Change in education


Everyone wants to work on a productive and collegial team.  In fact, I would argue that the people whom you are surrounded by everyday and the quality of those interactions play a critical role in determining professional happiness, job satisfaction and motivation to work for results.  All successful teams have effective leaders.  That means that the team leader plays a vital role in producing and sustaining an effective team.

So team leaders, how will you guarantee that your team is productive?

Listen

Teams will not be effective unless the leader truly listens to members. Does the leader know the team members hopes for the team, their fears and anxieties? It is important that team leaders not only listen but respond to their team in a way that communicates that their thoughts, concerns and ideas have been heard. It is also important that members feel that their concerns will either be taken into consideration, or if necessary, put on hold for now. This is done through pausing, paraphrasing back, inquiring for clarification, taking notes on the spot and following up verbally or in writing.

Redirect to Short Term and Long Term Goals

We know that listening is the foundation that guarantees communication and builds trust. We know that it is the responsibility of the team leader to make sure everyone feels heard and respected. That being said, nothing derails teams and frustrates hard working members more than “venting sessions”.  It is the team leader’s challenge to maintain an atmosphere of communication WHILE keeping team members on track and moving efficiently toward the task at hand. A leader needs to learn the art of redirecting. This is accomplished  by using the listening strategies above and then directly bringing the team back the short term goals as well the connection to the long term or ultimate destination. Make sure that short term goals get accomplished regularly and with visible results. Other strategies include setting clear agendas for all meetings and work days, keeping long term goals visually represented showcase how short term goals are steps on the path to meeting the larger long term vision.

All teams have successful leaders.

Model Positivity

Is there any other way of saying this again? People want to be around positive, confident and upbeat people. That is the reality. No one wants to work with or follow negative, harsh or uptight leaders. It stresses everyone out and diminishes productivity. Even if you, as a leader, are having a bad day you need to “put on your game face” remain firm, encouraging and LEAD.  When the team sees the leader losing it – you can be sure they will too.  Leaders, if you need support, find other leaders with whom you can share concerns and challenges. But when leading your team stay focused and positive.

Team leaders, are you clear on where you are going today, tomorrow and for the rest of the year? If not, no one else will be either.

Scaffold Information

Just like we scaffold new information for students we need to think how team members might need scaffolded support. Many new change initiatives bring along new knowledge and new skill sets for teachers. Teams have strengths and weaknesses and team leaders need to know when and how to scaffold in order to reach their goals. Support the team by providing information that will be absorbed at the team’s level and slowly advance in complexity, while decreasing support, as teachers feel more comfortable with new skills.  Team leaders are often teacher leaders or administrators that may be a “step ahead” of many faculty members through training opportunities. They must share their knowledge and skills to move the team forward without overwhelming people. Find the” high-yield place” where gaps in knowledge and opportunities for growth collide to produce results.

Train Yourself

It is the leader’s responsibility to stay informed and current on changes that are taking place in education. If you are lacking knowledge or skills, attend a conference, sign up a Google Alerts, subscribe to national leadership organizations such as Lead and Learn or ASCD or just pick up a book. Leaders don’t have all the answers but they need to be informed on areas of change that are impacting teachers. Team members need to feel comfortable that the leaders have the essential knowledge to support them in change. There are more resources than ever out there for educators to improve their knowledge and skills so don’t wait for someone to train you. Train yourself.

By focusing on these five tips, you will provide your team with a positive direction that will improve results.

Implementng the Common Core has helped many educators across the United States revamp curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  Through the SACI design framework, courses have been restructured around 21st century skills that will better prepare our students for their post-secondary opportunities.  If you are interested in this resource, click here.  You can also download the first two chapters of Implementnig the Common Core for free.

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John Wooden, six-time national collegiate basketball coach of the year, lead the UCLA Men’s Basketball team to ten National Championships during his coaching tenure.  He is only one of a few people who has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and a coach.  Why do I bring up Coach Wooden?  Because of this quote:

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

This quote is relevant as the themes of student achievement, 21st century learning and the Common Core State Standards continue filtering through our conversations and in the blogosphere.

Questions to ponder as educators:

  • How do we grow as professionals in a field that continues clinging to 20th century methodologies?
  • How do we reveal our deficiencies and become continual learners and collaborators?
  • How do we move away from our comfort zone and do things differently?
  • How do we collectively improve student skills and better prepare them for their futures?

Teacher Learning

I can confidently say that the majority of the school districts in the United States, in some form or another, have a mission statement around the improvement of student learning.  Yes, we want to improve learning, prepare our students to be successful individuals, help them become independent learners, but what have we done to help ourselves in that cause?  If we want to improve student learning, it requires teacher learning as well.

