So I just got off the phone with a potential client who said this to me in the middle of the call, “What I’d really like you to do is lead a discussion on a chapter of a book that we’re reading. And then if you could tie it back to the Title I workshop that we attended a few weeks back, that’d be great.”
I have to say, I was a bit perplexed by this because the reason this person called me in the first place was because they were in Year 3 of school improvement and it just didn’t seem like the most important thing to do was to read a chapter and discuss it. Or even to tie the discussion to a workshop.
First off, lots of our clients are in school improvement or heading there – that’s why they call us. So that fact wasn’t as striking. The most striking part of that request was this: they were going to TALK about doing stuff, but they weren’t interested in DOING stuff.
Now, I happen to know that this person who contacted me is a very good administrator with lots of great feedback from other colleagues (that’s how we got in touch with each other). I know that he is very motivated and interested in doing the right thing – and, most importantly, is interested in doing right by the kids. They just haven’t quite figured out what, of the work they should be doing, is going to have the biggest impact on kids.
Essentially, they are stuck in the “we’ve got to get some more professional development before we can do it” mode. It’s almost like schools in this position need a “blessing” from a trainer, presenter or author to do exactly what they already know they need to do. I felt like during the conversation, though, he knew exactly what his school needed to be doing. I can kinda relate to needing an “expert” to confirm what I already know.
Let me explain…
Awhile ago, we decided to create a new website – one that would be way more interactive, user friendly and one that could be updated multiple times a day without a web designer. So, we went looking for “the best” in the field.
And we found her.
We started the long, arduous (but also fun!) process of getting our website together – content, graphics, themes, colors, etc. About two weeks in, things started to seem kind of “off” – the communication was breaking down, some of our tried-and-true ideas were getting shot down even though our guts told us it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, we had to bid farewell to this web designer and pinch hit with another to finish the job. It wasn’t going to work.
It was a mess, but here was the deal: Just because we weren’t web designing experts, didn’t mean we didn’t know what we needed and what was going to be right for our readers and clients. In fact, we DID know, we just needed input and ideas from the experts to COMPLEMENT what we already knew to be true and necessary. We needed help (along with solid input) putting our plan into action.
The big idea is this: books, trainers and experts are useful IF YOU KNOW YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU NEED.
AND you don’t have to wait for experts or authors to “bless” your school improvement ideas before you get started…sometimes the experts are there to birth an idea for you or get you unstuck along the way to your final goal. Most of us can get stuck in the realm of GETTING STARTED. And sometimes we need a push into action.
So as I meandered through the call with the potential client I basically said this, “Do you REALLY want me to come and lead a book study that you could lead on your own? Or do you need help translating all of your PD and all of your readings into ACTION?”
Well, let’s just say, I’m on a plane in a few months to help them get started and put it into action…
So we’re back to the question: how can I improve schools as we head into 2013?
The other question is: WHERE ON EARTH DID 2012 GO? I wish I could answer that one for ya, but I’ll stick to the improving schools question – I’ll have a higher likelihood of actually answering something!
Actually, the answer to the “how can we improve our school?” question is pretty simple: Look at your data.
I know, I know…it’s my JOB to tell you to look at the data. But I don’t want you to just look at it. I want you to TALK about it. Maybe even in a way that you haven’t before.
Here’s what it might sound like if I were sitting next to you at your next grade level team meeting:
“Ok guys…I have one big question I want to ask you and we’re going to spend at least 1 hour discussing and charting what we know. Here’s the question: How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
The follow up question to that is ‘what EVIDENCE do we have (well beyond a gut check or feeling) that we did things well?'”
What I find is that we are so busy talking about WHAT we did, that we often forget to even discuss WHAT HAPPENED because of what we did. And here’s the big hitch in the whole thing: If what you were doing was working, the scores would reflect it.
You see, here’s a thought I have a lot: Teachers who are well prepped, are excellent deliverers and use their data every day to help them bob and weave through their teaching day are ALWAYS looking at what THEY can do to improve the scores. (Notice I didn’t say “improve the teaching” – inherent in “improving the scores” is altering the teaching in some way).
What I also know is that teachers who are struggling to get the scores that are expected of them or the kids bob and weave and are looking at the KIDS and the factors that are completely unrelated to their own performance. Excuses, excuses, excuses!
So, when you’re asking the question How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012, we’re really focusing on several things:
- Our performance as teachers (and this IS the thing that we have most control over!)
- The data (we can’t answer the “how do we KNOW” part without referring to and using the data)
- Taking responsibility (we are not waiting for ‘the test’ or ‘the benchmark’ to evaluate how well we did, we are focusing on all of the other data that we have – which is PLENTY for reflection)
One of the things that I’m most passionate about is that we avoid “romancing the problem” (focusing on the same thing over and over and over and over again without making real moves to change it) and that we ask the right questions that lead to real alterations in our teaching that lead to real results. This question gets you right on the path to action and lets you leave pining for “what should be” behind. (And, oh lordy, we need to leave that behind!)
