitoring student learning. In the best of circumstances educators, administrators, students, family members and community members make data informed, student-driven decisions in systematic, empowered ways to well-serve and educate all students. We have room for growth in this area.

Incorporate appropriate technologies into their teaching
Again, like the area above, most technologies are chosen for us, but not with us. This has been very frustrating to teachers like me who work a lot in the tech arena. Fortunately we have a good number of tools available at school and students at fifth grade enjoy one-to-one. This is positive. We are a Google school, and in general, Google serves teachers and students quite well (perhaps with the exception of the fact that their mining our data/creativity--but I'll leave that debate for another time). I am also able to work creatively with outside agencies to extend my tech use and embed that work into classroom endeavor. I have worked with tech companies in exchange for use of their software. We have a number of good technologies in place which I use with my team to forward student learning. As in all areas, I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'd like to see more streamlined, inclusive, authentic, transparent, dynamic systems of decision-making that readily include teacher voice, choice, and leadership in transparent ways that don't shy away from good discourse and debate.

Engage students in applied learning
I feel we have room for growth in this area too. Much of the top-down curriculum directives we're asked to follow are two-dimensional when most applied learning is hands-on and three-dimensional. The time spent on paper/pencil tasks, in my opinion, is too great. I feel that we need to incorporate more hands-on, floor-to-ceiling explorations and projects to develop more future-ready, engaged students. We do employ some terrific floor-to-ceiling explorations and projects, but we can extend this more, particularly in the areas of math and science. One obstruction in this effort is the fact that we have many, many standards to cover and to cover those standards in ways that result in good test scores and meet systemwide directives makes us have to efficiently rush through the curriculum, and it's often faster to teach in "chalk and talk" ways to meet these expectations. This year I'll work to incorporate some of Boaler's research into the math program to elevate applied learning in math. I also hope to incorporate our Global Cardboard Challenge effort into a mid-year math unit to develop a worthy, engaging, standards-based STEAM event. Further, I hope to continue to advocate for more local connections and real-world, meaningful learning in our STEAM efforts. We have the smarts and experience as a system to develop greater applied learning at the elementary level and beyond, but we need to change some of our systemwide decision making and hierarchical leadership paths in order to do this. Restructuring the ways we do school, I believe, will buy us capacity with regard to targeted focus, growth and impact. 

Collect/analyze a range of assessment data
Yes, we analyze many data points, but there are remains data that is not transparently and openly shared so we can't do the kind of analyses that would be more helpful, rich, deep and informative. So I'm a fan of greater, sensitive, open and transparent data share. I also think that we have to reach for a more holistic teaching/learning programs that includes a broader set of assessments in order to teach students well. Our PLCs afford us good time for analysis of data, but sometimes the processes are directives rather than teacher-created. For example last year as we started talking about students with a holistic lens, and were told to focus only on the scores. This resulted in lots of tension and frustration since as classroom educators we are accustom to thinking about the whole child and research supports that lens. In hindsight, I think we should have created a systematic approach for analysis together as educators and administrators rather than simply adopting one created by people other than our whole team. Further, I think our system can make better use of the metrics presented by our state, metrics that hold value particularly when it comes to looking closely at who are students at risk are and what we might do to help them. The state's Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS) is a valuable resource in this regard. 

Differentiated teaching
Our team takes both an individual and collective approach when it comes to teaching every child well. We work collectively to create flexible groups and teaching/learning opportunities that match students' needs and interests. Our regular meetings both at PLCs and as a grade-level team help us to do this well. Thankfully we have had a really good teaching/learning schedule and a fair amount of time for these meetings. Our collaborative approach where each teacher takes the lead in particular subject areas and project efforts has helped us to buy time for more collaboration and deliberate practice with multiple face-to-face meetings each week and substantial use of technology to support our collaboration and student focus. I believe that if we work on more streamlined and effective communication, decision making and share systems within our organization, we will elevate our abilities to differentiate well as we'll get rid of the stress that no voice, choice and leadership brings to educators in the field and increase the amount of share related to good ideas, inclusive/transparent systematic data analysis that informs practice, and support for one another with a greater distributive or "teams within teams" approach to learning and teaching. 

So, in many ways we are preparing students for their futures, but we still have some individual, team and systematic work to do in order to do this even better. I'll continue to think on this and discuss the topic with others in the organization where I work and beyond. I'm thankful to Darling-Hammond and her team for their research in Empowered Educators since that is informing my analyses, advocacy and better teaching/learning in the days ahead. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Empowered Educators Lens on Equity


"More clearly than any other social institution, the school system expressed the distinctive vision of Singapore's leadership, with its stress on merit, competition, technology, and international standards and its rejection of special privileges for any group. Singaporeans of all ethnic groups and classes came together in the schools, and the education system affected almost every family in significant and profound ways..." - A History of Singapore

As I read Empowered Educators, I'm interested in the research related to equity. I was struck by the emphasis that it takes a systematic approach to develop equitable schools and education experiences.

Successful systems across the world have done a good job bridging the gap between low and high achievers. How did they do this?

Policies and practice have been put in place to support historically low performing students and groups of students.

