Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another football weekend . . .

I just got home from the Seahawk game to close another not so successful football weekend. Thanks to the Bears it wasn’t winless, but certainly “my” teams did not all do well. The Huskies came back down to earth with a thud and the Seahawks continue to drive me crazy. I don’t consider myself one of those fanatics, but it does cause me some grief when they could or should have won and this was one of those games.

I hope this season will not continue to be win one, lose two, but that has been the case in each of the last two weeks. Last week it was the Huskies that won, this week the Bears, and next week I still have hope for all three.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My growing concern . . .

At the system level, the proposed national core standards are bothering me for many reasons, one of them being what Ethan and Jonathan share in their comments about mixed messages and the potential for more years of alignment to changing standards, curriculum development, gap lessons, and adjusting assessments. Energy expended on this work is energy and time not focused on the how of implementing Classroom 10 and the heart of learning, the interactions between adult and student in the classroom. We have been engaged in this alignment and development work with the many revisions to state standards for too many years.

The thought of spending two more years on state standards with the potential for federal math and English standards to follow simply frightens and upsets me. If at that time we must or will officially “adopt” them at the state level than why not just bite the bullet and do so now? Please understand, I am not endorsing adoption, but I would like to get a better sense from state level officials about the potential for adoption in two years. Information in the OSPI press release does not provide me with a comfort level or the necessary direction to identify how our system should respond to the potential for these changes in a relatively short period of time.

I am also concerned with the pressure from the federal level to adopt them in order to qualify for billions of dollars in innovation funding. Yes, I know the likelihood of our state qualifying in round 1 or future rounds may not be great because of the other equally disturbing criteria that must be met to qualify, but I don’t like being placed in the position of potentially adopting simply to qualify for enhanced funding. And, isn’t it sad that the Gates Education Foundation or here, located in our back yard, is supporting the work of 15 other states with their proposals. They have recently made the decision to support any additional states that can answer eight questions affirmatively with question two requiring adoption of the national core standards by June 2010. Reading the OSPI press release, the earliest we would do that is in two years leaving us out of any support from the foundation, seen as a critical component of any successful proposal.

I think that there are some good arguments for having a set of national core standards, but NCLB created mandates giving states autonomy over content that should not be expected to change as rapidly as I feel we are being pressured to do with this proposed set of standards. Perhaps this change should be embedded in long needed changes to NCLB legislation that makes sense and provides direction and support that we can all get behind. From information in this article, however, it doesn’t appear that this administration is in any hurry to take on that challenge. It does appear, however, that they are willing to share with us through RttT funding criteria what we should be doing without supporting us or showing us how to do it.

I will continue to follow these developments and periodically share updates and my thinking. I fear that this has the potential to pit state against state at the federal level, to be disruptive and divisive at the state level, to reinforce the perception that all teacher associations are against change, and to make the work at the local level more difficult to maintain focus and use diminishing resources efficiently and effectively. Who knows, maybe this is what “they” want. We certainly know that many in powerful positions see charters as the savior to all our public school problems. Too bad they don’t know about the Tahoma School District and the many others whose teachers are just as committed and successful as those in the charter schools being portrayed as saviors for our youth.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National standards released . . .

The national standards in mathematics and English were released this week with little fanfare. There was some mention in blogs I follow, but not as much as I had anticipated. There was also an OSPI press release found here and one in the Washington Post here. Our state is one of the 48 that have joined the initiative. Included in the release is the following statement by Superintendent Dorn.

“I’m pleased to be part of the new standards team,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction. “A common benchmark of standards for all states will make our education system more efficient and cost-effective, and it will give our kids a better chance at competing in a global economy.”

Superintendent Dorn’s comment would lead one to believe that as a member of the team we would be adopting the standards, yet later in the press release we find the following.

. . . The common standards created by the NGO and CCSSO will be examined thoroughly and transparently. Any changes to the state’s standards would not occur for at least two years, and then only after an ample opportunity for public review and comment.

This is good to know because we are in the first year of implementing revised mathematics standards. This means that most school systems are engaged in the alignment process once again and it is good to know that this work will be necessary for at least two years. We have already had to adjust to too many revisions to standards in mathematics and science over the years.

We also know that at the federal level the education department has endorsed the standards and is recommending that all states adopt them. Adoption could also become a requirement or criteria used to qualify for Race to the Top and other federal grant opportunities. This will certainly place our state in a difficult position in the short term if the standards are not adopted for at least two years. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds over time. There could be pressure to adopt from outside the school community and pressure to preserve autonomy from inside. What advice would you give the superintendent and governor?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Learning styles - BUNK?

