Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comments and questions on communication . . .

Yesterday's post about communication resulted in three comments you can find here. In one Scott asks the following important questions that require reflection and answers. I will share what I know and think and invite others to do the same.

1. Does an increase in online access make a difference in the education of our students if parents and students are not taking advantage of this up to date information and data? The simple answer is no if it means that all parents and teachers will be using the data. For those students and parents that do use the data then I would say it is value added and supportive of learning. The sharing of grades and ability to monitor homework and test dates are some of what parents are telling us makes a difference for them.

2. Is the real concern that teachers need to be more communicative with our families? I think that the concern is coming from parents who are using the sites and experiencing the differences in both quantity of information available and structure of the information. They question the lack of consistency and are asking the system to explore the issue.

3. Should all the burden of student progress be put on the teachers? I have many parents that e-mail me and vice versa which makes for a great home/school connection and those students find lots of success. Again, the simple answer is no. We do, however, have the data that they are asking us to share. When and how we share it is the issue that we currently face. A partnership as LoomDog shares in his comment about building a community structure is what we must continue to work towards.

4. What are the basics for required information on the web? Won't there always be those that have a super website and therefore parents will expect that all have that. Identifying and communicating the "basics" of what and how is what we need to consider. We can mitigate against asking or requiring all teachers to have the "super" website by identifying the purpose of the tool and the required elements necessary to accomplish that purpose. This should not require a "super" website.

In reading the comments, I did a disservice to the principal when I shared the "Nordstrom" comparison without the context. It was not meant to emulate or compare our work with that of the business community. It is a way of suspending our assumptions and considering the question of data availability and consistency from the parent perspective. Yes, we need a collaborative effort in educating their children, but we also need their support in the larger community. We need them as tax payers and story tellers in the community about how we respond to expressed needs. In this context, we need them to be telling stories about how supportive we are at assisting them in playing a meaningful role in their children's education through data sharing.

At this time the conversation is taking place in one building. It must become a system conversation that includes the time issue Scott and Anonymous bring up and the support that will be necessary when the demand changes.

Thanks for the comments. Feel free to join the conversation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Communicating electronically . . .

This afternoon I had the opportunity to be part of a fishbowl process at one of our buildings. The leadership team and I were on the outside engaged as an observer as a small group of parents and the principal on the inside discussed school/parent communication through Skyward and Swift. The discussion was a follow-up to data from a parent and teacher survey.

Much of what I heard reinforced what I have learned over time including the lack of consistency from school-to-school and from teacher-to-teacher within a school. We don’t have system expectations for teachers to create and maintain a swift site. This is difficult for parents to understand because they view the tool as informative and essential for supporting their children and wonder why all their kid’s teachers can’t do it the same way. It also became clear that there is confusion between the purpose for Skyward and Swift and that we are doing little to support parents and students in understanding how to access and use the sites. We have also learned that we are not keeping up with Skyward updates and that parents and teachers are not receiving notice of these updates and support to learn how to use them.

Many other issues and needs surfaced during the discussion with an important new learning for me. In the “old” days when we reported through quarterly grades, we always heard from parents why wasn’t I told that there was a problem in a time frame that I could do something about it? They could point to a grade and say how come I didn’t know. In the “new” electronic reporting world it is reversed. When the issue is raised by a parent we can point to an online report that, if monitored, the problem was apparent. Unfortunately, parents can leave this situation feeling like we are labeling them as bad parents, something we do not want to do.

We also need to be sure that the electronic data is available to warn parents and students and that they know how to access it. This is not always the case which leads me to another set of questions.

*How often should online grades be updated?
*Should all teachers be required to establish and maintain websites?
*What does updated mean?
*Should the format and required information for a website be consistent from building-to-building and teacher-to-teacher?
*Who makes these decisions in our system and how are they made?

Momentum is building to answer these questions as they play a role in the perceptions that parents have about our customer service. As one of our principals says – do we want our parents to see interactions with us with Nordstrom quality or do we want them leaving these interactions feeling like they just visited the DMV? Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Author aspirations . . .

I read a reference to this site on multiple blogs recently. It didn’t cause me much excitement as I don’t consider myself a writer and have no aspiration to publish a book in digital form or hard copy for that matter. But, seeing it once again on Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero, made me realize that there are those in our system, adults and students, that are writers and have aspirations to publish and that this site, ePub Bud, may be helpful.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Paying for grades . . .

I found an interesting study on Larry Cuban’s site about paying students to do well in school. Cuban uses this paragraph from the 107 page report to pretty much summarize the result. I encourage you to follow the link and read his short summary and thoughts.

What did the researchers find out when it came to these incentives? “Remarkably,” Fryer says, “incentives for output did not increase achievement (p.5).” This occurred across all grades, across cities. However, “paying students to read books (Dallas) yields a large and statistically significant increase in reading comprehension (p. 5).” Ditto for students in Washington, D.C. who improved their test scores when they were focused on improving the “inputs” (attendance and behavior) to achievement.