Countries where education is most successful, invest in child welfare. They ensure that all schools have adequate services, teacher salaries, and working conditions. Schools with greater populations of high needs students receive extra support. There are strong incentives to place highly qualified educators in schools with the greatest needs. These educators often receive specialized training related to cultural contexts. All teachers are trained in equity pedagogy and schools create improvement plans including targeted efforts and funds to support students with the greatest needs.

Further supports to narrow any opportunity and success gaps that exist include the following:
  • Finland has free health care for all as well as adequate housing and income too for everyone
  • Finland supplies a box of baby supplies for every new baby to ensure that every child has an equitable start (amazing!)
  • Finland offers substantial parent leave, heavily subsidized childcare for all children and free preschool beginning at age 6
  • All school children receive a free meal daily, transportation, learning materials, health care and counseling in school
  • Canada, Australia and Singapore also provide substantial social supports as well
  • Additional social services where needed
  • Scholarships and specialized programs to train and attract teachers to high-need areas as well as to attract educators who represent cultures less represented in schools
  • Supports for teachers' living and family 
  • Increasing involvement of parents and families
  • Community engagement leaders who work in conjunction with principals, teachers and other school staff
  • Some target supports to struggling schools and others target struggling students no matter what the status of their school is
  • Appointment of student success teams in high schools
  • Early intervention programs
  • Partnering high performing and low performing schools with incentives for the "mentor" school--it is considered prestigious to serve in the leadership/mentoring capacity
  • Creation of school clusters with success-driven leadership strategies
  • Use of interventions to support struggling schools and educators
  • Fair distribution of highly qualified administrators and educators throughout system
New South Wales lists these concepts to lead their assets-based, anti-racist model of engagement:
  • Partnership over paternalism - How can we partner together?
  • Opportunity over disadvantage - Where can we provide and assure equal opportunity
  • Success over shortfalls - Play to strengths
  • "Listening to" over "Talking at" - What do you need, how can I help you?
  • Local solutions over one size fits all - What will work in this classroom and/or for you?
  • Evidence over assumptions - What proof do we have to support this claim, conjecture?
  • Participation over marginalization - How can we shift our efforts so that we include all?
  • Practice over theory - What practices work and how do we know that?
Ontario provides a number of supports that have resulted in success:
  • Ambitious student achievement goals
  • Identify and fund ways to improve student achievement
  • Professional learning opportunities for educators, administrators
  • Shared research on effective teaching
  • Building partnerships with universities, teachers unions, others
  • Sharing successful practices
  • Hiring tutors to reinforce previously taught concepts and skills

What Ideas Can Successful Systems Provide for Evaluation Revision

How do successful education systems use evaluation systems to strengthen educator impact and school development? Darling-Hammond's book, Empowered Educators, provides insight.

Feedback is frequent.

Evaluation systems take on a developmental quality.

Evaluation systems are focused on continual improvement, based on standards and tied to professional learning opportunities. In some systems, educators provide feedback for other teachers.
Goal setting and learning plans are part of the evaluation process, and support is often identified during the evaluation process. In all, educators reported greater satisfaction when appraisal and feedback impacted classroom instruction. In Finland, the evaluation process is less formal and more integrated into ongoing school teaching/learning. This is considered more "steering" than on accounting and often includes a conversation.

Evaluations and feedback are linked to professional learning opportunities. These opportunities in successful education organizations are typically part of the daily routine for teachers rather than conferences.

In all the evaluation system supports teacher teacher development and growth. And, professional learning in these organizations is professional where educators have significant autonomy, responsibility and professional respect. Structures for advancement in these countries limit teacher turnover.

How Are You Developing as a High Quality Teacher?

Is your school and/or system a model learning organization?

Are you and your colleagues on the look out for new ideas and practices?

Do you refresh your knowledge regularly?

High performing systems throughout the world invest in teacher research/share, educator preparation, collaborative time/structure, lifelong learning and career ladders. These common policies which are collegial, sustained and ongoing are evident in strong systems:

  • School improvement organized around effective professional learning. Where do you obtain effective professional learning to develop your practice?
  • Professional learning is built into daily practice? Does your system support adequate time and resources for regular professional learning?
  • Recognition for the development of teacher expertise--and use of that expertise to support learning for others. Does your system employ a distributive leadership model that extends teacher leadership opportunity to many rather than a hierarchical model led by a few? In successful systems, teachers collaboratively conduct research using the scientific process to develop collective craft/practice. Teacher-led professional learning is fostered in successful systems, and in China they even have teaching competitions.
  • District or state strategies that lead to professional learning throughout the system. What networks, communication and effort support quality professional learning at the district and state levels? A focus on collaboration ensures that schools have the right mix of skills and abilities to successfully serve/teach students. Ongoing evaluation and  feedback serves to develop educators toward better and better teaching. Pages 132-146 specifically outline professional evaluations across these successful systems, and since our school system is re-looking at this process I'll save this discussion for that work.
  • Common curriculum which offers a common foundation for joint work. Do you share curriculum with others in your school, system, state or nation? Deep, collaborative work in curriculum design fosters an ongoing learning/teaching context and allows students to use their knowledge, think critically, solve problems and communicate effectively. Lesson study is a successful approach which focuses on the learner and educator's rationale, delivery and result of a single lesson. 
Learning embedded in day-to-day work leads to school improvement. Some foci that support this include promoting equity, flexible learning paths, trying innovative professional learning models, quality professional learning networking and collaboration and mainstream of successful practices. These systems establish a continuum of professional learning similar to the NBPTS continuum demonstrated below.
Image Link





Evaluating Your Teaching/Learning System: What's Important?


