by Joe Kelleher, M.A.
Nationally Board Certified English Teacher
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To read more blogs from Joe Kelleher, visit his site at www.radishquo.com
If you live on the west coast and you are in any way connected with education, you know of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. As an acronym, we see this in our written communication as SBAC. When we speak of it, we say Ess-Back, which manifests in my mind as a coiled, hissing snake, or perhaps a maligned Harry Potter character, embittered by years of living in ostracized seclusion with a painful spinal disfigurement.
The SBAC is a bit of a shadowy figure. I have taught in two states and internationally. I have attended and given workshops in dozens of venues and with hundreds, maybe thousands of colleagues from around the world. Daily, I read literature on the subject of education. But I cannot recall ever meeting someone who admits to working for or on the SBAC. Which is weird, considering that nearly every single student on the west coast, over the course of several grueling days, takes the SBAC exam in the spring. Weird, considering that the federal government has threatened to retract millions and millions of dollars in federal funding from the states, districts, and schools who opt out of the exam. Weird, since almost all of our professional development is carried out with SBAC results in the backs of our minds.
When the stakes are this high, it would stand to reason that teachers and administrators have a voice in, or at least a rudimentary understanding of how the data is collected and calculated. After all, the numbers will publicly reveal holes in our credibility as professionals and later guide the mandatory professional learning we pay for with our time and energy. However, when I look closely at my students’ data, as summarized by this one-shot test administered long before the year is even over, I do not feel like I have learned much that will help me improve as an educator. If anything, I might even feel a little bit messed with.
Here’s what I mean specifically:
What you just looked at in confusion is a page from my student roster report, courtesy of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The colored numbers represent each student’s overall score on the exam. Trust me, there are some red numbers on other pages. That aside, I think most of my colleagues would agree that within the first six weeks of the school year, any mediocre teacher can predict, with about a 90% degree of accuracy, the number that is likely to accompany each name on the roster when we receive the results the following year. However, good teachers are interested in why each student earned the score that they earned. If trends emerge over time—gaps in particular standards, for example—maybe we can work with that information to improve our craft in the long run.
The SBAC sort of breaks things down for us. Notice the four categories of reading, writing, listening, and research/inquiry in the roster report above. That’s almost helpful. But what about the fact that Student A and Student B performed identically within each of the four categories, yet received two different overall scores?
I understand that small variances in performance in each category can lead to a difference in overall scores. But if this is the case, I might expect Student A to be hanging precariously close to a 2. And I might surmise that Student B had a good day and punched above weight towards a 3. But if we zoom in closer, we see this is not the case at all:
Student A was quite a distance from a 2. Student B is actually closer to a 1 than a 3. But as far as the roster report tells me, these students have nearly the same score across the board in reading, writing, listening, and research/inquiry. I understand that a 2 and a 3 have different ranges, blah, blah, blah, but this is annoying to me. It is confusing. The data actually makes me understand these students less than I did before attempting to analyze it.
Data like this is terrifying to those teachers whose evaluations and salaries are tied to these ambiguous and flawed results. Many of those teachers will not be in the profession much longer. They are already leaving in droves.
Data like this is also terrifying to good administrators. They are under immense pressure from politicians to look at these numbers and develop plans of action that impact thousands of students. But what good is a plan if the data that guides it is so questionable?
And maybe this data should be disconcerting to you, even if you are not an educator. Your tax dollars are paying for the design and implementation of the test, including all of the technology infrastructure and personnel required to implement it in every school across your state.
But let’s back up for a moment. I am not here to rant against the Common Core Standards or against standardized testing as a whole. I think both can serve as powerful tools that will improve instruction. And maybe the people in charge of the SBAC are decent humans who have learning rather than profit at the core of their beliefs. Maybe someday I’ll meet one of them and I can find out.
But in the meantime, I feel it is my duty as an educational leader to identify a problem, which I think I have done, and then to propose some possible solutions. So here are a few solutions:
Students: Your teachers know the exam can be frustrating, tedious, and painful. However, please do your best. And please behave in a way that allows the people around you to do their best too. Think of that teacher or coach who has gone out of their way for you, even if it just offering you a kind word when you needed it. Dedicate your performance to them. Forget about that teacher who you think is kind of a jerk. In fact, maybe have some empathy for them. They have been pitted against you by the system, been told they are failing you in every possible way, and as a result, many of them go home and cry. Then they work until they fall asleep.
Parents: If you opt your child out, you are actually just causing more problems for everyone. Administrators and teachers have to figure out something to do with your son or daughter while he or she is not taking the test, which means they will probably end up sitting in some holding pen while supervised by an overworked secretary. Obviously, we know this is a terrible scenario, but we are not sure what you expect when every teacher and administrator in the building is occupied with proctoring the high-stakes exam you just opted out of.
Teachers: We need to draw the curtain away to see who pulls the levers that operate the fireballs and smoke that are pouring out of the machine at you. Maybe the SBAC people have good intentions but are just tragically misguided. Or maybe they are draconian profiteers who need to be exposed. In the meantime, support one another and keep learning. We don’t need to be perfect at what we do, but we can be better at what we do.
Administrators: We need to help construct a culture that allows for Professional Learning Communities. Effective ones that produce usable data. This might mean we push harder for a restructured school week with sufficient time built in for teachers to plan, collaborate, and analyze data. One hour a day is not cutting it anymore. This also might mean we need to get in there with teachers and use the tools they are using with the students they are interacting with to see the reality. As school leaders, many of us left the classroom before No Child Left Behind and before the technology revolution that completely transformed instruction and feedback. We are unforgivably out of touch. We have become the mouthpiece of politicians and massive corporations, when the information should be flowing in the other direction. Let's remember whom we are here to support.
Superintendents, School Boards, and all other Politicians: Look closely at the budgets. Really closely. Factor in the technology costs. Factor in the training costs. Factor in the flawed data. Factor in the toll this process is taking on everyone else’s morale. Factor in the looming teacher shortage that is the inevitable result of these practices. Factor in that we have systematically forced many visionary and vocal leaders out of our organizations to start their own charter schools. Factor in how history is going to remember us. Factor in your conscience.
Does the money the federal government threatens to withdraw exceed these costs?
Those of us down here on the ground have been scratching our heads and wondering for a while now.
by, Elijah Bonde, M.A., Leadership Studies
Principal at Nativity Prep Academy
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Most schools have been in session for a month or so. This is when the reality of the school year starts to set in and often the struggles of the day-to-day overwhelm the positivity that guided the first few weeks of school. We are all educators because we love the profession and the first days of school bring the most excitement for the year. We are idealistic with our goals and dreams for the year. Unfortunately all too often, we get run down, sometimes even by the end of the first week of school. I hope to share a few ideas here that might help to keep the positivity and excitement from the first few weeks moving throughout the school year.
Focus on the Good
First and most importantly, educators need to be reminded that they are amazing, hardworking, compassionate individuals that are dedicated to service. I was reminded of this over the weekend by a friend. We educators tend to focus on the one or two things we would like to do better. We end up focusing on the one or two students that failed the test rather than the 20-plus that passed. We need to shift our mindset to look at the positive impact we are making. We can use the failures as data to improve, but not as measures of the impact we make just by being educators. We are changing lives for the better, and it is important that we are reminded of this.
Balance the Big Picture with the Details
I am a strong believer that it is important to address the big picture of our school in addition to addressing the details. Since teachers have to be on the front lines, they tend to want practical techniques and things that will address the immediate needs of the class. While it is very important to focus on these pieces and to make sure everyone understands the details, it is also important to create a big picture for the school and to work on those issues. If we can see how our day-to-day work fits into a larger vision and purpose, we can pull from our reserve tanks to get the job done. With a larger understanding of our work, we know how our piece fits with others and we are more willing to work with others. The details are essential, but we need time to see the big picture.