So, I encourage you to bring this question to your next staff meeting, PLC, coaching interaction, classroom debriefing or administrative meeting and see if it doesn’t propel your conversation to a different level by focusing on what we KNOW, not what we THINK.
How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
Go strong into 2013 guys…we’ve got this!!!!
I had a meeting last week with my mentor and our conversation throughout the day rolled around the idea of teacher evaluation. What she taught me is that “teacher evaluation” is going to take on a whole new meaning…and it’s about time.
Here’s are some thoughts we batted around:
- Teacher evaluation has to turn from a “gotcha!” (as in “gotcha doing something wrong”) into a very important step in tailoring professional development for teachers
- Teacher evaluation is going to be one of the first steps in designing “individualized teacher plans” for professional development
- Long gone should be the “one size fits all” type of professional development – we MUST take into account our staff’s individual experience, expertise and skill
- Individualized professional development plans are going to require principals and coaches to have a much higher knowledge of how to diagnose and prescribe teacher professional development programs
- We are going to need to learn to turn back to having the “teachers doing the doing” – putting them in the lead. If it doesn’t come from the teachers, the work won’t penetrate the classroom level.
- Our greatest asset is our teaching staff – we have to cultivate, weed and prune our talent pool, just as any other field does
So let me play this out for a minute here…
I am a 7th grade teacher who has some struggles with lesson planning. My general teaching skill is pretty darn good, but in terms of creating cohesive lessons and mini-assessments for my content, I don’t have that skill. During an observation, my principal and coach realize that my delivery is solid, but when I have to create lessons where curriculum guides don’t exist, the overall complexity of my lessons is at about the 4th grade level.
In the “old” way of teacher evaluation, I would receive feedback (typically in written form) from my principal, detailing the problems in my lesson.
And that’s it.
Yep – try figuring out what happens next! Try getting some real coaching! In fact, I’m not quite sure what KIND of support I even need! Help!
Under the “new and improved” paradigm of teacher evaluation, my principal and coach would meet with me and talk through the lesson, asking me lots of questions about my lesson preparation practices, where I pull my materials and where I believe my lesson struggles originate. We would probably identify together that I need some lesson planning support and would be invited to the coach’s weekly “lesson plan retreat” that’s held after school for teachers who need some hand-holding in this area. My other department colleagues wouldn’t necessarily attend this training/coaching session because their needs are different than mine.
In fact, I teach next to Mr. Tate. He’s an excellent teacher, but this year he has a bunch of Gifted and Talented kids in his classroom for the first time. When he met with the principal to make his quarterly goals, his #1 goal was to learn about techniques for his Science class that are particularly supportive of the Gifted and Talented kids. So, the coach approaches Mr. Tate and lets him know that the district is running a 3 week webinar about how to plan lessons specific to Gifted and Talented kids. He signs up…and even comes and shares information with me after every class!
THIS is true differentiated evaluation as professional development.
Nowhere in that scenario do you hear, “You WHAT? You don’t KNOW that?????” The response from the leadership is “I’ll get you help so that you can move along in your mastery of teaching skills.”
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take so much coordination.” Yep – it is. But it’s going to become HOW we think WHEN we act with a tailoring mindset.
I think we’ve clung to traditional “everyone gets the same thing” professional development because it FELT like we were really doing something special – like we were actually giving people what they needed to become more efficient and effective in the classroom.
But the truth is this, no matter how you slice it: Our classroom teachers have all kinds of different needs!
We can’t possibly say that 90%+ of professional development needs are the same for every teacher, can we?
So, here’s my encouragement to you as you prepare for what, no doubt, will be the future of teacher evaluation: Chart out all of the different resources you have RIGHT NOW that would help you differentiate professional development.
Second step? Create a very simple survey for your teachers that give them an opportunity to respond freely to these questions:
- What is the #1 thing getting in the way of your teaching of the content?
- What kind of professional development do you think would be helpful in combating that “in the way” thing?
- What type of professional development leaves you feeling like you really learned a lot on a new/semi-new topic?
Just the answer to these simple questions will help you begin to tailor your school’s PD! And that’s a great start!
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein
What is student achievement anyway? When you’re looking at the umpteenth school improvement report, crunching your student data or figuring out who goes into the latest round of intervention, do you ever find yourself asking that question?
I do. And lots of folks we work with are asking the same question.
I think it’s time for some collaboration around what achievement REALLY is, looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like. As I’ve been mulling this over, I’ve had five statements rolling around my head about student achievement – I wonder if some thinking around these statements will help us decide upon a common definition about student achievement.
Take a peek…
Student Achievement Fact #1: It’s not about the test, but it’s about the test.
Big idea: Our tendency is to think of “the test” as some looming ogre or a kind of thing that is there to judge, hire/fire, skip grades/hold kids back, scare the heck out of my students and me kind of deal. Well, I have seen teachers who have used the test as a MOTIVATOR for their kids and even themselves! In the end, our teaching has to align with some common measure in order to determine how useful and helpful our instruction has been. Without a common measuring tool, there is no way to measure whether students are on target for long-term success. Just like the height/weight chart at the doctor’s office gives a pretty accurate prediction about important measurements, so should “the test”.
