The wisdom of a team or school is much greater than the lone educator in a classroom. I've been thinking a lot about this.
Getting a teaching staff to unify around a plan and common goals is a challenging task. Administrators and teachers need to buy into the same school game plan. The following three thoughts help clarify how to achieve staff unity.
I have attended 3 EdCamps to date and will attend my fourth this Saturday at the Independence High School in Independence, Ohio. The conversations are great and participants bring ideas with enthusiasm and passion.
I reflect on my prior experiences and found that something was missing. After all of the hours of great ideas turned up through discussion there is nothing to take with me but for a renewed sense of purpose. That sense of purpose usually diminishes in a few days.
This Saturday I'm going to try a different approach. Rather than just having a discussion I'm going to crowdsource an education manifesto and send it to Arne Duncan and Richard Ross. Why? Because it is time to make something meaningful that reflects the point of view many educators. It is time to push a document written by educators to politicians that outlines our thinking, our point of view, and our intentions instead of having it pushed at us. It is time.
This is either going to succeed or fail dismally. Either way, it should make for good discussion. I'll be tweeting at Arne Duncan and Richard Ross this "Education Manifesto".
The document is wide open for anyone to anyone to add to it, improve it, make it better. It's a beginning.
What we need in education isn't more reform, or resources, or laws, or student and teacher evaluation systems.
We really need is an honest conversation about what kids need and how we are going to deliver. A list of what that conversation might include:
It's a short list. Feel free to add.
Since last Friday I've been working with Colleen Toth, a friend and colleague, to help her design a presentation for the principals in our district. She applied to be a part time math coach and asked to collaborate to get a solid presentation put together.
The best part of this collaboration wasn't the well written document she crafted that I helped revise. It wasn't the Haiku Deck I designed for her to match the document. It was the "can you help me" question which proved to be the linchpin. There are two key points here - communication and collaboration. At the end of her interview with principals we texted back and forth. As a result of our conversation, I shared this on Twitter:
Colleen texted back and said - communication and collaboration!
Communication and collaboration are the soul of effective progress. One individual can work very hard to build an entire empire but when that person leaves who is there with the same dedication, drive, and initiative to drive the work forward? Perhaps there is a successor but the successor reaps the benefits of hard work not performed to get the organization to its lofty success. Instead, the successor simply knows the organization is successful. However, when people collaborate and communicate there is a communal vision, communal goals, and communal accountability. More individuals help make a richer and deeper end product. This is what happened with Colleen and I - rich collaboration.
One thing I appreciated about our process is that we respected one another to share constructive criticism without getting offended. The focus was on making the best possible product for her to take to the principals so we laid aside ego and got the work done.
It is refreshing to work with a dedicated individual who is passionate about learning, students, and pedagogy.
Communication and collaboration are fundamental to success in any arena. If it is open and honest, great things happen. Education needs more of this to do great things for kids.
I'm taking golf lessons after years of playing. I'm not horrible and I'm not great. I have a goal and that is to score consistently below 40. To reach my goal, I knew I needed a coach because I have gone as far as I can on own. I watched countless YouTube videos on the golf swing and practiced drills the instructors suggest. So, I'd practice and didn't get any better. Why? Because I was practicing all the wrong things. It's time for a coach.
I completed my 4th lesson and I've learned a lot, but I've been very uncomfortable leaving my old swing habits to adopt new ones. It means I have to constantly rehearse and review what the swing should be while keeping myself from falling into my old ways. So, I monitor everything I do in the swing every time I swing. Taking golf lessons is a risk because I'm admitting I'm not as good as I think I am and adopting new methods in favor of status quo.
What does this have to do with education? A lot.
I believe I can generalize - every teacher wants to be the best they can be. They want to help every student learn and help every student be engaged in what they are learning. If this is true then, like my golf lessons, every teacher needs to get uncomfortable about pedagogy and dive into new methods. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary? Yes.
Why is it necessary? Status quo stinks and the first people to realize status quo in education are students. They know when a teacher is being lazy. They know when a teacher isn't trying to reach them. I know when a teacher lacks drive to be the best. They also know when a teacher is working their butt off but struggling. Kids perceive whether or not a teacher is really working or not. If our greatest stakeholders are our students, then just like me getting out of my comfort zone, so to teachers need to get out of their comfort zone.
OTES - Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. This might be the best thing to happen to educators. Before the verbal lynchings begin, let me explain.
Every teacher knows students hate assessments. They dislike rubrics. They dislike being told what has to improve to meet the learning targets and standards. They dislike conversations with teachers who tell them they aren't skilled or proficient. And yet this is how teachers work their work.
Teachers are assessed on their ability to engage students in deep learning. They don't like being told they are developing in any area. They don't like having to listen to a principal tell them they need to improve. They don't like having to do all of the extra work to get ready for an evaluation. They don't like having to change their classroom paradigm based on feedback from principals.
Does anyone see the conflict here? Teachers want to give explicit feedback to students about their learning but will struggle to accept feedback about their own teaching. I'm not defending the OTES rubric for no rubric is ever perfect. I'm simply stating the ass backwardness of educators being unable to look at themselves objectively enough to admit they have areas of weakness just like students.
Points and percentages is the feedback teachers usually give to students typically called grades. Typical grades don't really tell a student anything good. Typical grades always show how bad they did which translates into an "I'm not smart," attitude.
So what should feedback on homework and assessments look like?
I remember the days jotting comments to students on their writing hoping they understood what I meant. Had Google Apps for Education been invented, I would have had a deeper impact on every student because detailed comments can be typed or audio recorded for students. When I speak to my daughters about what they are doing, I am giving immediate feedback about what they are doing well and not so well. It's the immediate feedback that is so important. The feedback is spoken and relevant to them.
We need to stop giving points on papers and tests and give immediate feedback to students either physically or virtually. How does a classroom teacher accomplish this?
One suggestion is stop giving busy work and then trying to grade it all. Instead, immerse students in long-term cognitively deep work that requires multiple steps and collaboration. In this context teachers are free to move about the room freely to talk to groups, individual students, and give RTI within a class.
Another suggestion, stop giving homework. A student said to me the other day, "Why do I want to do homework when I've spent 7 hours at school already?" The traditionalist in me says homework is how school work. The pragmatist in me says the kid is right. Giving homework when none needs to be given is hard work for an educator because homework is always given. The homework has to be checked or collected which reduces the amount of time teachers have with students in class to deepen their learning through discussion group or individual.
High quality feedback is a necessity if you want to students progress to mastery learning in our classrooms.
Education, like most other professions, is changing to find better and more efficient and effective ways of doing things. Take, for instance, assessment. Just a few years ago the term short cycle assessment didn't exist, or if it did I didn't know about it. Tests and quizzes were given but on an infrequent basis. Now, formative assessments (short cycle) are all the rage. Longer unit tests are frowned upon because these tests, usually multiple choice, don't really get to the core of what students really know.
Another example is homework. This is a touchy subject among educators. Give or not to give homework, that's the question? Students hate it, parents hate spending hours on it, yet teachers insist it's good practice. So, educators debate how to make homework effective.
With so many changes, what is one fundamental change I'd like to see?
Paper and pencil tests are easy to grade but say very little about depth of learning. Multiple-choice, fill in the blank, matching, and true/false only assess the surface recall knowledge. I lived with these kinds of tests my entire high school and college career. I used these kinds of assessments in my years in 4th and 6th grade though I often planned for performance based assessments but never quite got there..
Assessment needs to be tied explicitly to standards and learning targets to determine progress. What do I mean by this?
Educators should be writing learning targets that and correlated 1:1 to either state standards or Common Core. The targets should have a verb and a noun - action and product. Each learning target should have an explicit statement(s) that describe learning. The descriptions are given to students so they know exactly what they have to do to prove their learning. When worked is turned in for evaluation, teacher and student discuss what level of progress is made, feedback is given to students, and they rework parts that have not proven mastery of the learning targets.
This is a long process but much more effective than sporadic feedback given to students using a number, which means nothing is meaningless, or short garbled phrases students don't understand. This process, or something similar, insures two things: the educator individually connects with every student on their work, and students clearly know what they mastered and have yet to master.
When educators deal with students all day it is easy to forget that they are people in smaller bodies. Of course there are more of them in a classroom than the teacher and if you get a few who act out it sets the teacher on edge. Compound that with multiple classes and teachers are pretty cranky by the end of the day. A few things I do to keep from dehumanizing students.
I remind myself they are people
It sounds so simple but it is hard to do when patience is tested. I put myself in their shoes and think about how I want to be treated. When I catch myself getting frustrated I check myself quickly. This keeps me treating students with respect every day.
Don't talk bad about students to teachers
No one wants anyone talking behind their backs and that's what happens when teachers complain about students. What's worse is that it happens in front of students when teachers have conversations in the hallway or in classrooms during class time. Whatever my opinion about a student stays with me.
Stop being cynical, snarky, and sarcastic
It's really easy to use sarcasm and cynicism in conjunction with snarky comments with students. While teachers may think it is funny, the student will likely feel demoralized, embarrassed, and stupid in front of peers. The easiest time to snark out is when students are misbehaving or when they don't follow directions. It took me some time to get past this, and I still catch myself doing this sometimes, but keeping the snark, cynic, and sarcasm to nothing tells students you care about them.
The best part about my day is when I get to have fun with students and that is every class period. When I have fun and they have fun learning gets a whole lot easier. What's awesome about this is that I get to be a real person with real people and students love that.
Scott is an instructional coach for BBHCSD helping educators shift instructional practices to design effective, student-centered instruction in a 1:1 and blended learning environment. He presents and speaks to audiences locally, statewide, and nationally. Scott is active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, and Flipboard.
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