Continued reading of Empowered Educators leads me to think more deeply about the teaching/learning system I work in and contribute to? How can I work more effectively within that system and in what ways can I promote greater success and support too?

I read about criteria that successful systems employ and translated those into questions and notes using many direct quotes from the book that could be used to assess system strength?

Do you embrace and employ "21st Century Skills"?
  • Higher order thinking
  • Complex problem solving
  • Competent performance 
  • Enhance equity and opportunity 
  • Successfully teach diverse populations
While successful systems have adopted curriculum frameworks and standards, it was interesting to see how they were named:

Australia's Seven Capabilities
  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Critical and creative Thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding
Australia has growing respect for the teaching profession while in Canada teaching is a well-respected profession. Canada does not have a national curriculum. Finland has strong social supports that enables all children to come to school ready to learn, and it is a country that has been called "a model of a modern, publicly financed education system with widespread equity, good quality, large participation--all of this at reasonable cost."Equity is a core principle in Finland. Finland has a lean national curriculum which gives equal value to all subjects with a strong emphasis on inquiry, metacognitive skills, open-ended tasks and developing students' capacities to guide and assess their own learning. Teachers in Finland are highly regarded and encouraged to be creative and innovative in their work. Finnish teachers learn how to create challenging curriculum and how to develop and use engaging performance assessments. They use an evolving practice of continual reflection, evaluation and problem solving, a process used at all levels of education in Finland.

Shanghai's 2020 plan focuses on allowing students to focus on real-world problems, less focus on test preparation, and engaging students in more creative, self-regulated activities. Singapore aims to develop internationally minded, culturally competent citizens with a high degree of literacy and technical experience with a focus on 'Teach Less, Learn More" to reduce quantity in favor of quality critical/creative thinking, global awareness, civic literacy, cross-cultural skills, problem solving, project work and self assessment. Teachers are well compensated and respected in Singapore.

In general these successful school systems have central purpose, promote local innovation, focus on equity, prioritize 21st Century competencies and value teaching 





What Does Your School's Teaching/Learning System Look/Behave Like?

As I read Darling-Hammond's book, Empowered Educators, I am focused on the question of how we might improve the professional learning system both in the school where I teach and schools throughout the state of Massachusetts.

I am struck by many points made in the book. Successful education system throughout the world have a high social regard for educators and compensate educators with competitive salaries. Further, these systems promote a research-informed and research-engaged profession. Teachers in these systems both use research and also engage in research themselves to promote optimal learning conditions and efforts to help students achieve.

In these systems, teaching is a collaborative activity or team sport. These systems foster dynamic teaching/learning networks within and outside of schools to develop effective practice. Teacher evaluation processes are used to develop educators, not punish, and teaching effectiveness is seen as an ever deepening and increasing continuum of skill, knowledge and practice efficacy. Teaching is seen as a learning profession where all teachers are continually learning to better their craft and reach. In countries where education is successful, there are typically career ladders that acknowledge teachers leadership and continued learning.

In successful systems curriculum serves as a road map not a "straitjacket" and there are systematic supports for quality teaching. Attention to the underserved, professional learning, and teaching standards are priorities with regard to funding.

Teacher quality standards that are evident in countries with successful schools include the following:
  • Strong content knowledge
  • Strong pedagogical knowledge--knowing how to teach the content to students
  • Understanding of learners and their development including language acquisition and learning differences or difficulties
  • General abilities to organize/explain ideas, observe/think diagnostically, use adaptive expertise to make judgements to meet students' needs
  • Support teaching/learning for all students
  • Fair, unbiased teaching
  • Lifelong learning
  • Collaboration with parents and other professionals with the goal of serving students
Environmental conditions that foster optimal teaching and learning are also discussed in the book. Those conditions include:
  • high quality, plentiful books, materials and computers
  • a coherent, well-designed curriculum that teachers have built together
  • a team of teachers working in tandem on similar norms and practices
  • paying attention to students' needs
  • adequate facilities and resources
To develop strong schools both teachers and policies have to be supported and developed--one cannot be successful without the other. 

Empowered Educators Leads Us Ahead


Please note that the post below cites direct quotes from Empowered Educators - the quotes have been chosen w/relation to the vision I have for my teaching/learning context. I recommend that you read this book with your specific educational context, mission or vision in mind. 

At the recent @NBPTS NB Academy, the book, Empowered Educators by Linda Darling-Hammond, Dion Burns, Carol Campbell, A. Lin Goodwin, Karen Hammerness, EELing Low, Ann McIntyre, Mistilina Sato, and Kenneth Zeichner, was recommended. I ordered the book since I want to know what the research says about empowered schools, empowered teachers and the policy that creates these positive situations.

