CEO Blog

On Gratitude

By Katherine Bassett

We are in that ‘thankful’ time of year. Leaves are falling, holidays are near and soon we will gather around tables with friends and loved ones to reflect on how grateful we feel.

For the last couple of years, Dana Boyd (Texas State Teacher of the Year 2007) has been challenging me to post to Facebook each day of this month something for which I am thankful. This year I agreed, but I have found this act to be, on some days, extremely challenging.

I am experiencing a serious family crisis. One of my faithful thought partners, Brad Hull, has left NNSTOY for a great new opportunity, and I miss this trusted staff member and collaborator. On top of this, I—like so many—have been devastated by the tone and rhetoric of the Presidential election, and I am concerned about the impact on our children. Though NNSTOY is growing by leaps and bounds – for which I am thankful –the workload is staggering on some days.

So, coming up with those thankful statements has been a real challenge at times.

A few years ago, I got to watch a beautiful lesson on gratitude from a gifted educator, Marcia Ritter (Missouri 1995) during our work on a service project in Tennessee. As part of her service, Marcia told me she was going to teach gratitude to a group of students. I remember feeling stumped: How does one teach gratitude? How does one learn it? Amazingly, Marcia pulled it off, demonstrating to students what it means to be grateful, to express thankfulness, and to experience the joy that appreciation brings to both the giver and receiver.

I’ve been thinking about Marcia lately, trying to channel some of her gratitude.

Then this happens:  I spend a few days with the Utah State Teacher of the Year (STOY) chapter as they plan their ECET2 conference celebrating teaching excellence and work through their chapter mission. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I work with our Director of Professional Learning Peggy Stewart (New Jersey 2005) and an incredible group of STOYs to build Module 6 of our Teachers Leading Professional Learning Modules, helping teachers to build strong relationships with families and communities. The work is meaningful and the STOYs bring out the best in each other. I talk with individual STOYs about their own struggles and joys with their jobs, their post-election feelings, their children (both personal and professional), their dedication to this profession that we love.

And I am reminded of Marcia’s lesson.

Sometime, gratitude is a struggle. Sometimes it is easily found. Always, it is a gift.

As we begin our Annual Giving Campaign, I am deeply grateful for this association, for this family. For that is what we are. A family of gifted educators each of whom cares deeply about our craft, our profession, our students, our communities, our future and one another.  To watch our members come together across states and years, exchange ideas, and solve problems is the greatest joy of my job.

For those of you who don’t know this, I am a detective novel junkie. In one series I love, the main characters tell one another, “I’ve got your 6.” They mean that as individuals, we can see our 12:00 – it’s in front of us. We can see our 3:00 and 9:00 peripherally. But, as individuals we can’t see our 6:00; it’s behind. I’ve got your 6 means I’ve got your back.

At this time, perhaps more than any other, I am grateful to know that our NNSTOY family has one another’s 6. We care for one another in so many ways. Members help members with lesson planning, with blog writing, with policy advocacy, with chapter building, with research and dissertation work, with speeches, and with strategies for assisting families and students in difficult times. Our Board of Directors, thinks carefully through our governance decisions.

I am grateful that I chose to leave my own four-walled classroom for this one, which has no walls, but where I teach in a broader and more complex setting. I am grateful for the opportunity that NNSTOY offers to us: to transform this profession. I am grateful that we have this network to lean on. While others are pulling apart, we are pulling together.

I am grateful to each and every one of our members and friends. Without you, NNSTOY would not exist.

Please consider making a donation to NNSTOY. Because we longer have dues, we absolutely rely on your donations to move our work forward.

I thank you with all my heart for what you do each and every day for students, for families, for communities. I thank you for being part of my life. I have your 6; and I thank you for having mine.

 

Katherine Bassett is the 2000 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year and the President and CEO of NNSTOY.

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

by Brad Hull

It’s time to stop thinking that education is primarily about college and career readiness.  What an absurd notion.  It’s about human beings, individually, and about our humanity, collectively.  When we think about educating our young people—formally and informally, in the school, home, places of worship, through social media and entertainment, and in any environment—we should always ask only one question: “how are we defining our humanity and in so doing, how are we shaping our society?”  And yes, we have the power to shape our humanity, to ennoble it, to create a greater beauty, to find a path of peace and safety for all of its participants.  That is within our power and even more so, it is our calling.

And a second question for us all when considering our humanity, “what’s the assessment data look like?”  While difficult, a rational mind can understand how one person, most probably who was severely mentally ill, can be so perversely taught to hate that they mercilessly murder other human beings in cold blood.  However, I am incapable of understanding the hatred that has been spewed out since then by seemingly normal, seemingly well-educated people, many who are elected leaders in our country. This I find inexplicable. How can this be and how exactly do we teach that?

No! Our education system and the wonderful people that work every day to nurture and teach our children are not responsible for these events or the ugliness that followed in the aftermath.  Of course not.  People learn both inside and outside of the classroom.  However, it is that very separatist thinking, the separation of formal education and social issues, which can prevent us -- within our schools -- from imbuing wisdom, truth, and beauty into a vision for a better future.  This separation of education and social issues often leads us to ignore history, humanities and social studies; shun social emotional learning and character education including empathy and compassion; dismiss the struggle of self-knowledge and humility; and disregard the skills of developing multiple perspectives, honoring peaceful and reverent disagreement, finding common ground and the ability to live together amidst our differences, and debating in a healthy and open environment using the rules of logic and human respect that two millennia of Western culture have provided for us.

As a humanist, an educator and as a gay person, and in trying to grapple with my own despair and anguish for the LGBT community, for the victims and families of the shooting, and for the young children growing up in this society we have created for ourselves, I regret I have little to offer even amidst my best efforts.  However, I do have a reminder and a few questions.

First, a reminder taken from the musical, South Pacific (1949):

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught!

And now I ask you to consider these questions along with me because I am pondering them as well:

  1. If you are an educator, what simple steps can you incorporate into your practice that ennoble humanity and that rebel against the teaching of hate and intolerance?
  2. If you are in a field outside of education, what role can you play in your work environment and your career field to counteract the effects of the teaching of hate and intolerance?
  3. For us all as human beings, what do we need to examine from our own education, both formal and informal, that needs to be ripped out in order to rid ourselves of the vestiges of hate and intolerance in our own mindsets?

In considering these questions and acting upon them, let us honor the recent dead.

 

Brad Hull is a former teacher and the Deputy Executive Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY).

What Accomplished Teachers Really Think about Federal Education Policy

We’ve probably all done it, but it still annoys me.

I’m in a meeting about a proposed policy change and someone in the meeting brings up his knowledge of “what teachers think” to support or reject the idea. I wonder, how does he know what teachers think? (If I ask, all too often he tells me something along the lines of “my mother-in-law is a teacher” or “I talk to some teachers at the gym.”)

It’s an issue, right? Trying to solve problems in education without engaging with educators themselves or knowing what they think. Hospitals wouldn’t institute a new surgical procedure without talking to a doctor. A city wouldn’t pass a new building code without consulting engineers, would they?

Before making any sweeping changes to education policy, I would want to know this: What do teachers think? Even better: What do our best teachers think?

The question has taken on greater weight now, as control of education policies and practices moves to the states. State policymakers and education leaders who were initially relieved to be out from under the constraints of NCLB have been celebrating, and rightly so. As time passes, however, we are beginning to see that the transfer of responsibility is often a blessing and a curse. While the NY Times characterized the new ESSA law as one that “allows states and school districts to set their own goals and to decide how to rate schools and what to do with those that underperform,” state officials are learning that the “how” and “what” parts can be downright tricky.

During the 2016-17 school year, state policymakers and educational leaders will be tasked with developing and submitting their own comprehensive state education plans. The state plans will include their strategies on a huge range of issues: closing achievement gaps, improving schools, holding schools accountable, intervening to support schools and students, evaluating and supporting existing teachers, and recruiting new teachers.

This year, states have been offered a period of grace. During this time of transition they are examining current policies and practices and engaging with stakeholders—including teachers and principals—to consider revisions to state policy. This grace period is a perfect time to learn and reflect. It is a time to stop and listen to educators.

Our organization just released the results of a national federal policy survey, a tool that offers education leaders and policymakers the views of accomplished teachers on a range of important education policies. The teachers who participated in the survey—National and State Teachers of the Year and Finalists for State Teacher of the Year—represent every grade level and virtually every field of teaching. They teach in rural, suburban and urban settings and serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

What they share is passion for teaching and learning, knowledge and expertise that come from experience, and recognition for their considerable accomplishments in the classroom. In releasing these results, our intention is that we all pause to read the survey and talk about it so that we can have more authentic conversations about what teachers think.

Katherine Bassett

Katherine Bassett is the CEO of NNSTOY and the 2000 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year

To Reimagine Education, We Must Make Ourselves the Target

This post is by Sam Chaltain, a DC-based writer about issues of teaching and learning. To learn more, visit samchaltain.com.

It may seem crazy to seed an idea that is intended to put you out of business – yet that’s exactly what Dayton Department Stores did back in 1960 with Target. And, the more I think about it, that’s exactly what every school in America should be doing right now.

To understand why, the Target story is a helpful analogy. Over the first six decades of its existence, Dayton had gradually grown and expanded throughout the Midwest to become a profitable player in the department store world. By 1960, that world – and that sort of consumer behavior – showed no signs of letting up in the short- or even the medium-term. Yet somebody at Dayton nonetheless saw an arc at the edges of the retail landscape that augured big changes ahead: mass-market discount shopping.

Consequently, in what was seen as a risky move at the time, in 1961 Dayton announced its plan to open a very different sort of store, one that combined the best and most familiar aspects of the traditional department store experience with unprecedentedly low prices. And, not for nothing, they decided to name it Target because, as a company spokesman put it at the time, just “as a marksman’s goal is to hit the center bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value and overall experience.”

I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story.

So what does this have to do with public education? More than you might think.

For our purposes, America’s schools today might as well be a chain of Dayton’s Department Stores. They’ve been successful for a long time, and despite changes on the horizon, a lot of them are likely to remain successful doing what they’ve always done for the short- and maybe even the medium-term.

Once again, however, there’s an arc at the edges of the landscape. In this case, it’s the fundamental reordering of our relationship to content knowledge, which has always been the central currency of schooling. It’s the accelerating push towards a merger of the carbon-based and silicon-based beings, via wearable technology, big data, and universal access to the Internet. And it’s an awareness, on the part of those who see the arc, that these early-stage pushes towards greater personalization, a more porous boundary between school life and home life, and a more urgent need to make learning more relevant, vigorous, and hands-on, are all trends that will eventually become the norm and not the exception.

Just as Dayton seeded Target, then, as an experiment that might eventually provide the on-ramp to a new sort of market reality – and, in so doing, put the parent organization out of business – so too must schools today proactively seed their own forward-looking experiments that might, eventually, overtake the more traditional approach that all of us have taught and learned in for more than a century.

Indeed, what American public education needs now is a thousand Trojan Horses – future seeds of creative destruction that can, when the time is right, assume a different form, attack our most intractable rituals and assumptions about schooling, and usher in a different way of being that is more in line with both the modern world and the modern brain.

Of course, many of these Trojan Horses are already in place. Anywhere that radically new approaches to teaching and learning are taking place – whether it’s a single school, a single initiative within a school, or a single state’s experimental approach to evaluation – you’ll find people who are betting on the theory that once others can see that a new approach yields actual success, they’re more likely to consider changing their own approach.

As educators Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase write in their forthcoming book, Building School 2.0, “For most people, change is loss. Until they can see that change (and loss) as a sign of increased success, people will shy away from the prospect of the new.”

This was, in effect, the bet Dayton made with its first Target store. They realized the best way to prepare for the future was not by abruptly closing its current stores, but by seeding experiments that understood where the bend in the landscape was likely to take them – and knowing that over the long-term, the exception would become the norm.

I believe this is where we are headed in public education. The days of AP classes, letter grades, and “senior year” are numbered. We don’t need to get rid of them all right now – indeed, the time it will take for the larger systems and structures of K-12 and higher education to adjust to a new ecosystem almost require schools to cling to these trappings a while longer.

But make no mistake – much of what we have come to find most familiar about public education will, in due time, go the way of the 1960s-era department store.

The implications for today’s schools are clear: if you are not proactively seeding your own experimental forays into a new way of helping kids learn – and doing so with the understanding that those experiments may one day overtake everything else that you do – then your community is likely standing flat-footed in the face of the biggest changes in education in more than a century.

Like it or not, in order to reimagine education, we may need to make ourselves the target.

Banning Hope – Again

Katherine BassettBy Katherine Bassett

 

In the April 11th of Rick Hess Straight Up, Rick was kind enough to allow me to express my thinking on the then recently launched Teach to Lead initiative announced by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  In that posting, I indicated that, while a promising announcement, I refused to hope that we would see meaningful action on teacher leadership.  I intended to hold the Secretary accountable for taking action.

 

My exact words were, “We do not hope this will happen – we intend that it shall.  We will hold Secretary Duncan and his team accountable for making teacher leadership a reality, rather than an idea. We will act and we will expect that action will result in real roles for teacher leaders. We will work zealously to make this happen – but we will not hope.”

 

As I listened yesterday to the words of Secretary Duncan, announcing a slow-down, if you will, of the rush to tying test results to evaluation measures, I again had the same reaction.  Nice words; but I refuse to hope that they will take root.  As anyone who has ever worked for or with me knows, my mantra is “hope is not a strategy”.

 

As my friend, Maddie Fennell stated in her excellent Ed Week piece in Rick Hess’s column yesterday, it takes a big person to stand up and state that he or she made a mistake.  And, basically, the Secretary did this. It takes a big person to say that he or she should have listened more closely, asked different questions, and talked to more stakeholders.  And the Secretary basically did this too.  So, he deserves props.

 

However, teachers have been saying for over two years that conflating the Common Core State Standards with assessments of those standards with evaluation results based on those test results, is a recipe for disaster.  The Secretary has had numerous conversations with educators, but somehow, this message did not resonate.

 

I wrote a piece published in the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Reg Blog this week on this very topic.  It ended, “this has been a prime example of 1+1+1 simply not adding up to what is best for our nation’s students.”  The policy shift that we saw yesterday seems to bear this out.

 

As I consider this important shift in policy, I have two overarching reactions:  sadness and pride.

 

My sadness comes in thinking about the numbers of educators with whom I have met over the course of the past year who have chosen to leave the classroom as a result of policies that they believe to be not only irrational, but harmful for children. Teachers who have invested inordinate amounts of time in learning to teach to the college and career-ready standards that are now being broken down, as a result, in part because of a rush to testing before implementation was fully completed, and to using those test results to evaluate educators. Sadness at time wasted.

 

And, ultimately, sadness because this did not have to happen.  There were plenty of teacher voices raised in protest over these policies, making sound arguments against this rush to implement, from classrooms across the country, from teacher voice organizations, from unions.  But they were not heard.

 

Pride, because I believe that our organization, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, has had a direct role in helping to bring this shift about, in concert with other teacher voice organizations.

 

At our National Conference several weeks ago, the Secretary engaged with over 125 State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) in an open conversation on testing.  He was told first-hand of instances in which special needs students’ needs were not met through current testing programs; of the impact of poorly implemented evaluation policies on teachers and students; of the inordinate amount of time spent on testing and test preparation as opposed to engaging in critical and creative thinking and meaningful instruction. He heard teachers talk about the devaluation of the profession as teachers felt caught in the middle of conflicting policies and policy makers.

 

No one was complaining, they were explaining.  They were working to help him see beyond the walls of his office building and into their schools and classrooms.  One teacher, Peggy Stewart, stated, “I am tired of this constant state of evolution.  I want a revolution.”

 

My pride comes as I think, “Well Peggy, you and other educators have been able to effect a quiet revolution in upending policies that did not make sense for children, and possibly putting us on a more rational path.” Because after that conference, we had a series of conversations with the Secretary’s top staff regarding testing, as did other teacher voice groups. Those conversations made a difference.  This time, our voices were heard.

 

The key lesson that I take away from the events of this week is that the voice of the teacher is more important than ever before.  I would encourage us now to use our voices to hold the Secretary to his word.

 

At NNSTOY, we will certainly do that.  We will, again, refuse to hope that this policy shift results in meaningful change in what happens in classrooms for students and teachers.  We intend that it shall do so.  We will be working, watching, and speaking out to make sure that this shift is not theoretical, but impactful.

 

What can you do?  Educate yourself about this new waiver option and ask your state policy makers if they plan to take advantage of this waiver opportunity. Ask them if they intend to make a shift in state policy regarding evaluation.  Remember, the Secretary has suggested an option to states – but states have to take it.

 

Do we need to change things in education? Yes. NNSTOY has made a series of recommendations on how to do this in our white paper Reimagining Teaching.  Yesterday’s release of a new report by Marc Tucker, who has argued that the concept of evaluating teachers is illogical, saw the validation of one of our key suggestions, establishment of career advancement structures.

 

Change should be made, as it always is when most productive, with input from those most impacted by it.  In this case, listening to educators, and education stakeholders, will drive the change that is most meaningful for students, for teachers, and for systems.

 

Our message to educators is a simple one.  Ban hope.  Embrace action.  Engage with policy makers and shapers and use your voices to drive change.

Professionalizing Teaching: an Educator’s Perspective

This piece was published in Hope Street Group's Blog on November 21, 2013.  http://hopestreetgroup.org/blog/professionalizing-teaching-educator’s-perspective 

 

In the last five years, there has been a great deal of interest in what constitutes effective teaching. States and school districts across the country are implementing new teacher evaluation systems with the goal of helping teachers improve their practice and boost student achievement.

 

Yet, improving evaluation is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle: How can we attract and retain highly effective teachers for all students? The simple fact is that nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession by their fifth year, and we are now seeing some of our most experienced and recognized teachers exiting our nation’s classrooms for opportunities that provide more substantive leadership experiences.

 

In our new white paper, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) outlines five key structures that have the potential to transform teaching and create a profession that attracts, develops, and retains highly effective teachers.

 

One of the most impactful of these structures is professional career continuums. While most professions have career advancement mechanisms, such as career ladders or lattices in place to provide career pathways for practitioners, education does not. Unless willing to leave the classroom and enter administration, there are few avenues for teacher advancement within the profession.

 

Teachers want and need both formal and informal, widely available options to assume leadership roles within a school and to be recognized for their contributions. While these opportunities benefit teachers and have the potential to improve their job satisfaction, they have reciprocal benefits as well. Schools where we are leading peers and mentoring less experienced teachers tend to have higher retention rates, a factor that positively affects student learning. And, increased job satisfaction also results in greater retention, directly impacting student learning.

 

A number of states, and some districts, are in the process now of establishing continuums of professional practice that clearly lay out the teacher development stages from novice to expert. In these models, it is possible for teachers to advance while staying in the classroom, and to perform as leaders in various capacities.

 

Our report features the experiences of five State Teachers of the Year, including Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida State Teacher of the Year. Megan’s school district partnered with the Center for Teaching Quality and she worked last year in a hybrid role as a “teacherpreneur.” In the morning, she taught fifth grade at Shaw Elementary School in Tampa, Florida. In the afternoon, she focused on efforts to support, advocate for, and elevate teacher leadership in order to create stronger public schools. She summed up her experience, concluding:

“We need to push our thinking beyond the traditional career ladder and create more hybrid roles and options. Our teacher leaders need the time and space to lead the transformation of education in a way that does not negatively impact their students or just pile more on top of an already overflowing plate. Hybrid roles will allow educators to have a career lattice that will impact both the profession and the students. Multiple career options will help attract and retain intelligent and hard-working educators. It will help fill the leadership yearnings they have, giving them the ability to continue their drive to have impact reaching beyond the classroom walls.”

 

Like other professionals, teachers seek to grow, develop, and advance in our careers. We need new models that provide teachers with leadership opportunities while maintaining our role in the classroom. NNSTOY is partnering with the Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson and Public Impact to review continuum models in teaching and other professions. Our intention is to define recommendations for what teaching continuums might look like, and to pilot and field test such continuums in schools.

 

To learn more about the other four structures and our work, visit the NNSTOY website and download the full white paper, Re-Imagining Teaching: Five Structures to Transform the Profession.

- See more at: http://hopestreetgroup.org/blog/professionalizing-teaching-educator’s-perspective#sthash.NC5TeE8v.dpuf

What Would it Take to Professionalize Teaching?