After the obligatory remarks about just one test and rigor of the design, he then raises the question about whether the results would be any different in pay for performance or teacher merit pay models. Even if we could design models where all parties could agree on the data sources and measurement tools I question whether the results would be different. I believe that the intent of those systems is to eliminate those teachers whose students do not meet the imposed “standard”, not to support all teachers over time to reach a standard that arises from conversation about shared vision for all students. I prefer to continue moving toward a shared vision of what Classroom 10 looks and sounds like that includes holding ourselves accountable for achievement of all students.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am late in acknowledging it, but tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The earth day network has ideas for getting students involved. I would be interested in hearing about any projects that you and your students may be engaged in related to this day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How much MATH?

Last week we met with math teachers in grades 6-12 to continue planning for the changes in graduation requirements related to mathematics. Teachers have been given primary responsibility for identifying the sequence, placement, materials, and accountability measures that will best position our young people for success with the new state standards. The Teaching and Learning Department and principals are supporting this work.

The WASL is being replaced by end of course assessments in algebra and geometry and one more math credit for a total of three will be required for graduation. Those in positions of authority have decided that ALL students must at least go through geometry. The question that I keep asking is what math ALL students will need to ensure that they have options in post high school learning and work. Is geometry the point at which that happens? When math teachers are asked that question the response of most is that students should take math every year in high school. What about those that don’t teach math, how much math should ALL students take in their four high school years? What are the most important math classes for students to consider after success in geometry?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Considering merit pay . . .

I read a lot about merit pay and the accountability push that we are now seeing to influence implementation of these systems. Though I am not a proponent of such a system, I also do not completely agree with the current system based on experience and education. I don’t have a model to share because I do not want to form my mental model in the absence of teacher voice. Yes, I have some ideas that might become part of some model, but I believe that any model must be developed with teachers in the room. This is not something that business, legislators, or administrators can do and expect to experience success without meaningful opportunities for teachers to influence.

This short article at Education Week by Kent Hickey does a good job of describing why merit pay is not the answer. He shares what he calls four common sense principles that should guide our efforts to improve the quality of teaching. They make sense to me.

*Teaching involves perfecting one’s art not meeting sales quotas.

Merit pay assumes that teachers are motivated to achieve excellence by being paid for each completed item on a checklist. That’s a deeply flawed assumption. For one, money is not the primary motivation for teachers. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t be teachers.) Second, that checklist doesn’t exist, because great teaching isn’t the stuff of checklists.

Producing great teaching is the primary motivation for great teachers. So, create environments that make successful teaching likely, not just possible. . .

*Ineffective teachers should be fired.

I don’t think any of us disagree with this even teacher unions. We haven’t, unfortunately, identified a vehicle to get this done. It doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t and shouldn’t continue to work toward this end. We must find ways to remove those teachers whose colleagues would not place their own children with, without the cost and disruption we currently experience. The reasons for the current reality do not fall in one place. They reside in state law, teacher unions, and we administrators who have not made the tough decisions during the probationary period. Too often our decisions are governed by heart, not a combination of head and heart.

*A teacher’s life requires sacrifices, not a sacrificed life.

Hickey gives some ideas to which I would add the need at the federal level to demonstrate the importance of teachers to our country through tax breaks, interest free loans for learning, reduced rates for home purchases, and . . . let’s put some energy into making the profession one that is attractive instead of the negative portrayal that we currently experience from many in government and leadership positions.

*“We do the most important work in the world.”

Most importantly, treat teachers with dignity. When a school has questions about improving student learning, start by asking the teachers in that building what they think. Our best teachers have always had the best answers. YES!

To these four I would add – let’s figure out what kids need to know and be able to do so that we are not continually faced with revised standards and realigning curriculum. Teachers want to focus on instruction and we want to support this focus through meaningful staff development with feedback and reflection opportunities.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The future of work . . .

I can’t remember or find where I learned about this video so I can’t give the source credit. That bothers me, but I’m sharing it because of the content. It’s titled The Future of Work by DeskCorporation. They talk about work being transparent, flat, competitive, and on demand. It is similar to what we have learned from other sources and once again is validating because our Classroom 10 focus supports knowledge and skill acquisition that will be value added in the future described in the report.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sharing a story of commitment . . .

I decided instead of making a comment on this post from maybecrystal that I would share it with my readers. In it she shares with us the support that she was providing to two students with credit issues over spring break. She also shares her joy and pride with the accomplishments of some former students.

I am so thankful that we have teachers with this level of commitment to our young people and I know that there are many other similar stories out there that should be shared. I also know that Crystal did not share in the hope that she would be recognized. If you follow her blog, it is simply another post where she shares parts of her life in and outside work with her readers.

This not seeking recognition is another characteristic of the “TAHOMA WAY”; we are too often reluctant to be singled out for recognition. Please consider sharing a story about another of our committed staff members on your blog, your facebook page, or any other social media site you are using. They are in every building and every department. What is your story?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Round 2 officially starts . . .

Our state has officially kicked off the Race to the Top campaign with a website and a packet sent to each district in the state. The packet contains a letter of introduction from Governor Gregoire, Superintendent Dorn, and Jeff Vincent from the State Board with a request to consider officially joining the initiative. Joining requires us to agree to the district commitments shared in the packet. It also provides for an opportunity to compete for funding if the grant is successful and projects about $623,000 for our district over four years.