As I read the book, I am affirmed as what I long for does exist in successful schools. I long for better communication systems, greater share, collaborative research, more thorough/targeted/deep use of data to inform our work, and dedicated professional learning that relies on reflection, research, and individual/collective data-driven/research-supported professional learning.

It's not that none of this exists in my broad and specific teaching/learning environment, but I know we can do better by redesigning the way we do school to create more modern day teaching/learning communities that prepare students with the skills the book outlines as future-ready skills and knowledge including the following:
  • make sense out of complex information and events
  • think creatively to solve novel problems
  • work well with others
  • engage effectively in cross-cultural contexts
  • manage many forms of media and quantitative data in sophisticated ways
  • ability to find, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply knowledge to new ideas, answers, and solutions
  • communicate in multiple forms
  • use new technologies
  • be able to learn on their own throughout life
Not only are we preparing students for the new skills they will need for the unimaginable jobs of the future, but teachers also need to update their skill set with the following skills and abilities:
  • understand content more deeply and flexibly
  • understand the science of learning -- how children learn and develop in cultural contexts generally and individually, within and across distinctive subject areas
  • how to support language acquisition and use for native and nonnative students
  • develop teaching strategies that foster analysis and reasoning
  • incorporate appropriate technologies into their teaching
  • engage students in applied learning
  • collect and analyze a range of assessment data 
  • provide differentiated teaching
Also, as mentioned in the book's first chapter, students who bridge the opportunity gap are better supported through government policy, and teachers that work collaboratively to utilize and develop new skills are general given the time they need to do this work. Teachers from top-performing countries earn competitive salaries, meet high standards and are carefully recruited for their academic abilities, interpersonal skills and personal habits.

Countries that succeed in education "invest in knowledgable practitioners who can make sound decisions about how to shape education for the specific clients they serve." They create policy that leads to a teacher work force that is highly educated and empowered. They maintain that teachers are accountable to students, families, and each other--similar to @NBPTS teachers support other teachers in developing the profession, a profession that is successful when guided by good policy systems.






Professional Learning: A Steady Two-Way Conversation

Some like to put professional learning in a box rather than think about it as a steady back-and-forth conversation.

One reason I like Twitter so much is that it is an ongoing conversation with invested educators. I read their tweets, ask questions and they respond.

I believe this kind of conversational professional learning is more brain friendly than the one-stop learning that is the professional learning of old. The one-stop learning is not memorable, inspiring or deep. The only time that one-stop learning really works is if it is very inspiring and comes along with lots of follow-up opportunities for discussion, debate and share.

How can we move professional learning today to more of a conversation than a one-stop presentation? Why does this matter? What do you think?

Summer Work Buys Time During the School Year

Some educators may feel like summer is a good time to put school on hold. This is especially true if you're a mom or dad of young children since you've probably borrowed some time from their care and attention in the past school year to focus on your "school children," and now it's time to to give your own children a bit more attention.

For teachers like me whose children are older, summer can be a great time to get a lot of the leg work done for the year ahead. If you do this, it buys you time during the school year which can be helpful if a special event or needed activity arises. Therefore I'm once again making time for summer study. It's enjoyable to read, plan and ready activities for the year ahead without the time crunch one feels during the year. Onward.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can't be the Tail that Wags the Dog!

Years ago during a charged exchange, an administrator commented that I couldn't be the tail that wags the dog.

That statement and few more that essentially told me to shut up worried me at that time. Later via a number of actions, that message was sent with greater clarity and gravity. I was warned and punished.

After that event, I attended a union event that essentially said that it's common for those with new ideas or critique to be silenced by the status quo. And as David Culberhouse regularly notes, new ideas are not usually welcome with open arms, but instead pushed away, silenced, criticized.

So what's a teacher to do?

I don't believe that any individual can be the "tail that wags the dog," but instead it takes all of us to do the good work possible. When any stakeholder is left out of the equation of decision making and good work, the result typically does not meet the potential possible.

The surprise to all this is that when you openly and transparently invite commentary, collaboration, and opinion, you'll typically only hear from those that have a stake in the matter. Those for whom the situation is removed or uninteresting, will not speak up or get involved. People tend to self select around issues of interest, capacity, and contribution. So it's not what some would think which is if I ask everyone, I'll be inundated with responses, but instead what happens is typically a small group of very interested and capable individuals will come forth to lead the charge. Obviously with regard to issues of great appeal, it will take greater process to get to the smaller groups of people in charge, and those small groups will rightly reach out to the greater community using good process to lead their work.

When I was first told this comment, I wish I had responded with more questioning such as the following:

  • Do you believe stakeholders should have a voice? Why or why not?
  • How do you believe stakeholders should use their voices? What vehicles exist for this?
  • How can I develop my voice in ways that matter and find a foothold here since I am deeply committed to the work?
Now what many articles and people say is that underlings like me should elevate their leaders by contributing to their reputation and effect in positive ways, but not expecting any acknowledgement or recognition. Essentially making your boss successful, makes you successful. I have colleagues and know others who do this well, and in return they get a lot of privilege and kudos. They quietly and humbly do the work with little speaking up or advocacy for change. When they do speak up they follow the channels that exist in quiet, measured ways. I see both good and not-so-good in this action. The good lies in their measured dedication and respect. The challenge lies in the fact that they are willing to allow some areas of disrespect and lost potential exist without their support and advocacy.

