So, it’s that time of year when I start to look at what I want my 2013 to look like…and my one major goal is to really to boost my expert-level knowledge by exponentially improving my educational reading library. All done in one click on Amazon – ha!
Here’s what dictionary.com says about what an “expert” is – and BOY do I want to continue to be one!
I WILL BE a person with special skill. I WILL BE a person with special knowledge in a particular field. I WILL receive the highest rating in my field. I WILL BE all of these things, BUT I have to do it through practice and training – – – and I’m starting 2013 by getting PUMPED UP on these resources by true experts in our field! (Most importantly, I’m continuing to practice what I preach – – -and I’m excited about it!)
Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have
Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching
Robert J. Marzano, et al
The SAGE Handbook of Educational Leadership: Advances in Theory, Research, and Practice
Fenwick W. English
Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools
Tony Wagner, Thomas Vander Ark
Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement
Richard DuFour, Robert J. Marzano
Just checking to see if you were paying attention.…!
“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.”
– Denis Waitley
I would not be exaggerating if I said EVERYWHERE that I go educators are complaining about not having enough TIME. Here’s what it sounds like…
From the principal: I would LOOOOOVE to get into the classrooms more often, but I have so many behavioral issues that take up my time!
From the coach: I would LOOOOOVE to get in a debrief within 24 hours but I have to finish up paperwork and go to so many trainings that I often end up giving feedback to teachers a week later!
From teachers and teams: We would LOOOOOVE to spend more time prepping for those lessons, but all of the other stuff that we have to do take so much time that the preparation and planning is my last step each week and I’m exhausted by the time I get there!
What’s the common denominator? They all would LOOOOOVE to do something!
Well, here’s the deal: I LOOOOOVE to go get my nails done. In fact I did it yesterday! I love taking my book that has nothing to do with work. I love that they don’t allow cell phones so there are no rings or pings or interruptions. I love to come out of the nail salon all shiny and new. I love the choices of colors. I just love it. (I know some of you are reading this and thinking…is she REALLY going to talk manicures? Yes, she REALLY is, but she’ll get to a bigger point, so hang in there…)
And because I love it, I make sure I don’t miss my appointment.
Let’s take for example yesterday. I had an appointment at 5:00 p.m. It takes 15 minutes to drive to this particular nail place and sometimes parking is a challenge, so I knew I needed to leave at 4:30 from my house to get there in plenty of time.
So I backtracked my tasks so that I was done at 4:30 on the dot.
Because my nail appointment was important to me and I didn’t want to miss it and have it overwhelmed by everything else.
I put my phone calls on my calendar at SPECIFIC times – not just on a to-do list.
I put my email answering at a SPECIFIC time – not just on a to-do list.
I put my writing projects at SPECIFIC times – not just on a to-do list.
I even put in a couple of 15 minute breaks at SPECIFIC TIMES – not just on a to-do list.
The thing is, I LOOOOOOVE a good to-do list, but I find that when I don’t schedule my tasks out, the list gets a few things crossed off, but most of them remain at the bottom…especially the ones I don’t want to do!
So what does this have to do with putting out fires and manicures and all this mess?
If most educators site TIME as a #1 or #2 inhibitor of getting things done that they know they should get done AND we know that we aren’t going to just magically create more time, then the answer to being frenzied and out of time all the time is managing our time differently.
Managing our time, I’ve found and seen in excellent and productive educators, is the difference between running around and putting out fires and PURPOSEFUL work in our schools. Let me give you an example:
Say that you’ve SCHEDULED your prep time for 7:00 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. (of course I know you need more time than this, but this is one chunk of time you’ve scheduled). You’ve actually WRITTEN IT INTO your calendar – so it’s a date! And along comes Suzy Q and she LOOOOVES to talk…and talk…and talk. Typically you shoot the breeze with Suzy Q and when you’re done, you think, “Ugh! I just wasted all of that time and I got nothing done!”. (Does this sound at all familiar?)
You are now behind – and in “putting out fires” mode…you’re in reactionary mode because now you feel under the gun.
(On a side note: “putting out fires” and “under the gun” – -neither SOUND real fun, do they?)
So let’s rewrite this scenario:
You have scheduled time from 7:00 – 7:45 a.m. to prep for your upcoming lessons tomorrow and Wednesday. Suzy Q comes in and says, “Hey girl/guy! What’s up?” and settles in for a nice, long chat…about NOTHING!
You can now say, “Hey Suz! Whew – I’m really busy! I’ve scheduled myself for some prep right now…go grab your books and come prep with me!” or “Hey Suz! You know, my schedule is really hounding me right now…I’ve got my prep time for tomorrow and Wednesday right now – let’s sit together at lunch and get all caught up!”
It’s these kinds of conversations that not only allow US to stay on track, but put other time-wasters (people and tasks) on notice that we aren’t messing around anymore!
When we’re under the gun and pushing the envelope, we are REACTING. And oftentimes our most important tasks get pushed to the bottom of the list. And both of these things make us feel like we’re being managed, not managing.
And I don’t know about you, but I want to be THE MANAGER, not THE MANAGED!
So…what is this all about?