I found this article by Daniel Willingham in an entry on the blog. He is the author of "Why Don't Students Like School?," a book I started, but have still not finished. In this article he makes the claim that learning styles theory is bunk and that districts that force teachers to include multiple strategies focused on learning styles are actually making teacher jobs more difficult with no benefit to students and without research to prove its effectiveness.

In the article he takes exception to the D.C. school district’s learning framework that focuses on learning styles. He suggests that what influences learning are . . .

Some lessons click with one child and not with another, but not because of an enduring bias or predisposition in the way the child learns. The lesson clicks or doesn’t because of the knowledge the child brought to the lesson, his interests, or other factors.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Did You Know 4.0

Most adults in our system have had one or more opportunities to view the Did You Know video first done by Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch. Last week a new version, Did You Know 4.0, was unveiled in the blogosphere with mention of it on multiple blogs that I follow. Here you can find copies of all the versions. If you are not registered on Teacher Tube and want to see just this latest version you can find it here.

I have used various versions of the video with community groups to start conversations about the need for change if we are to prepare young people for the world described in these videos. It always results first in adults being surprised and awed by the information followed by questions on what this means for our students and how we are responding as a system. I believe at one time that the video was shown to high school students, but I don't know how it was received. If you have used it, I would be interested in knowing how students responded.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Implementing the vision . . .

On our journey to Classroom 10, one of the highest priorities is the development of curriculum units across all content areas and all grade levels. At the district level this has meant that the Teaching and Learning Department has focused on providing direction and support to this effort in three of the core content areas, language arts, science, and social studies. We are at different places in each of these areas based upon a variety of factors with department capacity to write and support the authors of the curriculum being a significant contributor to the timeline. The work began at the middle school level and at present there are projects in each grade level band.

You may recall that last year there was a series of blog entries about this process with many comments from teachers with concerns about the process. Since that time the process has evolved to increase the level of teacher engagement and to provide opportunities for teachers other than those authoring lessons to have influence on the product. As we know from our Classroom 10 initiative, we are creating our own road map with this work being one of the most critical components of ensuring that all students have opportunity to learn and to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in post high school learning and work. Since there is no template for the journey we must learn and adapt along the way.

Already this school year we have experienced a need to monitor and adjust based on teacher feedback from the Junior High language arts department. Through feedback and sharing of private thoughts a variety of issues emerged concerning implementation of the first unit of the year and the level of staff engagement in the development of future units. As was the case last year, the concerns resulted in reflection on the process and openness to being influenced by the thinking of those in the department. Through the efforts of the teacher leaders at the building level suggestions were made to adapt to the need for a revised timeline for implementation with fidelity and for a more collaborative lesson development effort. So, we now have Teaching and Learning staff, building administrators, and teacher leaders refining a process that will result in quality products endorsed by those responsible for using them with students.

What was once perceived accurately as completely top down has evolved and I believe will continue to change based on the situation and the need at any given time. What will not change is the focus on Classroom 10, the need to work collaboratively, and the importance of teacher empowerment to generate energy and commitment around the work. We started the initiative believing we needed to be directive and prescriptive as we were concerned with alignment to the vision and perceived need for Classroom 10 changes. Today, we are not experiencing teachers questioning the need for these changes, but are instead being asked important questions about the what and the how of the initiative. We are continuing to learn and to reflect on our practice that is resulting in positive change and increased collaboration. We are doing what professional learning communities do as they struggle with finding and implementing structures that support teachers and students in classrooms.

I thank those teachers and teacher leaders for the manner in which they are identifying and sharing concerns and for the suggestions that will increase engagement and result in quality products. This is certainly the case in conversations this last week between grade nine language arts teachers, building administrators, and the T&L department. I also thank Nancy and the department for their work, for understanding the need for teachers to feel empowered, and for their unwavering commitment to this initiative. I am also appreciative of the opportunity to engage with the department on this work and for influencing my thinking and behavior by forcing me to reflect on the ladders I bring to the work table. I am so blessed to work with committed, competent people doing important work.

Thank you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A personal story . . .

The first full weekend of football and the Bears, Huskies, and Seahawks all won. I can’t remember when that last happened. Next week will be a bigger test as they face Kentwood, USC, and the 49 er’s, but for now it feels really good!