In general, I feel like the "boost your boss" approach lies in old time patriarchal models of hierarchy and leadership rather than new age collaborative, team approaches where rather than "boosting the boss," the team boosts the effect of teamwork and effort--the result, rather than the boss, sits center stage of the work.

I am willing to engage in debate over this and will be learning more about it. I'm open to your commentary as I think of the fact that I sometimes can be seen and labeled as "the tail that wags the dog," and I'm wondering about that professional position. 



Trump Times: Consulting the Experts

I look to the experts to help me understand Trump times. I wonder what's right and what is not. I try to figure out apt political/legal process to right our road as a people who enjoy substantial freedom, terrific natural resources, and overall wonderful opportunity. Yet, we all know it's not perfect and there's lots of room for positive process and development.

Trump is Disrespectful
In general President Trump's use of language, prejudicial remarks, untruths and lack of measured thoughtful communication and decision-making processes are disrespectful to the earnest people of the United States and the world. He apparently responded to a sense of anger and bias that exists in the United States as well as a sense of urgency with regard to the need to hear and represent all Americans. Many apparently favored his hateful speak and prejudicial actions and remarks. Is this favoring evidence of a desire for old ways and statistics that no longer exist, or is the favoring evidence of ignorance--misunderstanding about the changing face of our nation and rights of all individuals to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Do Trump supporters gain their understanding of humanity via biased media reports of dreadful events rather than truly analyzing the statistics that mirror what the reality is, and does this lead to greater prejudice? Or, as some suggest, were they heavily targeted by foreign media on the sites and shows they most frequent with messages that created fear and disdain for Clinton as well as support for Trump? I'm not sure, but I do know that Trump is often disrespectful, and that disrespect serves to heighten prejudice and disregard of many based on culture, race, gender, lifestyle, physicality, position, geography, politics and more.

Are Trump's Ideas Positive?
I've heard varying viewpoints regarding Trump's many ideas and his platform for the Presidency. One area of great confusion and debate is immigration. This is a complex worldwide issue. Of course, I believe that in an ideal world, most people would support open borders, but that's not how our world works and I believe that if we have an ideal of open borders it will take a number of steps to get there. First we have many laws on the books regarding immigration that have not been followed or changed. This sets up many problematic situations such as people who have been here for years illegally. These people, in many respects, are integrated members of vital communities--they are well loved and embraced by the communities in which they live and the families that they love. Yet these people have been working for low wages, not paying taxes and facing troubling circumstances. It's important that all Americans are welcomed members of of our culture who contribute and enjoy the freedoms and benefits of being an American. By bi-partisan efforts we need to look carefully at the circumstances of immigration and make fair, dignified laws to lead our country in this regard. This will take good effort, depth, and truthful debate and discourse. Who is committed to this effort and what is their rationale?

I heard the noted scholar Chomsky speak in favor of Trump's desire to work in greater concert with Russia and China. Chomsky gave good rationale for this, however, he did express worry about Trump's lack of impulse control with regard to the great power to wage nuclear war--as Chomsky noted that would spell disaster for humankind. Chomsky also puzzled over the fact that we are not more enraged by Trump's lack of acknowledgement with regard to the plight of our planet and the need to change our ways to minimize global warming and its effects. Essentially Trump wants the quick fix to the problems we face rather than taking a deep look with global partners at what we need to do to protect Planet Earth and make positive decisions for the days ahead.

Some friends point to Trump's desire to elevate their investments. The news reports increases in stock market. Perhaps this is good, but from what I read, it seems that these increases serve the wealthiest amongst us rather than all Americans. Some will say this has a trickle down effect, yet if the increases are based on wild deregulation while there may be a short-lived financial increase, there will be a big drop in living if we don't carefully build our businesses with attention to planetary and human needs. I don't like the fact that Trump is quick to deregulate the use of national lands in ways that invite short-term energy fixes and further pollute the lands for average people.

Do the Trumps Walk-the-Walk of Ethics and Care for Humanity
Recent news of Ivanka Trumps' use of sweat shops to grow her fortune is troubling. The fact that President Trump is earning money at his many clubs and resorts that he does government business at is similarly troubling. To invite foreign leaders to wage debate against American leaders and politicians is similarly troubling. Trump rarely speaks of service to humanity. He does not support our public schools, and has a cabinet that does not mirror USA diversity of culture, race, and gender. He appears to lead for Trump first, and rich, white men second. I gather this idea from what I see and read about him, words and images that reflect little diversity or respect for all Americans.

Trump is a discouraging leader. I find it very difficult to understand why some support him, but I listen to their debate, and as with all individuals--none of us are all bad. Even in the most difficult and challenging people, we can typically find threads of right and good.

I continue to be happy that we have a well respected individual leading a team of investigators to see if Trump and his cronies broke the law in their collusion with Russian individuals during the election and afterwards.

I am listening carefully as are others to make sure Trump doesn't break first amendment rights of Americans and that he extends his hand towards diplomacy rather than devastating violence.