As NNSTOY's first white paper was released, ED Katherine Bassett wrote a blog about the paper.  The blog was published in the Gates' publication, Impatient Optimists and can be found using this link:  http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2013/10/What-would-it-take-to-professionalize-teaching

At the Core

At the Core

What is at the core of great teaching?  Since the 1800s, with John Dewey telling us that our job was not only to impart knowledge of content, but to educate children in habits of mind, we have engaged in a debate about what matters most in teaching – teaching content or teaching life skills. The pendulum has swung both ways and back again. Current research is telling us that what matters most in regard to student learning may well be those so-called soft skills – social-emotional intelligence and skills like persistence and motivation.

In 2004, I was working at the Educational Testing Service, after leaving a 26-year career as a middle school librarian.  A big part of my work at ETS was to bring the voice of the classroom teacher to the research that was being undertaken.  I had the privilege of working with Richard Roberts and Walter Emmerich, two of the most renowned non-cognitive scientists in the world, in thinking about how we could identify and recruit excellent practitioners.

Working in concert with AACTE’s Team C at that time, we investigated the so-called soft-skills – skills like nurturing, ability to motivate, persistence, determination.  We debated which of these kinds of skills would best suit teachers working with various age groups of students.  And, most importantly, which of these skills could actually be taught.  In other words, is it possible to teach prospective teachers to be nurturing if that is not in their natural makeup? Are these skills at the core of great teaching?

At about the same time, organizations like ASCD were thinking about the same kinds of things in terms of students.  While we were thinking about what is at the core of teaching, ASCD staff were asking a related question – what is at the core of learning?  ASCD had embarked on its whole child initiative in 2007, calling for teachers to use strategies like collaborative learning, group problem-solving, and focusing on educating the social and emotional aspects of students as well as academics.

This was exciting work and it continues at organizations that think deeply about these things.  Thinking about these kinds of skills has become more prevalent in the education research field. Today, the research is telling us that what well may be at the core of teaching and learning is those softer skills, those non-cognitive traits like conscientiousness and emotional stability, which may be better predictors of academic success than cognitive ability. (Poropoat, 2009)

Other studies tell us that non-cognitive factors are better predictors of employability – things like wages earned and chronic unemployment – than cognitive factors.  (Lindquist and Vestman)  And, employers tell us that the skills that they most value in hiring new staff – the skills at the core of employability - are professionalism, communications, teamwork, and critical thinking – not academic knowledge.  Are They Really Ready to Work?

 

In the past few weeks alone, we have seen additional research emerge that reinforces the notion that we need to take a closer look at the role that non-cognitives play in the world of work, and in teaching and learning.  Read this articlefrom the New York Times, September 11, 2013 magazine: Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?  It cites numerous studies reinforcing this view.

 

And, Nick Yoder at the Center for Great Teaching and Learning recently published, Teaching the Whole Child:

Instructional Practices That Support Social-Emotional Learning in Three Teacher Evaluation Frameworks, a resource to promote understanding of social-emotional intelligence and the role it plays in teaching and learning.

 

On September 30th, NNSTOY and the Hunt Institute, in partnership with the AFT, NEA, PTA and The Ignite Show, will begin the release of four, thirty-minute special episodes of The Ignite Show through the Georgia Public Broadcasting Service (GPBS) online portal.  Each of these episodes will feature a State Teacher of the Year providing an exemplar lesson on teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Exemplar lessons will be broken out into three parts so that viewers can see how a lesson evolves from setup through post-activities.  We will see/hear teacher and student reflection on the teaching and learning, including students voicing thoughts about their own learning – what they learned, where they still need to grow, and how they will get there.

We also hear from policy makers, business leaders, and education advocates talking about how the CCSS will provide a foundation for curricula that produces college and career ready learners; learners who are better poised to contribute to the world of work.

I was privileged to sit in the classrooms of two of the State Teaches of the Year who provide exemplars for these episodes, and to view the two remaining on tape.  These are stunning examples of teaching and learning period; they are also outstanding exemplars of teaching both academics and those softer skills.

Sitting in – or viewing – these four classrooms was exciting.  Students are actively engaged in learning through activities that included collaborative exploration, group problem-solving, creative brainstorming, action research – all for the purpose of applying content to real-life situations.  Learning is student-centered and driven.

Students determine the best way to solve an engineering design problem, make connections between dilemmas presented in classic literature to problems we face in the 21st century, to analyze story for theme and make connections between characters in different pieces of literature.  They use algebraic formulas to design real-life structures, finding multiple ways to solve mathematical equations, and discovering that there isn’t always just one right way to do something.

But as importantly, they actively engage in their own learning, and are cognizant that they are learning.  These students analyze and talk about their own growth.  They recognize that they are members of a learning community, and work together to make sure that everyone is ‘getting it.’ These teachers are truly facilitating learning.

In these schools, administrators, parents, and community members are truly present.  They are each a part of the learning taking place very day. Even the youngest elementary students in Perea Blackmon’s Washington, DC classroom are able to talk about their own learning and why it is important. They support their classmates in learning and exhibit, in the best ways possible, a true learning community. A student who was struggling to understand the importance of measuring the length of the rubber bands stretched in engineering a means of getting an object as close to the ground as possible without its breaking, when dropped from 16 feet, was not ignored by his teammates.  Action stopped, and the teammates each explained – in her own words – why this mattered.  The puzzled student had an aha moment, understood the concept, and the activity moved on. And, these students know that outside the walls of their own classroom is a larger community waiting to support them.

Visiting these schools and classrooms was inspiring. These are not ‘sit and get’ learning environments; these are incubators for the world of work, for stretching one’s imagination, for learning not just math and literacy but how to work with others, solve problems, push oneself -and others - to constantly expand and grow.

What is at the core of great teaching? I believe it is a combination of the cognitive and non-cognitive skills, and to ignore either is dangerous.

I have seen teachers – I’ve had them – who have enormous academic/content knowledge but who simply were incapable of conveying to anyone else.  They, quite simply, could not teach.

I have seen – and had – teachers who were nurturing, caring, and who valued every learner; but, who did not have the needed academic/content knowledge to convey – they did not ‘know their stuff’ to put it simply.

At the core of great teaching and learning has to be a teacher who has both the content and the understanding of non-cognitive traits and how to nurture and value them, and teach with them in mind. At the core of great teaching are standards and curricula that recognize this –both skills sets matter.  At the core of great teaching are teachers who are prepared to teach to both.

Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

A recent article in Time Magazine describes the inexplicable loss of honeybee colonies in the U.S., along with the dire implications for farming and human life itself.  The cause of the massive loss of bee colonies is unknown, but the main concern has to do with unintended consequences--like using pesticides that are intended to kill harmful insects, but may end up killing the bees, too.

What does this have to do with education?  In reading this article, I was reminded about a situation faced by a colleague recently.  This STOY teaches in a state that has adopted an evaluation system that uses multiple measures.  One of these is a measure based on student scores; teachers in core subjects are held accountable to the scores of their own students on the state’s standardized tests, while teachers in non-core subjects are held accountable to an average of the scores of all students in the school on these tests.

This teacher does not teach a core subject and teaches children with special needs, so falls into that latter category.  In this particular state, the multiple measures were compiled so that student test scores comprise 50% of the total of the individual teacher’s evaluation score.  These scores are used to determine teacher effectiveness.

The teacher in question has chosen to teach in a high-needs, urban school district; in a school that is not well-resourced, with a very high percentage of students who live in poverty, who did not perform well on the state tests.  As a result, this teacher was not classified as an effective teacher.

Because of this status, the teacher is ineligible to serve as a coach or mentor for other teachers.  S/he is also ineligible to participate in teacher leadership programs, sharing expertise with others.  By the way – this teacher is not only an individual selected to represent his/her state as a STOY, but was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in his/her year of recognition.

I know some of the people in the State Education Agency in this state; they are good people who truly want is best for all children – and their teachers.  They did involve teachers in the development of the evaluation system that was adopted.  I do not know if the percentage of the evaluation that was determined by student test scores was set by the state, or by the committee that developed the system.

In describing this situation, this teacher recently asked the question, “What should I do?”  I am now paraphrasing – s/he said, “I can leave my school and go to teach in a better-resourced school, with students who are better prepared for learning, and who score better on the tests.  Then, I would be classified an effective teacher, would be able to coach/mentor others, and would be able to participate in teacher leader activities.  But, the school that I am in is the school that needs me.  These children need me. I can’t leave them simply to benefit myself.”

Another of our STOYs, a National as well as State Teacher of the Year has requested this year to be moved out of his/her rather well-resourced school and into the neediest school in the State where teaching.  This was a difficult decision, but one that was made in order to do what is truly best for the students in most need of an excellent teacher.  Will this teacher face the same dilemma at the beginning of next year?

Evaluation systems in industry are designed in order to provide employees with actionable feedback, feedback that is used to identify areas of strength so that these staff can help others; and feedback to determine areas in which the employee needs to develop and grow.  Evaluation is used to determine the kinds of professional learning experiences with which to provide staff, to identify potential leaders, to make decisions about promotion and remediation, and compensation.  In extreme cases, it can be used to notify staff that they are not performing well and to place them on improvement plans; if improvement is not shown, they then should be let go.  These systems were not designed to take great employees and tell them that they are not performing well.

By all measures except the evaluation system used, our teacher was a high-performer. To be selected as STOY is an arduous process in most states and is one that validates great teachers.  How was this individual a high-performer at the beginning of the school year and not effective at its end?

This is a perfect example of why teacher voices are needed when policy decisions are made.  Teachers could have pointed out that, as we are increasing rigor on standardized tests by implementing Common Core State Standards, putting such a large emphasis on the results of these tests – tests that will change in the near future - may not be wise.

This is particularly true in the case of teachers for whom student performance is measured by whole-school performance rather than by students they directly touch.  Teachers could have pointed out that other measures might be more valid and reliable in this era of change – measures like observation, student survey data, parent survey data, or others.

No one in this state set out to develop a system that would produce false negatives, as was the case here.  This was an unintended consequence of an evaluation system developed with good intentions, but perhaps insufficient thought given to impact on good teachers.

Most states developed evaluation systems not to fire teachers, but to help strengthen teaching forces.  No state developed them to get rid of excellent teachers. This is an unintended consequence.

We saw another example of this in New York State recently, where standardized tests tied to the CCSS were introduced before teachers were given adequate training or time to prepare their students for these more rigorous tests.  The result?  Demoralized teachers and significantly lower test scores without sufficient preparation or understanding as to why the drop occurred.  This was the opposite result from that in Kentucky, a state where leadership took steps to educate teachers, parents, and the business community about the likely drop in test scores, why the drop would occur, and how the state would help teachers remedy it in future.

NNSTOY believes that all teachers want to be held accountable, that we want to be held to rigorous standards, and that we know that valid measure of our own performance is that of our students.  We also know that if our voices – teacher voices – are not part of the conversations, and the decision-making processes in designing these systems, we will continue to see unintended consequences.

As millions of teachers head back to school in the next few weeks, the teacher I’ve spoken of here will not be returning to the same classroom as the school was deemed failing and is undergoing restructuring.  This teacher is now working with new teachers in a different setting. The teacher will touch the lives of even more children through these new teachers, but transitioning from working directly with children is painful for this excellent teacher.

Unfortunately, at least eleven STOYs will also not be returning to their classrooms this Fall; the lack of leadership opportunities while staying in the classroom has forced them to find other avenues through which to lead – another story and another unintended consequence – when we empower teachers and fail to value them as leaders, we will lose them.

This is a travesty for the teachers; it is a tragedy for the students these teachers would have taught and the colleagues these teachers might have helped to grow.

The Time article tells us that if we continue to lose our bees, in four years, there may be no humans.  We should wonder what the impact will be if we continue to lose our excellent teachers.

Katherine Bassett: Division Lessons

Division Lessons

I’ve recently read three articles with a common focus; the focus is on the cost and quality of education of children of affluent Americans. In the first, the primary focus is on the impact on the children of the intense pressure to perform. (Money Cuts Both Ways in Education: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/10/us/10iht-letter10.html) The second focuses on a specific school, Avenues, and parental involvement in the education process.  The third focuses on factors that may be adding to the increasing divide between affluent and poor students’ school performance.

Taken together, which is how I read them, these articles paint a disturbing picture of the division – ever increasing – between the haves and have nots (or not as much) in terms of preparedness for college and career. One of the most concerning points is one we already knew, but the Rearden article (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/no-rich-child-left-behind/?ref=nochildleftbehindact) really brought it home – the divide is attributable to the readiness of children entering into Kindergarten.  When I was at ETS, in 2008 (http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICWINDOWS.pdf) and in 2009 the Policy Evaluation Research Center did similar reports, (http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICPARSINGII.pdf)

And the readiness divide is widening.  That gap continues to widen over summer vacations, when children of more affluent parents have access to opportunities that less fortunate children do not.  The author makes the point that it is not inadequate schooling or school funding that most contributes to the divide, but the experiences that children have at home that make the greatest impact.

The second article was disturbing to me on many levels. (Is this the Best Education Money Can Buy?  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/magazine/is-avenues-the-best-education-money-can-buy.html?pagewanted=all) It profiles Avenues, a private school into which parents have much input and children have incredibly rich learning experiences.  These parents, like all parents, recognize the value of education, and that education does not end when school lets out for the day, or for the summer.  Further, they know that their children are privileged, and parents and school are determined not to allow this privilege to result in children becoming ‘jerks’ - consider this statement from the article:  “And so Avenues students may run to their “Empire State of Mind: Thinking About Jay-Z in a New Way” “mini-mester” while passing a Chuck Close self portrait, but they do so with the intent of being “humble about their gifts and generous of spirit,” as the school’s mission statement puts it.”

Tuition is $43,000 annually and the school does have a three million dollar scholarship fund.  Entrée is competitive, even for the affluent, and parents may not make donations.  Rather, parents are required to contribute in more concrete ways.  And parents do.  They are deeply involved in their children’s education.  Recently, one issue of deep concerns to parents was the quality and nutritional value of the food children were eating in the school cafeteria, asking why there was no sushi, why so much bread, etc. The article makes the point that the school may be training our nation's next leaders.

We live in a democratic society and a capitalistic one.  Every parent wants his/her children to have the very best education possible; and if some can ‘buy’ that education, certainly, that is their right.

However, as I read these articles, there are certain faces that kept drifting before me.

While some parents are concerned about microorganisms in their child’s school lunch, what about James, one of my fourth graders, who stopped coming to school for a period of time. When I contacted his grandmother, she told me that James would not come to school because the hot water heater was broken.  When I could not make that connection, she assisted me – “There’s no hot water and it’s winter.  The landlord won’t fix the hot water heater and James won’t come to school dirty.”

Or Charlie.  Charlie’s parents were alcoholics, not even functioning ones. The fourth of five boys, Charlie’s sneakers were handed down to him and were now – Chuck Jones’ – falling apart.  He was holding the tops to the bottoms with rubber bands and his toes were hanging out.  He was constantly fighting with other kids, and it turns out that the reason was because they were making fun of those shoes.  It was one of my worst days as a teacher when I discovered that I had not known this.

And Chris.  Chris’s mom was a single mom who worked a night shift at the casinos.  She was not there to get him up for school in the morning.  That was on him.  Chris often missed the bus.  But walked over fifteen blocks to get to school, no matter what the weather.  School was a stabilizing influence for Chris; it was also a place where he knew he would get a meal.

These are children who were inquisitive, bright, intelligent, who had dreams and aspirations, just like the children who attend Avenues and similar schools.  But, they started out behind from day one of school, not because their parents didn’t care – they cared passionately about their children – but because they did not have the resources to provide the same experiences and after school learning as more affluent parents.  Shouldn't these children also have the opportunity to serve as our nation's next leaders?

So, how do we balance parental rights to provide the best possible education for a child with what we call equitable distribution in education?  Particularly, when we discover that one of the biggest causes of the divide we now see is not what happens in the classroom, but what happens outside of it?

This is a complex question and there are no easy answers.   My fear is that until we turn our time, attention, and money to addressing this question, the divide will continue to grow.

A Shining Moment for Educators

A Shining Moment for Educators:  April 24

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of attending the White House Rose Garden ceremony at which President Barack Obama introduced the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) 2013, Jeffrey Charbonneau of Washington State, to the American people.  The President also honored the class of 2013 State Teachers of the Year (STOYs), the 2013 National Secondary Principal of the Year, the 2013 Middle School Principal of the Year, and the National Distinguished Principal of the Year (elementary level).

I attended this same ceremony in 2000, as a very nervous New Jersey State Teacher of the Year 2000, meeting President Bill Clinton and Secretary Richard Riley.  I remember waiting in the Roosevelt Room, surrounded by history, and feeing completely overwhelmed by the experience, worrying about what to say when introduced to the President and Secretary, and feeling so intensely connected to my fellow STOYs on a journey of growth that extended over a full year.

My husband had told me at the time, that as a guest of a STOY, he was ushered through several layers of security into the Rose Garden, where he mingled with other STOY guests and ‘a lot of other people’.  Yesterday’s experience is one that I can only describe as a shining moment for educators.  As part of that ‘lot of other people’ I had the chance to share this experience – much less nerve-wracking for me this time – with four other STOYs – Jason Kamras (DC and NTOY 2005), Terry Dozier (SC and NTOY 1985), Marguerite Izzo (NY 2007) and Rebecca Snyder (PA 2009) and with a host of representatives from various national education organizations, many of whom are now colleagues and friends.

For me, the most moving part of the ceremony was watching each of the 2013 STOYs walk out the door of the Oval Office and down the steps into the Rose Garden, taking their place on the dais that formed the backdrop for Jeff, the Secretary and President during the announcement.  To see each educator, from so many geographic locations, school settings, developmental levels of students taught, and content areas experiencing that moment of realization that they, as educators, were being honored by our President, was enormously moving.  And knowing the difference that each of these amazing men and women make in the lives of their students – how each one touches and has touched thousands of young lives – made it even more meaningful.

This is not an easy time to be an educator.  We are facing increasing demands in terms of workloads, changes in standards and content taught, exposed to discussions about our ‘worth’ and how our own performances should be measured.  We are working in an aging system, in many instances, in outdated buildings that are under-resourced.

We do this work, in the words of another President, John F. Kennedy, not because it is easy, but because it is hard and challenging, and because we accept that challenge.  We also do it because we love it.  Teachers truly love what they do.  In speaking about Jeff yesterday, the President stated:  “Jeff was determined to … convince kids that quantum mechanics wasn’t something to run away from, but something to dive into.  He said it’s my job to convince them they are smart enough that they can do anything. Now, with Jeff’s leadership at his HS, science enrollment is way up, kids are graduating with college level science credits, and the school expects to have to hire more teachers to meet the demand.”

In Jeff’s own words to teachers, “Don’t doubt the impact that your voice can have.  Stay informed on the issues so you can speak up for public schools. Too often we feel like our voice is just one in a sea of voices, but that sea of voices doesn’t exist without each individual speaking up.”

Yesterday was a shining moment for educators.  Honored by the leaders of our land, by the national education community, and by other educators, the 2013 STOYs experienced an intense appreciation of what they do each day.  I hope that, through their collective experience, you remember your shining moment and that it continues to inspire you.

To see photos from the event, please visit:  http://www.nnstoy.org/2013-national-teacher-of-the-year-named-in-rose-garden-ceremony/

Yes, Teachers Can Learn – and More:  April 17

In the Sunday edition of the New York Times, a commentary was published, written by Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling." In his commentary, Mr. Mehta debunks several reform planks, including THE NOTIONS that charter schools out-perform traditional public schools AND that teachers who are prepared by alternative programs perform better than those who come through traditional programs.  HE ALSO notes that despite extensive reform efforts, little has changed.  Mr. Mehta cites evidence for these assumptions, and I encourage you to read his well-written and thoughtful piece: http://www.opednews.com/Quicklink/Teachers--Will-We-Ever-Le-in-Best_Web_OpEds-130413-498.html

Mr. Mehta notes what we at NNSTOY have been saying for years, that until we change the very system of education, moving us from an antiquated system based on an agrarian calendar, to a professional structure that models the best of other professions, we have little chance of making meaningful change.  Like NNSTOY, Mr. Mehta focuses on continuums of professional practice (though he uses other terms to describe these), through which teachers can continually build their skills, work in supportive collaborative structures that are not regimented by bus schedules, explore, career pathways and opportunities for teacher leadership, and continually grow and develop.

He talks about the model of less instructional time and more time spent in action research, collaborative planning, data analyses, and ongoing assessment of professional practice in other countries.  Finally, Mr. Mehta notes that without meaningful systems change, we are relegated to making the same mistakes and moving the needle marginally, if at all, in terms of progress.

At the same time, we have recently seen a plethora of articles on the cheating scandals plaguing some of our nation’s largest school systems. This has called into question whether teacher evaluation using student test data is truly the answer some envisioned for transforming the sector.  As a counter-example to the recent cheating scandals, in his article, Helping Teachers Learn, Brent Staples cites the success of the Aspire charter school network in emphasizing extensive, constructive, and actionable feedback to teachers, creating a system of support for ongoing strengthening of professional practice.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/helping-teachers-learn.html?_r=0

At NNSTOY, we have called for a true professionalizing of teaching.  We have cited five professional structures that exist in other professions and are missing in our own.  These are:  career continuums, distributed leadership models, collaborative practice structures, actionable feedback to inform practice, and guiding principles for the profession.  In a series of blog pieces, I have provided extensive evidence for how each of these structures contributes to professional practice in other career fields. http://www.nnstoy.org/professionalizing-teaching/

Within the next few weeks, NNSTOY will be releasing its first white paper, outlining these five paradigms and the work we are undertaking, with partners, to make them a reality.

Mr. Mehta asks, “Teachers – Will We Ever Learn?”  My response is, “Yes, Mr. Mehta, we will.  By listening to the voices of our teacher leaders, we can best learn what the profession most needs.  By providing the funding and the political will to enact these recommended changes, we stand the best chance of experiencing genuine reform – reform from within.  By following the example of our teacher leaders, we can best learn how to make meaningful change.  One of the five paradigms that NNSTOY would like to see the profession put in place is Guiding Principles, developed by practitioners for the profession, and to which we would hold ourselves accountable.  If we had such a structure in place, perhaps we would not have so many other groups dictating to us to what we should be held accountable.

Mr. Staples entitles his piece, “Helping Teachers Learn.”  If we, as a country, truly want to transform the teaching profession, it will take courage, fortitude, and money.  It may be a complex journey, but need not be a lengthy one; as Mr. Mehta notes, countries like Singapore and Finland turned things around in a matter of a few years.  While complex, the starting place is simple:  if policy makers want to learn how to transform teaching, let’s try something simple as a starting place. Ask teachers what needs to change and how to make those changes realities.  Not only can we learn, we can teach.  We can find solutions that others cannot, because we live the profession every day and are best positioned to know what works and what does not. And, we can lead change within the profession most effectively.  Ask us.  Just ask us.

Yes, Teachers Can Learn

In the Sunday edition of the New York Times, a commentary was published, written by Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling." In his commentary, Mr. Mehta debunks several reform planks, including THE NOTIONS that charter schools out-perform traditional public schools AND that teachers who are prepared by alternative programs perform better than those who come through traditional programs.  HE ALSO notes that despite extensive reform efforts, little has changed.  Mr. Mehta cites evidence for these assumptions, and I encourage you to read his well-written and thoughtful piece: http://www.opednews.com/Quicklink/Teachers--Will-We-Ever-Le-in-Best_Web_OpEds-130413-498.html

Mr. Mehta notes what we at NNSTOY have been saying for years, that until we change the very system of education, moving us from an antiquated system based on an agrarian calendar, to a professional structure that models the best of other professions, we have little chance of making meaningful change.  Like NNSTOY, Mr. Mehta focuses on continuums of professional practice (though he uses other terms to describe these), through which teachers can continually build their skills, work in supportive collaborative structures that are not regimented by bus schedules, explore, career pathways and opportunities for teacher leadership, and continually grow and develop.

He talks about the model of less instructional time and more time spent in action research, collaborative planning, data analyses, and ongoing assessment of professional practice in other countries.  Finally, Mr. Mehta notes that without meaningful systems change, we are relegated to making the same mistakes and moving the needle marginally, if at all, in terms of progress.

At the same time, we have recently seen a plethora of articles on the cheating scandals plaguing some of our nation’s largest school systems. This has called into question whether teacher evaluation using student test data is truly the answer some envisioned for transforming the sector.  As a counter-example to the recent cheating scandals, in his article, Helping Teachers Learn, Brent Staples cites the success of the Aspire charter school network in emphasizing extensive, constructive, and actionable feedback to teachers, creating a system of support for ongoing strengthening of professional practice.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/helping-teachers-learn.html?_r=0

At NNSTOY, we have called for a true professionalizing of teaching.  We have cited five professional structures that exist in other professions and are missing in our own.  These are:  career continuums, distributed leadership models, collaborative practice structures, actionable feedback to inform practice, and guiding principles for the profession.  In a series of blog pieces, I have provided extensive evidence for how each of these structures contributes to professional practice in other career fields. http://www.nnstoy.org/professionalizing-teaching/

Within the next few weeks, NNSTOY will be releasing its first white paper, outlining these five paradigms and the work we are undertaking, with partners, to make them a reality.

Mr. Mehta asks, “Teachers – Will We Ever Learn?”  My response is, “Yes, Mr. Mehta, we will.  By listening to the voices of our teacher leaders, we can best learn what the profession most needs.  By providing the funding and the political will to enact these recommended changes, we stand the best chance of experiencing genuine reform – reform from within.  By following the example of our teacher leaders, we can best learn how to make meaningful change.  One of the five paradigms that NNSTOY would like to see the profession put in place is Guiding Principles, developed by practitioners for the profession, and to which we would hold ourselves accountable.  If we had such a structure in place, perhaps we would not have so many other groups dictating to us to what we should be held accountable.

Mr. Staples entitles his piece, “Helping Teachers Learn.”  If we, as a country, truly want to transform the teaching profession, it will take courage, fortitude, and money.  It may be a complex journey, but need not be a lengthy one; as Mr. Mehta notes, countries like Singapore and Finland turned things around in a matter of a few years.  While complex, the starting place is simple:  if policy makers want to learn how to transform teaching, let’s try something simple as a starting place. Ask teachers what needs to change and how to make those changes realities.  Not only can we learn, we can teach.  We can find solutions that others cannot, because we live the profession every day and are best positioned to know what works and what does not. And, we can lead change within the profession most effectively.  Ask us.  Just ask us.

 

A Professional Compensation Culture: Role-Based Pay

During the twelve years that I have spent in a corporate culture, I have experienced an evaluation and compensation system very different from the one that I experienced in my 26-year P12 classroom teaching career.  Rather than compensation being based on my longevity,  and evaluation being completed through a list of characteristics to be checked off, or not, I was compensated and evaluated purposefully and frequently on my performance.  I had opportunities within the system to take on increasing levels of responsibility, and to earn accordingly.  This is a role-based compensation system, as well as a performance-based one.

As teachers, there are times, I am sure, when you agree with Bill Gates’ positions on education and times when you do not.  This week, I am sending a big thank you to Mr. Gates for his editorial last week, A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-03/opinions/38246518_1_teacher-evaluation-systems-classroom-observations-student-test .  While there was much in the piece that I agree with, what I thank him for is raising to the public level the notion that we compensate teachers based on the roles that they play.

Mr. Gates’ commentary focused on implementing evaluation systems with rational, measured thinking; multiple measures; and strongly encouraging building of systems that provide actionable feedback to educators; and these are all good things.  However, what most resonated with me in reading his piece, was Mr. Gates’ focus on the ways in which we can compensate teachers for the roles that they play and specifying roles for teacher leaders.  This is a model that is utilized in virtually all of the education systems in countries that the U.S. has cited as role models.

Gates specifically mentions Singapore, which uses a structured career ladder in education with three directions:  the teaching track, the leadership track and the specialist track. Educators choosing the teacher track work their way up to becoming Principal Master Teachers. For those who choose the leadership track, promotions from a leadership position within the school all the way up to the position of Director-General of Education are possible. In the specialist track, teachers are focused on research and teaching policy, with the highest level position being Chief Specialist.  At each level, there are salary increases and additional training and mentorship opportunities. (source:  Center on International Education Benchmarking.)

In South Korea, the government is implementing a program piloted in 2008, establishing career ladders in which teachers who demonstrate strong teaching and leadership skills serve as Master Teachers.  (source:  Center on International Education Benchmarking)

In his paper, Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders, Andreas Schleicher talks about the importance of implementing strong models of distributed leadership, and evidence of the impact of teacher leadership on teacher efficacy. He provides a snapshot of what this looks like in countries like the Netherlands, Scotland, and Norway. (source:  http://www.oecd.org/site/eduistp2012/49850576.pdf)

In each of these countries, teachers are selected for teacher leadership positions based on their performance in the classroom as well as for leadership characteristics.  Once selected, they are compensated for the different kinds of services that they are providing.  So, in effect, in these systems, we have role-based compensation systems rather than compensation based strictly on performance.  And, in these systems, the role of the teacher leader is firmly recognized.

When I was facilitating the development of the Teacher Leader Model Standards, (www.teacherleaderstandards.org) the 35-member consortium doing the development work (including five STOYs) had many passionate conversations about compensation for such roles.  We determined that our purview was not to define such systems as this is a policy decision and must be left up to the states who determine licensure/certification.

We have had much debate and now action around pay for performance.  Mr. Gates, I thank you for taking the first step to shifting the conversation to pay for educator role.  By no means am I suggesting that we do away with evaluation; in all of the systems mentioned above, decisions about which teachers move into teacher leader roles are made, in part, through evidence that the educator is an exemplary practitioner.  However, the time has come to recognize that teacher leadership is a valuable asset, does impact both educator performance and student achievement, and that offering such career continuums may also impact retention.

Having a national conversation around how we best implement such career continuums would be a service to the field, and one that I, and many other educators, welcome.

What Are We Teaching?

Over the past few months, as articles and reports have emerged on the topic of how our schools stack up against those in other nations, and how well we are preparing our students to compete with those in other countries, I have been asking myself, “what are we teaching?”  When I was in the P12 classroom – I believe that I am now simply in a larger classroom, without walls – I would have answered that question by stating that I teach information literacy skills.  Other colleagues would proudly state that they teach children, or students, as opposed to content.  Still others would have said that they teach life skills.

Increasingly, I believe that what we actually teach is preparedness for students to become contributing members of a global society.  We teach workforce skills, critical and creative problem solving, collaboration, evidence collection and analysis, and the ability to discern between valid and invalid information.  We teach good citizenry, moral decision-making, and contributing to a system for the greater good.  We teach innovation with respect for traditional methods.  We teach how to play fair and still individually grow and succeed.  We teach how to see the individual details of a problem but not lose sight of the big picture.  And yes, somewhere in there, we also teach math, reading, science, art, music, whatever our content expertise happens to be.  And yes again, ultimately, we teach children (students).

In his NY Times editorial Need a Job?  Invent It, Tom Friedman talks about Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.  Wagner describes what he views as a battle between education and the business community and that what we should be teaching is not how to make students job ready, but innovation ready, noting again that many of the jobs that our students will ultimately hold do not yet even exist.  He notes that his business community contacts tell him, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

With all of the conversation that we have been having about testing, the focus has still been on the learning of content.  We see international comparisons that tell us how our students perform in Math, Science, English compared to international peers.  We compare results on NAEP to results on state tests in content areas.  The new report by Stanford, Developing Assessments of Deeper Learning, tells us that the creation and implementation of tests that measure the application of content knowledge will be much more costly for states, but that not investing in such assessments is penny wise/pound foolish.

Today, we see released by America Achieves a new tool by which individual US schools who participate in the OECD assessments can examine their students’ achievement in English, Math, and Science and how they apply knowledge of content in these fields to real-world problems.  In looking preliminarily at results, we see that some US schools are out-performing students in other nations significantly, while other US schools are far behind.

Tom Friedman makes the point in his editorial, My Little Global School, that the results also tell us that we have been harboring a misconception – the belief that we lag behind other nations because we test all students, and that our students in poverty under-perform and this pulls down our overall test results.  Using this new tool however, we see that many schools with mostly higher-middle class populations are outperformed by 24 nations in Math and 15 in Science; and that schools with mostly lower-middle class populations were outperformed by 31 countries or regions in Math and 25 in Science.  And some of these schools are receiving  A’s in these content areas based on their own state tests.

And yet, some US schools are doing an outstanding job, as measured by these tests.  Why?  What are they teaching that their underperforming counterparts are not? To me, this is the critical question.

Way back in the dark ages, in 2002, I formed a collaboration between NJ DOE, the NJ Governor’s office, the NJ Education Association, Educational Testing Service, Prudential, and NJ STOYs to formulate and host the NJ Teacher Academy.  With funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Academy trained teachers as teacher leaders and trained their principals to provide roles and a culture of acceptance for teacher leaders.

Mary O’Malley from Prudential would come in on the first full evening of the Academy and talk with educators about what business most needs from teachers in terms of skills taught to students.  O’Malley told our educators that Prudential can teach new hires the content that they need to do the job; they can’t teach them how to collaborate, how to group problem solve, how to seek new solutions to old problems, and how to innovate solutions.  That was in 2002.  The message from the business community seems not to have changed; but the conversation is still ongoing.  Why have we not yet gotten this right?

After spending twelve years in the testing industry, I have developed a strong respect for the power of assessment.  In developing the first assessment on which I worked, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Library Media assessment, I was thunderstruck by the potential of that test – grounded in innovative and far-reaching standards – to change practice.  In order to do well on that test, librarians would have to teach to those standards and, if they were not already doing so, practice would change.

If we teach what we test, perhaps part of the reason that we have been so slow to heed the pleas of the business community has been because our focus has been on testing strictly content, as required by the standards that we had at hand, rather than on teaching the application of content that they are asking for – creative and critical thinking, innovative problem solving, and so on.  Perhaps, as we shift gears and move into testing based on college and career ready standards that require this kind of thought process, based around content, we will get closer to teaching what the business community is asking us for – innovators who will change the world.

Drinking From the Fountain

“You can’t know what it means to drink from the fountain of the Common Core Student Standards (CCSS) unless you ate the dust of NCLB, “ said Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association.

Analyze, evaluate, determine, integrate and assess.  As Eskelsen noted, these are the kinds of verbs that make teachers salivate, particularly after experiencing years of NCLB where cut scores ruled.  Who wouldn’t want their students to be able to fully develop these higher order thinking skills?  However, how do we prepare teachers to teach to these standards, and how do we measure our performance in a way that is meaningful, valid, reliable, and fair?

These ideas and more were discussed at the AEI forum, Common Core meets the reform agenda, with both policy makers and practitioners delving into the CCSS and discussing their impact on issues such as evaluation, policy and charter schools.  While most panelists acknowledged the positive potential impact of CCSS on the culture of learning, some noted that if standards implementation is done poorly, steered by politics, and rushed, both CCSS and evaluation reform will fail. To maximize benefit, the CCSS need to be implemented faithfully, which for now may mean taking it slow and adopting the culture needed to be successful as well as the standards.

It was noted that there is a disconnect between policy and implementation, which became evident as the panelists engaged in discussion.  Educators realized that the CCSS represent a culture shift to one where collaboration is the rule of the day, but not just in our schools. Linda Darling Hammond pointed out that in other high achieving countries, higher education works with K-12 to help develop the standards and plan implementation, and teacher preparation programs are aligned to these standards; she also noted that standards documents tend to be slimmer in these nations.

In policy development, our state education agencies (SEAs) will also have to collaborate more thoroughly with schools and districts, as well as with the USED.   Communication will have to improve on all levels, because as one panelist noted, if there is no buy-in from teachers, the initiative is dead.

When it comes to the CCSS, most agreed that having a uniform set of rigorous skills that students need to master is a good thing, but that an idea without a plan is just a dream.  Josh Parker, (2012 MD STOY) asked the question most educators want answered, namely, how are we going to teach teachers to teach the standards?  Kimberly Worthy (2009 DC STOY) talked about the need for resources, collaboration and cross-curricular integration in order for implementation to be successful.

While some panelists urged caution in using CCSS assessments as a measure of teacher effectiveness, particularly before they are validated for such use, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education pointed out that, . if we were using student test performance as the only measure to evaluate teachers, we should be worried. However, we are planning to use multiple measures, including student test performance, and waiting will mean that students do not get the help that they need now, in some cases. He also questioned whether delaying implementation actually leads to doing it better.

Conclusions?  It was clear by the end of the day that there are still many areas of disagreement when it comes to CCSS, but some common themes emerged, including idea that the CCSS have real potential to improve teaching and help us learn what effective teaching looks like.  To be successful, this culture shift will take time, resources, collaboration and communication.   As one panelist stated, implementation is too important for us to get wrong.

Needed: 21st Century Teaching Spaces

I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the report The State of Our Schools by the Center for Green Schools.  While the report, as you would expect coming from this organization, focuses heavily on environmental and health safety of our physical school buildings, I was also interested in what it might have to tell us about our schools’ readiness to operate in an era of rapidly developing technologies, differentiated staffing models, and virtual teaching and learning.

The report authors zero in on the following key areas:

  • Facilities and Student Behavior
  • Facilities and Health
  • Facilities and Education
  • Facilities and Communities
  • Inequity in School Facility Quality

It is a wealth of data, statistics, and great quotes and it is an important report, calling attention to the inadequacies of many of our school buildings in regard to these key focal areas.  For example, the report notes that:

  • We have not had a comprehensive overview of our school building condition since 1995  - eighteen years ago
  • We would need to commit $542 billion dollars over the next ten years to our physical buildings in order to modernize them; this does not include new construction to provide for increased student enrollments
  • School districts spent $211 billion dollars between 1995 and 2008 in maintaining buildings
  • The report cites studies that tell us that student is higher in schools in better physical condition
  •  Air quality and acoustics affect stress levels of all who learn and work in schools
  • Teacher retention is greater in well-maintained buildings
  • The report provides significant data on the spending inequities between communities located in various zip codes
  • Bill Clinton, who wrote the report preface, notes that, “schools are

currently facing a $271 billion deferred maintenance bill just to bring the buildings up to working

order – approximately $5,450 per student.”

The report is excellent; but it did not address the topics that I most wanted to see, namely, the lack of infrastructure support for technology in many of our buildings, and the inhibitions placed on implementing continuums of professional practice and models of collaborative practice by our outdated physical structures.

In the work that NNSTOY has been engaged in with Digital Promise and  Pearson, looking at implementation of instructional technology in schools, the antiquated infrastructure and inequity of resources has really been driven home.  In Clintondale High School, for example, teachers cannot depend on the technology infrastructure to work on a daily basis; they are doing amazing work regardless in using the flipped classroom model of teaching – but they are doing it without dependence on videos in order to flip.  They have adapted by using smart phones instead.

In thinking about implementing continuum models like those proposed by Art Wise and Molly Lasagna, where we would see multiple teachers with varying levels of expertise in a ‘classroom’ with eighty or more students, many school buildings today simply would be unable to support those models.  The physical space would simply not allow for it.

In contemplating virtual classrooms, with multiple classes of students in different locations joining together to learn and work, many of our schools cannot afford the equipment and Internet connectivity required in order to fully implement.

How can we move to 21st century (and beyond) learning and teaching models in buildings that rely on a design of one teacher per classroom with thirty students, let alone what is inside those classrooms in terms of equipment and technology infrastructure.

The report makes several recommendations, including establishment of an every decade facility survey.  My own hope is that such a survey will include space configuration, technology infrastructure, telecommunications, and equipment.  Until we have 21st century spaces, we can’t truly have 21st century learning.

On a personal note, I realized over the weekend that I have now been your ED for six months.  During that time, we have accomplished a great deal in terms of building and expanding our brand as a revitalized organization.  We have also worked together to find out what you are most interested in regarding policy, practice, and advocacy; improving communications; and establishing our research agenda.

It was a very difficult decision for me to accept this position; the biggest blessing in having done so has been in getting to know so many STOYs.  Well over two hundred of you have personally reached out to me to offer me insights, advice, support, criticism, and to simply engage in conversation; from 1974 forward, I have heard from STOYs in many different locations and situations.  One of the founding members of NSTOY commented to me recently that she hoped that this version of NNSTOY would not lose the camaraderie and closeness that the organization has so richly experienced in the past.  If my experience is typical, and if I have anything to do with it, it absolutely will not.