I’ll share a short personal story to follow up on Chris Feist’s comment to the last post. It once again demonstrates the importance of relationship to success in school. The president enjoys the respect of most youth because of his position and as Chris suggests, his speech had a positive influence on the students he works with and many others. I also believe that teachers have the opportunity for this same respect, but once given it must be earned to sustain over time. This respect opens the door to a positive relationship or, once lost, closes the door and lessens the potential for student attachment to the teacher and to the learning.

The story involves my granddaughter who attends school in a neighboring district. Ciara is a fifth grader who enjoys school and works hard. School is not easy for her and she is most successful with teachers that she perceives as caring and supportive of her. This weekend she asked me a lot of questions about when I was a teacher and then asked how you transfer out of a teacher’s class. She said her best friend had transferred and would be in a different class on Monday because the teacher was strict. This means she yells, doesn’t let them have the snacks they want, and doesn’t care about how they feel. With her friend gone she was not feeling good about returning.

The part that is really telling is when she told me that she was really looking forward to school starting this year, that she had missed it. And now, all she wants to do is transfer classes or not go at all. She asked if it was possible to go to Rock Creek where I work. This change in attitude and quite possibly effort took place after just one week in her new fifth grade classroom. It doesn’t take very long to lose that opportunity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The President's speech . . .

Well, all the furor over the President’s speech to students proved to be wasted energy as the message was not political or any of the other words used by some to suggest that it was inappropriate for him to use valuable learning time in this way. Telling students that they need to set personal goals, work hard to achieve those goals, be responsible for their own learning, and not make excuses is a message that any educator would welcome from someone in his position. They hear this same message from their teachers and other adults in their lives on a regular basis. I don’t know how much influence this additional voice will have over time, but it is welcome.

Though overall I was pleased with the message, I thought that he lost a wonderful opportunity to reach out to public school teachers with words such as the following.
*I want to reach out today to form a partnership with your teachers who work tirelessly to . .
*I want to thank your teachers and work with them to . . .
*Every day at school there are dedicated teachers that . . . and I want to . . .

I shared this private thought with our administrative team Tuesday afternoon and received no verbal feedback, but the nonverbals were loud and clear; we should be thankful for what he said, how can you be critical. That response could have, however, been influenced by my comments related to level five leadership as described by Collins in Good to Great, see slides 9-10. I wonder if level five leadership characteristics are aligned with being successful as a president.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Can they do it?

Thanks Rick for sharing your thoughts to the last post on relationship. I too encourage you to visit Crystal’s post on maybecrystal where she shares similar experiences as the school year starts. The survey that the high school gives each spring is also given at some of our other schools and all of our schools provide students with the opportunity to share their perceptions on similar topics. Is the data from students in our other schools similar to the results of the high school survey? Are many students bored and do they believe that teachers don’t care, or is this simply a high school issue? Are you aware of the data and has your school focused on these same or similar concerns?

If you wanted to see every teacher in our system do one thing to promote relationship in their classroom what would that be? What one thing would students do regularly that would demonstrate to teachers that they cared about the learning? What one thing would students do to demonstrate that they appreciate their teachers? These last questions are related to the commitments that will emerge from the teacher/student conversations that started at the high school on August 28th.

It will be interesting to see if they are able to identify a commitment that every student can commit to and what the commitment(s) will be that the adults determine will influence student perceptions about their school. Behavior will determine the success of this initiative and as we know behavior change is personal and not always easy, especially on a scale this large, about 100 adults and 1600 students. Answers to our Influencer questions will be important as they continue this process.
*Can I do it?
*Is it worth it?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Revisiting relationship with Terry Duty . . .

On August 9th I shared a post about relationship and asked you to consider sharing what you thought the students on the New York trip told us about what teachers do that demonstrates that they care. Crystal shared the following in response to my question.

*The teachers treated the students with respect and talked to them like adults
*The teachers made an effort to get to know the students on a personal basis: what do they like, what do they do outside of school
*The teachers shared their lives with the students as well: showed them pictures, talked about their weekend adventures, etc
*The teachers created a 'safe environment' where it's ok to be wrong as long as you're trying; everyone is learning together

Her response accurately mirrored what the kids told us. Interesting how we know this information, yet as Terry describes below it is so very difficult to change the perceptions.
What follows is Terry Duty our high school principal sharing some of his thinking and reflection during and after the trip to New York and how this resulted in teachers and students coming together last week around the issue of relationship. I was able to participate in the meeting on August 28th that he refers to and was impressed by the skillful conversation that resulted around the need for relationship and the focus on it being seen not as one way, but that what students say and do also communicates to teachers a message about the importance of school. They are in the process of identifying commitments that all students and staff can make to influence the perceptions currently held by many at the high school that I believe have the potential to finally influence student and staff perceptions.