I am checking his words for truth and noting when he does not tell the truth or leads the American public astray such as his obsession with the numbers of people at the Inauguration, tapes related to his conversation with Comey, knowledge of his many comrades' connections and meetings with Russian business people and/or government officials during and/or after the election--meetings held by Kushner, Flynn, Trump, Jr., Manafort, his lack of transparency with regard to his finances such as his unwillingness to share his tax reports, and his continual name calling with words like bad, sad, sick, crazy and more . I don't like the way he makes fun of dedicated people like Senator Warren who are willing to speak up and do "walk the walk" of their beliefs and service with countless hours of legal analysis, research, study and share.

I will continue to read multiple magazines, news reports, tweets and blogs to try to understand Trump times. I will look to experts in the law such as Laurence Tribe and Robert Reich, politicians Warren, Kaine, Markey, Clark, and intellects such as Chomsky.

We are a good country with potential to be an even better country. Our way to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is to do the following:
  • Find ways to protect the basic human rights of all individuals as outlined in our US Constitution and work to include quality health care and education in those rights.
  • Look to the diverse voices of our country's people for the answers to good living in our communities and country in general.
  • Work towards sustainable practices--protect our natural, clean lands, water and air. Work to clean-up areas that suffer from violence, disrepair, poverty and pollution.
  • Join with our global partners to find ways to get along peacefully. Use our great intellectual powers, both individually and collectively, to build a good world for the people that live in it. Analyze the trouble spots and however possible work with peaceful measures to elevate living.
  • Recognize the good work that's happening all over the world--emphasize the good, yet don't shy away from sharing the troubles too. 
  • See the world through the lens of our children and make decisions with children in mind first--how can we leave them with a better world. This is a tremendous challenge to all of us both individually and collectively with regard to the way we live, speak and act each and every day. We can all make positive change in this regard.
  • Protect our most vulnerable citizens with good care and community--the way we treat and look out for the most vulnerable reflects the depth and strength of our nation. 
  • Overall let dignity and respect trump disrespect and oppression.
Who in the world right now is doing their part to elevate life for themselves and others in ways that don't take away from other individuals or communities?

Who can we look to for intelligent, forward thinking, innovative and dignified leadership in the days ahead, and how can we obstruct the leadership of those who are greedy and think only of themselves, their wealth and their cronies with regard to the decisions they make.

Alone, we are mostly small and unknowing, but together we are a force for change. Trump is awakening all of us to the issues at hand and the need to be better informed in order to advocate for what is right and good. His bad example in many respects is an overcorrection with regard to the way we have lived and the way we have to step ahead to make a good life for ourselves, our neighbors, the community, country and future. 

Using NBPTS Propositions as a Checklist for new Initiatives


At times educators are left out of the conversation related to teaching/learning initiatives. Using the NBPTS propositions listed above can support a check-list for new initiatives to make sure that those initiatives are well-targeted and designed. Questions like these could begin any analysis of a new initiative:

  • Do teachers agree with this initiative? Have they worked on the initiative in inclusive, transparent ways from the start? If not, should can this be included before going forward with the initiative to determine if this initiative is supported by educators with regard to student growth and development?
  • Does this initiative forward our commitment to and what we can do for students?
  • What do teachers already know about this new initiative and how can we integrate and maximize their collective knowledge in this regard?
  • What do teachers need to know related to the new initiative and how is this determined in an inclusive, transparent way. The use of surveys are good as long as sensitive information is anonymous and teachers are able to see the results before any manipulation.
  • How will teachers manage and monitor this initiative?
  • How will we systematically, transparently and inclusively embed this initiative, and at what points will we assess, reflect and revise?
  • How does this initiative develop our teaching/learning community? How can teachers' efforts in other learning communities positively contribute to this initiative?

Coaching the Experienced Teacher

In many cases, coaches are hired who have far less experience than the teachers they are coaching. In the best of circumstances, I'm not a fan of one-coach-to-many-teachers model, but instead a fan of distributive leadership that includes co-coaching. In co-coaching models all teachers have time for research and development as well as coaching each other with their experience, expertise, skill, concept and knowledge.

Yet the one-coach-to-many-teachers model exists in many schools, and many experienced teachers have coaches who have far less classroom experience than they have. This often sets up an uncomfortable and even, at times, demeaning situation.

What's a coach to do?

What's a teacher to do?

It's important that coaches begin their tenure with transparency by letting all teachers know what their job description is, who they report to, how they are being evaluated, and the questions and expectations they have. In many circumstances the coach arrives without introduction and no one truly understands his/her position.

Next it's important for coaches to regard teachers as individuals. Similar to what's important when getting to know students, coaches need to take the time to know teachers well with questions such as the following:
  • Tell me what you're really proud of and what you do well?
  • Were you interested in becoming a coach, why or why not?
  • Do you have any areas of need or professional development/learning that I can help you with?
  • How can I help you to meet the needs of children with depth and breadth--what can I do?
Establishing strong, individual relationships with educators and with coaches is essential to doing the good work possible.

After that, work on a project or initiative together. Design the initiative well beginning with a meaningful problem/goal, setting success criteria, deciding on the measurements and designing the learning/teaching path. Work together to forward the initiative utilizing research, collegial support and other resources. Reflect and assess often. Ultimately reach a result and share that result with others.

