Thursday, December 19, 2013

The improvement dilemma

99% of people want to improve, but the majority don't know how.  I think this is a major dilemma in education.  All teachers seek to get better, but our system doesn't allow for it.  How do we expect teachers to get better when a typical school only devotes three days of in-service for professional development.  In my experience these days have been disconnected from what teachers want and really need.  We are no different in Rugby, we have three in-service days and two of them are before the year starts.

We are taking major steps in embedding professional learning in our school system this year.  We are providing the TIME that is needed to ensure that all take part.  It isn't perfect and we are reevaluating it for improvement, but it's a start.  Here are some examples late startteacher led PD, and district class.

The longer I continue my career in school leadership the more I realize how important it is to build the capacity of ALL educators in the building.  If pockets of excellence exist, it creates a lottery system for kids.  Schooling becomes a game of luck for students and parents.  We as school leaders often tell our struggling, and average teachers that they need to get better.  We fail when we don't provide them the clear path of how to get better.  Our professional learning rarely addresses their needs.  

We are looking at transforming our system and creating something that provides choice, autonomy and allows the teacher to own their learning.  I would assume the goal of professional development is to transform the teacher and build their capacity.  I believe the only way that is possible is to turn the keys over to them and let them own their learning.  I believe we have to fix the structure before we can ask a teacher to devote more time outside the day for learning.  Right now your top performers will, and your strugglers to average teachers won't devote time outside of the contract. Therefore we continue to create a lottery system for students and parents.  It is about capacity building and we need provide a path for each individual teacher to get better.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

What are you producing?

I presented recently at our state's Learning Forward conference.  I was asked to talk about professional learning in our district, and more specifically our late start for professional learning communities.  One of the issues that I see in this profession is that we don't share innovations that take place in our districts very well.  We are tight-lipped due to various reasons. I think often times we feel the innovation may not be worthy in the eyes of our peers.  We won't move in this profession if we are too worried about what our peers or other critics will say. Or we are too humble and feel that the innovation isn't worthy to share. There isn't a silver bullet that will fix our schools.  It is a variety of well thought out changes that will lead us to improvement.  If we don't share what we are producing we will continue to be stagnant.

I challenge you to to a risk, and put yourself out there! Talk about the great things your schools are doing.  It doesn't matter how small the initiative is, if it is working share it!  We have so many platforms to share these days.  Take a minute to blog about it, find time to speak at local or state conference about it, and tweet about it.  If you are seeing success share it!   I always like to hear what other schools are doing.  We are always "stealing" ideas and making them our own in education.  

What are you producing? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Professional learning and autonomy

Lyn Hilt  put together a post earlier this week regarding innovative ways to provide high quality professional learning.  I have reflected quite a bit on this subject over the years and want to provide our teachers with the autonomy to grow as professionals.
Learning forward defines professional development as something that occurs primarily multiple times per week or the equivalent of several hours per week.
I can honestly say that this happens with some of our teachers but not all.  That is why I think it is imperative that we embed professional learning into the school day.  This will eliminate our pockets of excellence and build our overall teacher capacity.

We are looking at moving our professional development days into the school year.  In my opinion if our PD is outside of the school year it rarely enters the classroom.  I think it is important that we space out our PD days so that we can provide follow up throughout the year.  The goal is to have either a 1/2 day or a full day of PD each month.

This setup would provide roughly 40 hours of professional development for teachers throughout the year on top of the 36 hours of PLC time. Teachers during PLC time would create their professional learning goal(s) for the 2014-2015 school year.  We would ask that they brainstorm and research what they will learn during the 40 hours.  A concern when you allow this much flexibility is how do we hold them accountable?  This is simple, we deal with them individually.  I believe teachers will run with this concept, but it needs to be well planned on the teacher's part.

This concept allows teachers to individualize for themselves.  They will be able to tailor what they want to learn to their needs.  It provides choice, and the autonomy needed to grow as professionals. This idea goes against the tradition of how we have provided PD to teachers, and some may struggle with the freedom.

