Years ago, when my daughter was in high school (she is now 26 years old) her teacher offered extra credit points if the students dressed up for class on a particular day. At the time, I was serving as an elementary school principal in a neighboring system from the one in which we live and, of course, I took issue with this on so many levels. Yet she wanted the extra points, so, I bit my tongue (I knew when to pick and choose my battles) as she selected a pretty outfit from her closet and went to school on the designated dress up day.
When she returned home, however, she was upset.
Her friend, who was sort of a tomboy and really didn’t own a dress, so, she wore something from her mom’s closet. This girl’s mom worked with preschoolers, so her choices were limited. As a result, the teacher did not award the extra points to my daughter’s friend. Ouch! And so not fair!
We live in a school system that is primarily white middle class. Recent statistics indicate that 26% of our students are non-white and approximately 30% of our students are provided a free and reduced price lunch. We are the true picture of a successful suburban community with approximately 82-85% of our high school students performing in the proficient/advanced range on our state assessment in reading and math. I consider our system to produce competent graduates.
This teacher’s reaction upset my daughter and many of her friends. I, on the other hand, was livid! My thoughts on extra credit are fodder for another blog post. My thoughts about the assumptions the teacher made and how he made my daughter's friend feel so very diminished that day will be addressed in this post.
This post is about the assumptions we make as educators and why we need to stop making them.
My daughter's teacher assumed that “dressed up” should depict a certain “look” on a young lady in our Pennsylvania middle class suburban high school. He also assumed that the students had that “look” hanging in their closets. The teacher meant well. He wanted his students to have a quick and easy way to earn some extra points. His intentions, however, were hanging neatly in the closet right next to his privilege and he didn’t even realize it.
Let’s go to another school system. This time, we’ll travel to Virginia.
My sister’s granddaughter is in elementary school. She attends a school in the Stafford County School System. This system has a profile very similar to the one where my daughter attended. This little girl’s teacher gave her an assignment that is common: Each child takes a turn to care for a stuffed animal for the weekend. The child is to take pictures of all of the experiences the student has with the stuffed animal during the weekend. Then, the student is to bring those pictures to class along with some sort of summary the following week. In my grand niece’s case, the animal was a Cat in the Hat.
Again, this teacher meant well, however, she made assumptions.
She made assumptions regarding the students’ access to materials, technology, and Internet services, the amount of support the student may have from an adult to create the project, the type of weekend the student is going to experience (that the student will want to share it or it will be appropriate to share), and the type of environment to which the stuffed animal is going to and from.
We make so many assumptions based upon what we, as educated individuals, can do or would do with our own children that we forget what it is like for others.
Why do we make these assumptions? I believe it is based upon the fact that those who are making the assumptions are privileged and yet, they don’t even realize it. That’s why it is called “privilege.”
And yes, we are going there. It’s uncomfortable, but we have to talk about it.
So, what is privilege?
Sian Ferguson defines privilege as, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.”
Privilege is often linked to a characteristic related to our identity such as our race, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, language we speak, geographical location in which we live, cognitive abilities, or our religion.
When I consider what happened to my daughter in her school and my grand niece in her school, I truly believe these are cases where bias and privilege is at play. Then, I really begin to think about our students of color and it makes me distressed.
Consider what happens within our school system when we teach the history of our nation. How do we convey who is responsible for the remarkable events that have occurred in our nation? What do our history books say? What do the pictures show?
The Teaching Tolerance website places a focus on some of the day-to-day occurrences within schools. For example, when our students go to the nurse, what color are the Band-Aids the students are offered? Band-Aids are made for students’ flesh tones of many colors. Does your school have Band-Aids only for those students who are white?
Those of us who are white don’t always think about such things, do we? That’s why it is considered “privilege.”
When we don’t have to think about whether or not the student owns the clothing, it is a privilege.
When we don’t have to think about whether or not the student has the ability to take a digital picture of all of the places she’s taken her Cat in the Hat, it is a privilege.