- It’s about taking control of the time you have and getting down to business on the things that are important to our delivery of excellent instruction
- It’s about not being in reactionary, “putting out fires” mode – because that mode means we’re not doing our best work
- It’s about organizing our environment so that we are optimized for doing our best, being our best and producing our best WITH THE TIME WE’RE GIVEN
- It’s about having a life where the bag of grading doesn’t come home with you every single night because you’ve managed time poorly
The cool thing? Time management is also contagious for your kids! They need to see it too!
So…where will you start? Leave a comment below and inspire someone else to get started NOW!
The reading wars are over (thank goodness for sound research!), but we still are at risk as we teach, model, practice and apply the skills necessary to develop phonemic awareness and phonics in our kids.
And here’s why: We are focusing on “Do they have the skill?” rather than “How automatically do they have that skill?”. And the success of our students, particularly in phonemic awareness and phonics, depends on our response to the second question. Automatically pulling up the skills to support “bigger”, more complex skills like comprehension and using context to determine meaning of unknown words is what is going to make or break the success of your kids.
Now, some of you might be thinking: OF COURSE we teach phonemic awareness and phonics! In fact, we do it EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes a day!
While that is likely true in nearly all (hopefully ALL!) of the K-2 classrooms and intervention classrooms, our work isn’t done when the kids just “get” the skill. They need to master the skill and then become automatic…and maintain it across time.
One of the things that has risen to the top of my “be concerned about” list is that when schools are using DIBELS and AIMSweb to benchmark and progress monitor kids, the phoneme segmentation fluency, letter naming fluency, nonsense word fluency and other phonemic awareness/phonics-based tasks just fall off. Whether kids have benchmarked or not!
For example, just last week I ran into a group of second grade strategic oral reading fluency students as we did our data review. When I asked if the students had “passed” the nonsense word reading fluency assessment in 1st grade, what we found is that they hadn’t – but because the text was no longer expected to be given in 2nd grade, we never flagged those kids as needing additional phonics support well into 2nd grade.
So, what were they getting? Hours of fluency practice each week.
Hmmm…strike you as a little off base? It sure did to me!
So we fixed the problem right away by getting kids into daily, timed review of letter sounds and sound spellings and then practice in blending words the “whole word blending” way – without having to sound out each sound and then recode the word. In other words – we trained them (in a plan that is lasting 6 weeks!) to look for the spelling patterns in words and quickly read those words.
The interesting conversation came after we did some progress monitoring on the nonsense word reading fluency: the teachers said, “But they’re reading those decodable books at 70-80%+ accuracy, so no wonder I didn’t think they needed additional phonics instruction!”
The point is – without fluency of skill, then the skill mastery may not be sufficient. AND that lack of fluency may not show up until later grades…so we have to be proactive. Actually, I would change our definition of “mastery” to include the element of fluency. Without it, we’re fooling ourselves.
So, here’s where I encourage you to start in analyzing how your students are doing on ANY skill. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they slow but accurate on the skill?
- Are they fast but inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they slow and inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they meeting the fluency rate on the skill?
Kids will fall into one of those four categories! And once we have sorted kids by skill into those categories, we now have information on how to provide additional support during small group instruction. If you have a slow but accurate student, then timed practice is key. If you have a fast but inaccurate student on a skill then you know your practice will be slowing them down in order to later speed them up. If they’re both slow and inaccurate, then some direct teaching on the skill (even though it’s been previously taught) is the right fit.
I guess my desire for all of us is that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of skill mastery for all of our kids. Fluency of skill IS going to make or break their reading independence now and in the future…especially when they encounter tougher text with lots of unknown words.
I encourage you to start by going back to your strategic and intensive kids and see if they “passed” those critical-to-pass assessments before the particular tests were no longer required in that grade level. Once you sort your kids according to the four types above, then you can more accurately point your interventions to what is really going to make a difference in their skill independence!
Class observation by a coach or principal strikes fear in the hearts of many teachers and I know exactly why! Who wants to be judged? Better yet? Who wants to be judged by someone who hasn’t likely been in the classroom for years and was on their cell phone during the professional development sessions?
Um. Not me!
Principals and Coaches – we owe it to our staff to be more proactive, less scary and lurker-ish during our observations.
Let me explain.
First of all, you have to have a focus for the instructional work you’re doing on your campus. This is the PURPOSE behind your observations. When teacher know, “Hey – my principal is looking for increased engagement levels from my ELL students during ELA instruction,” then two cool things happen:
- They tend to focus on integrating that work/technique/strategy more broadly and deeply into their everyday teaching because they know that you’ll be around to look for it. This is a big motivator for a lot of teachers.
- Their anxiety lessens because they realize that they actually have a chance to meet our expectations because our expectations aren’t random, they’re focused
When we have no instructional focus at the school site, then our observations (whether it’s true or not!) seem like a “gotcha” – and that’s not a motivation that will sustain long-term growth in any staff.
Implementation due to fear is not a recommended tactic!
So, principals and coaches, you should start with a focus and let your staff know that you will be in their classrooms formally and on a drop-in basis looking for the instructional focus in action at any time of the day.
Secondly, when you go into classrooms, you should approach it as a balcony-sitter at a theater production.