How often have we organized or taken part in PD that doesn't apply to us?  I think this could be the beginning of something that is worthwhile and meaningful for our teachers.  This is risky, but could have big payoffs!

Friday, December 6, 2013

I am still learning

The title to this post is something that we need to instill into every student that comes through our doors.  Mastery is a lifelong pursuit and something that shouldn't end when we get a diploma, a final grade, or when the bell rings.  We continue to teach a million different things with the hope that maybe some of it will stick.  Developing mastery should be our goal in every student, but it is difficult when our curriculum is a mile wide.  I am proponent of narrowing our focus on areas that we feel as a professionals are necessities for what students should know and be able to do.   
Daniel Pink says,
"Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it. But… you can never touch it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully."

Can a person really get to the point of mastery?  That is up for debate, but I think we can get really close as shown above.  Shouldn't this be our goal for our students and more importantly for ourselves?

Mastery learning isn't a new concept.  The idea has been around for a long time.  The problem is that we are often in curriculum overload and we feel the need to cover the entire textbook. Students get confused and don't see the connection of what they previously learned to what they are learning now.  No fault to the teacher we are just trying to do the best we can.  How often do your students fail to remember an essential concept taught in a previous unit?  Students need to see a connection and know that the material is essential in moving forward.  I was listening to a conversation a few weeks ago where a student questioned why he needed to remember a concept that was previously covered?  The student felt that once it was taught and learned that he/she didn't need to retain that knowledge. 
Catlin Tucker says,  
"For students to want to master something, they must, first of all desire to get better. They must also feel that what they're learning or doing matters."
Marge Scherer discusses the idea of mastery learning and provides some guidance below. 

Set clear objectives; are we referencing our powerstandard and why this activity is important to what students should know and be able to do in the unit?  What are the essential questions of the activity?

Provide students with opportunities for practice; how is your grading system setup? Do we grade them on the practice  that is needed to meet mastery of that powerstandard? Doesn't grading the practice hinder a students performance towards mastery? A student becomes more reluctant to do well on practice if grades are involved and they haven't full grasped the concept.   

Checking for understanding; what are our methods to check for understanding?  Do we use formative assessment to check their understanding in real time?  Reminder formative assessment is like a physical and summative assessment is like an autopsy. Hopefully we have checked for understanding at some point prior to the summative assessment.

Reteaching in different and new ways if needed; once you have checked for understanding and find that a few clearly don't understand.  What are your next steps? To me this is the piece that often gets bypassed because we have too many things to cover, and we simply move on due to issues with time.  Students are able to get by with a low level of understanding and move on to the next concept without approaching mastery.  

Finally, giving students more than one chance to demonstrate the attainment of the goal; again this can be difficult to attain due to the shear amount of items to cover. Does it really matter if it takes a student longer to understand and grasp the concept to the point of mastery?  Or is it more important if the student grasps the material on a specific date?  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Parent Advisory Committee

Parental involvement is one of the most important pillars in creating a great school.  Our parents need a voice, and I want to establish a parent advisory committee (PAC).  We want this setting to open doors between school and home. 

We hope that these meetings create a forum for communication and information sharing.  From time to time we will include book discussions as part of our PAC meetings.  We will also provide some insight into our current initiatives.  We will use grant funds if you are unable to purchase the books we choose to read.  You can still participate if you choose not to read the book.  Feedback from parents is crucial to the success of our school. 

Our first initial meeting will center on the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  Dr. Dweck explains:
·         How praise can harm, and how to use it well.
·         When, what, and how to criticize.
·         Why bright children (and talented athletes) stop working and what to do about it.
·         How to communicate the values that bring success.

We will also discuss our current initiatives and gather feedback.  We will tentatively schedule our first meeting at Rugby High School on February 20th at 7:00PM.  Parents play a key role in their child’s success in school.  I am looking forward to building this forum into something that is beneficial for our school and community. Please go to the following link if you are interested in taking part.

Parent Advisory Membership Link: