Thursday, March 31, 2011

That special teacher . . .

There are so many topics that I could blog about, but I want teachers and others to read this short op ed piece from the New York Times by Marie Myung-Ok Lee author and writing teacher at Brown. I first learned about it from Larry Ferlazzo’s websites of the day.

She shares the influence that two high school teachers had on her and questions whether this is possible in today’s world of high stakes testing and focused curriculum.  A teacher's influence is so much more as she shares in her brief story.

I can now appreciate how much courage it must have taken for those teachers to let me deviate so broadly from the lesson plan. With today’s pressure on teachers to “teach to the test,” I wonder if any would or could take the time to coax out the potential in a single, shy student.

If we want to understand how much teachers are worth, we should remember how much we were formed by our own schooldays. Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.

How true. For me it was two PE teachers and coaches at Olympic Junior High who influenced me in significantly different ways. It will be no surprise that I was short, but I was also a good athlete. I sometimes let my stature get in the way of my potential, easily convincing myself that my size would inhibit success. Mr. Moliter was always there with words of encouragement that gave me confidence and assisted me in focusing on my talent and possibilities. Thinking now about this, I think he actually had an avenue into my self talk as he seemed to always have the right words when I needed them.

Mr. Carr, on the other hand, did just the opposite. He pushed and pushed and pushed, never letting me get away with anything. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it to the point of disliking him as a teacher. Today, I realize that I can trace some of my competitiveness and perseverance to his influence. I am saddened that I have not taken the initiative yet to let them know this.

I didn’t have the same experiences at Auburn High School. I did ok, but know that I could have done better and participated much more. I believe that it would have been different if I had these two teachers pushing and supporting me. THANK YOU!

Yes, even in today's high stakes world teachers do this every day.  What we need to discover is how to ensure that every young person has these experiences multiple times in our classrooms.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Impact of National Board Certified Teachers . . .

The title of this article, “What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers”, from the center on reinventing public education recently caught my eye and has been sitting in my blog folder. It shares results of a study to determine if the goals of the program have been met. The study comes on the heels of the state’s budget crisis that may result in suspending the bonuses for this certification.

  • To reward strong teachers across the state
  • To encourage them to teach in high poverty schools.
A review of the research reveals mixed results with one consistent finding; the effect of NBCTs on low performing students is more consistently positive. It also reveals, however, that board certified teachers on average get the same student outcomes after receiving certification as before suggesting that the process itself does not improve their effectiveness.

Another finding of the study relates to the second goal of increasing the number of NBCTs in high poverty schools. In the four years since the bonus for teaching in a high poverty school was implemented, less than 1% have switched each year to a challenging school. In the same period there was actually a net loss of NBCTs in these schools as 23 switched to challenging schools while 27 moved from challenging to non-challenging. The following two implications were identified by the authors based on the data from the research.
  • The legislation has been ineffective at encouraging NBCTs to migrate to challenging schools, and NBCT bonuses have not improved teacher retention at challenging schools compared to all continuing teachers statewide.

  • Local public and private money spent to boost candidates’ pass rates in turn affects the flow of state funding, to the advantage of districts that can subsidize teachers in their certification process. If the goal is to reward outstanding teaching statewide, then the influence of local spending on state bonus payments might be cause for concern.
You can find additional information on the study here. Our population of NBCTs has grown over this period of time and I am not aware of how many, if any, have left our district for another. Though there was a study prior to the 2007 legislation that gave lawmakers the belief that offering the additional $5000 bonus to switch to challenging schools was an incentive, it has not happened. I am wondering if any of our teachers have given much thought to this switch and what it would take to make it, though it is not something that I want to happen. Given the current budget proposals and possible loss of all bonuses it may be an academic question, but still an important consideration as the legislature and governor make decisions on the future of the program.

The potential loss of the bonus due to the budget crisis in our state is unfortunate and certainly not something that these teachers anticipated as they made the commitment to work towards this certification.  I hope that the legislators and governor consider this as they make the difficult decisions necessary to balance the state's budget.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Students skyping . . .

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to visit the high school's Global Academy classroom as the students held a Skype conversation with the authors of Vapor Trails, a fictional book with a focus on the oil industry and sustainability.  One of the authors said the decision to write a fictional book was an attempt to reach a different audience than the normal demographic for a book on sustainability.  The book will now become a movie and there is a second book to follow.  I know I am getting a copy to read about an oil company executive who begins to struggle with the impact on the earth of his financial success.

The kids did a great job of asking the authors questions and the authors, R.P. Siegal and Roger Sallient, showed interest in the questions and shared their experience in writing the book and the message that they wanted to deliver.  I learned that the conversation was possible because two of the teachers, Clare Nance and Matt Tucker, met Roger two summers ago at the SOL Ed. conference in New York.  The book was being completed at the time and Matt maintained contact with Roger that resulted in this opportunity for our students.