Establish and Revisit Goals
Another way to keep the positivity going throughout the year is to make it easy for everyone and the school to see the progress they are making. It is helpful to have a few clearly articulated goals for the year. These goals should be both school goals and personal goals. Similar to earlier, we need to see how our personal goals align to the direction of the school. When you see how your day-to-day work aligns with the larger school goals, it makes it easier to dig deeper into your work. Once we have our goals set, we need to make it easy to see the successes we have in the small steps building up to your larger goals. Creating a scoreboard and tracking successes shows off the little victories that remind everyone that the hard work they are putting in is making a difference.
As the year continues, there will be interpersonal interactions and disagreements with school decisions. It is an inevitable part of working with a team. If we give space for teachers to discuss their excitement, nervousness, and other reactions throughout the school year, then a deeper understanding between each person is formed. We can learn more about each other and what we are bringing to work with us. If I know more about the nervousness that a colleague has, I can be more compassionate with an annoying interaction that I had with them. The more we can learn about each other, the stronger our team can be.
Overall, we all enjoy the excitement and positive energy that starts our school year. It is a big reason that we come back each year to teach again. We get a new group of students and get to try and create the best environment to help them learn and grow. Hopefully, this year that positive energy can continue throughout the year.
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Curriculum mapping is a hot topic for educators these days. Curriculum mapping focuses on aligning the Common Core State Standards to teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning experiences horizontally within grade levels and vertically across multiple grade levels. The Common Core is built to set national guidelines and expectations for students in every grade level across the nation in terms of what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. However, the Common Core is not a curriculum or a set of instructional practices, and thus it is left to each school district to decide how the Common Core standards will be addressed and implemented in their local setting. This is where curriculum mapping comes into the picture, as it is the roadmap for how the standards are implemented. However, despite many years of curriculum mapping, the process remains very confusing for educators. Of particular concern for educators is the fear that the Common Core and curriculum mapping will force all teachers to teach the same thing, on the same day, and in the same way. But this is not the case and so in our work with educators on curriculum mapping, we quell this fear through a simple analogy: curriculum mapping is like the Food Network competition show, Cake Wars.
Cake Wars is a baking competition where teams of bakers face off to win $10,000 by making a creative, whimsical, and large cake based on a particular theme. In the competition, the bakers are provided certain expectations or guidelines that they must follow in order to be qualified to win the competition. These guidelines or expectations include a particular theme they must follow (e.g. Star Wars, Willy Wonka), a particular ingredient that must be incorporated (e.g. Jelly Bellies, avocados), a time frame to finish in, and moving the finished cake from their work station to a 3’ x 3’ square table for judging. How the bakers incorporate all of these guidelines is completely up to their own creativity, skills, and interests. The creativity and innovation booms in this competition and the judges are provided outstanding and delicious cakes, each of which is creatively individualized within the competition’s guidelines.
The Cake Wars analogy is a perfect pairing for school districts’ curriculum mapping processes. Just as in the Cake Wars’ competition, while there are a set of guidelines and expectations based off the Common Core that need to be followed, the way in which educators get there is completely up to each individual. During curriculum mapping, grade levels teams create a common set of expectations or guidelines through four items:
1) Essential skills (the things students need to know and be able to do by the end of the grade)
2) Power standards (the Common Core standards that align to these essential skills)
3) Progression of skills (the implementation timeline of the essential skills during the year)
4) Unit plans of learning based on these essential skills
These common aspects of the mapping are used as expectations for all teachers within the grade level, similar to the guidelines set forth for baking teams in Cake Wars (e.g., the theme, the ingredients). After these guidelines and expectations are set across a grade level, each individual teacher is then able to ‘bake their cake’ in any manner they want! They can choose their ingredients (e.g., texts, materials, labs, resources), their baking methods (e.g., direct instruction, small groups, dialogue sessions), and their decorations (e.g. assessments, essays, projects). Each baker in Cake Wars and each teacher in a school chooses these aspects of the cakes based on their previous experiences, preferred methods, level of understanding, and best skills. So despite the set of common guidelines and expectations, the judges - or in this case the students - are provided a colorful array of creativity, innovation, individualization, and differentiation.
So while educators may fear that the Common Core and curriculum mapping will set down a blueprint that they cannot stray from, when they use the Cake Wars analogy they can see the incredible differences that will arise within the common guidelines. They will recognize that their individuality will not be lost in a blanket of absolutes, and that they can ‘bake their cake’ any way they see fit, just as long as it all fits within the guidelines. When it comes to curriculum mapping, you really can have your cake and eat it too!
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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As the Common Core State Standards have become integrated into schools across the nation, curriculum mapping processes have been undertaken so as to align teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning experiences to the new standards. Curriculum mapping processes focus on developing progressive units of study that build students’ essential skills and content knowledge. When curriculum mapping processes are done effectively, all teachers at a grade level are active participants in the process. Since the educators are the experts at their grade level and content areas, they are the primary mappers in the process. The process enables teachers to buy-in to the curriculum they will be using to make a difference for their students. Curriculum mapping processes often take several years of intensive work to complete and thus the key to effectiveness is to break the process down into manageable chunks that enable growth and development without overwhelming the educators who are participating in the process. The most effective method of mapping is to work in four main areas: scope (the what); sequence (the when); unit plans (the how); and assessments/rubrics (the evidence).
Scope (The What)
The scope is ‘the what’ of instruction and learning in that it delineates the key focus areas of what students need to know and be able to do by the end of a school year. The scope provides the building blocks of effective instruction for it provides the goals for instruction and learning in the classroom that are perfectly aligned to the grade-level standards. The scope focuses on developing a set of essential skills or questions aligned to the standards that lead all instruction within the units.
Sequence (The When)
The sequence is ‘the when’ or the order that instruction occurs that best enables learning by students in the classroom. The key to effective sequencing is the ability to provide instruction that builds upon previous learning in a manner that eventually results in meeting the end-goals of the course. The key to sequencing is that there might be many ways to provide the instruction (e.g., the use of different materials, resources, or texts), but that the instruction should follow a road map that best traverses towards the final results.
Unit Plans (The How)
Unit plans aligned to the scope and sequence enable a teacher to build a series of progressive units that will help students reach the end goals for their learning. Unit plans become the road map for the curriculum mapping by delineating how to set up the school year for student learning success. A key feature of unit plans is that within each unit, a teacher may choose to teach the unit in any manner that best fits their individual instructional practices, their available materials, and their students’ learning styles and needs. Thus within the unit plans, grade level teams develop a set of best practices in instruction for each unit and a list of possible resources and materials that can be used in the unit. This allows teachers to individually select the materials, and the instructional practices that best fit their students’ differentiated needs.
Assessments (The Evidence)
Both formative and summative assessments provide the evidence of student progression towards their learning outcomes. Common assessments, whether they are formative or summative, also provide immediate feedback to teachers as to how their curriculum map is working. If particular assessments show that students are not picking up a particular piece of knowledge or skills, then the maps can be redeveloped to adjust for these needs. The assessments not only provide data for report cards, but they enable teachers to continue to hone their instructional practices in a manner that best fits the needs of their students. The data collected from these assessments can then be used by grade level teams to determine future next steps in curriculum mapping and unit planning.
Curriculum mapping processes are sweeping the nation as schools and educators work to align students learning experiences to the Common Core State Standards. By focusing on these four main areas, educators are able to build the most effective curriculum maps that will have the greatest impact on their students learning outcomes.
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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It is with sincerest appreciation that this letter is being written. We cannot thank you enough for making a difference in the world. We cannot thank you enough for making a difference in our lives. We know that we would not be who we are today without your support and guidance over the years. We know this world is a better place because of your dedication to ensuring that all of us are loved and cared for. We know that we are better people because you cared enough to put in the long hours to ensure that we are supported and guided through our development years. Thank you!
You shared with us your love for learning. You helped us to develop our ability to learn, to deepen our knowledge, and to build skills that would help us throughout our lives. You provided active learning opportunities where we could sharpen our skills and apply our book learning into real-world situations. You pushed us to try harder, work smarter, and never give up when we make a mistake. You enabled us to find our passions in our learning and to build these passions into careers that we love. You helped us to redevelop our areas of weakness, and to continue to build on our areas of strength. You read to us, experimented with us, and played games with us. You let us ask questions, no matter how silly they were. You made learning fun! Thank you!
You offered us solace in our times of need and comfort in our times of pain. You knew just how to connect with us in a way that was meaningful for our lives. You offered us a shoulder to cry on when we were hurting, a hug to let us know we were cared about, and a listening ear when we needed someone to talk to. You built relationships with us to where we could depend on you and confide in you. You enabled us to show weakness without fear of humiliation. You provided us a safe haven where we could make mistakes without fear of public embarrassment. You held us up when we were struggling and taught us how to get through the tough times. You understood our struggles and didn’t think less of us because of them. Thank you!
You laughed with us and celebrated with us. You high fived us for a job well done and patted us on the back after an accomplishment. You helped us to build friendships and taught us how to treat people right. You made us feel that no matter what was happening in our lives we had a fan that would root us on to victory. You made us feel special, no matter how difficult our life was at the time. You made us feel good about ourselves. You made us feel important. You made us who we are. You make this world a better place. You are a difference maker. Thank you!
Thank you for being the amazing, dedicated person that you are! Thank you for changing our lives. Thank you for making a difference in our lives. Thank you for being our teacher. We hope that we can have the same impact on the world as you have had on ours.
*** If you like this blog, please share the blog with a teacher that made a difference in your life!***
Our school, like many others, is in the midst of figuring out how technology fits into our curriculum, instruction, and student learning experiences. Technology is very prevalent in educational discussions. There are conservations occurring throughout education focused on increasing funding for computer science[i] and STEM educations. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning includes an entire section of its framework on Information, Media, and Technology Skills[ii]. As educators, we are having these discussions, because we are trying to figure out what technology looks like in our schools. The digital age is new and can significantly change the direction of teaching[iii]. As our school has increased our technology infrastructure, number of devices, and professional development, I have made some observations that I find important.
It’s not all or nothing
I have come to realize that integrating technology does not need to be an all or nothing approach. I feel like there is a misconception that if you decide to add technology to your classroom, then you need to switch everything to be digital. This is a dangerous misconception and a scary one if you don’t know what it might look like once implemented. I recently observed a teacher and was specifically looking for digital technology use, behavioral engagement, and cognitive demand of the lesson. During the lesson, there was no digital technology being used, but the students were engaged and the rigor was high. This was a glowing example of how technology should be used when appropriate.
It’s only one of many tools
When technology is used appropriately, it is used with intention. Students are not sitting in class all day playing with a device. They instructed when to use a device and why they are using it. If the task does not lend itself to using technology, then other educational tools should be used. When we are planning lessons and activities for students, we need to consider the most effective way to getting to the learning goals and what tools will support that process. We can’t force the use of technology into classes when it is not the right time.
But even when it is the right time to use technology, we need to be ready for it to be a mess. Anytime we try a new instructional strategy in a class, there is an increased risk of it not working. We get comfortable in our early years of teaching with our handful of strategies that work for us, and we tend to not want to add new strategies for fear of making a mess. So when we add technology, we have to know that it might not work the way we hoped. We need to be comfortable taking the risk to see the long-term benefits of adding new strategies to our repertoire.
Have a back-up plan
One way to lower the fear of technology not working is to have a back-up plan. This takes a little extra time to prepare, but it is very important. Even the best technology infrastructures are going to need maintenance or have failures, and if your entire lesson is dependent upon technology and you don’t have a back-up plan, your lesson is toast. Your back-up plan does not need to be elaborate, but have a quick activity the students can do while your program loads, or another way that you can show the material if your internet is down. Being prepared allows you to troubleshoot the technology problem without losing the entire class and becoming completely frustrated.
Try it first
Another way to avoid feeling frustrated by technology is to try it first. As a science educator, one of the golden rules is to always perform the lab you are going to do with the students before the actual lesson. This way you know the nuances that will make sure the lab is successful. You have an idea of where it might get stuck and where you might need to give extra instruction. Technology is very similar. If you want to the students to make a movie, practice making one yourself. Then you have some knowledge and can support them in their learning.
See it in action
Since not all of us our experts with technology, we need to find others who can help us. We did not grow up with iPads and laptops in the classroom. I remember having to go to the computer lab and use the old Macs to play Oregon Trail. This is not where technology is going any more. Today’s technology can be so much more dynamic. Find someone that uses technology in their classroom and see if you can go see it in action. Some teachers have spent a lot of time and are highly creative in the ways that they are integrating technology into their classes to enhance learning. We can all learn from those individuals. It can be difficult to be creative and think of ways to use technology because it is so new. So instead of reinventing the wheel, develop a network with others that are using technology and trying new things in the classroom.
Find the right technology
Lastly, invest in the right technology. My school originally invested in SMART Boards for each classroom. We used them for years, but they were nothing more than a fancy projection tool. We rarely used the interactive touch feature. The teachers did not use the SMART Notebook software either because it wasn’t familiar and slowed their computers down. So as we started looking at upgrading technology, we decided on technology that felt familiar. We bought flat screen TVs, Apple TVs, and iPads. All of the teachers knew how a TV works and how an iPad works. The Apple TVs allowed the teachers to pair their work on the iPads with the TVs. We had the same fancy projection capabilities that we did with the SMART Boards, but the teachers were getting more into the iPads. The comfort with the device was essential to getting the teachers to use it more in the classrooms. As administrators and teachers looking to upgrade their technology, we have to consider the comfort and familiarity with the devices and what we are hoping the students will do with it.
[i] Megan Smith (2016, January 30). Computer Science for All. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/30/computer-science-all
[ii] Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2015). The intellectual and policy foundations of the 21st century skills framework. Retrieved from http://p21.org
[iii] Fullan, M. & Langworthy, M. (2013). Towards a new end: New pedagogies for deep learning, Sponsored by: Motion Leadership, Intel, Pearson, Collaborative Impact, Microsoft, Promethean.
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Earlier this week, we posted a blog on Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theories and the impact of these theories on providing effective learning opportunities for professionals. We continue this conversation in this blog with a focus on modern approaches to adult learning that were founded in Knowles’ early work. A leading voice in this field is Dr. Sharan Merriam, a professor of Adult Education at the University of Georgia. Her work in this field has generated a theory that there are five main approaches to adult learning: behaviorist, cognitivist, humanist, social cognitivist, and constructivist. For Merriam and other experts in this field, the key to effective adult learning is to match the individual learner’s preferred learning type with these approaches.
In order to effectively connect the learning approaches with individual learner’s needs, an understanding of Merriam’s five main adult learning approaches is warranted.
Behaviorist: This approach centers on the acts of reinforcing good behavior and changing bad behavior and is most commonly found in organizations where evaluation is based on quantifiable measures. The approach is accomplished through a process where behavioral changes are reinforced through rewards and punishments. The behaviorist approach is the most commonly used adult learning approach in professional development.
Cognitivist: This approach focuses on the cognitive development of the learner, by building new knowledge on previous knowledge gathered by the learner. In this approach, the belief is that the more the learner knows about the content needed in their profession, the more productive they will be in their work. The entire focus on cognitive growth means there is no room for growth in other areas of the individual.
Humanist: This approach arose out of the work of psychologist Carl Rogers who theorized that learning in adulthood must include learning by the whole person, not just cognitive learning. Instead of focusing merely on new skills and behaviors to acquire, the humanist approach provides space for learning by the entire being, as well as the opportunity to grow as in individual in terms of how they relate to others in the workplace.
Social Cognitivist: This approach focuses on the development of new knowledge and understanding through the interaction of the learner and other learners. In this approach, the learning environment matters greatly for the best learning emerges out of collaborative learning. Social interaction, observational learning, and social modeling are keys to the social cognitivist approach. Albert Bandura (2000), a leading expert in this approach, suggests that the adult learner in this approach is aided through three forms of agency: personal (leaner alone), proxy (instructor to learner), and collective (social environment).
Constructivism: This approach involves a process where learners construct new knowledge and understanding by linking it to previous knowledge and experiences. Thus knowledge is constructed through the internalization of experiences in the environment that help to rearrange and reassess previous knowledge in the individual. This approach relies largely on the learner coming to the learning experience with a wealth of knowledge that they can use to development into deeper levels of understanding.
Merriam and other experts in the field do not try to suggest that one approach is necessarily better than the others. Rather they focus on the idea that the approach that works best is that which fits best with each learning situation, learning goal, and individual learner. The key is to understand that every adult learner in the professional development program comes has a specific approach that fits best. Some organizations may need to focus on content knowledge (cognitivist approach) for the professionals, however in other organizations there might be a greater need for social interaction (social cognitivist) in the learning opportunity. The key to effectiveness in adult learning is to find the best fit between approach and learner.
Bandura, A. (2000). Exercise of human agency through collective efficacy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(3), 75-78.
Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S., & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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The high attrition rate for beginning teachers in K-12 education is an area of concern for school districts across the nation. Teacher turnover in the beginning teacher population is creating trouble for a struggling system that is in need of experienced, quality teachers. There are a number of factors that influence beginning teachers to leave the field of teaching, but the constant that they share is the void they leave behind them. A new wave of teachers must fill this void, which lessens the experience and expertise available in the K-12 system. Furthermore there is a substantial cost of rehiring a new teacher into the vacated positions.
In discussing the attrition problem, Ingersoll and Smith (2003) use the metaphor of a bucket with numerous holes in it; the bucket continues to lose water poured into it and the more water poured in, the more that is lost. Pouring more teachers (the water) into the system (the bucket) will not solve the problem of attrition. Ingersoll and Smith suggest that the answer is not to pour more water in, but rather to fix the holes in the bucket so the water cannot drain out. There are plenty of teachers being trained and hired that are flooding into the school system, thus the problem is not about bringing in more teachers, but rather retaining the teachers that are already in the system. However, this is a difficult task. Before the process of fixing the holes can begin, it is essential to recognize and understand the many holes in the bucket.
The high attrition rate of beginning teachers, those with between one and five years of experience, is not a new problem, but has received increased attention in the last couple of decades. Numerous studies have been conducted on the problem of high attrition rates of beginning teachers in K-12 education. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2005) reported attrition rates of nearly 50% for teachers in their first five years. While myriad reasons are provided by teachers for leaving the profession including low salaries and personal reasons (e.g. marriage, birth of a child, family issues, accidents, relocation), two particular areas are of the greatest concern for they directly relate to the role of the school and the district:
Support Systems: The most integral support systems for beginning teachers are mentoring programs, beginning teacher induction programs, professional development programs, support from colleagues, and support from administrators. Support systems such as mentoring and induction create positive relationships for teachers that mimic the teacher education programs from which they are coming. National studies have shown that programs that help orient the beginning teachers into the school can raise retention 25% - 50% higher than schools or districts that do not have these programs. Developing and implementing effective professional development, mentoring, and induction programs at the school or district level are a necessity to retain high-quality educators in their beginning years.
Working Conditions: The working conditions in schools, as those in any business, organization, or corporation affect the health, wellness, and happiness of employees. The working conditions of a school include the actual physical buildings and classrooms, the school climate, class sizes, teaching workloads, student discipline problems, and teacher autonomy. Many schools and districts are attempting to address work conditions by providing greater amounts of technology for teachers, but the most crucial factor in studies is the actual culture/climate of the school. School cultures are reliant on the effectiveness of school leadership to develop a welcoming and supportive culture. Health and happiness of new teachers is of the utmost importance, for happier teachers are more likely to be a positive influence on the teachers that they work with.
If we return to Ingersoll and Smith (2003)’s metaphor of the water bucket, there is an intense need in education to repair the holes in the bucket before we continue to dump more water into the bucket. If the major issues in working conditions and support systems are not addressed by school and district leadership, then teachers will continue to leave the organization. The turnover of the teacher workforce means that there is a continuance of new teachers with limited experience, which can limit their impact on student achievement and learning experiences. The biggest problem is that these new teachers bring with them new ideas and strategies from their teacher credential programs that can help experienced teachers redevelop their own strategies, but if teachers leave too soon then this added value is lost. Teachers must be able to stay long enough at the school to have an impact, and to grow and develop in a supportive culture into outstanding teachers. It is imperative that school leaders work to develop and implement support systems for beginning teachers and to build welcoming school cultures, thus enabling teachers to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Ingersoll, R., & Smith, T. (2003). The wrong solution to the teacher shortage. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 30-33.
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003). No dream denied: A pledge to America’s children. Washington, DC: Author.
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Like all humans, teachers develop throughout their careers as they grow from new teacher to experienced teacher. The teacher that they are in their early years is rarely the exact same type of teacher they are in their later years. This is due to the fact that teachers experience an incredible amount of growth and development throughout their careers due to their experiences in the classroom, their professional learning opportunities, and other occurrences in their personal lives. As with child development theories that educators are very familiar with, developmental theorists have developed a unique set of teacher development theories to explain these growth patterns.
Why are these theories important to know? Just as educators cater the way they teach to fit the developmental stages of their students, understanding where teachers are at in their career will help school leaders provide differentiated professional development based on teachers’ developmental levels. For teachers, if they know where they are at in their careers according to developmental theories, they will be able to understand why they are facing certain issues and how to make changes to develop further. Understanding developmental theories can enable all educators to more effectively make a difference in their professions. So let’s briefly examine the general concepts of teacher developmental theories.
The literature on teacher-specific theories of development centers on the early work of Frances Fuller (1969). Fuller developed a theory based on the stages of concern in a teacher’s career, which has served as a foundation for the researchers who have followed her in this field. In Fuller’s theory, teachers move through three stages of concerns: self (e.g., survival, self-adequacy, and acceptance), task (e.g., student performance and teacher duties), and impact (e.g., social and educational impact on the system). Fuller theorized that a teacher could not move to the next stage of concern without first solving the concern of the previous stage. There are a number of other teacher development theories including Burden (1982), Burke et al. (1984), Dubble (1998), Katz (1972), Watts (1980), each of which is an offshoot of the original work in this field by Fuller.
All of these theories start with a beginning survival stage where the teacher is working on classroom management, instruction, content knowledge, and impressing their supervisors. Dubble refers to this stage of development as the “neonate” stage where the teacher is like a newborn that is thrust into a new environment that lacks the comfort, safety, and familiarity of the womb (which is the teacher preparation program at the university level). Once teachers figure out that they can in fact survive in the classroom, they begin to move out of the self-centered survival stage and into more concern about their students. Both Katz and Dubble refer to this stage as consolidation for it involves the integration of various skills and knowledge into a consistent whole to be used in the classroom. It is in this stage that teachers are open to trying new methods and strategies as they no longer harbor the concern of survival. It is an incredible opportunity to provide a lot of new professional development to expand teachers’ understanding.
It is in the third stage of development that some of the teacher-specific developmental theories begin to split from each other. In the individual theories of Burden (1982) and Watts (1980), this stage for teachers is a period of comfort in their role, confidence in their abilities, and command of their classroom environment. Whereas the theories of Burden, Fuller, and Watts see this stage as ending stage of mastery, the individual theories of Dubble, Katz, and Burke et al. do not end their theories in the third stage. Both Dubble and Katz call this the renewal stage while Burke et al. refers to it as the ‘career frustration’ stage which is a crucial point along the developmental process. All three theories posit that this is where many teachers become tired, bored, and burned out. It is at this point in a teacher’s career where they burnout due in large part to their disillusionment with the system, and either leave teaching altogether or remain in it, but lose their interest in innovation and change. To move past this stage in their development without burning out, a renewal process must be undertaken where new challenges and fresh perspectives are provided to the teacher. For Dubble and Katz, if they can renew their careers, then they will be able to reach the levels of mastery and maturation.
The mechanisms for development are very similar in all of these theories as they all revolve around the solving of crises and fears. Solving these crises occurs through changes in a teacher’s job skills, knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, outlooks, and job events. Each new stage is built off of the experiences and the quality of those experiences in the earlier developmental stages. One of the most impactful methods for helping teachers to continue to develop along their career path is to provide differentiated professional development. Instead of providing the exact same workshop to all teachers, regardless of their experience level or developmental stage, school leaders should look to implement forms of professional development that offer different learning experiences for different teachers. Not every teacher is the made the same, nor do they have the same needs, and thus by understanding where they are along the developmental spectrum, school leaders can make a massive difference in their ability to grow as educators.
Burden, P.R. (1982). Implications of teacher career development: New roles for teachers, administrators and professors. Paper presented at the National Summer Workshop of the Association of Teacher Educators, Slippery Rock, PA.
Burke, P.J. (1985). Teacher’s career stages and patterns of attitudes toward teaching behaviors. Education, 105(3), 240-248.
Christensen J., Burke, P., Fessler, R., & Hagstrom, D. (1983). Stages of teachers’ careers: Implications for professional development. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. Washington, DC.
Dubble, S.L. (1998). Evolving people/evolving schools. Paper presented at the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association Conference, Phoenix, AZ.
Fuller, F.F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental study of teacher concerns across time. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, MA.
Katz, L.G. (1972). Developmental stages of preschool teachers. ERIC Clearinghouse on Early Childhood Education, Champaign, IL.
Watts, H. (1980). Starting out, moving on, running ahead or how the teachers’ center can attend to stages in teachers’ development. National Institute of Education, Washington, D.C.
by, Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Reform movements are not a new phenomenon in the realm of education, as they have been in existence since the earliest forms of formalized education. Almost every regular aspect of a modern school and the education system was at one point an educational reform. Reforms are implemented to address the diverse needs of various stakeholders in the education system, as well as to simplify and streamline aspects of the education system. While some reforms have been successful at reshaping education, others have met failure and have been replaced by new reforms, or have been repackaged, renamed, and later returned to schools as ‘new’ reforms.
One of the biggest reasons why reform movements fail is that when a reform works in one school, other schools begin copying the exact reform in their own schools. This cookie-cutter approach to reform fails to take into account the local context of the school’s individuality. Schools are not carbon copies of each other, as they have different student populations with different needs, different resources, different facilities, etc. Thus the cookie-cutter approach to reform cannot be successful in the long run because what works in one school and one student population will not necessarily work in every school and with every student population. So what can be done to ensure that good educational reform movements have the opportunity to succeed and transform teachers’ instructional practices and student learning environments?
Simply put, the paradigm of educational reform must be shifted to address the individualized needs of each school and student population. According to leading educational experts Datnow and Park (2009), the paradigm of educational reform must shift to a focus on co-construction of the reform. Co-construction of reform means “that [educators] at all levels contribute to the policy-making process and that that process is characterized by continuous interactions among [educators] within and between levels of the system” (p. 351). From this perspective, reform is not done to the schools by a higher authority, but rather the reform is done in the schools. Smylie and Denny (1990) would agree with this co-construction reform perspective as they state: “change must be grounded in local discretion and in decision making that involves teachers as participants rather than as targets of the process” (p. 236). Thus the co-construction perspective can take into account all of the educational stakeholders and allow for attention to be paid to contextual situations that are related to the individual school or community.
Thus it is time to throw out the cookie cutters and start understanding that every school and student population is unique. It is impossible to take what works at one school and think it will work equally as well in every other school. The structure of the reform can be kept intact, but it must be flexible enough to change for each school’s individualized needs. The endless cycle of issues and reforms can leave a person dizzy, but with each reform, whether it was a success or a failure, the education system must learn from it. There is a not a single reform in existence that can change education over night, but the accumulation of countless small reforms at the local level can make an impact. So join other successful schools and school leaders in throwing out the cookie-cutters and start implementing unique reforms that can make a difference for stakeholders throughout the education system.
Datnow, A. & Park, V. (2009). Conceptualizing policy implementation: Large-scale reform in an era of complexity. AERA Handbook on Education Policy Research, p. 348 – 361.
Smylie, M.A. & Denny, J.W. (1990). Teacher leadership: Tensions and ambiguities in organizational perspective. Educational Administration Quarterly, 26(3), p. 235-258
As individuals that care about our organizations and making a positive impact in our community, we constantly try to improve our work. We are always attempting to make changes to our organizations that will keep us up-to-date with current research and best practices. Having this constant desire to improve prevents us from becoming stagnated and falling behind, and it allows our organizations to be positive contributing members of our communities. The warning we must heed in this constant state of improvement is how fast we ask for change.
As the school leader, I ask for changes to happen at my school. I want our school to be one of the best in the county, and there are always places for school improvement. I have worked with the faculty to change a number of expectations from unit maps to evaluations and professional development to help support the growth of the school. As we have made these changes, I have had to keep in mind the rate at which we implement each change.
I believe it is important to have a plan or long-term goal before implementing any change. We need to know the end result before we can take the first step. We consider the options and figure out what we want our end result to look like. Then we begin implementing the changes necessary to get to that end result. Recently, our school began implementing more mobile technology into the classrooms. We purchased Chromebooks and began transitioning to Google Apps for Education. Operating within Google Apps for Education, we have access to calendars, shared cloud folders, class websites, and a multitude of other wonderful apps that can enhance and streamline our instruction. The difficulty is that I can see where we could be with the new technology and want to jump ahead ten steps and see it fully implemented. I have to remember that we need to go one step at a time. I need to make sure the teachers are comfortable with the new Chromebooks and Google operating system before I can ask for the next step.
Noted leadership experts Heifetz and Linsky1 discuss the importance of controlling the rate of change. When we are asking for change, we see an increase in anxiety. We become comfortable with the way things are done, and the change causes us to become uncomfortable. We get anxious about how to do it the new way. As the leader asking for the change, we need to be mindful and present to the signs of this anxiety. If we continue to push changes when the anxiety level is too high, we will inevitably fail. We have to control the rate of change to make sure the organization can handle the anxiety.
Our school recently started using new standardized testing software. The benefits of the software significantly outweigh our old testing program, but the new system is overwhelming. Initially, I attempted to implement the entire program at once. As I implemented the program, I began to see the signs of increased stress and anxiety. I decided to cut back on our implementation goal for the school year and only ask for a small portion of the program that was similar to our old testing program to be used. This allowed the faculty to begin to get comfortable with the change before asking for the next step. Although I want to be at the finish line already and can see the benefits of being there, taking one step at a time is allowing the school to engage in the process to a deeper and richer level. When we reach the finish line after a few more steps, we will have a greater comfort with the new testing software and a greater ownership by all stakeholders of the benefits that it can provide.