During these past two months, facing a difficult time as a parent, the support that I have received from NNSTOY members has been sustaining.  I am deeply grateful for my NNSTOY family.

Jessica will have surgery tomorrow both to implant a feeding tube (they were unsuccessful in doing so in less invasive ways) and to explore what might be causing her inability to process food by mouth.  It will be a difficult day and my family will be so hopeful that the doctors will finally be able to find some answers.  I know that many of you will hold Jessica in your hearts, as you have been doing.

Thank you so much for all that you do, and have done, for teaching and learning, and for all that you have done for me and my family.

Teacher Leadership and De-Professionalizing Teaching: Two Reports

There are two reports that I would like to call your attention to this week, as they are so closely aligned with our work as teacher leaders and with NNSTOY’s work regarding professionalizing teaching.  The first is the Aspen Institute report on teacher leadership, listed below in the reports section for you.

The report shares findings with the Policy section of the Teacher Leader Model Standards, (TLMS) www.teacherleaderstandards.org, developed with five of our STOYs (Terry Dozier, SC and NTOY 1985, Peggy Stewart, NJ 2005; Dana Boyd, TX 2007; Marguerite Izzo, NY 2007; Katherine Bassett, NJ 2000) and a consortium of 35 members, in terms of the issues that face truly implementing teacher leadership models successfully.  These include school culture, identification processes, compensation, distributed leadership models, structuring the schedule of the school day, the physical space in schools, and sustaining such models financially, to name but a few.

The TLMS were released in 2011; one thing that struck me as I read this very welcome report, was how little has changed since then.  The issues that we had identified are still the sticking points today in implementing teacher leadership models.  This report gives examples of several places that have implemented, or are in the process of implementing such models, and reading of their efforts to overcome these challenges and others was both encouraging and depressing.

The Aspen Institute has reached out to NNSTOY to ask for our collaboration in moving the conversation forward around the report and its findings.  We will be working with the report author, Rachel Curtis and the Institute in bringing together conversations with teacher leaders around this work.  I hope that you will read this report and give some thought to questions that you would ask about its findings, and ideas that you suggest to truly promote an effective teacher leadership model in your school.

The second is the NEPC report on Policy Reforms and the De-Professionalizing of Teaching, identifying three current policy trends that either support or take away from the professionalization of teaching; this report is also listed in the reports list below for you.  The three reforms are:  (1) policies that evaluate teachers based on students’ annual standardized test score gains, and specifically, those based on value-added assessment;(2) fast-track teacher preparation and licensure; and (3) scripted, narrowed curricula.  The conclusion drawn by the authors is that, overall, these three reform efforts detract from the teaching as a true profession.

I would encourage you to read this report and would be interested in your views; do you agree with the authors’ findings?  Are the ways in which they have defined the de-professionalization of teaching as a result of each similar to your own views?

Finally, I would like to offer you my sincere thanks on your support during this difficult time for me and my family. Your many messages of kindness, letting me know that you are thinking of us, that Jessica is in your thoughts and prayers, have meant the world to me during the past week.  I wish that I had good news to share, but I do not.  After two hospital stays, we still do not know what is causing Jessica’s body to reject nutrition; she has lost a total of 20 pounds now and tomorrow, we are going back into Jefferson to have a nasojejeunal tube implanted to tube feed Jess, hoping that bypassing her digestive system will allow her to regain some weight while the doctors figure this out.  Your continued thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Deliberate Practice and Actionable Feedback

Over the past several months, I have become quite friendly with the staff at the American Enterprise Institute and have been observing their excitement as they’ve approached the launch of Rick Hess’s new book Cage-Busting leadership.  I have also heard Rick present on the theme of this book – that to be successful, school administrators have to bust through various cages that the system places in their way.

Rick and I have had some brief conversations about the similar cages that successful teachers and teacher leaders have to break through in order to transform education and help students succeed.  These conversations sparked the Webinar that Rick is doing for us next week.  He is now looking into writing a book about cage-busting for teachers.

This, and several conversations recently around the incredible use that the Teacher Leader Model Standards (TLMS) (www.teacherleaderstandards.org) are receiving, both here and abroad, has me thinking a great deal about what it takes to truly succeed as a teacher leader and a teacher leader reformer in today’s schools.

In their 2007 article, Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept07/vol65/num01/Ten-Roles-for-Teacher-Leaders.aspx Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison defined these potential TL roles:

  1. Resource provider
  2. Instructional specialist
  3. Curriculum specialist
  4. Classroom supporter
  5. Learning facilitator
  6. Mentor
  7. School leader
  8. Data coach
  9. Catalyst for change
  10. Learner

It is now five years later, and I think that I would add some additional roles like technology innovator, virtual coach (mentor), information coordinator, policy advocate, research leader, to name a few.

The seven domains of the TLMS are (hyperlinked so that you can go to them):

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

In today’s schools, if teacher leaders were to truly function as the standards outline, what would have to change?  What are our ‘mountains’ as Rick Hess calls them, what cages would we have to bust in order to succeed?   Here are a few of my thoughts.

We hear a great deal about 21st century learning, 21st century students, teaching for the 21st century, but we don’t hear much about 21st century education systems.  Some of the mountains that we would have to eradicate from our systems, in my view, include:

  • Physical space:  even if we could get a district to agree to combining students and teachers into an Art Wise or Molly Lasagna type model, with multiple teachers and many more students in one ‘classroom’ our buildings could not accommodate that structure.  Our classrooms were built for 20-30 students and one teacher.
  • Time:  to me, this is one of our biggest mountains.  Until we let go of a school schedule that is driven by the bus schedule, we will have severe limitations on the degree to which we can develop collaborative communities, let alone collaborative practice.
  • School calendar:  why are we still tied to a 180 plus day calendar that leaves a two and a half month gap in the middle?  Agricultural needs from the turn of the century?  Need for shore communities to have a teenage labor force in the summer?  Let’s put student learning ahead of tradition.
  • Building-based learning:  why does all learning have to take place in school, in order to ‘count’?  States like New Hampshire are showing us that it does not.   Music students can use private lessons as time towards graduation, for example. And service learning counts.
  • Antiquated technology infrastructure:  in so many of our schools, the technology infrastructures cannot handle a truly innovative use of technology for instruction; there are ways around this, but we need to get serious about replacing and upgrading these systems.
  • Different strokes for different states:  each state has its own requirements for licensing and certifying educators; this creates issues when schools try to share resources across state lines, for example, in virtual teaching environments.
  • Valuing innovation:  too often, the culture of schools tells us to stay in our rooms, close our doors, and don’t be different!  Innovation is not accepted readily; how many of our STOYs have experienced this after their Year of Recognition?
  • Policy input:  Ellen Behrstock Sherratt and colleagues have recently written a book, Everyone At the Table, focused on requiring that educators have a voice in policy making.  The STOY Class of 2007 has put the same concept into Federal legislation with the Teachers at the Table Act, now tied to ESEA.  How do we make this the norm and not the exception?
  • Public perception:  elevating the profession in the eyes of the general public is critical; until teachers are perceived as professionals, they won’t be treated as such
  • Compensation:  we are simple not competitive, and therefore, cannot increase our pipeline
  • Lack of career advancement and distributed leadership models:  if it takes ten years to build expertise, and we are losing 40 percent of our workforce before that, we have a serious problem.  And, if there are no actual structures in our systems to allow for leadership opportunities other than top/down models, we are in more trouble.  Teachers who leave tell us that this is a huge factor.
  • Teacher OR researcher:  why?  Teacher-researcher.  Look at Finland.

These are just a few of the mountains that I see when I view the education landscape; and until we find ways to navigate them, we will have difficulty implementing viable teacher leader models.  What mountains do you see?  How you propose we navigate them?

Cage-Busting 21st Century Systems

Over the past several months, I have become quite friendly with the staff at the American Enterprise Institute and have been observing their excitement as they’ve approached the launch of Rick Hess’s new book Cage-Busting leadership.  I have also heard Rick present on the theme of this book – that to be successful, school administrators have to bust through various cages that the system places in their way.

Rick and I have had some brief conversations about the similar cages that successful teachers and teacher leaders have to break through in order to transform education and help students succeed.  These conversations sparked the Webinar that Rick is doing for us next week.  He is now looking into writing a book about cage-busting for teachers.

This, and several conversations recently around the incredible use that the Teacher Leader Model Standards (TLMS) (www.teacherleaderstandards.org) are receiving, both here and abroad, has me thinking a great deal about what it takes to truly succeed as a teacher leader and a teacher leader reformer in today’s schools.

In their 2007 article, Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept07/vol65/num01/Ten-Roles-for-Teacher-Leaders.aspx Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison defined these potential TL roles:

  1. Resource provider
  2. Instructional specialist
  3. Curriculum specialist
  4. Classroom supporter
  5. Learning facilitator
  6. Mentor
  7. School leader
  8. Data coach
  9. Catalyst for change
  10. Learner

It is now five years later, and I think that I would add some additional roles like technology innovator, virtual coach (mentor), information coordinator, policy advocate, research leader, to name a few.

The seven domains of the TLMS are (hyperlinked so that you can go to them):

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

In today’s schools, if teacher leaders were to truly function as the standards outline, what would have to change?  What are our ‘mountains’ as Rick Hess calls them, what cages would we have to bust in order to succeed?   Here are a few of my thoughts.

We hear a great deal about 21st century learning, 21st century students, teaching for the 21st century, but we don’t hear much about 21st century education systems.  Some of the mountains that we would have to eradicate from our systems, in my view, include:

  • Physical space:  even if we could get a district to agree to combining students and teachers into an Art Wise or Molly Lasagna type model, with multiple teachers and many more students in one ‘classroom’ our buildings could not accommodate that structure.  Our classrooms were built for 20-30 students and one teacher.
  • Time:  to me, this is one of our biggest mountains.  Until we let go of a school schedule that is driven by the bus schedule, we will have severe limitations on the degree to which we can develop collaborative communities, let alone collaborative practice.
  • School calendar:  why are we still tied to a 180 plus day calendar that leaves a two and a half month gap in the middle?  Agricultural needs from the turn of the century?  Need for shore communities to have a teenage labor force in the summer?  Let’s put student learning ahead of tradition.
  • Building-based learning:  why does all learning have to take place in school, in order to ‘count’?  States like New Hampshire are showing us that it does not.   Music students can use private lessons as time towards graduation, for example. And service learning counts.
  • Antiquated technology infrastructure:  in so many of our schools, the technology infrastructures cannot handle a truly innovative use of technology for instruction; there are ways around this, but we need to get serious about replacing and upgrading these systems.
  • Different strokes for different states:  each state has its own requirements for licensing and certifying educators; this creates issues when schools try to share resources across state lines, for example, in virtual teaching environments.
  • Valuing innovation:  too often, the culture of schools tells us to stay in our rooms, close our doors, and don’t be different!  Innovation is not accepted readily; how many of our STOYs have experienced this after their Year of Recognition?
  • Policy input:  Ellen Behrstock Sherratt and colleagues have recently written a book, Everyone At the Table, focused on requiring that educators have a voice in policy making.  The STOY Class of 2007 has put the same concept into Federal legislation with the Teachers at the Table Act, now tied to ESEA.  How do we make this the norm and not the exception?
  • Public perception:  elevating the profession in the eyes of the general public is critical; until teachers are perceived as professionals, they won’t be treated as such
  • Compensation:  we are simple not competitive, and therefore, cannot increase our pipeline
  • Lack of career advancement and distributed leadership models:  if it takes ten years to build expertise, and we are losing 40 percent of our workforce before that, we have a serious problem.  And, if there are no actual structures in our systems to allow for leadership opportunities other than top/down models, we are in more trouble.  Teachers who leave tell us that this is a huge factor.
  • Teacher OR researcher:  why?  Teacher-researcher.  Look at Finland.

These are just a few of the mountains that I see when I view the education landscape; and until we find ways to navigate them, we will have difficulty implementing viable teacher leader models.  What mountains do you see?  How you propose we navigate them?

Meeting the 2013s

This will be a short note as I am focusing on getting things ready for our Web site launch.  I am feeling a bit like characters from the picture books I love so much as I combined my painstakingly developed database of STOY email addresses – cleaned and free of kickbacks – with Jon Quam’s 17 databases (one for each STOY year from 1996 forward).  This was so complex a task that I had to develop a project plan and flowchart to keep it all straight.

I veered from Demi’s One Grain of Rice and Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats as STOY entries multiplied and I had to end up with 17 different distribution lists so that they would send through Outlook (millions and billions and trillions of STOYs!) to Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to Chicken Little (the sky is falling!) as I lost about a third of the data halfway through.  However, I ended up like the Little Engine That Could (I think I can, I think I can, I know I can) and finally was able to provide our Web designer with a cohesive list of wonderful, inspiring STOYs to start our site with.

Once the site is up, you will be asked to go in and update your profile, pay your dues if need be, and gain access to the Member’s page of the site.  There are quite a few STOYs whose email addresses did not work, and I will ask for help in finding them as we move forward.

Two things that I do want to make sure to share with you are an article that was released last night by CCSSO’s Chris Minnich, and, my impressions from the first conference of the 2013 STOYs.

Chris, the new Executive Director of CCSSO, has called our Congressional legislators to task for their lack of movement on Federal education legislation.  He notes that while the use of waivers has resulted in progress in a number of states, waivers are not a substitute for solid, guiding Federal legislation that states then can take and enact.  NNSTOY members from the class of 2007 actually drafted a piece of legislation called Teachers at the Table, which was supported by a number of legislators in the House and Senate and made it to both Education Committees; it ended up appended to the ESEA reauthorization legislation and has languished in limbo ever since.

Chris is a thoughtful, reasoned leader who is passionate about the role of education for all children in advancing our goals.  Please check out his article here: http://www.rollcall.com/news/minnich_update_our_education_legislation-222213-1.html.

Justin Minkel (AR 2007), Sarah Brown Wessling (IA and NTOY 2010), Michelle Shearing (MD and NTOY 2011), Holly Boffy (LA 2010), Cindi Rigsbee (NC 2009), and Rebecca Mielwocki (CA and NTOY 2012) were honored to participate in the first conference of the 2013 STOYs, our newest brothers and sisters.  What an amazing group of educators!  Spending four days together, I was able to personally speak with about half of the newest class of STOYs; their stories, their vision, and their passion for their students and for their profession were deeply inspiring.

I have been blessed to participate in this conference for the past eight years or so; every year, as the new STOYs introduce themselves, I see the faces of my class of 2000 STOYs superimposed over these newest members’ faces.  This class includes individuals who will carry forward the recognition they are receiving by making a difference for other teachers.  They are already so far ahead of where I was in 2000 in terms of their knowledge of policy and ‘the bigger picture’ in the education landscape.  Watching the realization of the opportunities now offered and of the expectations anticipated, is always a bit emotional for me, and again it was this year.

Sarah, Michelle, Holly, and Rebecca ably led the homeroom sessions and helped our newest STOYs in navigating this new landscape.  As always, Jon Quam and Andy Drewlinger made them feel comfortable yet challenged, and most of all, valued. What an incredible experience they will have; and they are well up to the task.

The four finalists, who will represent their class, are:  Alex Lopes from Florida; Roxanne Holmes-Blakenship from Maryland; Heidi Welch from NH; Jeffrey Charbonneau from WA. Read their bios at this link:  http://www.ccsso.org/ntoy/News/Educators_from_FL_MD_NH_and_WA_are_Finalists_for_Nation%E2%80%99s_Top_Teaching_Honor.html

You Say You Want a Revolution

I was very intrigued – actually, excited – by not one, but two articles that were published this week.  The first appeared in the New York Times on January 23rd by Tom Friedman: Revolution Hits the Universities http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/friedman-revolution-hits-the-universities.html?_r=0 ;  the second, was printed in the Wall Street Journal on January 26th and was entitled Bill Gates: My Plan to Fix The World's Biggest Problems.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323539804578261780648285770.html

As you may recall, NNSTOY has been conducting research with Digital Promise, Pearson, and university partners, to collect evidence of impact on a variety of teaching and learning factors of implementing digital teaching and learning tools in the P12 classroom.  This has been a very exciting study as we have been doing qualitative research in schools, observing, conducting interviews and focus groups, and seeing first-hand what happens when you meaningfully use digital tools for instruction.

Two weeks ago, I was in Stefani Cook’s high school in Rigby, ID, where Stefani  and a colleague are leading the shift to blended learning.  They are starting small, with four teachers, but in a short time period have already seen results and are engaging others in this work.  A fifth teacher is utilizing virtual teaching tools, combining her math class with those in four other school districts; the students and teacher shared the relationships that have been built as  a result of incorporating technology and of the sense of a larger community, with more learners and teachers to share problem solving and understanding.

The Friedman article details the movement worldwide towards using free, virtual courses to students globally and includes universities like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT through online course companies like Coursera and Udacity.  To give you an idea of the scope and impact of these courses, one MIT course on circuits garnered 155,000 students from around the world, greater than the total enrollment at MIT over its 150 year history of existence.

From a 17-year old student with autism taking college courses at University of Pennsylvania online- in a letter to the university, he writes:  “During the course, I had to keep pace with the class, which is unheard-of in special ed. Now I know I can benefit from having to work hard and enjoy being in sync with the world;” to a Princeton sociology professor teaching a summer introductory soc course to 40,000 students from 113 countries, who writes:  “I asked students to follow along in their own copies, as I do in the lecture hall. When I give this lecture on the Princeton campus, I usually receive a few penetrating questions. In this case, however, within a few hours of posting the online version, the course forums came alive with hundreds of comments and questions. Several days later there were thousands. ... Within three weeks I had received more feedback on my sociological ideas than I had in a career of teaching, which significantly influenced each of my subsequent lectures and seminars,” we are indeed witnessing a revolution in the way in which students and teachers interact how learning occurs – and where.

How will this change the traditional university educational system?  Harvard President Rafael Reif thinks that we will witness an entirely new way of thinking about what constitutes a degree.

I think it will also change the way that we think about course completion in our P12 schools, how and when and where students take courses, and what graduation requirements might look like in the future.  According to an Ed Week article, 36 states are already considering changes to the Carnegie unit, the required amount of ‘seat time’ that high schools students must spend in formal classes.  New Hampshire recognizes that learning can take place in many venues outside of the classroom and has instituted a program through which students and teachers together design a program of study that may include learning experiences outside of school.  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/07/23biz-state.h31.html

In reading the Friedman article, I could not help but think of the lyrics penned by Curtis Mayfield when he wrote – “people get ready, there’s a change a’comin…”  Thankfully, people like Stefani Cook are getting ready.

In the Gates article, Bill Gates spends some time considering the value of measurement in terms of setting the course for progress and enacting it, in each of the varied areas of interest that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds. As someone who spent twelve intensive years learning and living measurement at ETS, I too was constantly awed by the power of testing and measurement in terms of driving teaching practice.

When we built the first performance-based assessment (I went on to lead the development of a total of 9 statewide or national performance-based assessments at ETS), during my career at ETS, the National Board’s Library Media assessment, I was immediately struck by the impact on my profession of the standards on which the assessment was founded.  I learned quickly that by measuring the rich and rigorous body of knowledge encompassed in those standards, we were going to be driving practice for thousands of media specialists.

In order to successfully challenge the assessment, these professionals would have to be able to provide evidence that they could meet the facets of the standards measured.  I thought I was pretty good librarian; but if I had taken that assessment without preparation, I would have failed.  In order to succeed, I would have had to learn a great deal, change the way in which I did certain things, and advance my practice considerably.  This is a prime example of measurement – or testing – driving practice.  This held true in every performance-based assessment that was developed under my direction at ETS.

To read the Gates’ article’s description of how measurement is driving practice – and results – in the fields of medicine, education, and economics is heartening for someone who places great value on the importance of measurement.  As an example of the difference that measurement is making in education, he cites the evaluation program instituted in Eagle Valley High School, Colorado.  Bill speaks of the power of an evaluation system that is, “used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths. In addition to one-on-one coaching, mentors and masters lead weekly group meetings in which teachers collaborate to spread their skills. Teachers are eligible for annual salary increases and bonuses based on the classroom observations and student achievement.”

Isn’t this what we have been asking for as teachers for years?  To be given information, data, that we can use in order to both strengthen our practice in area where it is needed, but also to find out where we are strong, so that we can help others and serve as leaders.  This is the result that all good evaluation systems should deliver.  Many of you are already engaged in helping your states to design such evaluation systems, making sure that they deliver meaningful feedback that we can use to strengthen practice for ourselves and others.

I hope that you will take some time to examine these two articles.  For me, they foretell two critical ways in which education may change in the very near future.  How can we, as exemplary teachers, best be a part of these two revolutions?

Lessons I Have Learned This Year From Higher Ed

Today is my birthday, usually a day on which I make time to stop and reflect on the past year, to measure how and where I have managed to grow in the past 12 months, to smile over the joys, and to see what can be learned from the low points.  Today, however, has been a whirlwind of meetings and workshops, which I think is good as I have approached this day with a great deal of trepidation; not because I am another year older, but because of what happened on my birthday last year.

Last year, on my birthday, my beautiful daughter, Jessica, was taken to the ER in agonizing pain, for what was the latest manifestation of the saga of her battle against Crohn’s disease.  Both she and I were cognizant of this ‘anniversary’ of sorts as we approached this day.  On Monday, I accompanied Jessica to her first intravenous chemotherapy treatment (a form of chemo is one of the drugs used in battling this disease) and then to a second-opinion visit.  We have spent a lot of time this past year in hospitals.

Jessica’s battle has been a valiant one, with many ups and downs.  And, I have found, in everything, there is something to learn, something to value, something for which to be grateful.  In this case, I am deeply grateful, not to Jessica’s doctors, but to her teachers.

Jess is a first-year law student at UPenn.  Her first semester was made more difficult by repeated bouts of painful illness.  These crescendoed as exam season approached.

Jess has had a lifelong history of physical illness and I have long been grateful for the deeply caring outlook of her many teachers; they recognized that hers is a unique and gifted intellect.  They nurtured this and allowed it time and space to flourish in spite of her physical battles.  And I did a disservice to law school faculty; I did not think that they would do the same.  I assumed that they would treat Jess as a number, a dollar sign, just another student and if she couldn’t make it – for whatever reason – too bad.

I could not have been more wrong.

The faculty at the school actually monitored how Jessica was faring; they noticed her condition, they spoke with her daily, and they – not her – suggested accommodations for exams.

Throughout the exam period, Jess had a series of medical procedures; the faculty adjusted her exam schedule around these.  The Dean of Students met with Jessica several times to monitor, not only her academic schedule, but her physical condition as well.  All of her teachers had taken the time to truly get to know my daughter; they knew what she was capable of and they expressed to her that they were interested in testing her knowledge of the law – not her disease.  To this end, they built an exam schedule that she could physically complete around treatments and procedures.

Throughout my teaching career, a hallmark of my own practice was to learn everything that I could about each student.  When I went to work on the National Board assessment program at ETS, I learned that this was called Knowledge of Students.  Through work with ASCD, I learned that it was called knowing the Whole Child.  As I worked on the committee revising the InTASC standards, I was part of incredible group of educators who struggled to define and include this aspect of teaching throughout the standards.

As a good friend of mine has reflected, “I think it is important to remember that as we are crafting policy for the future, not everything is black and white.   There needs to be flexibility for illness, hurricanes, and other traumatic events that can and will disrupt the school day.  Great teachers are the ones that are able to teach the whole child and help them develop their character as well as learn content.  Statistics and test scores only give us a snapshot of a student.  Grit, perseverance, a growth mindset and the ability to deal with obstacles may be better at determining a student’s future success than a test score. We also need to remember that these are important characteristics for teachers to have too.  We tend to forget that part. “ Jeanne DelColle is a wise woman.

Jessica’s law school professors have made a point of learning Jessica, while she has been learning the law.  And shame on me for being surprised that faculty at a law school would do this.

As teachers, knowing our students, our whole children, has become much more complex over the years.  My students at the end of my P12 classroom career had lives infinitely more overtly complicated than those with whom I began my practice.   And, it is becoming more so all the time.  We are being asked to do more and more for our students and are being blessed with students who face a more diverse set of needs than ever before.  Yet we, as teachers, still invest in knowing our whole children, our students.

As I reflect on my past year tonight, I have much to be sad about – as you know, it has been a difficult year – and much to celebrate.  Knowing that I represent a network of teachers who deeply care about every aspect of each student’s life is one of these celebrations; knowing that my own child has teachers who care as deeply about hers is another.

We Are No Longer Alone

I’m writing to you from Idaho Falls, Idaho where it is going to be a balmy minus 6 degrees tonight and there is snow on the ground. Tomorrow, I will be spending the day at Rigby High School, where Stefani Cook, (ID 2011) teaches, conducting a site visit for our research study with Pearson and Digital Promise.

I think that my message this week would fall under the heading of “We Are No Longer Alone” if I could entitle it. Have you seen the article in the NY Times on New York City’s response to the Affordable Care Act:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/12/nyregion/new-york-city-hospitals-to-tie-doctors-performance-pay-to-quality-measures.html?_r=0. Moving away from compensation models that reward doctors and hospitals for the number of procedures they perform, the city is moving towards a pay for performance system, through which doctors will be compensated, in part, based on metrics around patient satisfaction, patient recovery, and similar factors, still be negotiated.

Currently, this is being thought through for physicians in the city who are part of the city public hospital system – like teachers, basically public employees, to some extent.  You might think that most physicians are private practitioners; however, this is starting to change.  As insurance premiums, time spent bookkeeping, and other office-related tasks take up more and more time and money, many doctors are leaving their private practices and joining ‘groups’ often under the auspices of a hospital system.  In my rural community, my general practitioner, gynecologist, and allergist have all recently gone this route. So, the number of physicians affected may indeed be large.

Let’s look at some of the concerns expressed by physicians and their union:

  • “…doctors are hesitant, saying they could be penalized for conditions they cannot control, including how clean the hospital floors are, the attentiveness of nurses and the availability of beds”; does this sound familiar – working conditions conversations?
  • “…the consequences in a complex system like a hospital for giving an incentive for one little piece of behavior are virtually impossible to foresee,” ; again, sound familiar?
  • “…the union has also proposed expanding the indicators to 20, including measures that would give doctors bonuses for going to community meetings, giving lectures, getting training during work hours, screening patients for obesity and counseling them to stop smoking.; this sounds like the conversation that we have been having around multiple measures and what those measures should be, as well as somehow accounting for the many things that teachers do outside the classroom.
  • “… it has also proposed excluding some patients — like developmentally disabled patients, homeless people and those who have no place to go — from incentives aimed at reducing the time patients spend in the hospital.”  And again, this reminds me of the conversations that we have had about the level of responsibility to which teachers should be held accountable for the family/home conditions of their students.

I wanted to reach out to the physicians coming to grips with this new world order and say, “Welcome to the world of the classroom teacher.”  Since physicians are only just beginning their journey down the performance compensation pathway, there are many concerns that they have not yet thought through.

For example, should there be different standards for some of the thirteen factors currently identified to which they will be held accountable, for physicians in different fields?  How will the industry validly measure some of the thirteen constructs that have been identified?  And, how will they unravel the home care factors from overall patient recovery?  I think that the education field could serve as good mentors as this moves forward.

But the most important take-away for us, is that we are beginning to see how performance compensation will roll out for professions other than teaching.  If you want a fun exercise, play this out for auto mechanics, research scientists, or other fields.

We in teaching have been fortunate in having had the benefit of some in-depth, targeted research looking at the validity, reliability, and fairness of prospective measures.  And, we have had the guidance of research-based assessment companies informing conversations.  I could not tell whether or not similar safeguards had been put in place for these changes for physicians.

For once, maybe the medical field could learn something from the teaching model.  😉

When Tragedy Strikes At Our Heart

I have truly struggled with what to say in this week’s message.  What do you say when there are no words adequate to express what you are seeing, feeling?  As a teacher, my heart aches for my colleagues who had to endure such terror and were lost.  As a mother, my heart breaks for the young lives lost, and in such a violent manner, and for their parents, left with so many questions and such pain.  What do we say to people who have been through so much, other than we are here, we experience your pain, and we want to support you in any way that we possibly can.

Five NNSTOY representatives were sitting in a Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Voice meeting when iPhones began buzzing with frequent news headlines to the point that some of us actually looked to see what was happening.  And then sat in disbelief at the numbers that were being reported, trying to process news that was simply not believable.

For the rest of the weekend and into this week, I refused to turn on my television set, but have read constantly the news updates as so many people struggle to process this tragic waste of life. Reading about teachers with courage beyond imagining, enormous lengths gone to in trying to protect their students, of the bravery of students themselves, and simply trying to make some form of sense of any of this.  It colors everything.

Reading those news articles, I have seen everything from the ridiculous to the intensely moving; reporters who have handled the human suffering in Newtown and beyond with sensitivity, and some crassly.  In each case, the people of Newtown have responded with dignity, with grace.  There have been articles chronicling the debates around gun control, levels of gun control; the care and treatment of our mentally disabled and mentally ill; and a thoughtful and insightful article regarding the most common profile of the most recent spate of mass murderers:  male, white, middle class – and certainly with some level of mental, emotional, or behavioral disturbance, questioning why we are seeing this particular profile.  We all process differently; my form of processing is to voraciously read every point of view that I can find, and this article raised many questions for me.  I’m providing a link to it here:  http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/19/living/men-guns-violence/index.html?iref=allsearch

As a teacher, my school moved to a locked-door policy while I was still there; we practiced what to do in an emergency situation often.  I frequently struggled to define the ‘safest’ place to hide my students should a real situation arise.  Recently, I was in a middle school doing a site visit for a study when we suddenly went into lockdown; it lasted for over an hour, in which time, helicopters landed on the front lawn, police and military officers moved through the building, and the students sat silently in their seventh grade algebra class, with us beside them on the floor in the front of the room.  I thought of how ineffective this was; they were clearly visible from the windows for example.  I can remember wondering what we would have needed to do to keep them safer, given the structure  of the room.

Perhaps the few bright spots in all of this have been the many examples of simple ways in which people from across the country and around the world have tried to provide support for the people of Newtown and the friends and relatives of the victims.  I have been in touch with several of our Connecticut colleagues, and, to a person, they share that among the first people to reach out to them, were you, their STOY colleagues.  They have also shared how very much your support has meant.

Christopher Poulos (CT 2007) works about ten miles from Newtown.  He has described having a police presence in his school now, and an incident of a genuine lockdown Monday due to the sighting of a suspicious character near the school, shown to be an ordinary citizen carrying an umbrella in the end.  Kristen Record’s school has received threats of an impending violent incident on Friday.

Three of our STOYs, Tony Mullen (CT and NTOY 2009), Rebecca Mielwocki (CA and NTOY 2012),  and Dave Bosso (CT 2012) have written pieces, or responded to requests for interviews; finding my own words to be grossly inadequate, I would like to share some of theirs.

Tony says, in Ed Week:  "There's been a lot of teacher bashing over the last couple of years—we're not performing, we work short hours and days, we get paid too much," said Mullen, who worked as a police inspector in New York City before becoming a teacher. "It's unfortunate but sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to see what certain public servants are ready to do, ready to sacrifice. Prior to 9/11, there was a lot of criticism of the NYPD for a variety of issues. After 9/11, policemen and firemen were suddenly looked at as the heroes they were. I think something like that now could happen with teachers—they'll be looked at how they really are. They are heroes. They are martyrs."

Rebecca shares:  …the adults in the building went toward the shooter, not away from him. "No one ran from that gun. That principal, those teachers, and those aids tried to stop this man," she said. "We need to remember that the first responders were actually the teachers." (Also from Ed Week)

And, Dave Bosso wrote a piece that was published in the Hartford Courant.  A brief excerpt of David’s words:  “To so many, the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrate that the core values of education mirror the greatest ideals of humanity, and they are exemplars in this regard. They offer us hope, and reinforce our belief in the goodness of others and the power of education. In an era of accountability, standards, testing and data, they affirm that what ultimately matters most are the immeasurable lessons and the enduring relationships teachers cultivate with their students.”  Please find his full article at this link:  http://articles.courant.com/2012-12-17/news/hc-op-bosso-sandy-hook-teachers-inspiring-values-1-20121217_1_educators-teachers-supportive-colleagues

I would ask that you continue to reach out to our Connecticut colleagues.  There have been so many funds started that I hesitate to list a few here.  CNN has posted this article, listing numerous ways of helping the town of Newtown: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/15/us/iyw-help-for-victims-of-sandy-hook-shooting/index.html?iref=allsearch  In addition, Betty Ann LaPenna (CT 2000) has shared through Facebook, that as students from Sandy Hook move into their new school in a neighboring town, the CT PTSA has suggested the following to Betty Ann’s Superintendent:  He writes:  “We know that our town is looking for a way to support Sandy
Hook School and all of Newtown in this hour of need. Your local PTA/PTSAs met on Sunday with representatives from Connecticut PTSA with that goal in mind and this is the result:

“Let’s Give Sandy Hook School a Winter Wonderland”
Snowflake Drive – Like our children, no two snowflakes are alike. We invite you to create snowflakes to decorate Sandy Hook School’s new home. Be creative! All colors and designs are welcome. We know that children will enjoy creating art that can adorn the walls of SHS’s new elementary school. CT PTSA has been contacted from schools across the state and this is a project we can all share.”

A group of NJ teachers has taken a different approach:  they are each undertaking 26 acts of kindness, one for each student and teacher who lost their lives on Friday.  I personally love this idea and will emulate it.  Regardless of what you do, please reach out to your CT colleagues and offer your words of support.

Collaborative Practice

In detailing the fifth of the structures that other professions have in place and teaching lacks, sustained collaborative practice, I am at a disadvantage.  It is the structure about which I know the least, so have the least to share.  It would be great to hear from STOYs who do have a deep working knowledge of collaborative practice, in other fields or in teaching.

Collaboration is a touchstone for the work day in many fields.  In the corporate sector that I recently left, teaming was a key approach for getting work done.  There was recognition that individuals each had specific skills, knowledge, and abilities that could contribute to the whole in terms of work.  Whenever a new project, product, or process was to start, a first step was identifying the team that would work together to accomplish it.

The physical workspace in the corporate – and institutional – world is even being reconfigured in order to make collaboration more effective.  Typically, in a large corporate space, a combination of private, or semi-private, offices is combined with ‘pods’ or cubicles.  Traditionally, the higher up you are, the closer you are to those private offices.  This is changing.

A friend at a large teacher preparation institution has shared that her group is doing away with private offices and moving to shared space – big, open spaces with movable whiteboards and other tools and furnishings that lend themselves to being easily reconfigured for teaming.  At ETS, as a new office building is being constructed, the cubicles are on the outer rim, with many more of them, and the few private offices remaining are on the inner ring. (no windows for officers J)

Thinking back to what we learned about flattening of corporate organizations, with greater value placed on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and leadership capacity throughout the staff, these physical changes are in keeping with that reorganization of structure.

Looking at what has been written about collaboration, there is a strong focus on several key areas:

  • The need of Generation Y staff to work in a collaborative environment
  • Greater emphasis on teaming digitally, across towns, states, countries in order to get the best possible skillsets focused on a project
  • The freedom from physical boundaries that social media has introduced to the workplace – communicating across physical space, immediately, is much easier
  • Reducing competition – asking co-workers to function as a team demands less focus on individual achievement and more on team success
  • Culture shift to one of trust – it’s difficult to successfully work towards a common goal if there is not a culture of trust, belief that all are working for the betterment of the whole
  • Collaboration is a leadership issue and relationships with others are key in its success

One of the articles on collaboration in a corporate world that I accessed started with the question, and I paraphrase, can you envision a workplace in which everyone worked independently, where there was no team effort, and in which individuals were viewed as keepers of knowledge? While industrial research on collaboration tells us that team work improves output, unfortunately, in too many instances, many of us can imagine this; many of our schools are structured this way.

Teaching has long been called the isolated profession, and there is actually research around this paradigm. In too many schools, individual teachers still work behind closed classroom doors, and school schedules are still driven by the bus schedule.  There is little time for collaboration or for team planning, projects, act ion research, or other group initiatives.

Fortunately, this is beginning to change, but not in all schools, and not in many of the schools that most need to improve.  Changing our current structure will require cultural and systems shifts.

The National Council on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) is currently conducting research into one model of collaboration that it is piloting with schools in Maryland and Oregon.  It will be important to follow this research project as it unfolds.  The professional learning communities approach is another promising model being implanted in a number of schools with success.  And, again, the Art Wise or Molly Lasagna vision of multiple teachers working together with a larger group of students, currently being implemented in a fashion by Public Impact in several schools, could be the ultimate collaborative model of teaching.

I was in a wonderful high school in Yarmouth, Maine last week as part of the digital teaching and learning study that we are undertaking with Digital Promise and Pearson.  In this school, the implementation of 1:1 laptops – every student has a laptop – has resulted in a level of collaboration that I have rarely seen in school.  Across grade levels, content areas, and age groups, faculty are collaborating with one another to find better ways to use laptops, stronger content for students to access, new ways of instructing with digital tools.  They are collaborating with students in new ways as well, with students viewed as partners in the learning process; teachers are open to being shown new things by their students.

The resulting culture and sense of community was striking, and extremely promising.  This was a staff working together to provide stronger services as a whole for students.

Ultimately, it is likely to take research that proves that restructuring school so that professionals can work collaboratively, as they are doing in Yarmouth, will increase student learning in order for collaborative models of practice in schools to truly catch on.

Some of the articles that I accessed in reading about collaboration in the workplace are:

http://steve-dale.net/2012/04/27/overcoming-barriers-to-workplace-collaboration/

http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/23929/7-insights-collaboration-workplace

http://www.forbes.com/sites/microsoftdynamics/2012/05/29/gen-y-and-the-collaborative-workplace/

Distributing Leadership

This week, I’d like to examine a fourth of the five structures that NNSTOY has identified as missing from the teaching profession, distributed leadership.  The concept of distributed leadership has been in play in the industrial workplace for decades, in various forms.  In a distributed leadership model, decision-making is shared amongst leadership teams rather than being a strictly top-down approach.

One simple description of distributed leadership comes from Alma Harris and James Spillane who state that “distributed leadership perspective recognises that there are multiple leaders (Spillane et al., 2004) and that leadership activities are widely shared within and between organisations (Harris, 2007) and that leadership focuses on interactions rather than actions of leaders.”

http://www.distributedleadership.org/DLS/Publications_files/PUBLISHED%20Harris,%20Spillane.%20Distributed%20Leadership%20through%20the%20Looking%20Glass.pdf

However, more businesses are recognizing that the concept of a single leader who has all the answers and provides a single-focused direction for a company in unproductive and fails to take advantage of talent.  In 1996, authors Bruce Pasternak and Albert Viscio noted the rise of more horizontally structured leadership models, taking advantage of leadership teams to better utilize talent within a company.  http://www.strategy-business.com/article/14974?gko=9ee07 We talked about this briefly in the message I sent out on continuums, with businesses in 2010s moving away from career ladders (top-down movement) to career lattices.  (Benko and Weisberg, Mass Career Customization.)

Pasternak and Viscio studied hundreds of companies’ leadership structures, as well as the research base, and noted that business was moving away from models of businesses built around assets to businesses built to leverage and develop assets – people – for leadership roles.

In the April 8, 2010 edition of the e-zine MIX (Management Innovation eXchange), author Terri Kelly states that, “It’s far better to rely upon a broad base of individuals and leaders who share a common set of values and feel personal ownership for the overall success of the organization. These responsible and empowered individuals will serve as much better watchdogs than any single, dominant leader or bureaucratic structure.”

Kelly goes on to point out that organizations that rely upon a single-leader model fail to capitalize on the capacity within their organizations; and ultimately, lose talent.  It seems that Generation Y teachers are not the only millenials who want leadership opportunities early and often.  She also talks about the corporate shift from valuing the contributions of a few, to valuing the contirbutions of many.  Most significantly, I thought, Kelly speaks to the role of the leader as that of empowering his/her staff to lead.   http://www.managementexchange.com/blog/no-more-heroes

If you choose to view this article, be sure to scroll down through the comments section; there are some good thoughts there.

In reading some of the research around this topic,  it appears that the benefits of distributed leadership in industry appear to be increased opportunity for career advancement, improved retention of promising staff, opportunity to shape leaders within the company rather than hiring without, increased collaboration, improved corporate culture, and more innovation.  If you are interested in reading more, another article that I found helpful was:

http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/papers/Spillane_DistribLead.pdf along with the Deloitte article http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_US/us/Insights/Browse-by-Content-Type/deloitte-review/35912ee3fad33210VgnVCM100000ba42f00aRCRD.htm

There are a number of papers on the concept of distributed leadership in schools as well.  The notion of implementing distributed leadership models in schools has been slower to catch on.  This is puzzling, given that the role of the school administrator is enormously demanding and it would seem that being able to rely on leadership teams to accomplish some of the work would be attractive.  Part of the issue is likely the daily school schedule, which allows typically for little time for collaboration or team meetings.

The report from the second International Summit on the Teaching Profession, released recently and shared with you in my November 16th message, notes that:  “for the teaching profession to succeed, teachers need to see themselves as autonomous not just subjects of management.  The report goes on to share that Canada, Singapore, and Finland are actively working to develop leadership talent within schools, and that programs now encourage distributed leadership models.

http://asiasociety.org/files/lwtw-teachersummitreport0611.pdf

In their paper on distributed leadership in schools, authors x and x warn of some concerns in implementing such models.  These concerns include how leadership is distributed and to whom.  How are members of leadership  teams selected?  What are their qualifications?

A second concern is what is the charge of those teams brought together?  What will they actually do and how impactful are the decisions that they will make?

The authors conclude by noting that the way of getting under the skin of leadership practice, of seeing leadership practice differently and illuminating the possibilities for organisational transformation” and noting that it is worth the risks to enact such models.  http://www.distributedleadership.org/DLS/Publications_files/PUBLISHED%20Harris,%20Spillane.%20Distributed%20Leadership%20through%20the%20Looking%20Glass.pdf

I am not an expert in this topic and am committed to keeping these to two pages, so I will stop here by noting two additional pieces of research that focus on distributed leadership in schools that I have found useful.

http://sii.soe.umich.edu/newsite_temp/documents/EEPA%20Dist%20Leadership%20Revision%202%20V1.pdf

http://www.distributedleadership.org/DLS/Publications_files/PUBLISHED.%20Spillane,%20Healey.%20Conceptualizing%20School%20Leadership.pdf

 

Actionable Feedback to Inform Practice

In examining human capital management (that phrase that I so dislike) in other fields of work, most contain processes and organizational structures for consistently evaluating the job performance of employees and providing opportunities for managers and their staff to engage in professional exchanges about the performance.  In addition, most provide some form of feedback to the employee by the manager, that is given in order for the staff member to identify areas in which performance needs to strengthen or improve, as well as to outline career advancement opportunities based on performance strengths.  This is called actionable feedback, or feedback that leads to actions by the employee, with input from the manager.

You can find many definitions of feedback loops online; all refer to a process that involves an effect related to a cause or set of causal circumstances; most also include references to a process through which feedback results in improvement.  Feedback loops can have positive or negative results; as a manager, the focus is on keeping results positive.

There is a field of research around feedback loops; I am far from being an expert in this area and won’t pretend otherwise, but examining the research can be quite interesting, particularly when juxtaposed against what we typically find in teaching.   There are various models and images of feedback loops:  you can access some of these here.  https://www.google.com/search?q=feedback+loops+images&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Pp23ULK0J8PA0QHS3oDABg&ved=0CCsQsAQ&biw=1138&bih=497

For me, this whole process became increasingly important and interesting as my career in corporate progressed after I left the K12 classroom.  I was struck by the vast difference between the way in which I was evaluated, and career guidance offered to me, as a teacher and the same as a professional in an organization.  I will try to summarize these two very different processes below.

As a teacher

I taught in a middle school, grades four to eight, with about 65 teachers, a principal, and an assistant principal.  Our contract called for tenured teachers to be evaluated twice annually and non-tenured teachers to undergo this process four times a year.  The system of evaluation used involved a checklist that, as a union negotiator, I had had input into developing.  The checklist outlined various performance areas as well as more concrete aspects of my teaching, like the order and organization of the library, and my classroom management skills – in other words, how my students behaved.

The basic process was this:

  • Principal and assistant principal divided the staff into two groups, with each evaluating one group that year
  • My evaluator informed me when he (both were men) was likely to come to my class to observe
  • Evaluator came to class and stayed for the period; received any handouts used that day in class
  • Evaluator used the union-approved checklist to document my performance
  • Within two weeks after the observation, I received a copy of the checklist and a request to either sign and return it, or to schedule an appointment to discuss it
  • If signed and returned, we were done; if I requested an appointment, we met and discussed the checklist results (not the performance) typically. No career guidance was provided and no suggestions were made as to where I might go to learn how to improve my performance in designated areas

Any professional learning opportunities that I engaged in during the year were not required to be tied to my evaluation.  The only opportunity that I had to provide any details about my class or content taught was in the post-evaluation review that occurred if I requested it.  My evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, and there was little in the way of where or how to develop my practice further.

I often found myself hungry for information about where and how I could shape my own growth as a teacher; many of my colleagues felt the same way.  We did things like form study groups for courses that we took as a cohort.  We scheduled and attended some professional learning sessions together (we were required to complete a set number of hours of PD annually)

As a staff member in a corporate environment

In the corporate environment, I was assigned a manager who was responsible for my performance reviews, professional growth, career advancement.  While my management structure changed during re-organizations, I knew who my manager was, this was consistent, and there was an actual ‘reporting line’ so that I was a member of a ‘family’ of employees reporting up to the same senior officers.

As a manager myself, my staff existed in a similar structure.  I was absolutely held accountable as a manager for the professional development of my staff; there were processes that my staff and I engaged in and documented to provide evidence of this annually.  I was also held accountable for the career advancement of my staff.  If a manager’s staff never advanced, questions were asked and you better have had evidence to support your managerial decisions.

Evaluation typically occurred this way:

  • Manager and employee annually set objectives cascaded from the manager to the employee; these were agreed to and signed off on by both
  • Manager and employee met every two weeks if not weekly; during these meetings, employee provided information about progress towards annual objectives, asked for assistance in areas where issues were encountered, and provided evidence of work completed and next steps.  Employees also suggested new projects, ideas, etc. to help advance goals.  These meetings were either thirty or sixty minutes in length, dependent upon need.  Feedback was a key part of these meetings, positive feedback as well as feedback to help identify sticking points and how to move past them
  • Quarterly, manager and employee met for formal evaluation.  They reviewed the annual objectives, and if changes needed to be made due to changes in corporate goals, this was done.  The employee provided evidence of progress towards goals prior to this meeting; together, this evidence was reviewed and feedback was given to help employee move forward
  • Annual review:  this was a very complex process in which they employee and manager discussed the annual performance and came to agreement on the evidence that proved progress towards goals
    • Goal progression was rated throughout the year – on target or off target –
    • In annual review, employee documented evidence of progress as well as areas in which progress was exceeded
    • Manager reviewed documentation and added comments to support, or disagree with, the employee evidence
    • Manager and employee met to discuss documented results and feedback
    • Employee e-signed results; manager e-signed results and provided summative feedback and comments in writing; employee could then disagree with these in writing and this became part of the record
    • Managers used these results in calibrating employee against employees in similar positions to determine annual raises

Throughout the year, I received feedback from my manager, and provided it to my employees.  This feedback was used to plan professional learning, career advancement, and to make needed corrections along the way.  This process was invaluable in providing assistance to the employee about performance and career growth.  It was essential for the manager and the company in capacity planning as well as individual advancement for employees.

Please note that in my corporate experience, feedback was not one-way, but bi-directional; employee and manager had frequent exchanges about practice and progress. Depending on the  manager, the employee had the opportunity to provide feedback to the manager as well.

Think about how this might play out in teaching.  What if we had differentiated staffing structures, utilizing teacher leaders, who played a role in aiding administrators in meaningful evaluation of staff.  Teacher leaders could conduct model lessons and then observe colleagues in practice, offering feedback for growth and development.  What if we had differentiated staffing structures like those suggested by Art Wise and Molly Lasagna (see last week’s blog) with multiple teachers in one classroom, observing and learning from one another.  The opportunities for feedback and self-correction, acknowledgement of strengths, and career advancement could be so rich.

My own belief, after having lived in both systems, is that this kind of feedback is invaluable.  I grew constantly – and was constantly challenged to grow still more – as a result of this process in my corporate career; in my teaching career, that encouragement came from within myself and there was no place to which I could advance, formally.  For teaching not to utilize these processes holds us back as professionals and as a profession, in my view.  Actionable feedback is one of the structure that I believe needs to be implemented in order for us to advance as a profession.  Fortunately, a number of the evaluation systems’ models that we are seeing emerge do include this process, and will, hopefully, stay true to it as implementation occurs.

Continuums of Professional Practice for Teaching

Last week, I shared some thoughts on a structure that our profession lacks, Guiding Principles.  In the work that I’ve done with wonderful collaborators over the past few years, I’ve identified five such structures that teaching lacks and most other professions have.  Today, I’d like to talk about another of these, continuums of professional practice (career pathways).

Taking a look at other professions reveals, in almost every case, the existence of structured career stages involving professional development and levels of professional expertise. Continuums allow a practitioner to grow and develop, plan career trajectories, and advance in their careers.  Such continuums are useful in:

  • Assessing progress in the development of skills.
  • Helping to define a desired level of competence within a profession.
  • Supporting progress in the development of skills, by understanding the learning needs and styles of learning at different levels of skill acquisition.
  • Helping to determine when a learner is ready to teach others.

The research base around expertise includes information on:

  • Acquisition of expertise:  The role of intelligence in building expertise (Source: Schmidt, F.L., & Hunter, J.E. (1998)
  • The role of deliberate practice (Ericsson et al. [1993] Psych Review, p. 363) and the ‘ten year rule’ (music (Sosniak, 1985), mathematics (Gustin, 1985), tennis (Monsaas, 1985), swimming (Kalinowski, 1985), long-distance running (Wallingford, 1975), evaluation of livestock (Phelps & Shanteau, 1978), diagnosis of X-rays (Lesgold, 1984), medical diagnosis (Patel & Groen, 1991), scientific publications (Lehman, 1953), etc.

In 2006, Dreyfus and Dreyfus defined the acquisition of skill with this diagram:

Using this work, researchers went on to define characteristics of practice at each of these stages, using expertise as a basis for these definitions.  This model has been played out against the teaching profession with the following assumptions:

Novices

  • Student teachers; many first year teachers
  • Rational
  • Inflexible – do everything by the book
  • Conform to whatever rules they were told to follow

Advanced beginners

  • Many 2nd and 3rd year teachers
  • Experience begins to guide behavior
  • Start to learn when to ignore rules and use their own experience to make decisions
  • Have difficulty prioritizing responsibilities

Competent practice

  • Many 3rd, 4th, and 5th year teachers
  • More in control of events, relying more on own experience than on what they were taught will work
  • Learn how to prioritize responsibilities
  • Become emotionally attached and responsible for what happens in the classroom

Proficient practice

  • Small number of teachers after 5th year
  • Develop teaching intuition
  • Think about classroom events holistically
  • Read patterns in classroom behavior

Expert practice

  • Very small number of teachers beyond 6th year
  • Develop tacit knowledge about teaching

–      Unspoken rules about the teaching process that come from experience

  • Teach “fluidly”; don’t have to think about teaching

–      Like a race car driver being “one” with the car

  • Can be analytical when problems occur
  • Innovative

Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg proposes a 6th stage, innovative practice.

Why are acquisition of expertise and career ladders important for teaching?  A review of some studies on retention shows us that there are some common characteristics as to the reasons why teachers leave our profession, regardless of where they are in terms of experience and years of service.  In looking at Susan Moore Johnson’s research of beginning teachers, they tell us that one of the things they need is support and professional opportunities that include leadership, as well as differentiated pay structures that allow for acquisition of expertise.  Richard Ingersoll’s studies of why experienced teachers leave the profession note that reasons given include a lack of support and lack of teacher input into decision making.  Finally, Ellen Behrstock’s research on Generation Y teachers tells us that these millennial teachers are looking for leadership opportunities from day one; if they don’t have these, many will leave.

In addition, we find that the research around expertise tells us that it takes ten years to acquire expertise in any profession; coupled with the data that tells us that our retention rate for new teachers is hovering somewhere around 40%, and it is clear that we have a problem.  If we cannot retain almost half of our teachers for five years, let alone ten, how will we develop cadres of expert teachers?

We are currently ‘advancing’ teachers in many districts by the number of years in which they have served and the level of degree that they have attained.  Yet, Marguerite Roza’s research tells us that attaining a Master’s degree – except in Mathematics – may not result in more effective teaching.  And, number of years served does not guarantee better teaching; there is no guarantee that a teacher with ten years’ experience will have acquired expertise.

NNSTOY’s hypothesis is that by establishing continuums of professional practice in teaching, we will positively impact:

  • Teacher retention:  Generation Y teachers in particular tell us that without such career advancement opportunities, their likelihood of staying in the profession is lessened. (Behrstock).
  • Teacher satisfaction:  exit interviews with both beginning and more mature teachers tells us that a lack of support, and lack of opportunities to advance, contribute to them leaving the profession (Moore Johnson).
  • Principal stress:  by providing advanced career roles for teachers, including distributed leadership models, some of the load on principals – a job that Danielson calls ‘impossible’ – will be lessened by incorporation of teacher leaders into areas like evaluation, observation, creation of professional growth plans, curriculum planning, and others.

We are in the process of working with the Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson to conduct a literature review of continuum models in other professions as well as those that exist in teaching; and, undertaking case studies to examine some of the models that exist in teaching.  Our intention is to define recommendations for what teaching continuums might look like, and to pilot and field test such continuums in schools.

NNSTOY is not alone in its interest in continuums.  The Accomplished California Teachers group has just published a paper on this topic:  http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/act-promoting-quality-teaching-compensation-career-pathways-fullreport.pdf.  Art Wise, former NCATE President, long an advocate for teacher continuums, continues his work and published this update in Ed Week recently, urging us to break free of the four-walled classroom with one teacher for 25 student model:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/01/25/18wise_ep.h31.html?tkn=XMTFG9nfQSdAjCvjOBRee8X0Jv5O2AxEd6sq&cmp=clp-edweek.  And, Molly Lasagna, Jane Coggshall, and Sabrina Laine, AIR researchers published a paper on differentiated staffing models based on career pathways for teachers and are working to update that study:  http://www.air.org/files/InnovationsInStaffing.pdf.

We are in conversation with a number of other organizations also interested in this topic and will keep you updated as work progresses.  The bottom line is that, in order to develop a solid pipeline of excellent prospective teachers, and to keep our effective teachers in our classrooms, we need to establish 21st century systems offering teachers leadership opportunities while maintaining their teacher roles, differentiated staffing structures based on teacher role, and recognition that teachers, like other professionals, grow, develop, and advance in our careers.

More on Guiding Principles

As you know, I have been engaging is a series of conversations with colleagues in education policy and membership organizations, about NNSTOY and our goals.  In describing those goals – positioning teachers to have a voice in policy making and implementation, and, advocating for differentiated staffing models for teaching to promote retention and student achievement, the conversation has sometimes shifted to one of the structures that seems to be lacking in teaching – guiding principles.

Industry has systematically created measures for determining effective performance through Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP.  These guiding documents are often referred to in other professions as Professional Principles, Ethical Principals, or Guiding Principles.  One definition of GAAP analysis is the accounting rules used to prepare and standardize the reporting of financial statements, such as balance sheets, income statements and cashflow statements, for publicly traded companies and many private companies in the United States (Stephanie Paul, LegalZoom)  http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article14076.html

Paul goes on to explain that GAAP is determined through measurement and disclosure principles and that it provides a consistent measure of accountability by which companies’ performance can be judged.  GAAP principles vary by profession but they all focus on standardizing a means of holding a company – or a profession - accountable for its performance.

Given this definition – essentially, using a set of measures to determine expectations and measure existing performance against those expectations to determine where an entity is and is not meeting expectations - should the teaching profession not have such a set of principles in place, developed by practitioners for practitioners?  In fact, could there not be three sets of principles - equally important areas of study followed by action:  GAAP for individual teacher effectiveness, for school leader effectiveness, and for school performance?

In looking at over thirty sets of such documents for career fields as diverse as accounting, medicine, plumbing, event planning, and real estate, it is a distinctive characteristic that these sets of principles are typically developed by practitioners in the field for practitioners.  The resulting documents are used by practitioners as one means of accountability for adherence to professional dictates that govern the profession.  In other words, these principles are used to hold the profession accountable to itself.  These are not standards but principles; the difference is that standards typically focus on specified content while principles define behavior.  We have no set of principles to which we hold ourselves accountable as professionals in education.

In addition to having established guiding principles, many other professions have governing bodies that oversee these principles, as well as the operationalizing of them.  These bodies are responsible for establishing procedures for dealing with professionals – members – who do not uphold the principles.  Think of the American Medical Association for physicians, the American Bar Association for lawyers, the United States Personal Chefs Association; I could go on.

In raising the point with policy experts, wonks, and others that education lacks these foundational principles, there has initially been a moment of genuine surprise.  Surprise that education does not have these in place, and that this point has not been raised more emphatically in the past.  And then, the conversation typically turns to the nitty-gritty issues of how would they be put in place, by whom, and who would oversee them.  It is this last point that is typically the sticking point.

In my experience thus far, there is little disagreement, once the lack of their existence is recognized, that education should have guiding principles.  There is not much argument that these should be developed by educators, for educators.  Where there is argument, it often dissipates when the point is pushed, “if the U.S. government were going to pass legislation mandating operating theatre procedures, who is it most likely ask to help define professional standards?  Policy makers?  Business people?  Or physicians?”  This seems to help bring the conversation around to recognizing that educators are the experts who should define professional practice for the education field.

No, the sticking point is usually around who would oversee and implement these principles, a governing body for the profession.  The conversation often turns to who should not – not the unions (not their function), not the professional associations (they represent specific segments of the educator population), not the states (again, not their domain).  Should a governing body be formed to serve this function, like the American Dental Association, for example?

In two conversations last week, with really smart people who I know and respect, it came down to there not needing to be such an enforcing body.  One proposal was that there might be a body to oversee the principles and issue a certification, so to speak, that the individual had signed a document committing to adhere to these principles.  The signing of that document might be requirement for licensure in the individual states.

I usually ask why teaching, education, is so different from other professions in not needing this governing body.  Are we not deemed capable of governing ourselves, holding ourselves accountable?

The answer that I received from both really smart people, was that teaching is a public profession.  Unlike almost any other profession – except government workers – educators truly are public employees.  A third genuinely brilliant person, whom I respect tremendously, responded that teaching is the only profession actually written into the Constitution and that makes it different.  Honestly, I had never thought of that.

One pundit (I am using this word positively) speculated that if we did have guiding principles for the profession, we would likely see a reduction in the amount of attention focused by numerous outside agencies on holding us accountable to numerous sets of standards.  The vacuum into which they have rushed would be filled.

This might be reason enough in and of itself, to see such guiding principles established – by educators, for educators.  This is a project that I would like to see NNSTOY lead, in partnership with other education organizations, using a research-based methodology, and best practices for development of such documents.

If there were a set of guiding principles for teaching, it would likely include a set of ethical standards around professional behavior with students, parents, and colleagues.  But it should include more than this.  What are some of the other domains that such a document would define?  Professional learning?  Collegiality?  Participation and attendance?

This is a conversation that I would love to see STOYs engage in, through Facebook, or other mechanisms over time.  I am reminded of a saying that a friend loves:  “if not we, then who?”  In this instance, it has been proven that if not we, many will jump into the vacuum and dictate for us to what we should be held accountable.

A Small Sense of Community

These events will be forever linked in my memory, occurring as they did so closely together, with many voting modifications having to be made in my state as result of the hurricane.  For the first time ever, those of us in counties impacted by the hurricane in NJ were allowed to vote early.  Going to our county courthouse on Sunday to cast our votes by paper ballots, waiting for over an hour to do so, was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Again, I am in DC as I start to write this, and it was an experience to watch the election returns in the nation’s capital city.  I went down to the lobby to grab a sandwich and watch, I thought for a half hour before returning to my room, but ended up staying until the results were called, sitting with people from Texas, Michigan, DC, and California.  Some were supporters of Obama and some of Romney.

As the end result became obvious, one of the Romney supporters became very bitter about the presumed outcome.  He spoke about Obamacare bankrupting the US and other dire predictions, and basically berated those in the area who voted for the President.  As I watched and listened, the two young men from California dealt gently with this gentleman, letting him vent and know that they valued his opinions without agreeing with them.  One of them began to speak quietly about the importance of all views being expressed, pointing out that during that day, this is exactly what had happened.  All views were heard and, in the end, the views of the majority of people disagreed with the Romney supporter.  He went on to share that in the country he originally came to the US from, people had no right to vote and that the act of voting was an honor.  He commented on the huge lines of people that day in DC, waiting up to three hours to have their voices heard.  The fact that so many people came out to vote had made an impression on him, as had their patience as they waited.  He closed by saying that, whether your candidate won or lost, having your voice counted was the important thing.  And now that it was decided, the even more important issue was to get behind the President and help to move the country forward.

All of this was said in a voice so quiet that you had to listen hard to hear it, which caused the angry Romney supporter to stop talking and listen.  As the California gentleman concluded, the Romney supporter began to quietly nod his head and agreed that, ‘we are all Americans.’

This was a great lesson in defusing what could have become an ugly situation, and I thought about the skills that this young man had employed – patience, reasonableness, non-judgmental thinking, and a focus on building consensus.  He would have made an excellent teacher.

In addition to voting in a Congress and President, there were a number of education issues on ballots in states.  In Idaho and South Dakota rejected education reform efforts that would have put in place educator evaluation models requiring half the evaluation to be based on student test scores.  In Idaho, voters actually repealed laws on the books, which also limited negotiating rights of educators and paid bonuses based on student test scores.  In California, voters agreed to increased sales and income taxes in order to fund education efforts.  It has been interesting to watch as education efforts are determined by voters.

Just as I have been struck by a sense of community being re-forged as a result of the hurricane, sitting in the lobby last night, those of us gathered around a tv screen from such diverse parts of the country, walks of life, and areas of interest forged a common bond, united in believing that, whether we agreed with the outcome or not, we had been part of something historic.  And found a small sense of community as a result.

Two Differing Views of Parental Responsibility in Education

This week, I am in DC, representing NNSTOY and expanding our brand in meetings with over a dozen national organizations.  I want to tell you how enthusiastically the news that STOYs have a professional home has been received by these organizations, who are eager to explore ways in which to utilize our teacher voices and partner with us on key initiatives.  They recognize your expertise and your reach.

Meeting with this many organizations in such a tight timeframe has been exhausting, and I actually was pleased when an early morning meeting today was canceled and I could eat breakfast!  In the hotel restaurant, I sat next to an elderly gentleman named Larry from Canada.  In conversation, my job arose, and he shared numerous anecdotes about the teaching profession in Canada.  One in particular resonated.

Larry shared that in one province, which shall remain nameless, a school district instituted a ‘no fail’ policy recently.  Teachers were ordered by the district to not assign students any failing grades; all excuses for not handing in work were to be accepted, and no student could be told that he or she failed.

In one class, a student did not hand in his report on the due date.  The teacher listened to his excuse and allotted him an additional five days to complete and submit the report.  The student told the teacher that he had a series of hockey games coming up and would not be able to meet even the extended deadline.  The teacher pointed out that the student had time over the weekend, during study time in school, while being transported to/from his games, etc. and that he expected that report on the new due date.

The date came and went, no report.  The teacher notified the student that he had earned a grade of zero.  The teacher was ordered to rescind the grade and refused.  The teacher was placed on suspension and ultimately fired.

In this same province, a school district passed a policy forbidding teachers from failing students who are caught cheating on tests or assignments.  This policy is currently under review.

I was so astonished by these policies that I went online and verified them; Larry was reporting accurately.

This newest twist on the ‘everyone gets at trophy’ syndrome boggles my mind as both a parent and as a teacher.  As Michael Sigman wrote earlier this year in a Huffington Post column, if everyone gets a trophy, no one wins.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-sigman/when-everyone-gets-a-trop_b_1431319.html

Taking that a step further, if no one fails – even when failing grades are deserved – passing grades are belittled.  What does an A mean anymore?  What value is placed on effort?  On academic success?  This is frightening.

Last week, I read in the International Herald Tribune, an op-ed piece by John M. Rodgers, on the juxtapositioning of his teaching experiences in South Korea with those he is currently undertaking teaching college freshman here in the United States.  In South Korea, the expectation is that no matter how well a student does, he/she can always do better.  He describes a school day that goes from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and a work ethic and expectation from parents and teachers that every student will adhere to this schedule.

He contrasts this with the level of student engagement in his American college classes, where a colleague told him, “that I was there for five kids, more or less. That those kids — the ones who asked questions, expressed interest — would go on to do great things because they “take themselves and you seriously.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/opinion/south-koreas-thirst-for-learning.html

Or, as an article in Freedom’s Ladder notes, “In order for students to be successful in school, and in life, they need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition into the world of work and post secondary education.   Apparently they need all those things but don't actually have to do the work.”  http://www.freedomsledder.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=58882

Rewarding everyone, regardless of effort, seems a foolish way to teach children that there are expectations and responsibilities they will be required to fulfill in the ‘real world.’ What will happen to that Canadian student when he is on the job, and decides that he does not have to turn in his report because he prefers to go to a hockey game?  Or, chooses to forego a surgery that he is scheduled to perform, because there’s a family gathering he wants to attend?

And, how will he be globally competitive against those South Korean students, who have been taught the value of hard work and responsibility?

As Chris Elliott stated in a Bleacher Report column, “Competition is life. The jobs that we have, I am sure that many others applied to have the same position as we are now holding. Not everyone gets the job. Healthy competition and a desire to be the best for a certain reward or job are beneficial in life. The old saying "No points for second place" is true as is Vince Lombardi's famous statement "If it doesn't matter who wins or loses then why do they keep score?"”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1074105-sports-in-america-should-everyone-get-a-trophy

As teachers, we believe that our job is to educate the whole child.  This means instilling lessons in responsibility, work ethic, adherence to rules, being a member of a community, and the value of education.  Teachers in that Canadian district were sabotaged by a school board – and segments of the community - that seemed to place little value on the education of the whole child.  In South Korea, the entire community supported the schedule that students follow, and its resulting work ethic.

We would do well to examine these examples to see what we can learn from them.

Guiding Principles for the Teaching Profession

I am currently attending an annual conference of State directors of teacher education  - the folks who license and certify teachers in their state agencies – focused on ethical issues involving teachers and principals.  These issues range from cheating on student tests (teachers/principals changing student answers, coaching students, etc.) to heinous issues like sexual misconduct between teachers and students.

The numbers of cases that are being cited are staggering.  3400 cases before one ethics board in a larger state, many hundreds before a Commission in another involving wide-spread cheating in specific districts, and many examples given about sexual misconduct.  Several times, it has been stated that these cases have involved outstanding teachers, like teachers of the year.

Listening to this information, some given in specific detail, it often seems that there is an element of peer pressure involved, (particularly in cheating cases), and of baby steps towards a poor decision that causes irreparable harm to many lives (in the cases of sexual misconduct).  In some cases, where the behavior is repeated many times over with different victims, it sounds like individuals who are deeply in need of help and should absolutely not be in classrooms.

This body of people is struggling with issues like keeping databases of offenders, making decisions about revocation of licenses, setting policy about reinstatement should circumstances warrant, penalties, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, and the like.  Some speakers have addressed issues from the parents’ perspective and some from the viewpoint of the students impacted.  It has been a very draining conversation to listen to as a career educator, and constantly raises the issue of professional responsibilities and, to use a term I don’t care for, ‘policing our own.’

At the same time, I have been made aware of several news stories involving severe cases of bullying, in which school officials and educators were aware of the bullying, but did not act; in two of these cases, the victim committed suicide.  This too has raised, for me, the issue of educators making good decisions about acting or not acting.

During my classroom teaching career, (as you know, I still consider myself a teacher), I worked as a Holocaust educator with the Holocaust Center at our local university.  In this work, we had a specific vocabulary to describe groups of people impacted by the Holocaust:  victim, perpetrator, bystander, rescuer were the primary human descriptors.  This seems a vocabulary that would be equally appropriate here, with the addition of a new word, whistle-blower for people who report abuse.

These two sets of information – the conference and the news stories – have brought home to me yet again the responsibility that we bear as recognized teachers.  This responsibility is bigger than monitoring our own behavior, and extends to protecting our students, and providing them with a safe environment in which to learn and contribute to the learning of others.  And, for me, it speaks to the need for a set of guiding principles for our profession generated by teachers for teachers.  We are being held accountable by so many right now; guiding principles would allow us to hold ourselves accountable to behaviors and actions that we deem appropriate.  Almost every other profession has such principles, sometimes called professional principles, ethical principles, guiding principles, etc.  Below are a few links to some of these principles for other professions, along with a brief description that I wrote for a paper:

Industry has systematically created measures for determining effective performance through sets of guiding principles defined by the profession, for the profession.  These principles help to define the expected professional behavior, education and training, skills, knowledge, and abilities that members of the profession will exhibit. 

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP principles, as defined, for example in the Accounting profession, are typically developed by a representative group of practitioners in the field, through their professional organization.  They are not handed by a union, government body – although they may adhere to government dictated standards - or other group to the profession, but are developed within the profession itself.

One such set of principles are the GAAP principles defined by the Accounting profession.  One definition of GAAP analysis is the accounting rules used to prepare and standardize the reporting of financial statements, such as balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements, for publicly traded companies and many private companies in the United States (Stephanie Paul, LegalZoom) http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article14076.html

Paul goes on to explain that GAAP is determined through measurement and disclosure principles and that it provides a consistent measure of accountability by which companies’ performance can be judged.  GAAP principles vary by profession but they all focus on standardizing a means of holding a company accountable for its performance.

Given this definition – essentially, using a set of measures to determine expectations and measure existing performance against those expectations to determine where an entity is and is not meeting expectations, should the teaching profession not have such a set of principles in place, developed by practitioners for practitioners?  In fact, could there not be three sets of principles - equally important areas of study followed by action:  GAAP for individual teacher effectiveness, for school leader effectiveness, and for school performance. Examples of guiding principles in other professions are provided through the links below:

American Dental Association:  http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article14076.html

American Medical Association:

  1. a.      Declaration of Social Responsibiity:  http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/ethics/decofprofessional.pdf
  2. b.      Code of Medical Ethics:  http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics.page

National Association of Colleges and Employers:

http://www.naceweb.org/Knowledge/Principles/Principles_for_Professional_Practice.aspx

Others:

http://www.nasponline.org/standards/2010standards/1_%20Ethical%20Principles.pdf

http://www.ipacweb.org/principles.html

http://www.ascld-lab.org/about_us/guidingprinciples.html

http://www.phrma.org/about/principles-guidelines/code-interactions-healthcare-professionals

It occurs to me sitting here listening that other professions have actually outlined what is and is not acceptable behavior; we would think that these things would be no-brainers, but laying them out makes them more real and provides a basis for accountability.  This is something that I would like to see NNSTOY involved in developing for teaching.

The keynote speaker for this conference was Tim Dove, Ohio STOY 2011 and 2012.  Tim set the stage by reminding us what it is that teachers do in the classroom every day and of the exciting school in which he works and leads.  Tim represented us extremely well.  Listening Tim and to the conference presenters also makes me even more grateful for knowing that you are representatives of the finest that our profession has to offer.  Thank you for all that you do.

A Banner Week

 

When I was little, I heard a grownup describe his past week to someone as a ‘banner week.’  I had no idea what that meant, but envisioned a bunch of banners and flags hanging outside his house, merrily blowing in the breeze.  This has been a banner week for NNSTOY and if I had a bunch of flagpoles, I’d hang out banners to celebrate.

At the top of this document, you see our new logo!!!  The Communications Committee has approved the logo and we have received seven variations of it from David Taylor Design.  We are covered for everything from our full name spelled out to just graphic, to the whole nine yards.  In addition, with I spent an hour on the phone yesterday with the designers at DTD working on our Web site’s homepage!

In addition, appended to the email that you pulled this down from, is our first newsletter using our new format.  I would truly appreciate your feedback on everything from appearance to content.  The newsletter will be available on our Web site and will be one means of our sharing information within and beyond our community.

The folks at Pearson are in the process of uploading Curtis Chandler’s wonderful blog on the importance of gaming in education their Web sites, both internal and externally-facing.  Every two weeks, we will supply them with another STOY blog; if you are interested in supplying blogs for this purpose, please let me know.  These will also appear on our Web site, once launched.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) was awarded the contract to run the Federal Center for Great Teachers and Leaders; NNSTOY is a small partner in this work.  More to come on this shortly.

And finally, but most importantly, this past week saw the eighth National Teacher Forum at ETS, co-sponsored by ETS and CCSSO.  For those of you who have not attended one, we call these the Next Steps:  Where Do I Grow From Here conferences.  They were started by Jon Quam and myself in 2005 and are an opportunity for STOYs ending their Year of Recognition to process what they’ve learned over the past year and to plan for their Years of Service.

The STOY Class of 2012 is an amazing group of educators.  Their knowledge, energy, and passion for teaching and learning is inspiring.  I know that they are going to move forward and do great things.  They were joined by five excellent teachers, five NTOYs from previous years, who guided them in unpacking their experiences over the past year and planning for the future.  It was an uplifting experience and I was honored to be part of it, even though I have left ETS.

NNSTOY also joined with Pearson in the first of a series of school visits as part of the digital teaching and learning research project.  I had the privilege of spending a full day at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, MI, interviewing administrators and teachers and observing more than ten classes, all using flipped teaching strategies.

This is a high-needs school, with about 80% free and reduced lunch students, an antiquated technology infrastructure, in danger of being taken over by the state two years ago.  They also have a dynamic and determined leader, who basically refused to allow this to happen.  He challenged his faculty to try flipped teaching, with eighty percent of each class period devoted to student-based instruction and learning and only twenty percent to teacher-delivered instruction.  The results are gratifying to say the least.  Test scores are up significantly, the faculty is reenergized, students are excited about learning, and the school is a vibrant and exciting place to learn.

In the classes that I observed, students were actively engaged in critical and creative thinking processes, were directing their own learning, assisting others, working collaboratively, and having conversations that I would normally have thought of taking place in college classrooms.  The extent of collaborative learning was incredible – in no class were students sitting passively in rows accepting instruction from a teacher – and I heard conversations about everything from determining gross national product, to why bread grows mold.

In interviewing the teachers, I learned that initially they were skeptical, some even refusing to engage, but once they saw the results that colleagues were achieving, were willing to try this and now truly appreciate this method of teaching.  They are collaborating more as faculty, learning and growing together; they are a closer unit and share in solving issues around learning and resources.  This was a wonderful place to be as an educator.

I also, this week, attended other classrooms, as a parent.  U of Penn had its annual Law School Parents’ Day, and my husband and I attended all of Jessica’s classes with her for a day.  We experienced Contracts, Civil Justice, and Torts.  The professors at Penn use the Socratic method of teaching with students responsible for intensive preparation for every class.

The Dean of Students at UP Law is a dynamic leader who is deeply involved with his students.  Each class has no more than 200 students and he knows each of them.  Jessica, as some of you know, has a long history of health issues, including Crohn’s disease; he has personally met with Jessica, both before school started and after, and tailored her course load to the demands of her illness.  In his presentation, he had two faculty members, each of whom has taken on a specific piece of the work of running a Law school, co-present.  It was clear that he viewed the Law school as a community.

While the teaching was also inspiring, I was struck by some real differences between the two schools that I visited.  At UP Law, there is NO technology allowed for students in classes; no laptops, tablets, iphones, etc.  Everything is done on paper, with students feverishly writing in notebooks and carting around physical books, each of which must weight ten pounds or more.  I know that UP advocates for technology as the MBA program there provides students with an iPad loaded with all of their textbooks electronically, so I am assuming that this is only done at Penn Law and because it mirrors the real work environment.  However, it was a stark contrast to Clintondale, where every student used some form of technology.

While the Socratic method is certainly effective, I also was struck by the lack of student collaboration in class (there is a great deal of collaboration outside of class).  For example, instead of the Civil Justice professor presenting five case studies and questioning various students about them, wouldn’t it have been as effective to have students work in small groups, each with one case study, then sharing out the results? This is rhetorical question; I’m sure there is a reason why things are done as is, it was just such a contrast.

Jessica is getting a thorough and rich education; it is just interesting that these students, who grew up with technology, now have to fit into a world without it.  They are doing so and learning, which is what matters, but it is curious.

These are two very different styles of teaching and learning, and both work, each in its own setting.  And in each, there is a dynamic and involved leader who trusts his faculty to implement learning and involves them in decision-making.  In both places, I was struck by the power of leadership.   Each leader knew his faculty and his students.  Each was a visible and viable part of the learning community.  And each knew that he couldn’t do the job alone, and has instituted forms of distributed leadership and makes use of teacher leaders.

I’d like to think that this is the new normal, but realize that we still have a long way to go before this kind of structure is in place in every school.

Civic Duty

My mother taught me that there are two topics that one always stays away from when in polite society – religion and politics.  This week, I am writing not about politics, but about civic duty.

I have been spending a lot of time in airports recently, and have overheard several conversations that go like this:  “Why bother to even vote?  Nothing that I can do will really have any impact on the decisions that government makes.”  Or, “It doesn’t really matter who’s in the White House; they can’t change what’s happening in my job (neighborhood, school, etc.)”

While I am not one to express my political views, I strongly believe that we are privileged to live in a society where we have the opportunity to have a voice in who runs our government, and it is a responsibility to vote.  For whom is each of our own business.

Tonight is, of course, the first of the Presidential debates, focusing on domestic issues that will supposedly include health care and the economy.  The debates, and subsequent election, are on my mind in part because I just finished a series of four presentations as part of the internal ‘selling’ of research projects to win dollars to fund them, inside Pearson.  This was one of the responsibilities that I agreed to fulfill in coming to NNSTOY.

Those presentations included a lengthy historical overview of the Federal and State policy landscapes as related to educator effectiveness.  In working in this arena for the past eight or more years, I was actively engaged in understanding what was happening legislatively, and in terms of mandates, that impacts what we do in the classroom.  To stand back now and put together this historical overview for others less immersed in it was eye-opening for me.

One of the things that struck me hard was the tremendous impact on state policy of Federal education policies over the past eight years.  With No Child Left Behind (NCLB), in order to accept Federal education dollars – which are badly needed in most states – states had to agree to take steps to enact a number of, what proved to be in many cases, new policies and commitments.  These included:

–        Teacher quality – teachers must hold appropriate certificates and endorsements to teach content they are assigned (bachelor’s degree, full state certification, demonstrated subject-matter expertise)

–        Equitable distribution – highly qualified teachers must be equitably distributed  (ensure poor and minority students have equal access to experienced and qualified teachers)

–        Show gains annually in percentage of students meeting proficiency standards in math and reading with the goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 (we will not meet this standard in most states, leading to a new Federal program, waivers)

–        Develop longitudinal data systems to track students and teachers

–        Develop high quality standards for teaching and learning

–        Required assessments of students in reading and math grades 3-8 and once in high school

In order to accept Federal dollars, states scrambled to put programs in place to meet these requirements.

With our current administration, we saw competitions for Federal dollars through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and programs like Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Investing in Innovation program, and others.  In this instance, in order to be competitive, states had to align their state policies with certain Federal requirements, including, for Race to the Top (the two general rounds for states):

–        Educator effectiveness:  highly qualified teachers must demonstrate that they are effective in working in classrooms

–        Equitable distribution:  focus on most talented teachers being equitably distributed (ensure most talented teachers are placed in schools and subjects where they are needed most)

–        Implement statewide longitudinal data system; use data to inform decisions and improve instruction

–        Common core standards across states

–        Assessments that measure college and career readiness based on common core (funding for consortia – PARCC and Smarter Balanced awarded)

 

States were awarded point values based on having these programs in place; while they were not required, it was difficult to win without them. So, states began to pass legislation and modify policy to increase likelihood of winning.  Key changes include:

–        Alternative certification – opening new routes to certification

–        Educator evaluation

  • Ways of measuring, including use of student test scores
  • Use of evaluation results for tiered certification and/or compensation and tenure

–        Teacher compensation

  • Pay for performance systems

–        Equitable distribution

–        Tenure:  moving from advancement based on years of service to performance-based advancement (and salary increases)

 

Whether states won RTTT dollars or not, state legislation passed must now be implemented.  Take a look at the two graphics below to see the impact on state policy of Federal education programs.