We need to begin to think before we act. Is your privilege showing? We need to check ourselves. We can’t make assumptions that other’s lives are like ours and we can’t try to make someone else’s life just like ours either. We need to learn about our students’ culture and build a relationship with them based upon their culture, not what we want their culture to be. I am not saying we shouldn’t enrich a student and deny them opportunities to be enriched. I am saying that we can’t place the student in a position where they are uncomfortable trying to be someone they are not.
Where can you begin?
Here are some things to consider:
This is not personal or about making you or your staff feel bad about how students are treated.
This about realizing that we are now teaching a generation of learners who are more aware of justice for others than those of use who are teaching them.
This is about reaching out to our students in a manner that makes them feel connected and capable.
This is about guiding our learners so each is unconditionally loved and supported in order to reach his or her maximum potential and achieve his or her dreams with your support.
You’ve got this!
Have you ever implemented (what you thought was) really good professional learning only to find the implementation rate to be less than what you expected? I’m guessing you took the time to either create the professional learning (or find someone who could do a better job than you at doing so), you made sure the teachers were ready to receive the information, and you even communicated some clear expectations regarding implementation. So, what went wrong? WHY does this happen?
As I reflect on the answer to this question, I am led to three terms:
Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions.
Those three terms describe the three facets when implementing the InTASC standards. Those standards define what a teacher should know and be able to do in order to implement the Common Core. The Standard is stated and then, three things are described in order to implement the standard:
-The knowledge the teacher needs to acquire,
-The skills the teacher should demonstrate, and
-The disposition/s the teacher should possess.
As you consider the last professional learning initiative you implemented, those who are early adopters probably demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to implement the change. Those who are struggling with the initiative probably demonstrated two out of the three, and those who barely dipped their big toe into the implementation lake most likely demonstrated one of the three.
Change is a process. Typically, professional learning sessions focus on the knowledge and skills pieces. We tell teachers what they should know and what they should do or the skills they should demonstrate as a result of the professional learning or often we ask teachers to figure this out on their own so they acquire a sense of ownership related to the initiative.
When it comes to the disposition piece, that’s where we fall short.
When a teacher lacks knowledge (or understanding) and skills, we can always provide additional resources and support to remedy that challenge.
What about the teacher whose disposition prevents them from adopting a new practice? Have you considered how this can be prevented?
I recommend taking the time to talk with your teachers (preferably on an individual basis or in a small group) prior to a professional learning experience about how their mindset may need to shift when implementing something new. We may need to explicitly ask teachers to self-assess their beliefs and outlook regarding the impending change in their practice. The answer might be difficult to hear but, (as my mother would say), “At least you know the devil you’re facing.” You may actually begin to determine the teacher’s frame of mind regarding their level of conviction.
When you know the beliefs behind potential resistance, you can address those beliefs as part of the training. Conversely, when you know the beliefs behind those who are eager to implement, then you can seek out those teachers as early adopters and potential in-house experts.
Just remember to spend your time with those who are early adopters. Make those teachers a priority. It is so very easy to get caught up in trying to shift the disposition of the resistor, especially if that teacher has the knowledge and the skills. Speaking from experience, I loudly state, “Don’t do that! “ Spending time with those dig their heels in to new initiatives is discouraging to those who are the innovators in your building. Your time is too valuable to waste it! (Enough said about that one!)
I encourage you to reflect on the implementation levels related to your latest initiative or one that is being planned through the lens of these three criteria:
What type of knowledge is required?
What skills should the teacher acquire?
What disposition is needed to influence the implementation?
The answers may provide some valuable insight!
What have YOU done to address teachers' dispositions regarding a new initiative? Share your answers in the comments below!
I came across this mind map of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset created by George Couros. As soon as I examined it I thought of a phrase I hear more often than not. Before I tell you what it is, I want to revisit the information depicted on George’s mind map. (I LOVE mind maps… it brings out the fine arts geek in me!) If you view the characteristics, they are inspiring!