What is the last book or article you read dealing with current educational research and topics?  Do you have a favorite education blogger?  Which educators do you follow on Twitter?    Any good webinars you recommend?

The point I want to make is that we cannot only rely on our undergrad and graduate teacher training, or the one-day, drive-by workshops.  We can improve our teaching by:

  • regularly collaborating with our colleagues
  • discussing student data
  • sharing viewpoints about new research
  • revising curriculum around skills
  • becoming a teacher-leader
  • training your colleagues

If we want to improve student learning, it requires us to improve as well through continual reading, collaborating and processing.  We cannot solely rely on our years of experience teaching and expect to become better teachers.  Skill building is a process and it never stops.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Homework

Share with us a link of an article, a blog post, or book that you read that made you stretch your thinking about teaching and learning.

Questions or issues that you would like us to tackle? Email us at  support@core4all.com.

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Since the release of Implementing the Common Core in December 2010, we have had great conversations with educators across the United States.  Schools and districts are using Implementing the Common Core as a framework to restructure curriculum around the Common Core.  We would like to extend an opportunity to you this week.   If you buy an e-book this week and type in C4A in the promo box at checkout, we will give you a $3 discount off the price of the book.  We feel this is a great deal.  If you are not sure, download the first two chapters of the book for free and see what you think.

Our job is not easy. We need the tools that will help us improve our craft as teachers.  Implementing the Common Core will provide you with a framework to revitalize your curriculum and focus on the skills that will prepare our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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As a mother of three and a teacher of many, I am constantly bombarded by student complaints and comments both at home and at school.  So, I decided to go straight to an accurate source, my 14 year old son.  I asked him,

What tips would you like to tell your teachers to make your life, as a student, better?

And, interestingly, his answers were straightforward and made pedagogical sense!

I don’t really know what to study because I don’t understand what happened in class today.
I don’t know what my teacher wants me to do! 
I get too much homework!
The test wasn’t at all what I expected – it was so hard, I flunked it! 

Let’s investigate Teddy’s responses, one-by-one, and see how, as educators, we can improve students’ academic lives.

I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be learning 

The first way teachers can improve students’ academic lives is to be “transparent.”  Providing students with crystal clear learning targets not only give teachers a direct focus toward the goal of the unit, but also provides students with a clear vision of the critical skills and standards of the unit of study (Implementing the Common Core, 2010).

According to Moss, Brookhart, and Long, Knowing Your Learning Target enables students to understand “the destination for the lesson – what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and how to demonstrate their new learning.”  At the beginning of each unit, clearly explain the learning targets.  Pre-assess using a formative assessment that delineates the standards of proficiency.
(See my colleague’s 9/17 blog for an example of such a formative assessment).    As the unit evolves, continue to discuss, emphasize, and develop those skills and standards through the unit plan.

Quick and easy tips include:

-Write the learning targets on the white board for all students to see.
-Include the skills and standards on each handout and unit activity.
-Monitor student proficiency through formative assessments.

By the end of each unit, each student should be able to demonstrate proficiency on the crystal clear learning target.   Again, learning should be transparent and not mystifying.

I get too much homework

Let’s face it – homework is a necessary part of education, but its purpose should be to advance student learning.  Let’s focus our lens and think about the homework we assign.

Look at tonight’s homework assignment:
Quality:  Is it busy work? Does it reinforce important skills and concepts?
Quantity:  Does it take hours to complete?

Did the homework advance student learning?

Keeping the conundrum of homework in mind, I read an interesting New York Times article entitled “The Trouble with Homework”.  Author Annie Murphy Paul gives several suggestions for ensuring that homework successfully advances student learning without being hours of mindless busywork.

Try incorporating her two strategies into your homework assignments:

Strategy 1:  Spaced Repetition:

I always tell my students and my son, that learning takes repetition.  Those multiple repetitions best improve memory when they are delivered in short segments and are spaced over time.  One long cram session does not help embed skills and concepts in a student’s mind.

Strategy 2:  Retrieval Practice:
During homework sessions, students must also practice retrieving the information that was internalized during spaced repetition.  In other words, they must quiz themselves in order to actively recall the information.  According to Annie Murphy Paul, “Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting, so that (self) testing doesn’t just measure, it changes learning.”

So, how can students practice retrieving information during homework sessions?

An example of an effective online tool is Quizlet.com, a website that enables both students and teachers to input essential information.  Once the information has been entered, Quizlet provides students with multiple opportunities to self-quiz in the forms of flash cards, interactive online games, as well as sample quizzes.   To see an example of a quizlet I created for the retrieval practice of Literary Terms, click on  7th Grade Language Arts.

Don’t trick me when you test me! 

What is your purpose of student assessment?
To input grades into an electronic gradebook?  NO!
To measure knowledge of trivial facts?  NO!
To punish students?  NO!

The fundamental purpose of assessment is to measure student proficiency of crystal clear learning targets that have been clearly stated and developed, reinforced through meaningful class work and homework, and finally measured via sound assessments (Implementing the Common Core, 2010).

This fall upon attending Parent Open House at my son’s middle school, a parent asked the science teacher, “What are your tests like?” After a moment of thought, Ms. M responded, “When students have been engaged in the unit of study, they are not surprised by the unit assessment.   The assessment measures student proficiency in the skills and standards we have been studying.  Most students think science tests are ‘easy A’s.’”   Hooray for Ms. M!

So what hints can we follow so students feel like our tests are “easy A’s”?
-Sound assessment measures skill growth, not just content knowledge.
-Formative assessments administered before & during the teaching process guide and improve teaching and learning (Ainsworth).

As a reading specialist and as a parent of three, I identity with both points of view – that of the teacher as well as that of the student. To improve the academic lives of your students, keep in mind 3 sure-fire ways:

  • Communicate crystal clear learning targets
  • Construct homework to advance student learning
  • Test, don’t trick

Need a resource to help restructure curriculum?  Implementing the Common Core will provide a framework to revitalize curriculum.

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Students Aware of Standards

Everyone’s saying “Common Core”… and using the standards in different ways.  I’ve been reading, hearing and thinking about the various belief sets springing from CCSS interpretation.   For instance, a Professional Learning Team within a school decides which Common Core standards their department will address.  Or, a publisher highlights which standards their curriculum will address.  But, how will we ensure students have progressed through each standard?  How will we implement and assess this incredibly complex and thorough document?  Lesson plans using the SACI template are one way to prove which and how well the Common Core Standards are being met in your classroom.

How many standards to include in a unit?

Educators all around the country have differing opinions on executing standards-based curriculum. Some feel the Common Core is meant to be utilized one standard at a time: work on the skill delineated by the standard, assess, achieve, then move to the next standard.  Others believe that students should not move on until skill proficiency is met in the specified standard being assessed.  Still others think that only short, abbreviated texts should be used for skill practice.  These approaches provide us with some questions to ponder:

How many standards can be addressed at one time during a unit of study?

How in depth, and of what length, should text be in order to assess adequate knowledge of a standard?

How does a teacher ensure that students are reading text of sufficient complexity, quality and range for their grade level?

Amidst these varied questions I was heartened to read, in NEAToday’s Summer 2011 issue, policy expert Barbara Kapinus’ snippet (p.23) that stated

Rather than reading drills, we’ll ask students to apply reading skills in a broader, ‘real world’ context.

Instead of asking kids to stand in one spot and throw basketballs into a hoop over and over, we’re getting them to play…. and

Gone are the days of summary book reports.  Students will analyze the story rather than rehash the plot.

What I like about these comments is the support they lend to my belief that skills can be learned through both strong nonfiction or fiction texts.  I believe content should be good and rich.  The goal in my classroom is to focus on more than one standard at a time through unabridged text. Work on reading skills through meaningful context is a great way to prepare students for postsecondary opportunities.

As a Reading specialist my belief is that core subjects can successfully focus on skills when balanced with specialized texts.  The old cry was:  all content teachers are teachers of reading.  The new cry must be:  all content teachers are teachers of skills needed to read within our content.  I believe that all Common Core skills are addressable through well designed units which flow around quality texts.

How will I know my lesson plan is designed to develop student skills in a Common Core Standard? 

I pre and post assess using a formative assessment that purposely delineates the standards in which my students need to be proficient.  Here is an example of my unit plan for Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. First I preassessed student ability on the standards predetermined by my PLT as necessary for incoming freshmen. (Click here if you’d like to see a partial view of the formative assessment I devised.) Then I taught the novel, with all activities and discussions revolving around these same standards.  The unit ends when students take the post-assessment and show mastery at an 80% minimum.

Productive lesson planning

My lesson planning is productive and directly related to the Common Core because my assessment becomes the template for all my lessons.  An unmastered standard can easily be addressed over and over because of text length.  In this way, students continue practicing skills until they do attain proficiency.  Each lesson throughout a text study, is pivotal for ensuring students are competent at the skill demanded. Lessons are easily differentiated as student abilities are noted through class work and either built upon or revisited.