My recent trip to New York, with 4 students, 2 teachers and Mike to attend the Society for Organizational Learning (SOL) conference gave me the opportunity to learn more about systems thinking. Systems thinking sounds deep and complex, which it is, but it’s also a simple way to look at a system, organization, or in our case a school. What I’m learning now is that true change requires interdependency; it’s not linear, or a simple tweak. Sustainable change in organizations’ requirements is much like an ecosystem; a complex, living systems.

Over the past 5 years our school has tried to gain insight into whether our students perceive Tahoma as a place in which they are known, supported, challenged, and inspired. We’ve surveyed our students for 5 years using the Quaglia Institute “My Voice Student Aspirations Survey.” We have asked our teachers to focus on positive student-teacher relationships, tried an advisory model, shared personal stories, set school goals, and still over half our students are bored at school and don’t feel like our teachers care about them. Yet despite vision, motivation, and considerable effort we can’t seem to close the gap between our students and teachers.

Some say; ”who cares” your test scores are very good, your school is recognized as one of the best in the country, kids aren’t even supposed to like school or their teachers, that’s just part of being a kid! Wouldn’t that be an easy answer, that’s just how it should be, simply focus on what teachers do; teaching, and ignore the soft data, the touchy feely relationship stuff.

So, at the SOL conference, we were talking with our students about school, and the conversation came up about “teachers just don’t care” if they did they wouldn’t give us tests on the same day, big assignments that are all due all at once. Pretty harsh data but honest and coming from some very mature, academic students…I asked them, “What do students do to show their teachers that they care about their learning?” (multiple absences, tardies, not turning in homework, not preparing for class, let alone paying attention during class.) We had two very different mental models and ladders of inferences that stretched up to the sky.

It finally occurred to me! Our ability to achieve the relationship results we truly desired were being eroded by two groups; students and staff, with very different perceptions about each other, walking up two separate ladders of inference one rung at a time:
* Our beliefs are the truth.
* The truth is obvious.
* Our beliefs are based on real data.
* The data we select are the real data.

As educators we were trying to address an important aspect of our school; teacher/student relationships as well as our larger school culture, without establishing a mutual vision or a sharing responsibility within our school community. Put simply, we never asked our students to take any responsibility, to help, or to even sit with us and address the problem. To use a systems approach analogy; we were trying to solve world hunger, without addressing the system needs of; world poverty, education, water resources, healthcare…we can make small gains but will never solve the problem unless we look at the larger system needs.

It sounds so simple, so obvious, yet for the past five years we would look at what our students would say on the surveys and then try to solve the problem alone. After all, what more could they tell us? We’re the teachers, the adults; it’s our job to have the answers.

On August 28th we are a hosting an event called “One School.” We are bringing in our ASB officers, and 90 students, and teaming them with our entire teaching staff to build new ladders, new feedback loops asking new questions and putting more responsibility on the students for outcomes as well as the teacher to look at our school as a community, a system. 14 Focus groups will establish a vision, make commitments, and set measurable long and short-term goals around relationships, respect, and our school culture. We will use techniques like dialogue and skillful discussion, we hope these teacher/student focus groups can team to transform their collective thinking, and learning about our current state and mobilize energies and abilities greater than the sum of individual members’ talents.

Through this journey I have come to believe that enhancing teacher/student relationships can’t merely be an add-on, but rather it is fundamental to education for this generation of learners. I think kids are starving for real, authentic, human relationships, not virtual relationships found in; Facebook, My Space, texting, IM… I call them “e-relationships.” And our teachers are the real heroes, the guides of learning and they too need the support to allow authentic learning relationships to be cultivated and grow. Understanding the role of relationship in the classroom will help our school be more effective, achievement will increase, particularly with challenging students and our students will reach a greater potential. As we continue to ratchet up state and national standards, raise accountability measures, and increase expectations for both students and teachers, we can’t just ignore that student achievement increases with improved student/teacher relationships. Just ask anyone who their favorite teacher was and why; because they cared about me, inspired me, challenged me, saw me as a complete person, not just a “math student.”

We don’t need surveys to tell us that authentic relationships are important to learning and increasing student achievement.