Source:  Potemski,

Brennan-Gac, Kershaw  2010

 

You can see that the majority of states did pass legislation to comply with Federal education grant stipulations.  And now have to implement the legislation that they passed, Federal dollars or no.

So, I get a little annoyed when I hear people state that they are not going to vote because what the Federal government does really has little impact on their work or personal lives, and they have no say in it anyway.

Whichever candidate wins this election, his education policy is likely to have a significant impact on the education policies in the states.  And, that will impact what happens in districts and classrooms.  I would encourage all of us to be students of the education policies of both candidates, and consider them in making our choices about which to vote for; and, to vote period.

Staying for Bruce in the Rain

Last weekend, I attended my second-ever Bruce Springsteen concert.  I am the oldest of five siblings, and all four are tremendous Bruce fans. My sister purchased us all tickets to a Bruce NJ concert, on his birthday.  They were psyched, and I was ambivalent.  Ambivalence turned to annoyance when the concert was delayed starting by two hours due to thunderstorms, and a steady rain continued as we took our seats – outdoors.  They were right to be psyched and I was wrong to be ambivalent.

The concert was awesome.  What struck me most was the absolute passion of the musicians, and the strong connection they made with their audience.  Bruce turned 63 that night.  He was all over the stage, jumping, running, dancing, telling stories and thoroughly connecting with his audience.  His rendition of one of my favorite songs, Patti Smyth’s (yeah, I know he wrote it, but she made it happen), Because the Night was hands-down the best I’ve ever heard – or seen.  During this song, he was literally dancing a jig, playing the guitar, and belting out the lyrics in pure, unadulterated joy.

So by now, you’re saying so what?  I was watching a true professional, immersed in his craft, performing it with excellence, monitoring his audience, adjusting as he went along in accordance with what he observed amongst that audience, and providing feedback by giving them more of what they asked for, asking them to try listening to something new, and so on. (So, this is the mother of all run-on sentences).  You know that feeling you get when you see or hear greatness – the hair standing up on the back of your neck feeling?  My hair was standing.

What does this remind you of?  It reminds me of teaching; of seeing a great, talented, dedicated teacher engaged in their craft.   So many of the skills were the same – knowing the content, knowing the students (audience), reading them and adjusting as you go along, caring that they ‘get it,’ relating to their interests and needs.

With the tremendous focus now on educator effectiveness and how to measure it, this all made me think about what we are typically measuring in educator evaluations.  Do we measure these things, that make such a huge difference to that audience in that concert, that made them stay, in the rain, for a total of six hours?

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on multiple measures.  And multiple measures did not mean multiple evaluations or observations.  It meant different kinds of measures.  In measurement, we recognize that different assessment methods capture different kinds of evidence.  For example, you cannot adequately measure pedagogy in a content knowledge assessment.  You cannot adequately measure content knowledge using a generalized framework for observation.  And so on.

So how do we capture evidence of the things that I saw in that concert?  Caring, engagement, monitoring and adjusting, empathy, willingness to stretch?  MET used a student survey tool called the Tripod Survey to capture evidence of some of these things, and the results were interesting.  Tripod was developed by Ron Ferguson of Harvard University, and has been well-researched as it was developed and operationalized.  Here is a link to the survey tool:

The MET studies found that there was a correlation between student views of teachers and teacher/classroom performance.  The tripod used in the survey consists of content knowledge, pedagogic skill, relationship-building skills and these are measured by asking students questions about what Ferguson calls the Seven Cs:  caring, controlling behavior, clarifying lessons, challenging students, captivating students, conferring with students, consolidating knowledge.

Looking across almost 3000 classrooms with a minimum of 5 students responding in each, and grouping those classrooms by percentiles in terms of overall performance on the MET measures, here is a look at how students perceived their teachers in classrooms that scored in the 25th percentile and in the 75th percentile:

Students in classrooms that performed in the 25th percentile rated their teachers as less caring, engaging, challenging, communicative, and skilled in teaching.  These results, and others like them, seem to validate the usefulness of the survey.

I read Deborah Tonguis’ description of how she is being evaluated this year, and had to wonder, how will her abilities to engage, challenge, care, nurture and respect, and motivate her students be captured?  Would a survey tool like this help to do this?

What do you think about the use of student surveys, at least ones that have research to back them up?  Is this a tool that you want to see used in evaluating your performance?

Struggling

If I could entitle this blog – do blogs have titles? – I would call it Struggling.  The past few days have been a struggle for me, both personally and professionally, and I have frequently been feeling overwhelmed

Personally, I am having some work done in my home, involving repositioning furniture, organizing my new, in-home office, painting, decorating, and minor construction.  In addition, it is Fall, and that means pulling out plants from garden beds, purchasing and positioning Fall plants, and doing the major switch over of decorations from summer patriotic to Fall scarecrows and leaves, a huge endeavor that involves many weekend hours of attic crawling and shed sorting.

The struggle with all of this is that I am doing all of these things for the first time without my mother, Rosie, my mentor and guide in all things home and garden-related, as well as in life.  I lost my mother in April of this year.  Just looking at that sentence is simply overwhelming.  How does one lose a mother, and still go on?  I find myself unable to make simple decisions – the men are here to place a new shed, and I can’t tell them where to put it.  Where would Rosie have said it should go – this corner of the yard, blocking the hydrangeas that we planted together?  That corner, where we put in a hosta garden?  I just don’t know.  I do know that Rosie would have known, would have made an instant decision, and it would have been the right one.  Finally, I had a breakdown in the yard – OVER A SHED, for Pete’s sake – and my husband and the men sat me down and told me that they would place it and that it would be all right.

I am not the only one struggling with this monumental loss.  My daughter, Jessica, who as you know began law school a few weeks ago, is struggling.  Law school is hard – harder than she thought it would be, as she adjusts to a new, for her, learning protocol, the Socratic method, learns a new vocabulary,  new transportation route, and so on.  When I asked her why she was making such a big deal out of this transition, she said simply, I miss Gram.

My son, Josh, is preparing to release his first album; should he use this photo for the cover, or that one?  Which color scheme?  Rosie would have had strong opinions on all of this, and would have had no problem sharing them.  Would he have listened?  Maybe, maybe not; but, he would have valued her advice.

My sister, now responsible for all of the decisions in my mother’s home, where Suellen and her family lived with my parents, now with just Dad, struggles too.  Did she plant the flowers in the right beds, did we put the bunnies in the right places in decorating for Spring/Summer, is it sacrilegious to not want to use every single patriotic decoration that Rosie had collected in doing the porch?  And a serious conversation we had recently, how will we do Christmas this year?  How will we put up the – I’m serious here – hundreds of elves, dozens of crèches and Santas, let alone purchase gifts from Rosie and Pop?  And Dad himself is struggling.  Truly his other half, he struggles to figure out what to do with a day without Rosie.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Professionally, this past week has also been a struggle, likely influenced by my own personal mood.  I traveled to New York and Washington, to give half day workshops on educator effectiveness as part of paving the way for the studies that we will begin with Pearson; these presentations for Pearson staff are part of the ‘selling’ that has to be done to get staff on board with the research agenda that those studies represent.  The presentations focus half on the Center’s research agenda, and half on the policy landscape of educator effectiveness.

Giving the second half of these presentations, and using best-Justin Minkel practice and building in time for quick participant discussions, brings back all of the churn around educator effectiveness big time.  I have been immersed in looking at educator effectiveness through the lenses of assessment, policy, teacher voice, and legislation now for so many years through the work that I did with the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, at ETS, at Pearson, and with NNSTOY and have seen so many trends and changes come and go.  Giving these presentations, summarizing all of this for folks who have not been immersed in it, and then hearing their conversations has put much of it a new light for me.

Coupled with the plethora of articles around the Chicago teacher strike, it all brings me back to the essential question that has bothered me for so long – why is teaching not regarded as a true profession and why are we constantly struggling to position ourselves as professionals?  This is a question that I have spent countless hours researching, thinking about, and talking about with others for the past for years, and I still believe that a major reason for this is a general lack of key, professional structures.  Some of these, in my view, include a lack of:

  • Career ladders – we have no place to grow and advance as professionals unless we leave the classroom
  • Distributed leadership models – Charlotte Danielson calls teaching the flat profession; she is right.  We are truly top-down, with one or two people at the top
  • Actionable feedback to inform practice – evaluation models of the past have traditionally been checklist models, in many cases, with little feedback that we could take and use to craft thoughtful professional learning plans to address areas of need, and to use areas of strength to help others
  • Collaborative practice – we are still driven by the school bus schedule, and have little time built into our days in which to work collaboratively with one another.  How sad that we are expected to teach our students to work in this way, but in too many cases, have no opportunity to do so ourselves
  • Guiding principles for the profession – we are held accountable by so many others, but we lack guiding principles present in so many other professions, developed by practitioners for practitioners, and to which we hold ourselves accountable

This is my list, not any official list and it drives my work and my vision for NNSTOY.  I see NNSTOY as the leading voice in initiating conversations about these missing structures, and in finding ways to address them.  Most of the time, I am full of ideas about how to go about this and am passionate in meeting with others to convey the need for these structures.  But, this week, I’ve struggled in meetings with others to adequately convey them.

After my meltdown today, I sat myself down and tried to ‘hear’ Rosie’s voice telling me what to do.  One of my struggles is that I do not actually hear her like I thought I would.  But, in this case, I could easily envision what she would say to me.  Rosie:  “Katherine, your get up and go has got up and went.  Get it back.”  Me:  “I know, Mom, but I don’t know how to get it back.”  Rosie:  “Katherine, it’s simple.  Do ye the next good thing.”

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard those words.  Do ye the next good thing.  In other words, stop over-analyzing it, stop wallowing in the obstacles, just pick one good thing and get out there and do it.  And so I will.  Next week, I will let you know what I picked, and how it went.

I don’t want you to think that I have been idle for the past week, and that our work has not moved forward.  We have accomplished the following:

  • A signed contract with our Web designer
  • A draft final agreement with Pearson
  • Good meetings with policy folks, resulting in some solid suggestions for collaboration
  • Indication of a small grant from NEA Foundation for the coming year
  • A lot of thinking about the next good things that need doing internally at NNSTOY and how to get these good things done through establishing committees;  I will be posting volunteer job openings shortly.  I trust that you will consider them.
  • Our first official invitation to present at a conference – the Pearson policy conference

As I finish this, and look out the window, Robert and Paul have already finished digging out the frame for my new shed and laying down the gravel and railroad ties.  I can see where it will sit and it will be a good spot.  I am grateful for their patience and support in what should have been simple decision-making.  As I am grateful for your support as NNSTOY continues to move forward.

Katherine

Protecting Our National Security?

As promised, I’d like to share with you some glimpses of my first full week – beginning my second now – as your Executive Director.  In this week in which I spent time reflecting on the cost of freedom by remembering those who perished, and those whose lives were forever changed on 9/11, I thought a great deal about our nation’s education system and our responsibility to educate all children.  I am old enough to remember that, in my elementary and middle school, we did not have children with special needs, other than one young man who walked with braces as a result of polio.  We did not have children who did not speak English either.  I can vividly remember sitting at the New York Public Library exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, glued to a chair reading The Hundred Dresses – one of the first children’s books that I would encounter that so clearly outlined the concept of bystanders, victims, and bullies.  I am also old enough to remember the Vietnam era protest marches, songs – anyone else remember ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ by Crosby Stills Nash and Young? – and political arguments over what constituted freedom at that time.

As a result, I was truly struck by an article, and associated report, this week by  Michael Roth in response to the publication of a new report warning of dire consequences to our nation’s national security of the lack of a sufficiently prepared citizenry.  And, it uses one of my least favorite phrases of the current education policy vocabulary – human capital management.  I personally resent being referred to as capital to be managed.  Could just be me.  Here is a quote:

"Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America's security," the report states. "Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy."

Roth goes on to compare the report findings to other ideas posed as long as a century ago about tiering educational opportunity to the likely jobs that our students will hold in the future.  Again, could just be me, but my blood pressure rose as I read.  He reminds us of John Dewey’s intentions in envisioning a system of public education – to educate all citizens – and that the act of learning – the right to learn – is one of our essential freedoms.  Here is a link to the article, and to the report that prompted it.  Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Roth’s op-ed:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/opinion/john-deweys-vision-of-learning-as-freedom.html.  Report:  http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-education-reform-national-security/p27618, left-hand side of screen, download full report.

Another report caught my eye as a result of  a research project at Pearson on the impact on teaching and learning of digital tools, particularly 1:1, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), flipped classrooms, and virtual classrooms.  This is an exciting project, and I’m proud to have NNSTOY now be part of it.  However, the rapidly moving world of technology was brought home to me forcefully by an op-ed in the NY Times last week by Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat).  In this column, Friedman talks about finding out that Estonia is planning to begin teaching computer programing to its first graders – and all other students to catch them up – in order to address a growing need for programmers.  This news prompted a response from England’s Guardian newspaper, asking if UK students should now be taught programing as well.  Friedman goes on to point out that the world of ‘work hard and you can do anything’ no longer exists; our message to our children should be ‘work hard, constantly reinvent yourself, and constantly be learning,’ sort of a new twist on the importance of life-long learning.  It made me think about the messages that we are sending to our students, and the tools we are using to teach.  In the Pearson study, we are looking at how the tools that we have on-hand today can impact teaching; in many districts, these tools are not even yet available on a large scale.  How do we prepare for teaching with tools that we don’t yet know about, and teach skills that we don’t yet know our students need to learn?  I have no answers, but the column made me think about these things.  What do you think?  Here is a link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-new-rules.html?_r=1&ref=thomaslfriedman

Once our Web site is up and running, we will be holding discussions on articles and reports like these, facilitated, I hope, by some of you.  In addition, I will be asking our real bloggers – and new ones as well – to volunteer to provide blog entries as a regular feature of our site.

In terms of the work of NNSTOY, my first, full week was – full.  I attended the TQ Center conference, met with colleagues at the NEA, at CCSSO, at USED and will write reports of those meetings.  Suffice it to say that they were delighted to welcome NNSTOY as a potential partner and each meeting generated many ideas for how we STOYs might work with these organizations.

The TQ Center conference was outstanding, although I had to leave early as my husband mistook the stairs for the bathroom in the middle of the night, and took a nose-dive down the staircase; nothing broken, (well, the wall was), just lots of cuts and bruises.  Holly Boffy, LA STOY 2010, and currently serving as an Educator in Residence at CCSSO, was in attendance as well; I will be asking Holly for her insights for the meeting report.

In addition to many meetings, we began work on our branding.  Our new Web site firm, David Taylor Design, is at work on our logo and we have walked through extensively the process we will follow to approve/edit Web text and concepts.  If you are on the Communications Committee, you will be hearing from me this week as we put in place a structure for eliciting your input on the Web screens, logo iterations, etc.

In terms of research projects, Pearson, with NNSTOY as partner, held its first Advisory Panel meeting for the digital teaching project.  We met by phone with experts in this field, and received input on our study design.  We have also received our first contract with a participating school district and we will begin focus groups shortly.  Another project, focusing on using a new methodology called DSORT for compiling the results of observations, is undergoing an internal (to Pearson) piloting now and, as this progresses, the tool will be readied for external piloting.  NNSTOY’s Research Committee members, and others, will be asked if they would like to participate as things move forward.

For someone who is used to working with many colleagues, I must admit to feeling a bit lonely this past week at times.  However, many of you reached out to offer assistance, express confidence in my leadership, and just let me know that you are out there. I cannot tell you how important this is to me.  I have had emails from STOYs from the 1980s through 2010s; from American Samoa to New England; from retired teachers and relatively new teachers.  You have all expressed the same message – excitement for our revitalized organization, energy to get to work, and support for your Board and ED.  I was told by one DC-policy colleague this week that I am now a ‘bigwig’ – I begged to differ, saying that I am just a little wig with a big job.  I am thankful that you are here and willing to get that big job done.

Have a great week and thanks for all that you do,

Katherine

First Days

September 5, 2012

Yesterday morning, as I was boarding a 7:15 a.m. train in Philadelphia for Washington, D.C. for my first day of work as the Executive Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, I received a text message from my son-in-law to be, Zach.  The message contained a photograph of my daughter, Jessica, standing in front of a counter, behind which read the words, “Penn Law”.  The message contained four words:  ‘first day of school.’  Jessica started law school yesterday.

A few seconds later, I received a call from my son, Josh, telling me that he had just received the same photo, and a text from his girlfriend, Mai, sharing her jitters as she readied herself for her first day at a new job, with a great deal more responsibility.

Three ‘first days’ in one family certainly got me thinking, about first days in general.  I remembered all of the first days of schools that my children experienced – the excitement of new lunchboxes, school supplies, and backpacks.  My own ‘first days’ of school as a student and then as a teacher, preparing my library for my incoming students, planning our lessons and research, and working with teachers to ready their classrooms – finding them books, videos, filmstrips (I’m old) to augment their ‘first day’ lessons.

I had taken Jessica shopping for school supplies for this ‘first day’, just as I had for previous ones, and did some shopping for my own day.  Instead of file folders and pencils, we bought flashdrives and lens cleaner.  Intead of spiral bound notebooks, we discussed carrying an electronic tablet or notebook computer on that all important ‘first day.’

All three of us –Jessica, Mai, and myself – were experiencing serious ‘first day’ jitters – had we made the right decision in taking on these new challenges, were we the right persons for the position, would we find collegial colleagues, did we have the right skills?

As I ended my own ‘first day’ last night, I thought about all of these things and decided that my own day had been productive, enjoyable, and, to an extent, affirming.  I’d felt prepared, welcomed, and ready to tackle my own new challenges.  Checking in with Jessica and Mai, they felt the same.

However, I could not help but think about all the students I had taught, and all those in your classrooms, who experienced ‘first days’ recently, who, perhaps, did not have this same reflective experience after day one.  Their families could not afford to send them to school with the necessary equipment; some of them came to school hungry; some of them chose to not come at all.  And about their teachers, many of whom also had ‘first days.’

I read in this morning’s USA Today that the percentage of new teachers in our classrooms is rising every year (Ingersoll and Merrill, UPenn), from 65,00 in 1987-88 to 200,000 in 2007-8.  Heather Peske of TeachPlus, notes that the percentage of the teaching force with less than ten years experience now stands at 52%.  The recent New Teacher Project report, The Irreplaceables, notes that, in many cases, new teacher who choose to leave would have stayed had they had better support.

As NNSTOY’s new ED, this resonates strongly with me.  My vision for NNSTOY over the next twelve months includes seeing our members serving in the role of mentor, coach, friend, and supporter for our new teachers, as well as for those teachers who have experience but are in need of support.  I see NNSTOY members working through virtual ‘circles’ by content area and developmental level of students taught to help strengthen the profession.

I see a thriving virtual community of State Teachers of the Year, exchanging and participating in research, influencing policy decisions.  My vision includes a membership that strives to professionalize teaching, bringing it on par with other fields of work that have in place continuums of professional practice, guiding principles for the profession, collaborative communities of practice, and that receive actionable feedback to inform practice.

My vision is far-reaching, and, some might say, too big to be realistic.  I disagree.  Over the next few months, we will be taking steps to make real four key goals:

  1. Establishment of the NNSTOY brand:  working with a professional Web designer, we will build our brand and launch a new, dynamic Website by November 30, 2012
  2. Grant procurement:  we possess a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but it does not fully fund our budget. We need to obtain additional sponsors.  Organizations like ours typically have a minimum of eight to ten funders.  We have work to do.
  3. Establishing NNSTOY as a viable non-profit organization in the D.C. policy arena:  I will be spending a great deal of time in DC over the next few months; I need your help in reaching out to key organizations that can assist us in growing our brand.
  4. Membership recruitment:  I can’t do this job alone; we need every STOY involved in this work.  If you have not joined our revitalized organization, I urge you to do so now.  (membership dues will rise after December 31, 2012)

Megan Allen wrote recently on our Facebook page about her own ‘first day’ back to school after a year working for children outside the classroom.   She described her excitement, as well as her fears, and the outcome of that special day.  I would ask that all NNSTOY members take a moment to reflect on your most recent ‘first day’ and think about how you will make capitalize on your excitement and preparation for this year; and on how you will use your skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of your students and colleagues, so that their future ‘first days’ – for some, occurring today and tomorrow – are positive, productive, and impactful.

With sincere thanks for all that you do for children and teachers,

Katherine



© 2015 NNSTOY, All Rights Reserved
Website by David Taylor Design