I often say, if we don’t stand for a high standard, then we’re automatically defaulting to the low standard. Eek!
Student Achievement Fact #2: Kids who are working at the appropriate achievement level should be able to AT LEAST past the test.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills pass the test. Period. Kids who are not solid on the skills, drive the teachers to do crazy things like cram before the test, think that testing at a certain time of the day is going to be the difference between a “pass” and “fail” performance. The bottom line is this: Get your kids solid on the skills and you don’t have a thing to worry about on “the test”. I’ve seen this in practice a whole slew of times.
Student Achievement Fact #3: It’s about a pattern, not an event.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills perform at a high level regularly – they have a history of past and more recent success on skill-based tests. So when it comes time to take “the test”, we know who is going to do well and who is not – – the writing is on the wall LONG before we even take “the test”. I don’t know about you, just because I did a 5k over Thanksgiving, doesn’t make me a “runner”. It was an event, believe me…not a pattern.
Student Achievement Fact #4: It’s not about the standards, but it’s about what the standards produce in the end.
Big Idea: Lots of folks are fussing and fighting about “what” to teach – and I think it’s a huge waste of time and a huge morale killer amongst education professionals. Here’s the deal: the standards that we are held to, IF TAUGHT THOROUGHLY AND SKILLFULLY, will produce students who are confidently mastered on important skills. We must keep our eyes on the prize and base all of the skill-related work that we do firmly rooted in the idea that “I am teaching you to do xyz so that you can do abc” – random skill practice doesn’t lead to standard mastery. By linking everything we do to the bigger, end result-kind of success for kids, we’re going to see a pay-out.
Student Achievement Fact #5: It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.
Big Idea: Get over what didn’t work in the past or what should’ve happened in the past and get to teaching. What you do tomorrow in class has a bigger impact on the future than what happened yesterday or last year. We should always operate in this mindset: What I’m doing right now with my students is the most powerful thing I could be doing with my time.
In the end – teaching really counts!!!!
Are there other “facts” that support different schools of thought than what you’ve just read?
Certainly! But, where I see so much of our “achievement calibration” work to be done is in the idea of mindset. In fact, I just emailed back and forth with a teacher that we support and her final words were: These kids WILL make benchmark…if it kills me! Now that’s one strong mindset! (She was also reaching out for very specific support, which tells you something about her commitment to her practices)
So, as you mull over the Facts above, I encourage you to not think of every way that I’m off base, obsess over every time-crunched moment of your instructional day, or every reason why this or that won’t work with your students.
But instead I’d like you to repeat this a few times: I wonder what would happen if…
And finish that sentence with something like this:
I wonder what would happen if…I used the test as a tool to help me figure out what I need to emphasize next week?
I wonder what would happen if…I taught everyday like all of my students were poised to pass the test?
I wonder what would happen if…I established a pattern of success from the very first test at the beginning of year with every student?
I wonder what would happen if…I corrected my students’ assessments and imagined them as 22 year olds, ten years from now?
I wonder what would happen if…I let go of the past results about my students and focused on what they can do today.
What do you think would happen?
I have to break it to you now, the “Three R’s” need to be replaced with this: read write learn. And here are 5 quick-take-away reasons why:
- The ultimate test of reading skill is whether students are gaining knowledge and information, this demonstrates the read write think idea! It’s critically important that they’re able to WRITE about what they’ve read as a vehicle for explaining and connecting to what they’ve learned! Our reading skills tests tell us whether kids have the necessary underlying skills, but the big comprehension of text and the taking in of important and relevant information will be witnessed in their writing.
- Students need to be reading the RIGHT material. I see so many kids getting points on Accelerated Reader programs and they’re really excited about what they’re reading (which is important!). But the problem is, the text is rarely challenging enough and, ultimately, there is little connecting to the knowledge that kids should be taking with them after reading the text. Big, important comprehension isn’t measured by silent reading and quick-tests alone!
- True learning takes place when students are able to simultaneously decode, comprehend, think about and CONNECT what they’re learning to other relevant topics and previous readings. In other words – get TALKING about what they’ve read, what they’re reading and what they want to learn more about in future text.
- Writing about what you’ve read requires re-writing and editing. And during re-writing and editing of writing, it’s common to GO BACK INTO THE TEXT! Study after study has shown that re-reading text is critical for comprehension. Sooooo…the simple task of editing our writing and going back in the text that inspired the writing is strengthening comprehension. Two bird with one stone, I would say!
- Ultimately, we need to extend our students’ current understanding of what comprehension really is and that it goes beyond ‘answering some questions after I read’. In fact, comprehension of reading needs to include regular and habitual reading, writing, discussing, revising of ideas and written response, rereading, discussing some more…well, you get the point. Answering a few “who, what, where, when, why” questions is critical to begin with and to establish simple retell, but it won’t take kids all the way into deep comprehension. And deep comprehension is critical for our students’ success.
Before you go…consider this quote from my favorite researcher. 🙂
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!