Core 4 All believes that standards drive curriculum, yet it takes rich content, intricate lesson plans, and detailed assessments in order to ensure standards are met.

 

 

As I write this post in my office, a cup of coffee sits patiently at my side waiting to be sipped, the sun shines through my front window, warming my back and in the background, the sound of the TV, echoing the remembrance that will never be erased from my mind.  It is hard to believe that ten years have already passed, my daughters only 6 and 3 at the time, were too young to comprehend the nature of the devastating acts that left the world speechless and stunned.  My heart goes out to the families whose lives have been changed forever, from the parents who lost their children, to the spouses who lost their significant others, to the children who lost their parents and to everyone who lost a relative or friend.

But as we do, we fight; fight to rebuild the greatest country in the world.
But what keeps us going?
Why do we refuse to surrender?
What makes us so resilient and how can we pass our resiliency to our next generation of leaders?

The importance of questioning

We must teach our children the value of questioning, and not take things at face value.  As we read, listen and watch, I urge you to model questioning and discuss with your students and children this valuable tool.  As we want our children to be critical thinkers, it is through questioning that will improve this skill.  To hold authentic discussions, there must be a balance of statements and questions.  It is okay to ask why and let our youth develop their answers.

The importance of making connections

Last night, my good friend and I had a conversation about why as a society, in general, do we accept information as the truth, whether it is in print, radio or TV? He answered that it comes to the always-on-the-go mentality.  We are taking kids from one practice to another, eating in the car, not having time to sit as a family.  In schools, we race through our curriculum because we have to get to a certain point in the text before the big test.  For our children’s sake, we must slow down and help make connections with the past so that history does not repeat itself.  As educators, it is time to stop cramming content and start building connections and help our youth develop a deeper understanding of who we are and where we are going.

The importance of entrepreneurialism

As educators, we generally play it safe.  Here is my curriculum and I will teach it.  I take staff development to increase my salary.  But, what are we doing to break the mold of 20th century teaching?  I will bet that if you are reading this post, you are only a small percentage of teachers that want to improve your instructional skills. I commend you for that.  To improve ourselves as educators, it is vital to pick up the latest educational research book, read various educational blogs and follow educators on Twitter and other social media outlets.  But, I challenge you to take it to the next level and create, build, develop tools that will help your students learn.  Become an entrepreneur. Open your mind and take the initiative. I have and it is exhilarating.

The world continues to change at a rapid pace. How we learned in the classroom should not be the primary method to teach our youth today.  If we are to prepare our students to be questioners, influencers, thinkers, and leaders of tomorrow, we must retrain ourselves on the fly.  We owe it our children to help them attain the skills to build a stronger United States of America.

I think I have to rewarm my coffee, it’s too cold.

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

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n. process  pl. proc·ess·es
A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result

There is no magic bullet in education. No one right answer or solution that will meet the needs of all schools and all children. Schools are complicated and highly contextual. There is never going to be one right perfect program that will benefit everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that some highly researched programs can greatly benefit students. BUT, no one program will ever be successful without highly functioning teams of professional educators working consistently to bring meaning to those programs into a constantly evolving system.

We are fortunate to have such trailblazing leaders and researchers in education like Marzano, Hattie, Reeves, DuFour, Danielson and Fullan. But, these leaders have not unlocked magical secrets that will lead to success for everyone; instead, they have provided us with fantastic tools to make better schools. It is up to us, in our buildings, to take it to the next level. To make the jump from research to action and make positive, albeit imperfect, things happen.

Moving from research to action

We must create processes and  put into action.

It will not be a pre-packaged program. Effective processes lead to highly efficient teams. As one department in our school explains very eloquently, “Our ultimate goal is to create a highly functioning team”.  I think that really sums it up best if you are looking for simplicity. A highly functioning team of educators focused on student learning will make a positive impact on student achievement.

A highly functioning team relies on multiple processes to keep their work focused and organized.

I’m sure many of you may even be beginning new processes right now as the school year begins. Our high school is implementing a new freshman curriculum. This project alone relied on multiple processes to unfold and the implementation of the curriculum relies on all faculties learning and using the professional learning team process. It is challenging but it will lead us to the goal of highly functioning and focused teams which exist to improve student learning.

When thinking about how to improve student learning follow this simple process.

  1. Determine the desired result.
  2. Decide what steps need to be put into place to achieve that result.
  3. Follow the steps.
As you restructure curriculum around the Common Core, remember to focus your attention on student learning.  For more information, check out AllThingsPLC, by Solution Tree.
Core 4 All, LLC is celebrating its first anniversary!  A big thank you for those of you who have followed us via Twitter, Facebook and WordPress.
Also, we hope  those of you who have bought Implementing the Common Core have been able to develop great units of study around skills and standards. We would love to hear how things are going.