In my mind, I begin to think this: What if an entire school was filled with teachers who had this mindset? Just imagine the learning that would occur in that school! An innovative philosophy or way of “being” would be the norm, influencing all practices, actions, and routines within the school. This mindset would eventually spill out into the community.
What’s stopping us?
Here’s my theory. It’s rooted in that phrase I hear more than I would care to admit. It flies out of the mouths of educators as I am sharing a practice that is new or different from the status quo. The phrase is:
“Our kids can’t do that.”
I’m sure one can actually hear my heart breaking as I try to keep my face from showing both sadness and disappointment. I stifle the temper tantrum that tempts me to shout, “You’re wrong!” and instead, I ask, “What is prompting you to say that?”
And you know what? The answers I hear reveal what matters…
It’s all about the mindset; the collective mindset.
The culture needs to shift. The glass ceiling needs to break. The vision for innovation MUST be defined collectively from within the organization and a plan for implementation must be developed. We learn together. We gift each other with our knowledge and mistakes and discoveries and passion. And most importantly, we believe this:
“Our kids can do THAT… and more!”
Why… because they can.
“Children will learn to do what they want to do.” Sugata Mitra states. He should know. He installed a computer in the middle of a dusty village in Central India. Four hours after the computer was installed, the children had recorded their own music and were able to play it back for their peers.
Hello Hubs are pop up computer kiosks in remote location where teachers are reluctant to live and work. After the locals are taught how to install the kiosks, it’s up to the kids to learn how to use them. Katrin Macmillan, founder of Projects for All explains, “children take their education to greater heights than we could ever have imagined.”
No more limits. If children who live in refugee camps and isolated villages in third world countries are able to innovate without adult guidance, then our learners who have access to the resources in our public school system can do that and more!
Can your school adopt a collective innovative mindset?
“My teachers tell me we have a problem with communication.”
I’ve heard that statement over and over and over again from administrators in 90% of the schools where I serve or have served as a School Improvement Consultant. (Yes, I’ve been counting!) It doesn’t matter where the school is located, or how diverse the population is (racially and socio-economically), or even how many students are scoring in the proficient to advanced range, those statements are echoed… consistently.
Are you wondering what I have noticed in the 10% of the schools where I don’t hear that statement?
Here are three traits that the 10% Highly Communicative Schools have in common:
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Introducing Bob and Jim: Bob is a High School principal managing a staff of about 25 people, Jim is a Central Office administrator who works closely with principals and teacher leaders. Both are passionate about improving the teaching and learning that takes place within their school system. Both have vastly different approaches to making that happen.
School Administrator as Coach.
Let’s ponder that phrase for a moment. When an administrator focuses on instruction, that person is often referred to as an “instructional leader.” We also know that coaching is one of, if not the most effective forms of professional learning. What happens when a school administrator (meaning a principal, assistant principal, or a member of the central office) in a school system assumes the role of an instructional coach? I’m not talking about someone who actually changes his or her job title, but someone who decides to flex into that role when the time is appropriate. In my role as a school improvement consultant, I’ve noticed that when a school leader engages in coaching behaviors, shift happens!
Here are three reasons why a school leader should re-evaluate their role and assume the “administrator as coach” stance when attempting to shift instructional practice (as told through Bob and Jim’s story):
1. Purposeful growth occurs.
When I met Bob, he told me he had a desire to know everything about instruction so he could support his teachers. He also realized that this was just not possible! I advised Bob to schedule a specific block of time each day so, no matter what, he could visit with teachers and engage in a conversation similar to that of a “coach.” In the past year, he has experienced remarkable growth as an instructional leader. Bob made the conscious choice to conduct walk-through observations, collect data during those observations, and then converse with the teacher a day or so after his visit. When I observe Bob during those follow up visits, his conversations are highly inquiry-based; he asks questions that are data-driven and listens deeply to the answers. Bob is determined to learn from his best teachers and discern what it is they are doing that makes them so. Then, together, they create a goal that is measured by some type of observable change in the students. Now, teachers actually ASK him to visit their classrooms. More importantly, they look forward to those conversations. One teacher told me, “this is the most powerful form of professional development” he has ever experienced.