Lend your support as teacher or coach to building and supporting a network of dynamic educators inside and outside of your learning community to help maximize the collective genius of the group. Communicate in ways that are streamlined, accessible, targeted, inclusive and not overwhelming. I believe a website is a good way to host information, and emails or twitter-like feeds can be used to announce website updates, additions and revisions. This is a good streamlined way to share information.

Celebrate success and make sure you have positive, regular face-to-face meetings. Try to communicate most logistics online so that the meetings together focus on important debate, discussion and share. 

The coaching position in many schools due to the scheduling, routine, hiring process and other details is often seen as an arduous add-on rather than a support. Yet in some schools the job is welcome by many. Sometimes the job is added to lessen the burden of administrators rather than to help educators. When this occurs, the role is not as effective as when it's a role born out of educator need and creation. And, as I noted above, I believe co-coaching is a better model for school development and growth.

No matter, I hope that the points above help educators and coaches deal with this new model in ways that count. Let me know if you have anything to add to this as I think more on the subject. 

#NBCTStrong: Invigorated Teaching/Learning Path

I dug into the @NBPTS guide, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do. I analyzed the research with respect to the system and grade-level team I work with to initiate work, discussion and debate related to the NBPTS Five Propositions relative to our grade-level and system efforts. I imagined what a whole-school #NBCTstrong effort might look like and have prepared questions and NBPTS focus, in part, for a meeting with our school superintendent to advocate for ways that we can better embed the propositions to our collective work, ways led by these questions:
  • How can we foster decision-making that is a more inclusive, systematic, targeted and relevant process at the elementary level?
  • How can we communicate in ways that are streamlined, transparent, timely and effective in order to develop a dynamic teaching/learning community?
  • How do we openly and inclusively develop new ideas and innovation?
  • How do we incorporate the questions, passions, experience and interest of all stakeholders in the work we do?
  • How do we choose new initiatives, and decide on the ways we use time and prioritize instruction? Should this be more of a students-first approach rather than one-size-fits-all approach? Where is the right balance here?
  • How can we better distribute leadership so that we develop more dynamic systems of effort and effect?
I ordered Linda Darling Hammond's new book, Empowered Educators, How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality Around the World, and will read this book, in front of others, to prepare for the meeting with the superintendent as well. 

I am doing this work because I think a lot of good teaching/learning time in schools is wasted in ineffective, demeaning process, and if we can change those outdated, ineffective processes to processes that maximize the talents, experience, and dedication of all stakeholders in education, we will serve children better.

Now that I've created a good path for advocacy to empower educators more with greater leadership, voice and choice, it's time to focus in on my own work--the work that exemplifies what I believe in and do with and for children. Like every educator, I am not a perfect instructor, mentor or guide--every year I am challenged by new learning hurdles and challenges, and every year I use those practice mountains to set goals and focus on becoming better. With that in mind, I have the following goals as I complete summer study and ready for the school year:
  1. Find ways to collaborate better with the math coach--I wrote a letter to our coach, received wonderful feedback and suggested a number of areas for good collaboration including modeling math games, reviewing MCAS data together and working to coach students successfully with Symphony Math.
  2. Develop my content and pedagogical knowledge with regard to math and STEAM teaching.
  3. Work with grade-level colleagues to analyze the fifth grade curriculum map and make important revisions, modifications and additions.
  4. Develop our student/family in-take and orientation processes to better develop relationships and knowledge of every child and family as well as to welcome all families and students to the learning year with warmth, understanding and an invitation to work together for the best possible success. Potentially use the avenue of Teach-to-Lead to grow this effort. 
  5. Continue to advocate for better systems of decision making, communication, share and holistic assessment in order to maximize our collective talents, knowledge and practice to serve children well.
  6. Work with NEA, NBPTS, MTA TPL/NBPTS and DESE TAC to develop practice and process to elevate educators and supports in order to improve teaching/learning communities.
  7. Foster integration of SEL into grades 3-5 curriculum by sharing the lessons and information available in the book, Integrating SEL and Academic Learning--a book I co-wrote with colleagues.
  8. Elevate the teaching/learning environment by writing grants to support better furniture and signage. 
  9. Serve as local union Secretary to communicate all local union information to members by way of minutes and website, draft bylaws revision, assist with evaluation process revision, and serve on the board to help make decisions that serve the membership well. 
Similar to all educators, I have a full plate. The potential for our work and profession is limitless therefore we have to continually weed and prune our teaching/learning gardens so that the most important efforts are prioritized. Onward. 

What if every teacher in your school was an NBCT?

What if every teacher in your school was nationally certified? What would that mean for your school?

I think that this would be a worthy goal for administrators, and if I were to lead such an initiative, this is what I would do.

  1. I would obtain funding for the initiative
  2. I would make sure that educators signing on to this initiative earned salary increment and professional credits
  3. I would create a systematic approach using a team model to help educators reach national certification
  4. I would tie the collaborative efforts to the expected goals, standards, and programs of the school
  5. I would provide time in school for this effort and reach for competency one component at a time
  6. I would make this a multi-year endeavor
  7. I would seek state and local support by way of mentors and finances
This would be a worthy goal for any school or school organization. I will think more on this in the days ahead, and in the meantime if you're a school seeking to reach this goal or have reached it already, I'd love to read your story. 