Ready………..Set………..Go!

Another school year is upon us.  I hope you have recharged your batteries and are ready to shape the leaders of tomorrow.  Since the inception of Core 4 All in 2010, we have dedicated our mission to helping you not only see the value in the Common Core State Standards and how it can increase student achievement, but also provide you with a framework to develop curriculum at the classroom, department and school levels.  But how do we as educators take the next step and truly implement the Common Core and make it the driving force in curriculum?

Change

I am fortunate to work for a principal who values change. Change to improve student achievement.  Change to help teachers teach better.  Change to help administrators lead better.  Two months ago she handed out two books for us to read over the summer as we work towards building a professional learning community: Getting Started, by Eaker, DuFour and DuFour, and The Collaborative Administrator, published by Solution Tree.  Each of these books provided me with a better grasp of creating professional learning teams for my own department.  But, she recently handed us a third book, Change is Good…You Go First, by Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein, that has inspired me to reflect upon how I lead my staff.  It is a quick read, but packed with information.  As the authors write,

…this book is about ideas to inspire, to motivate, and to
encourage…

Forget for Success

Forget for Success is a chapter that has stuck with me.  This chapter is a synthesis of a book with the same title by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura.  They talk about how our brains are like closets and over time they fill up.  How true! As educators, we like to accumulate stuff; old lesson plans, supplemental materials, overheads.  How many file cabinets do you have that are filled with stuff that you haven’t used in years?  “You never know if I need this down the road”, is the teacher battle cry.  This year, it is time to throw away those lesson plans on yellow-tinted paper. No you will not need anything from your 3 1/2 floppy discs and you are not going to show any transparencies.

Here is my rule of thumb: If you haven’t used it in 2 years, get rid of it!

In order for the Common Core to make the positive impact on student achievement, we must clean out the file cabinets.  Better yet, not only clean out the cabinets, downsize as well.  A 21st century educator does not have old, out-dated materials. A 21st educator focuses on skills, measures those skills with sound assessments, engages students with relevant content, and uses instructional activities that promote achievement.

An Interview With A Principal

As a mentioned, I have a great boss.  So, I wanted to pick her brain about change.  Change does not come easy, working with over 200 staff members in a suburban high school setting.  But she knows that we all can do better.  Both our students and staff have the capacity to improve.  It is through systemic change that this can come to realization.  So I asked her some questions.

What’s the most important factor a principal should consider when trying to make school-wide change?

The most important thing to consider is what kind of impact the change is going to have on the students.  Change needs to benefit learning, teaching and the school community.  Time is the second most important factor. You cannot expect to make rapid change in a school. The faster you go, the less likely the change will be lasting.

What’s the most common mistake a principal makes trying to initiate a school-wide change?

One of the biggest mistakes is trying to go too fast.  It takes a considerable amount of time to research what is best, to inform staff and students to get them to understand and embrace the change, and it takes time to implement change effectively.  Pushing change from the “top down” is also a common mistake.  Telling people what changes to they need to make without their input is a huge mistake.  They need to “discover” what needs to change and have a part in making the changes.

Any last words of advice for principals who want to initiate change?

Make sure you have key players involved in making change.  Get the administrative staff to understand the need for change, and get teacher leaders involved right from the start with planning and brainstorming the changes. Set some non-negotiables in terms of student and teacher learning, but then step back and let others create the changes to fit their ideas as well as your ideas in terms of what is best for the students and the school as a whole.  Have a timeline in mind, but do not hold fast and hard to that timeline. If it takes longer than you thought (and it will), be patient!  Expect some roadblocks to be in the way, and help others get over those hurdles. Celebrate successes along the way and reward people for their hard work and diligence.  Be prepared to provide training for any new initiative, and make sure that training is an effective use of teacher time. The longer you take to plan and create the changes, the more lasting they will be.

I thank Dr. Audrey Haugan for her time.  Over the last two years, our school has been involved with a major change in restructuring curriculum around standards and skills.  We have experienced growing pains over these last two years, but have also seen great gains in teacher-leadership and collaboration.   These are exciting times in education.  With positive change, we can help develop our leaders of tomorrow.

Homework assignment (I hear the groans already):

What will you do to help make change happen this school year ?

How is your school making change?

Share our blog with your colleagues.

Core 4 All wishes you a great 2011-2012 school year.

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