It is not easy to slow down change, but if we want that change to last, it is imperative. We need to allow those in our organizations to grow with the changes that we expect. When we are able to keep the change at a pace that individuals can swallow, we will see the greatest sustained growth. If we ask for too much, we will lose the change to the old way of doing things.
1 Heifetz, R. A. & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
by, Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Anyone who has tried to share information with others, either in a presentation or a written document, knows how difficult it can be to provide information in an engaging manner. The classic charts and tables of data that are used extensively often take a learning curve to decipher properly. Written explanations of the information can get long-winded and will lose readers who often skim through for the main points. So how do we capture the interest of our audience while ensuring the pertinent information is passed along?
A few years ago when I worked in the world of educational research, I was stuck in this quandary of trying to find the best way to share information that often is presented in an academic style. While academic language fits perfectly into an academic journal, it did not work for the audiences I was working with. When the academic style was used, I found myself spending the majority of my time in the presentation explaining the findings and what the charts meant, rather than working with the group on strategies and ideas to address the findings in the data. I needed to find a way to break down the academic side of report writing and presenting into methods that could be easily digestible by any audience.
Through frustration, I began to seek out new methods and then remembered a series of Wordles that were hung on the walls of the school where I used to teach. Wordles are visual depictions of a series of words as seen here:
Wordles are developed through the free website www.wordle.net. The Wordle seen above was a visual depiction of all of the words that survey participants used in response to the question: What resources do students at your school need most? The larger the word is in the visual depiction the more often that term was used by the participants, while the smaller words mean that fewer participants used this word in response. I could have taken a typical approach of showing the percentages of teachers who answered each word in a large data table. However, these charts do not connect with the audience, particularly in a presentation format.
When I first began using Wordles in my reports and presentations, other academic researchers laughed and thought I was kind of crazy. These academics would ask “Why change the way we have presented information for so many years?” and “Don’t you know you are an academic and this format is not very academic?” I wanted to yell out, “YES, you are right, this isn’t very academic! That’s the point.” As I continued to use Wordles, I noticed how much they resonated with my audience during presentations. School leadership teams were mesmerized by the actual words that their stakeholders were using to describe the areas that we were studying. Many of the teams asked for digital copies of the Wordles so they could distribute them out to their stakeholders or to post on meeting room walls. Other school leaders used them in their own presentations to school boards and businesses used them as marketing tools.
Despite the initial concerns of academic colleagues, Wordles were catching on in my work, most especially because they were visually eye-catching, easy to understand, yet full of key data. Ever since finding Wordles, I have been using them in my work as a researcher, professional development coach, and leadership consultant. I use them in reports as well as presentations because they connect to my audience and provide incredible fodder for conversations that can lead to greater individual and team development, and ultimately to making a greater difference in the lives of others.
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Two parents slowly enter the classroom to meet with their child’s teacher, anxious at what they might hear in this parent teacher conference. Even though their son tells them every day how great school is going and how well he is behaving and doing with his studies, the parents fear that they might not be getting the whole story from him. So they are nervous to meet with the teacher, fearing the worst – hearing their child is having major issues in class. It is that time of the year, where the annual parent teacher conference dance and the conferences will roll on, one after another, year after year, every 15 minutes until every parent has been met with and each child’s academic progress and in-class behavior is shared.
Parent teacher conferences can be an amazing way to connect a child’s home and school life. They can be a great opportunity for teachers to open up the lines of communication to every parent and to share concerns that might be causing delays in progress. They can be a positive method of helping parents to understand what they can do at home to help their child continue to excel. But if these conferences can be such a powerful link to make a difference in a child’s life, why then are so many parents and teachers nervous about them? The key reason is that previous experiences in other conferences prepare both sides for the worst. However, if teachers take a positive approach to these conferences, they can begin to turn the tide towards parents seeing these conferences in a positive light! With parent teacher conference time approaching in schools across the nation, this blog offers six tips for making a difference with these conferences.
While none of these strategies are foolproof in that there will always be difficult conferences, these strategies enable can positively impact any parent teacher conference. As parents attend more and more conferences using these strategies, they will enter into the conferences with less anxiety and defensiveness and will be ready to learn more about how the teacher and the parents can partner together to make a difference in the child’s life!
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Collaboration is one of the buzziest words in modern educational settings. It is seen as a key aspect of student learning and is even listed as one of four key 21st Century skills, which are deemed necessary for professional success. While collaboration is paraded around as a new construct in educational circles, students have been working together in their learning for many generations. Back then we just called it group work, but I must admit that I struggled with the concept throughout my life due to a bad experience all the way back in 2nd grade.
For this group project, I was partnered up with a friend from class on a project on Abraham Lincoln outside of class time. Our plan was to build Lincoln’s childhood log cabin home using my set of Lincoln Logs. My mom and I had all of the materials set up for our Saturday work day, but my friend showed up with only board games and toys. You can imagine how the rest of the day went, with my partner playing all day while I built the log cabin and wrote out our short report. I soon found every group project, whether in or out of class, to follow a similar pattern - a huge disparity in the amount of work done by group members and I despised these projects.
My story of group work, or collaboration as we call it today, is not unlike the experiences of many students. There is no doubt that learning to collaborate is very important, as there are very few professions where you work in solitary fashion. The problem is that teachers cannot just do collaborative projects because they are supposed to, but rather they must make these experiences meaningful for students. Over the years I have observed student collaborative projects looking for best practices that will invigorate collaboration. Three best practices stand out:
1. Different Groups for Each Project: The common strategy is for students to pick their own groups (they will always pick their friends), to work with the person sitting next to them, or to number off as you go around the room. Each of these strategies will often have the same people working together in most projects. Instead teachers should be constantly changing the groups so that students are always working with different classmates in each new collaborative project. Try assigning groups randomly by having students pick objects out of a hat (e.g. colored marbles, colored pieces of paper), or picking the groups yourself before class begins and keeping track of who works with who so you can make sure they don’t work in the same group again.
2. Assign Roles for Group Members: By assigning individual roles for students in groups, the teacher ensures that all students will have to take part in the project to fulfill their role. The key is figuring out what the key roles should be and then having students fill these roles. For example, in one STEM collaborative project I saw, the teacher had four student roles – Engineer, Materials Manager, Builder, and Reporter. The teacher even made 3x5 laminated role cards that explained what the role entailed. Once again, to make this even more effective, track the roles students take in a group and then have them take a new role the next time so that they are not always stuck in the same role.
3. Students Self-Assess Their Group: The common way to grade group projects is to give a single grade for all students in the group regardless of how much work they did individually. A great way to get kids to participate is to provide small cards at the end of the project with a set of rating questions about the group. Do not have them give a grade to other students or to comment on individual students, but rather focus the questions on how well the group worked together, how well did everyone participate equally, and whether it was an effective collaboration. By having students rate their group work, they will begin to understand what good collaboration looks and feels like. Of course, this should be prefaced by the teacher talking about what effective collaboration looks like, and to get the kids to explain effectiveness in their own words and discuss things that go well and don’t go well in groups they have worked in previously.
While these best practices are not foolproof, as there will always be students who check out or fool around, they can provide the impetus for meaningful student collaboration, which will make a difference in students’ ability to collaborate successfully in the real world. Group projects based on these strategies might have even helped me to like group work as a child!
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One of the key aspects of effective school leadership is for the principal to be an instructional leader. Effective instructional leadership from the school site administrator can have major positive impacts on teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning outcomes. However, taking on this role of instructional leader can be difficult in many educational settings for a number of reasons. The first limitation is that many principal preparation programs inadequately prepare aspiring school leaders to be instructional leaders. Darling-Hammond et al. (2010) state that what is lacking in principal preparation programs are “principles of effective teaching and learning, the design of instruction and professional development, [and the] organizational design of schools that promote teacher and student learning” (p. 10). Furthermore, many of these programs lack clinical experiences where aspiring school leaders are in real classrooms working with real teachers. Clinical experiences in schools provide the opportunity for aspiring school leaders to put into practice or try out what they have learned in their program, thus connecting theory and practice.
The perspectives and mental models of educational stakeholders regarding the role of a principal in classrooms is the second limitation to instructional leadership practices. Senge (2006) defines mental models as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action” (p. 8). According to Senge, these mental models limit a person’s ability to accept new ideas “because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting” (p. 163). One of the key aspects of instructional leadership is the observation and supervision of a teacher’s instructional practice. However, many stakeholders in the education system, including principals and teachers, have a mental model in place that recognizes a principal’s observation of a teacher’s instruction as an evaluation. This perspective suggests that the principal is there to observe the ‘right vs. wrong’ and ‘good vs. bad’ in a teacher’s instructional practice and classroom management. As Dufour (1991) points out, traditionally “staff development and teacher observation/assessment have been regarded as separate processes in most schools” (p. 73). This common view of observation as a strategy for evaluating teachers limits the opportunity for observation to be used as a tool for developing instructional practice, thus limiting the ability of the principal to fulfill the role of instructional leader. If principals are to fulfill the role of instructional leadership on school sites, there is a need to transform not only the preparation of future principals, but the mental models of these future principals that instructional leadership is possible.
Part of the issue involved in changing the perspective of the principal as evaluator is due to another currently held perspective within education. This perspective places teachers and administrators at opposite ends of the spectrum and suggests that the two groups are not working together, but rather it is a case of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ A school administrator who I was recently talking with explained this issue: "There will be difficulty with certain teachers that would be reluctant to have you in the room just because you’re the principal, but I think it’s a cultural thing, right? There is a culture of us and them in a lot of schools – the principal being them." This cultural norm of pitting principal versus teacher is built from a notion, as this school administrator shared, “teachers still fear principals, I mean just the title, that authority figure. They still feel unease to have a principal in the classroom.” This is understandable on one level since teachers are held accountable by the principal for student learning outcomes and so this perspective is fueled by defensiveness on the part of the teachers, especially when faced with criticisms from the principal. This limits the opportunity for school leaders to coach teachers on improved instructional practices and to be effective instructional leaders.
For our school system to continue to improve student learning outcomes, more attention must be paid to the development of instructional leadership in school site administrators. Much of this work must be focused on changing the traditional mental models of both teachers and administrators to be more open to collaboration towards the ultimate goal – positive impacts on student development. There is a need to provide professional development opportunities that do not just focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but rather build the bridges between teachers and administrators. By building these bridges, we can begin to develop partnerships, rather than ‘us vs them’ cultures, and thus we can allow instructional leadership take off and make the difference it is meant to make on kids!
Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., LaPointe, M., & Orr, M.T. (2010). Preparing principals for a changing world: Lessons from effective school leadership programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dufour, R. (1991). The principal as staff developer. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Senge, P.M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
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The effective preparation of aspiring school leaders is integral to the success of the educational system and the achievement of students. The key is to provide opportunities for aspiring school leaders to develop a wide breadth of knowledge and engage in the practice of school leadership. By providing multiple avenues and experiences in these areas, aspiring school leaders are able to build on the foundation of their existing skills and capacities as top-notch educators, while beginning to develop new leadership skills and capacities. Through these methods, aspiring school leaders engage in a growth pattern that enables them to truly make a difference in the world of education. The following six aspects enable these programs to effectively develop school leaders:
Collaborative Learning Environment: The learning environment needs to be a comfortable place to develop in, where aspiring school leaders feel able to share their challenges and successes with their peers in a constructive environment. A collaborative approach to the classroom where students are openly sharing their individual experiences and perspectives with their peers, participating in open dialogue opportunities, and learning from their peers is the key.
Learning from Current School Leaders: By bringing current school leaders into the higher education classroom as guest presenters, aspiring school leaders are afforded the opportunity to ask questions, bounce ideas off experts, and learn from the challenges that these practitioners face in real-world settings. Bringing the real world into the higher education classroom enables students to blend theory and reality in a manner in which positively impacts their development. This real world learning should include case studies and the current real-life situations occurring in schools.
Fieldwork Opportunities: Similar to the approach taken in teacher credential programs, aspiring school leaders need to actively participate in the practices of school leadership in schools. While this can be difficult for many aspiring school leaders due to their active roles as educators, the opportunity to train as a school leader, shadow current school leaders, and deal with situations in real time is crucial to their development. Project-based learning is a great method of providing fieldwork scenarios in the classroom.
Technology-Infused Learning: With technology being integrated in schools and districts across the nation at an intense pace, school leaders must be knowledgeable in this key area. Aspiring school leaders need the opportunity to experiment with technology, learn the supports and challenges to technology integration, and understand technology from the student perspective. Great methods for building tech leadership skills include research on tech integration, as well as learning to blog, run websites, and tweet.
Learning about PD: PD is a crucial aspect of improving teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning outcomes and thus aspiring school leaders need to be knowledgeable about the forms of professional development that have the greatest impact on teacher development. This will enable them to make effective financial and developmental decisions on programs and plans for teacher learning. Infused into this learning on professional development should be an understanding of adult learning concepts and teacher development theories.
Balancing Management & Leadership: Effective school leaders are able to balance the use of management and leadership skills. The majority of principal preparation programs focus almost entirely on learning management skills such as budgets, curriculum mapping, calendaring events, and student discipline. However, there is also a need for developing leadership skills including how to motivate and inspire educators, how to build a student-centered culture of respect, and how to bring together the community of all stakeholders.
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Professional development programs for teachers generally fall into two broad categories of structure: traditional and reform. The traditional structure of professional development for teachers is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, where all teachers, regardless of their differences, are provided the same professional development. Traditional forms of professional development include once a year motivational speakers and guest experts, as well as short workshops (typically one afternoon or day). Colbert et al. (2008) refers to this form of professional development as “the ‘sit and get’ model, which imposes professional development on teachers in a top-down, non-collaborative manner” (p. 136). These forms of professional development are the most popular in school districts because they are often logistically easier to implement. Millions of dollars are wasted annually across the educational system on traditional forms of professional development that fail to have a lasting impact on teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning outcomes.
Despite the popularity and common use of traditional forms of professional development in school districts, they are heavily criticized in the literature on professional development. This criticism is based on the idea that in traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches, all teachers receive the same professional development program regardless of their individual subject area, grade level, level of experience, developmental level, or needs. Watts (1980) equated this to a generic antibiotic that is given to all patients regardless of their illness or even if they are ill at all. A major issue in this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is that although teachers share a common link with regard to their overall profession as a teacher, they represent a diverse spectrum of ages, experience levels, subjects and grade levels taught, personalities, learning processes, and ethnicities. Due to this diversity in skills, capacities, and needs, for professional development to be more effective, it should be individualized and differentiated to fit teachers’ needs and developmental levels.
Individualized and differentiated learning processes factor heavily into pedagogical approaches in terms of student learning in the school system, where the needs of student learners are recognized and addressed in daily lesson plans. In recent years, traditional forms of professional development are starting to be replaced by reform styles of professional development that factor in the individual needs and developmental levels of the teachers. These reform style professional development practices include collaboration between teachers and professional learning communities, job-embedded practices, coaching and mentoring, lesson study groups, and networking. These reform style professional development practices are effectively shifting the focus of professional development away from large-scale district programs and onto the individual needs and goals of teachers and school site teams. For example, reform style professional development practices allow teachers at different levels of expertise in technology integration to receive training at their level, rather than all learning how to power on their device.
It is time to end the fascination with traditional one-shot guest speakers who cannot have a lasting impact on teachers’ instructional practices or students’ learning outcomes. It is time to end the sessions where Math teachers spend three hours learning how to have students write better essays. It is time to stop treating all teachers as though they don’t know anything on a topic by starting with the basics. It is time to give teachers the support they need to continue to excel in their profession. It is time to recognize teachers as individuals with specific needs, learning processes, and interests. It is time to shift the paradigm of professional development from an antiquated ineffective model to formats that can make a difference in the lives of teachers and in turn the lives of students. It is time to treat the professional learning of teachers the same as we treat student learning in our classrooms with differentiated learning opportunities and time to follow-up on their learning.
Colbert, J.A., Brown, R.S., Choi, S., & Thomas, S. (2008). An investigation of the impacts of teacher-driven professional development on pedagogy and student learning. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(2), 135-154.
Watts, H. (1980). Starting out, moving on, running ahead or how the teachers’ center can attend to stages in teachers’ development. Occasional Paper No. 8. San Francisco, CA: Far West Lab for Educational Research and Development.
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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APA is a term that strikes fear in graduate students, professors, and academic writers alike! APA actually stands for the American Psychological Association, but when academic writers use the term, it means all of the rules created to make writing tedious – and at times miserable. There are so many rules that it can drive a writer absolutely crazy. The APA Style Guide was originally developed in 1929 with a mere 7 pages with the goal to align all writing in the behavioral and social sciences to make reading comprehension easy. The intent makes total sense, but more and more rules have been provided to take the guesswork out for writers (there are now nearly 300 pages in the guide). With so many rules (and seriously who actually memorizes all of them except someone with an APA tattoo), it can become overwhelming. However, I have created a simple set of four tips to make writing with APA as easy as a walk in the PARK!
P is for “Post-its all over the APA Style Guide”
If you were to look at my APA Style Guide, you would find it littered with post-it notes and sticky tabs strategically placed in areas that I will reference the most. Post-its are crucial because anyone who has tried to use the guide's index will know that it is like trying to read in Braille as they give heading figures like 6.03 and 7.12, with limited page numbers. So rather than continue to get lost in the index, once you find something you will need a lot, stick a post-it there. I even color code mine so that I know to go to orange when I need help with the reference page, but blue when I need to cite something in the paper. My largest post-it goes right on the sample paper they provide in the style guide!
A is for “Always cite everything”
This seems like a no-brainer for we have all had myriad teachers and professors talk to us about plagiarism, and yet there are still issues with not citing the work of others. So my tip is to always cite everything. It is safer to cite, then to have a professor or an editor think you are trying to plagiarize. Most of the time, the plagiarism is not intended, but is rather the writer’s inability to cite properly. You have to understand that your audience – whether it is your professors or experts in the field – know the literature as well as, if not better, than you do. They will know when something is not your original thought, so make sure and cite it. The two biggest rules you need to know from APA are how to properly cite a quote and how to cite a paraphrased thought of another writer. Once you have these two types of citations figured out, you will understand 90% of the APA that you use most often, so learn how to cite ASAP!
R is for “Review how other academics use APA”
Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to? So many graduate students try to do all of the heavy lifting on their own when it comes to APA, when they have great examples in the copious articles they have read for their paper. If these articles come from credible journals, then you know there is an editor who has checked the APA in order to publish it. So instead of trying to figure out how to enter a source into the reference list, look at the articles you have read that already have that source in their reference page and then copy it exactly how it is written. For example, it amazes me when my own students do not get a reference correct for an article from our class – I mean seriously, it is done right there in the syllabus!
K is for “Know the APA rules that you use the most”
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of rules and guidelines in the APA Style Guide, way too many for any one person to memorize and use appropriately. The trick is to not worry about learning all of the rules, but instead concentrate on the 10-20 or so that you will use most often. For example, I am a qualitative researcher and thus I do not waste time learning all of the quantitative rules regarding numbers, coefficients, tables, etc. I simply don’t use them enough to spend time learning them. Instead I have concentrated on knowing (without going back to the guide) how to quote, cite, and reference literature.
It is my belief that if you follow these four simple tips – APA will no longer be an overwhelming burden, but rather as easy as taking a walk in the PARK! If you have any other great tips for writers using APA, please share them in the comments on this blog!
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As a dedicated educator focused on making a difference in the world of education, I believe strongly in the following eight tenets of education:
1) Never lose sight of what all of education is about – making a difference in the lives of children. The vast majority of educators went into teaching because they were committed to have a lasting, positive impact on children. On a daily basis they work long hours after the school day has ended, get paid far less than what they should earn, deal with kids who are just not happy to be at school, and serve as an “at school” parent, confidant, psychiatrist, motivator, and friend to children desperately in need of support. As educators, we too often get caught up in political issues of union rules and difficult colleagues, and lose sight of why we do what we do. Even though you might not see it right away, you will make a difference in the lives of your students.
2) Contextual factors matter in education and lead to a need for differentiation. No aspect of education means more to me than the focus on contextual factors and differentiation as the method to more effective learning environments. No two learners have had the same set of experiences or the same set of contexts in their life, and thus the differentiation of learning is a necessity. The ability to individualize learning to address contextual factors makes a difference in the development of a learner’s capacities and abilities.
3) Infuse real-life learning about diversity, social justice, and equity into learning environments. Education is not merely about academic performance, but rather the development of life skills that learners can take with them throughout their life journey. By infusing learning about diversity, social justice, and equity through real-life situations and experiences, learners are able to develop a system of values that can enable them to excel in myriad environments that offer vast levels of diversity.
4) Consistent, high-quality professional development is crucial. PD can no longer be stand and deliver, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches that fail to follow-through on learning. Teachers and administrators need consistent opportunities to develop their learning through programs that center on their application of learning in school environments and collaboration with their peers. Traditional forms of PD need to be replaced by reform methods of PD that include opportunities to implement into practice, collaboration with peers, recurring sessions stretched over many months, and coherence to school goals and needs.
5) Blend theory and reality into developmentally appropriate learning experiences. Educators need the opportunity to blend theory and reality into their learning experiences. Merely memorizing theories or ideas will do little to change or strengthen their practice, and thus they need the opportunity to engage with theory through real-life situations and experiences, test theories in their practice, and build a strong foundation. All learning experiences and PD programs should be attuned to human developmental theories and should take into consideration how people learn and what their needs are at various levels.
6) Build communities of learning where all stakeholders are collaboratively working towards a common goal of excellence. Collaborative learning is a key to success for learners at all levels as it enables the opportunity for learners to develop their understanding of others, their ability to work with others, and to learn from the experiences and perspectives of others. Building bridges to all stakeholders, including parents and community members, enables an environment to exist that ensures learners are being supported from all of the people in their lives.
7) Educators should be constantly striving to develop and implement innovative approaches to education. Educational reforms and innovations have been a constant throughout the history of education, as they provide the opportunity for the school system to grow and change with new generations of learners. PD programs should strive to support school practitioners in finding new and innovative methods to engage learners and improve students’ learning outcomes. While “tried and true” instructional practices are great, there is a constant need to connect with the children of today who are learning and engaging differently.
8) School leaders should be committed to continuous development, transformational change, and organizational renewal and change. While educators often focus on what is happening in the classroom, there is a need for school leaders to be also working to develop the organization for greater effectiveness. School leaders need opportunities to learn theories of organizational behavior and change, how to build strong school cultures, and how to effectively lead organizations that are centered on life-long learning, continuous growth, and constant development for all stakeholders.