When an administrator flexes into the role of a coach, growth occurs in oneself as well as in those with whom the administrator is coaching. Consider the role and processes of an instructional coach. The coaching cycle forces both the coach and the recipient of the coaching services to engage in a reflective process steeped in inquiry, discourse and conversation. Judgement and evaluation is suspended as each party learns from the other and they leave the conversation with a deeper understanding of instructional practice.
2. Trusting connections are developed.
Jim is feeling a bit discouraged these days. He really does want the leaders in his school system to focus on high impact instruction, yet his approach is often perceived as directive. Jim’s method of time management places him, unintentionally, in reactive (rather than proactive) situations. As a result, Jim is often distracted and rushed during conversations. When I last observed Jim speaking to one of his leaders who asked him for advice in solving a problem, I noticed he told her what to do instead of asking her to identify what she has been doing that has worked in similar situations. She left the conversation wondering how he wanted her to proceed. Then, she wondered what would happen if she “messed up.” Jim wonders why he finds out about things after they happen and why his leaders don’t come to him for advice.
When a school administrator engages in a supportive conversation with another educator (whether it be a principal or a teacher), both parties become empowered and energized and a strong sense of trust is developed as a result. Coaching conversations focus on a person’s strengths. Amplifying those strengths to overcome challenge is encouraging to someone who is trying on a new strategy. It is also the key in developing a trusting relationship. The level of transparency is elevated as conversations become solution focused. I have observed school leaders and teachers become risk-takers and change their instructional practice just because the administrator leading the conversation acknowledged the educator’s innate abilities and used those strengths to address the educator’s fears and concerns in order to create an implementation plan. Consider the implication on the school’s culture when trust is nurtured and developed, one conversation at a time.
3. Student achievement increases.
The students in Bob’s school demonstrated a 25% increase in proficiency in Language Arts in one year. Bob worked closely with the lead teacher in the department, visited the teachers who were new to that department on a weekly basis, and attended the ELA department’s PLC meetings. Each time I meet with Bob, he reflects on the conversations he has had with his teachers, especially related to the short-term goals they set. When I meet with the teachers during my coaching sessions, they talk about their learners and how they have progressed. Momentum is building within this system, to say the least.
The students’ proficiency levels in Jim’s school system have increased 3-5% in both ELA and Math. This is discouraging to Jim and those within that system.
So, yes, we’re going there. Research indicates that job-embedded, personalized professional learning has a strong impact on student achievement. When an administrator uses an inquiry-based approach with a teacher, instructional practice is strengthened. A teacher is the greatest influence on a student’s ability to achieve. In the same vein, school leaders have the greatest influence on a school’s culture. When an administrator assumes the role of coach, the school’s culture automatically becomes focused on improving instruction as the teachers’ instructional practice improves. We actually honor our students when those within the school’s culture are focused on and expected to deliver high quality instruction.
What about evaluation? (Ha! You thought I was going to say, “What about Bob?”)
Realize this… there is definitely a time when the leadership within the school or system must assume the role of evaluator. This accountability is necessary. School leaders who are most successful in flexing between both roles communicate when they are assuming the role of coach and/or evaluator. Most commonly, I have seen administrators explain to those placed within their charge that their observation is going to be followed up with coaching conversation. I knew of one administrator who wore a handkerchief in his pocket when he was conducting non-evaluative observations. Teachers automatically knew they would soon be contacted for a coaching conversation. Then, when it is time for a formal observation or conversation, the administer states this explicitly, and assumes the role of an evaluator. Those within the organization ease into this approach and within time, the culture depends upon it.
As I have engaged in the rewarding work of improving schools, I can’t say enough just how valuable this approach is to both teachers and administrators. Just as our learners need descriptive feedback in order to make corrections and revisions to their work, teachers need (and crave) the same so they can improve their practice to affect their student’s achievement.
So, how about it? Are you willing to adapt your supervisory practice and give “school administrator as coach” a try? I’m looking forward to your feedback!
I can remember a moment in an administrative meeting when my superintendent asked those of us serving as principals at the time, “Who is responsible for your school’s culture?” Answering this question was challenging at the time. This was (and yes, I’m dating myself) prior to the time we relied on educational research to direct our thinking. When he shared research that pointed to the school’s leader as the person who is ultimately responsible, we were surprised. As my career progressed and I became a research and data collection geek, I discovered that the school’s leader develops, articulates, and models the culture within the school through collaborative visioning; the teachers experience clarity and uphold and support that vision through their daily work. When I use the word, “culture” I am referring to the norms, practices, routines, and traditions that provide the directions within and define the school.
My last blog focused on answering the question I am asked most commonly, “What’s ‘wrong’ with the schools where you work?” The focus of this blog is on leadership, as we explore the answer to the follow up question, “Who is ultimately responsible for fixing the instructional philosophy within a school in need of Turnaround services?”
As I conduct the appraisal in schools in need of Turnaround Services, the interviews consistently affirm the research. When the school lacks a common instructional philosophy, the teachers lack direction. The teachers express a craving for deep conversations steeped in data-based feedback regarding how to improve their classroom practices. The parents ask for clear communication regarding the state of the school as well as their role related to improving the site so all students can be successful. Students are quite transparent as they share their daily encounters with the low and inconsistent expectations present in the school, and how this impacts their motivation to achieve as well as their future success.
I applaud the school leaders who, after viewing the appraisal data, reflect on it critically and realize the need to work collaboratively to develop a common philosophy of instruction for their school. As each leader faces the difficult challenge of taking responsibility for every single interaction that occurs within the school, they begin to become empowered. They view data as a means for a conversation and a shift occurs as the role of the administrator moves from evaluator and judge to coach and co-learner.
As the conversations deepen, the principal is humbled as s/he learns from the staff on site. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions possessed by each teacher are valued and viewed as a treasure. Teacher leaders emerge and the momentum related to the improvement process intensifies. By the time I enter the school for my first professional learning session, the pump is primed and a majority of the school’s community is both eager and motivated to acquire whatever is necessary to improve. This shift in culture occurs because the leaders (both formal and informal) are willing to reflect deeply on their current practices. The real work begins as the leaders and teachers within determine how they want their school “to be” as well as how they will get there.
So, "fixing" a school's culture really doesn't happen. Instead, it is transformed.
What happens when school leaders question the data… or are offended by the results? What are the roadblocks and challenges school leaders experience that may impede this shift in culture? We will explore that in next week’s blog.
In the meantime, consider the culture in your workplace. What are you doing to promote or uphold a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement? Are there practices that are common to your workplace that explicitly encourage this behavior? I’d love to hear about them, so, don’t be shy… share them here!
This month, a colleague challenged me to blog for 30 days and I readily accepted that challenge! My blog series will address School Turnaround. Why a series of blogs?
When a school is labeled as needing Turnaround Services, the task seems monumental for whomever is involved. In order for the change process to be implemented within an organization in a manner where the change will actually prove sustainable, a 3-5 year commitment is in order. Knowing this, it’s fair to say that one blog post will barely address the effort that is needed. Oh… and don’t worry! I won’t take 3-5 years to share the series!
I will describe some of the processes used throughout the Turnaround process, as well as the many challenges and successes schools experience during this collaborative work. This first blog focuses on perception.
“Perception is one’s reality.” These are the words of my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Steven Houser who left this world too soon. They ring in my mind the moment I am asked, “So, what’s wrong with the schools where you work?” I believe most intent to ask, “Why aren’t the students demonstrating proficiency on their state assessments?” This question is posed to me by those who work in high performing schools and yes, by those who have attended school…which is pretty much MOST people!
Their perception is that something “WRONG” must be going on. Before I can answer, the inquisitor provides me with their best idea of the “wrong” that is occurring: It’s because the parents aren’t involved… it’s because the kids don’t care… no, wait, it must be because they are poor… or Black, Native American, Hispanic…or…just fill in the blank with the race of the students… I have thought about these answers and what they reveal… a lot! Clearly, a personal profile of a high performing school has been developed based upon the speaker’s perception.
In fact, the surprise is, there are schools where the student profile looks like this:
-90% of the students belong to a race that is not Caucasian.
-90% of the students qualify for and receive free and reduced price lunch yet,
-90% of the students are performing in the proficient to advanced range on their state’s standardized assessment.
These schools prove that proficiency can be achieved no matter your level of income or your race.
When my work begins in a Turnaround School, those within the school community also ask the “What’s wrong…” question. They are right to do so because before a plan for improvement is developed, the root cause must be determined. This is where perception meets reality. The root cause is determined by conducting a comprehensive appraisal. This deep dive into the daily business that is occurring within the school site is highly collaborative as all stakeholders’ perceptions are collected. All sources are consulted using a variety of configurations from forums to interviews to observations. School performance assessments and data are also viewed. All data are analyzed for trends and then, those trends are shared with the staff.
The amount of buy in that occurs as the administration and staff listen to the results of the appraisal always amazes me. At first, everyone involved (including me) experiences some initial discomfort when the “state of the school” is shared. Yet very quickly, one begins to see beyond his or her own perception. Deep conversations transpire, possible solutions begin to emerge, and a collaborative plan for improvement materializes.
The varied perceptions of those within the school soon morph into a vision of a desired reality the school can become.
So, what IS wrong with the schools where I work? …or more professionally, does a commonality emerge when viewing the appraisal data across ALL schools?
Without fail, one common factor emerges: A lack of a common instructional philosophy exists. In turn, the instructional language and routines are inconsistent. This impacts EVERYTHING within the site, from culture to practice!
For example, if several teachers in the school hold differing beliefs regarding the level of accountability and responsibility students should experience related to assessments, then consider the effect on instruction in the classroom, conversations held in the faculty room, and the challenges that occur during team planning sessions.
After I explain this to those who asked the first question, the next question I’m asked is, “Who is ultimately responsible for fixing the instructional philosophy within a school in need of Turnaround services?” We’ll examine this answer further in the next blog. (There’s that perception thing again as I hear the word, “fixing.” Hmmm.)
In the meantime, feel free to comment regarding a time when your perception was challenged. I hope I planted some seeds… and thanks, Steve, for planting your seeds of wisdom in my mind!
It happens more than you can imagine… I am one of “those” school reformers… a school improvement consultant. Here’s the scene: I pose the question to teachers, “Knowing that the Common Core State Standards are a change from your previous set of Standards, how should your instructional practice differ?” … And an awkward silence follows. When I do receive a response, usually I hear the widely used cliché: “We are to go deeper.” When I ask, “What does that look like in practice?” No one answers.
When I read articles such as the one published by Ian Altman in the Washington Post (8/14/14) entitled, Seven Things Teachers are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers, I am disheartened. This award-winning teacher sounds like his passion for teaching is waning. We need to value and empower those who shape the learners who will someday manage our nation. As a school reformer, I would like to provide my own list of “Four Tips for Teachers who are ‘Sick of Hearing from School Reformers’ From a School Reformer.” Maybe, just maybe, teachers will discover that not all school reformers are, as Mr. Altman states, “wrong-headed.”
Tip #1: Advocate for Meaningful and Purposeful Professional Learning.
Professional learning is the key to school improvement. There are (dare I say the “s” word?) Standards for Professional Learning as set forth by Learning Forward, an international organization who leads the field in articulating the link between professional learning and student achievement. The seven standards (Learning Communities, Leadership, Data, Resources, Learning Designs, Implementation, and Outcomes) outline the characteristics of professional learning that lead to effective instructional practice, leadership behavior and ultimately improved student results. Advocate that the Standards be adopted into policy and put into practice with fidelity so your professional learning can truly influence teacher effectiveness and student learning.
Tip #2: Look at teaching to the Common Core State Standards from a different perspective.
Much of the turmoil regarding the Common Core State Standards stems from educators searching for the “secret” to teaching to those Standards. Two solutions have been emerging as successful.
Practitioners should shift perspective from teaching the content, to teaching the processes of how to learn and think. The Common Core beckons for the explicit teaching of thinking processes embedded in the language of those standards. When learners are asked to articulate and then, self-define their metacognitive processes in which they were involved during Math and English/Language Arts (e.g. analyzing, inferring, comparing, etc), the results are astounding. They now have the capacity to think independently and the language of assessment is familiar.
Teaching to the Common Core has now been articulated. The Chief Council of State School Officers, through The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) developed the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progressions for Teachers (2013). This comprehensive set of standards outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions educators should possess in order to teach effectively to the Common Core State Standards. This body of work challenges the status quo and redefines professional practice.
I encourage educators to download this valuable resource and self reflect in order to refine your professional practice while reviewing the learning progressions individually or within a professional learning community. Then, modify and adapt your knowledge, skills, and if need be, your disposition according to these standards.
Tip #3: Celebrate, if your school is assessing a lot; that means someone cares deeply about students, instruction, and YOU!
What if teachers viewed student assessment results with the same serious mindset that our neurological community viewed brain scan results? After all, both parties’ assessment results provide insight as to how the student’s brain is functioning. Assessments, both formal and informal (this includes teacher’s anecdotal records) should be respected, and administered with integrity. The results must be analyzed with care; the data are crucial to the future of the student and the system.
Every assessment has some type of insight to offer related to the student, instructional practice, or the system… unless you are not using the proper assessment for the task at hand. There are data analysis specialists who can support you in uncovering that insight. Assessments and the data produced from those assessments lead to continuous improvement. If your system is assessing students often, then someone cares and that is a reason to celebrate.
Tip#4: Let the reformers in because we have been to places you haven’t.
As I share research-based strategies and theories with teachers and school leaders in various settings throughout our nation, their creative implementation of what they’ve learned never ceases to amaze me. I feel honored to represent that collective body of knowledge since I am always granted permission to share with others.
When Mr. Altman asks school reformers to “back off” and “get out of
the way,” does he realize that ALL educators can be and should be viewed as school reformers? To follow his directive would have a dangerous effect on our educational community.
A very successful friend, colleague, and mentor carries the philosophy, “Choose how you want ‘to be.’” Since the inception of the Common Core, educators now speak a common language of instruction and in effect, belong to a virtual national Professional Learning Community. Are we going ‘to be’ at odds with one another, or are we going ‘to be’ a community who works together for the same goal: student success? I know how I’m going to “Choose ‘to be.’” How will you Choose?
And so it happened again. I noticed one of those articles (posted on Facebook) claiming that the Common Core standards are “killing creative teaching,” “stifling our teachers,” and amplifying standardized testing. When it is posted, several others cheer the article on with a, “You betcha!” and I cringe. Then, I feel the need to educate; and since my birth order establishes me as the middle child, yes, I feel the need to “fix” the misperceptions.
So, let’s establish some clarity. The Common Core standards are teaching our students how to think. We are no longer pouring trivial facts (e.g. "In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...) into our students’ brains. Instead, we are building their knowledge of concepts (e.g. there were explorers who came to America for various reasons...) as well as their capacity to become innovative thinkers and problem solvers. Never before has any set of standards done that for our students. The standards challenge teachers to be creative as they develop engaging lessons to empower students while they learn.
The Common Core standards are not stifling our teachers. One issue U.S. schools have always faced is that there has been very little consistency in what teachers have taught from classroom to classroom and even from state to state. The Common Core standards are a first step in addressing that one, single issue. Teachers have the freedom to implement those standards in the classroom as they wish.
The Common Core standards do not require that standardized testing occur. Assessment is not mentioned as a requirement in the standards. Nope. Not anywhere. Yet, let’s be practical. We do want to know whether or not our students are acquiring skills, retaining information and demonstrating growth as they learn. In other words, we do need to measure our students' progress as they learn. Waiting until the end of the school year to check on their progress is just a little too late. We will need to assess our students multiple times throughout the school year. (After all, when you are trying to lose weight, do you only weigh yourself one time throughout the year? Admit it… I’ll bet you step on that bathroom scale more often than our schools assess our students!)
So, I ask you to read those Common Core articles with a critical eye. Investigate the information you read by researching the author. Who funds the organization that published the article? Is it based upon fact or opinion? Remember, not everything you read on the Internet is true! The Common Core State Standards official website is comprehensive in nature and can answer all of your questions. You can also email me should you have a question. I will do my best to answer your question or find out, should I not know the answer immediately.
Knowledge is power. We are fortunate to have immediate access to information so readily, yet, the information we do access can sometimes lure us into a false sense of knowing. Be deliberate and intentional; fill your brain with researched material based upon the truth.
Planting seeds for the future,
Trying to explain the philosophy of the Common Core State Standards to those who are not in the field of education is like asking a lawn care expert to explain why a new lawn treatment will or will not work on your lawn.
Think about it... For at least one point in our lives, most people have experienced walking on grass, sitting on it, touching it and some of us even maintain our own lawns. Often, we are successful in sustaining a weed-free lawn. On the other hand, there are times when we fight the dandelion and clover battle continuously. That’s when the expert is called in. He shows up while you aren’t home, sprays his magic solution on the lawn, and leaves some written material for you to read, and hopefully, the weeds go away. Then, you try to read the information and decipher what treatment was applied, but it sounds a little complicated. A few weeks later, when you notice that the “solution” didn’t work, you call the company. When he comes back again, this time, you are home. As you talk to him about your lawn and the treatment he is going to use, your eyes glaze over as he explains his process. This is getting much more complex. He then goes back to his truck, sprays on some more magic solution, and you hope for the best.
As I do my best to explain the difference between “the way we used to teach” and the Common Core State Standards, I kind of feel like the lawn care guy! After all, most people who ask have gone to school or have experienced some type of schooling. They have created a picture in their mind as to what school should “look like.”
Usually, I am commenting on a LinkedIn post, someone is asking a legitimate question, wondering if their child is going to be affected negatively when their school implements the CCSS during the upcoming school year and they don’t want to hear about the political issues. They just want to know the difference between how they learned as a child and how their child is now going to be taught. Those of us who are responding to the posts are educators. We are doing our best to give helpful information and resources to the person who wrote the post in a manner that is understandable, yet we are failing miserably!
I have reflected on this and asked myself, “Why can’t we explain the answer in a simple manner to their question... ‘What is the difference between the way we used to learn and CCSS?’” I have come to the following conclusions:
-The educators who are answering the questions took several years to learn the information that they are trying to convey in just a few short paragraphs. They acquired this information throughout their schooling, experiences with students and colleagues and through professional learning opportunities. To explain all that one knows in a few short paragraphs is just about impossible.
-The CCSS are not only a document; they carry a philosophy that shapes a systemic approach to teaching and learning. This is a shift in thinking for those who are “outside of education and are looking in” and have not observed how students acquire knowledge through the lens of an educator. This is difficult to explain in writing, and challenging to describe without insulting the reader or listener... Remember the statement I made earlier... Most everyone has had a school experience, so most think they “know about” school.
-Our jargon and the language of the standards are problematic for those who are not in the field of education. As educators, we have difficulty understanding this. We are our own worse enemy in this department. We don’t know what they don’t know. When parents and community members read the standards, they don’t know how to apply what they are reading to what school will “look like” in the classroom. To an outsider who has heard horror stories about standardized testing and political posturing in the schools, the standards merely look like a list of items created with fancy language on which our students will be tested.
I will say that I am an advocate of the CCSS. The thinking and process skills that are embedded in the standards will build capacity in our students so they can be successful for the future. I believe that all states should be implementing the standards so all teachers could speak a common language of instruction for the benefit of our students. That could possibly be our first step in establishing some semblance of equity in the education system in our nation.
Dr. Frances A. Miller,