Let me explain.
When you sit in the balcony, you have perspective. You can see the other audience members, you can see the orchestra, you can see the entire width of the stage. Sometimes you can even see into the wings of the stage and see the actors’ entrances and exits!
When the actors are on stage or the audience is situated really close to the stage, there is so much perspective that is lost. This is the teacher’s position – the teacher is so close to the action and right in the middle of it most of the time, it’s hard to gain perspective and hard to evaluate the full orchestration of the lesson.
(Some might argue that when you sit close you have tremendous focus, but this doesn’t necessarily serve our immediate purpose during class observation!)
When you have a PERSPECTIVE mindset during classroom observations, here’s what you should be looking for:
- How is the teacher orchestrating the lesson? Is it well orchestrated and smooth or choppy and disjointed? What is the evidence that this is so?
- What is the pacing like? Are the students keeping up with the lesson?
- Are the groupings benefiting the students? How do you know?
- Are particular students having trouble with the intensity of the lesson? Which students? How could you tell?
- When in the lesson did the teacher start to “lose” students? What did that look like? What did the students start to do that showed you that they were less lesson-focused?
- What percentage of the time did the teacher spend in direct instruction? Guided practice? Application?
- How many re-directions (which don’t have to be a bad thing!) did the teacher do during each portion of the lesson?
- What was the students product? What did the teacher expect in terms of written response? Discussion or oral responses? Did the students use complete sentences and extended thoughts during the lesson?
- Was it readily apparent what the goal of the lesson(s) was? Did the teacher revisit the goal to touch-back for the kids? When you asked a student what they were working on, could they explain the task and the purpose behind it?
You see, an observation (and the feedback given) won’t be helpful at all unless it gives teacher perspective that they cannot otherwise get when they’re right in the trenches doing the teaching.
I start my informal and formal rounds by stating to myself the response to this question: “What perspective do I want to give my teachers today that they wouldn’t get if I didn’t observe them?“
Now THAT’s purpose folks!
There’s nothing sexy about implementing procedures in the classroom. Trust me, I’ve tried to spin it so that there is. No luck!
But what I do know is that when we’re talking about making teaching sexy – interesting – fun – provocative, it begins with a look at what makes all that go ‘round. And what does make the classroom go ‘round are classroom procedures or “rules of engagement” while we’re doing the fun, interesting work of teaching and learning.
In fact, when teachers have strong procedures, they have more TIME for the fun, interesting stuff that neophyte educators dream of!
So, in order to bring the “sexy” – we must put in the groundwork. And we’re going to start by asking ourselves a few questions. After all, you can’t improve practice until you analyze what’s in place first and how well that’s working for ya. So, here are some reflection questions for you:
- Do you feel that in order to have a well-run class, you have to compromise the fun factor?
- Do you think that fun teachers have fewer rules?
- Would your kids and you benefit from more time to teach content each week?
If you answered “YES!” to any of these, then it’s time to look at what procedures are…and aren’t.
Classroom procedures are expectations that we set up for individuals, small groups and whole classes so that they know what is expected of them as they carry out the work in the classroom. Procedures are not just rules, but they’re the operator’s manual for getting’ it done in the classroom.
For example, a typical classroom rule is: Keep your hands and objects to yourself.
A procedure that supports that rule is: When we walk into, out of and around the classroom, we hold our hands at our sides until we reach the spot where we are working at.
Another example of a rule is: Students speak kindly and respectfully to each other.
A procedure that supports that rule is: When we have a disagreement with a classmate, we wait for them to finish talking and then we, with our voices low and slow, say, “Kelly, I disagree with __________________ and I’d like to suggest that we think about _____________________.
You see, it’s not just about the rule, it’s about the action or procedure that underlies the rule – – that’s where true implementation of procedures comes to life! And I think we miss that quite often.
We need procedures to help us meet the expectations of the rules in the classroom.
And once we have mastered the procedures and have thoroughly and completely taught them to our kids, the party can BEGIN!! We can begin to get into the nuances of the teaching, discussion, instruction, scaffolding and all of that good stuff that the neophyte teachers dream about.
So what’s the big lesson here? Our procedures match our expectations and rules. Without procedures, we have just set expectations. And that doesn’t ensure success at all! Especially for the kids whom we are raising the bar for!
I challenge you to take a look at your current classroom. Ask yourself (or even ask a few kids!) “What are the procedures in this classroom that make the world go ‘round?” If you’re having a hard time coming up with your procedures and you’re leaning more toward rules, then you’ve probably got some work to do in defining and refining the way your students and you do work every day. If this describes you, don’t freak out! It’s a really simple fix!
To fix a “no procedures” classroom, all you have to do is create a little 2-column chart – on one side list all of the “rules” that you have and would like to have followed. On the other side, list what it will LOOK LIKE when your students are carrying out the procedures. Then write in your lesson plans which procedures you’ll teach which days (don’t do it all at once!).
Then teach the procedures as “This is what it will look like when we’re doing xyz.” Trust me, your kids will get it if you make them practice a zillion times. Don’t forget the positive feedback when they’re doing it correctly! That’s CRITICAL!