I read through the information and have questions about how some of the points on the Roadmap for Achieving Goals will be implemented that will probably be answered when the grant is shared. From round 1, it is obvious that a successful grant must have the majority of locals such as us sign off on the grant. This means me, Didem our Board President, and Scott, TEA president. So, our next step is to meet with TEA to determine the level of support that we can give to this request.

What would you like to tell us as we consider this opportunity?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mediocrity or Failure?

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind shares the thought below on a recent blog post.

Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse.

Failure is a broken leg — painful, but easily fixed. Mediocrity is a creeping disease — invisible and insidious — that disables so completely that there’s often no recovery.

I don’t have any data to refute his assumption and it makes sense based on my personal experience. But, looking at why this seems to be the current reality for most people is interesting and perhaps not too surprising. Where are people rewarded or encouraged when they fail? Focused only on our profession, how do we respond to students when they experience failure at getting the right answer or doing it the right way? How is the government responding to failing schools? In what context(s) are students rewarded when they do it right even though it may not be the best that they can do?

It is difficult to be successful at playing school when one experiences failure. In some ways for some students, such as in traditional grading, we support mediocrity. Get this percentage and you will pass through the system unnoticed and possibly unprepared for what lies ahead. This percentage may not have been difficult to achieve or perhaps it was even an A or B in a less challenging class. For some, it beats the fear of failing in a more rigorous classroom.

Mediocrity is the state of being mediocre. Mediocre means moderate to inferior in quality; ordinary. I don’t believe that people or systems strive for being mediocre. But, I can see why it may create a sense of well being or comfort when in place. Being ordinary means you won’t be asked to do too much, you won’t be singled out for blame or praise. You will be in a safe place. This seems like a good place to be when one is in the midst of significant change, when outside sources are setting difficult standards to achieve, when there is little energy left to try another thing, and when it is all about high demand in the absence of high support.

I don’t believe that in Tahoma we fear or embrace failure, nor do I believe that we are mediocre. We are not afraid to fail in an initiative though we work hard not to, but I think that we do fear being mediocre; just another school system with so/so results. I attribute this to many things such as those below.

1. A shared vision that focuses on ensuring that young people are prepared for success in post high school learning and work.
2. Our principals and teachers don’t settle for current reality. There is always more that can be learned and more that can be done.
3. Our system is embracing the need to ensure that high support is in place before holding ourselves accountable to the standards imposed at the state and federal level.

Learning communities do not fear failure. They use data to make decisions about how to proceed on their journey. They test changes knowing that modifications and adjustments will be necessary. They set high standards for themselves and for their students and they hold themselves accountable to achieving those standards. One thing that they don’t settle for is being ordinary, being mediocre. Pink talks about people in his post while I just described our school system made up of people. I guess that we might not be included in the “most” that he describes above. It feels good not to be in a mediocre school system working with mediocre people. Thanks for the gift of being part of this incredible journey.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another view of RttT . . .

Over at League of Education Voters, Heather offers her thoughts on our state’s chances for a successful application with round 2 of RttT. I have shared my thoughts over time including comments from our Governor who is positive and OSPI Superintendent Dorn who is skeptical that we can be successful. I align more closely with Superintendent Dorn as does Heather in the blog post. She shares four reasons for her assessment of the situation through comparing our state to first round winners Delaware and Tennessee.

*Potential district and union support
*Student assessment
*Alternative pathways for teacher certification
*Teacher and principal evaluation system

I would add to this state intervention in struggling schools and the lack of charters that creates a hill that I believe is too steep to climb.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The need for additional capacity . . .

For a number of years we have been focused on enrollment growth and the need, at some point in time, to increase capacity through additions to existing schools or building of new ones. In addition to this, there is a need for renovations to existing schools. For over a year, the Board has been exploring options recommended by a team of staff and community members and has made a decision on the major components of a bond measure for next spring. They include:

*Replacing Lake Wilderness
*Building a new elementary school
*Renovating and adding to Tahoma High School, Tahoma Junior High School and Cedar River Middle School

Here is a short article that appeared in a recent Voice of the Valley talking about this need and the need to once again adjust elementary attendance areas. If current demographic projections prove to be accurate, this may be the last time that adjustments will be a successful strategy as all elementary buildings would be at or nearing capacity.

The Educational Specifications process will begin in two weeks when a team from the high school and junior high begin meeting with our architects to create a vision of how the renovated and additional spaces will meet the learning needs of current and future students and teachers. The focus of this work will be around our Classroom 10 initiative and the need to think creatively as we identify spaces that accommodate multiple uses and that will last for at least thirty years and the next opportunity for state match.

The process will continue this fall when teams will be formed to look at replacing Lake Wilderness Elementary and renovating and adding to Cedar River. The Lake Wilderness design will be a prototype that will also be used for the new elementary building. Together, these projects are projected to be in the $100 million range, making it the largest bond measure ever offered in the Tahoma School District.