Teach Well: A Systematic Approach?

I reached out to a colleague to learn of her plans for the upcoming school year. I reached out as this colleague has authority over my practice and decision making so I wanted to be prepared for the new initiatives.

As I read through the host of initiatives, I found that I agreed that those areas of teaching/learning should be prioritized. There was one area for which I disagreed, however. I didn't see real merit in that focus and wondered why it was chosen? In hindsight, I should have queried more about that choice, and will do so in the future.

Instead, I noted that I disagreed with the choice since I felt that most students already grasped those concepts well, and toady as I scrutinize the NBPTS guide, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, I wonder if the effort I disagreed with was chosen with systematic process.

It's integral that the decisions we make and efforts we engage in do respond to a systematic process, a process that can be led with questions like this:

  • What are the goals we want to meet? (In this case, the goal is teaching standards and embedding the standards of practice with behavior and mindset)
  • Where do we currently meet those goals? Where aren't we meeting those goals?
  • Why are we meeting the goals we meet, and why aren't we meeting the goals we don't meet?
  • What do we need to do to better meet the goals we've set? 
Good analysis is part of a systematic approach. Transparency and inclusion with that analysis as well as the difficult debate and conversations that follow are important too. 

As educators we can elevate our leadership, voice and choice by asking about the systematic processes in place that lead to the decisions we're asked to follow. We can inquire about the rationale, research, and focus of those processes, and we can challenge processes with evidence, experience, and observation that we feel can be revised to better serve teaching students well.

As the NBPTS guide suggests in Proposition Four:Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience. Similarly it's important that our system leadership employ systematic practice, reflection and revision too as we work together to develop relevant, meaningful and successful teaching/learning communities for every child. 

How Are Decisions Made in School?

In too many schools, educator voice is missing from important decisions that affect students. The voices of students, family members, other staff and community members are often missing in this equation too. When stakeholders' voice, choice and leadership are missing from important decisions, the decisions do not represent or support the potential possible.

How can systems work to remedy the situation of missing stakeholder voice, choice and leadership when it comes to schools and learning communities?

Dissect and Analyze Decision Making Processes
First it is essential for school communities to dissect their current systems of decision making and implementation. They need to look at and analyze the life of ideas and decisions to see how those decisions are made, communicated, and embedded into the teaching/learning community.

As I think of a recent situation I'm aware of, the decision began at the top with considerable discussion amongst administration. Then the decision began to include other administrators with considerable time and discussion. It wasn't until the very end of the decision that teachers were informed of the situation, a decision where teachers were given little to no voice. I don't think that parents, students, or community members were ever involved in the decision. Hence, a decision has been made which in my opinion doesn't reflect what teachers would choose, a decision that costs considerable dollars and has little teacher support. Similar decisions have been made in the past, and typically those decisions are quickly retired never gaining any real traction, meaning or impact because many stakeholders were left out of the decisions from the start. This is a costly process--it costs dollars of significant administrator time, dollars for purchase of supplies, dollars for communication and what implementation occurs, and dollars for potentially replacing the ineffective effort in short time.

Embed New or Revised, Effective Systems of Decision Making
Next, new systems of decision making, communication, and implementation need to be created, used, assessed and revised as needed. We can't continue to choose efficiency over efficacy--effective decision-making processes will positively impact learning communities, and these effective systems need to be architected with the context of a specific school or school system in mind. This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor--schools throughout the country and world represent differing contexts, problems, and opportunities, and this reality will affect the types of decision making processes chosen and embedded to create inclusive, transparent, and successful effect.

Administer by Facilitating and Modeling Effective Decision Making Work
The role of administrators in schools should not be one of telling educators what to do, but instead a role of helping educators to maximize their individual and collective practice with regard to optimal educational service to students and their families. Like counselors, mentors, guides, and consultants, administrators should place their time and energy into fostering good process so that there's inclusive, transparent, collaborative, and evolving development and implementation of extraordinary efforts to teach children well. All resources including time, money, materials, and people should be considered as everyone works to maximize promise and potential. Administrators as content/practice experts is ineffective whereas administrators as leaders of good process and result is an effective path of developing better schools and accomplished teaching.

I hope that administrators who desire to develop their learning/teaching communities in ways that matter will consider these points. I hope that they will take the time to read the NBPTS report, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, and then effectively work with educators to develop teacher leadership with distributive leadership models of decision making and practice. Utilizing greater servant leadership models in these learning/teaching communities will also work to eliminate the cliquish hierarchies that exist in many schools in favor of bottom-up models where educators first serve students and families and administrators serve educators--that kind of grass roots work, I believe, will serve schools and students best.

I continue to think a lot about systems and leadership in schools since I often feel that my work is hindered by ineffective systems of learning/teaching and leadership. Often my efforts are compromised by multiple tasks that serve the system and leadership rather than tasks that serve my students. I want to point educators' efforts more directly towards the children they teach, and revise leadership/system mandates that direct our time and energy elsewhere. I believe that better learning/teaching community structure utilizing greater distributive leadership will lead us in that direction. Do you agree? I'm open to your commentary, suggestions and ideas in this regard.