This was a wonderful opportunity for students to interact directly with people making a difference in the world.  They learned things about their personal and professional lives, about writing, about making movies, about doing business in today's world, and about the impact of doing business on the world.  This was possible because of relationship and having a computer with internet access.  It was the kind of learning experience that is possible because of our focus on Classroom 10 and our focus on the environment.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A bond evening . . .

I have been sharing more of my experiences lately so my blog folder is getting thick with topics I would like to share, but I need to focus this post on this evening’s PTA bond meeting at Lake Wilderness Elementary. As we get closer to the vote, more and more questions are being asked as people decide how to vote. Having these opportunities to share the need and describe our experience is critical. Unfortunately, the turnout for this and others is not large considering we have over 24,000 voters in our school district. Tonight’s turnout of around 80 was good compared to many in the past, but it thousands more need the information to make an informed vote.

Many thanks to the PTAs for hosting this event and Tanya Donahue for being the point person, facilitating the evening, and sharing her experience as a student in a year round, multi-track school system. Once again, community members Sean Stewart and Jim Hutchinson did a great job of sharing their thinking on the importance of the bond measure and answering questions. They were followed by two high school seniors, Emily Pierre and Josh Tavener, who did an incredible job of sharing their experiences in our system and on the importance of voting.

We have learned that one of the messages that is going around the community is telling people to vote NO this time because we have included more than we need. By voting NO the board will then come back with a smaller bond package. As I suggested this evening, that may not be the case. There are four major projects on this bond measure that add up to $115 million of the total $125 million. I struggle to see how the board would eliminate one or more of them. The projects are designed to create new seats and replace portable seats by building a new elementary, replacing Lake Wilderness Elementary, and adding on to both the junior and senior high. We don’t have space for the projected enrollment increases without new seats.

Another of the messages we are receiving refers to the auditorium at the high school as not necessary and a frill. This mental model has been in place for many years and two previous bond measures that failed have reinforced this mental model for many. As we know, mental models are difficult to influence and this one seems to be particularly difficult. The auditorium is a part of any comprehensive high school in this area and across this state. We do not currently have a performance facility at our high school for our young people to showcase their talent as those that participate in sports and other activities can do. It is a facility that will meet academic, performance, and community needs.

What concerns are you hearing and/or have that need to be answered as you make a decision on this critical system need? What questions can you answer with factual information? We need all the help that we can get to distribute the information into the hands of the voters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning together . . .

Today was another learning opportunity with our teacher leadership teams. We have teams from five buildings, special services, and the Teaching and Learning Department participating in these meetings. The focus for today was continuing to create common understanding and shared meaning around the Classroom 10 characteristic of key content and checks for understanding. The teams reviewed the working document and provided the T&L Department with feedback as we continue to increase clarity around this important characteristic. Below, is the document that was shared today.

A second focus for the morning learning was around the importance of language and its influence on culture, with a focus on moving from a community of complaint to a community of commitment. This work is intended to support leaders in facilitating conversations at the team and building level when stakes are high and emotions are strong. These are difficult conversations to sustain and too often end without bringing closure to the issue in ways that sustain over time. This is partly because we tend to focus on results and actions without getting lower in the results pyramid to the belief and experience components that drives our behavior.

We also introduced a new concept from a book called Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe called interpersonal mush. This is the situation created when we make up stories about one another without checking them for accuracy. As people, we have a deep need to make sense of ourselves and others including those we work with. The stories are made up to fill in the gaps about other people’s experience. How accurate they are is dependent on the quality of the person’s observations and the willingness of those being observed to share their experience. The mush then becomes our truth that influences our future behavior. It is similar to our learning about mental models and ladders of inference, but I believe in language more easily understood.

We ended the morning by introducing from the same book the Experience Cube, a strategy to limit interpersonal mush and increase interpersonal clarity. We learned the importance of sharing these components of our story and encouraging others to do the same.  Learning and doing I have learned are not the same.  This change will not be easily implemented and will require knowledge and support to become part of a team's, building's, and system's culture.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An inspiration . . .

There was a pep assembly Friday afternoon at the high school with the first order of business honoring our Special Olympics Senior basketball team.  They are the State Champions and will have their banner on the wall for all those who visit the gym to see.  The team presented Athletic Director Tony Davis with the banner for mounting.  They join some elite company as there are not many state championship banners on display.

The team was called to the floor and received a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute.  It was truly a goose bump experience, an inspiration, and a reflection on the culture at the high school.  I would say it was a ONE SCHOOL moment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Importance of partnerships . . .

Yesterday was a great day that reinforced for me the importance of partnerships. It started in the morning at the high school where I helped serve breakfast for students taking the HSPE. Hundreds of kids showed up for this second day and I am told it was the same this morning. We need to give many thanks to the high school PTA and to Kim Walley’s leadership for supporting our kids as they prepared for these days of testing. In the picture below are Kim, her daughter Jordan, chef Keith Corsack, and Lorri Owens.

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to share information on the bond measure with the Chamber of Commerce at their monthly luncheon. This organization stepped forward four years ago to support our technology levy campaign and has been there ever since. They were one of the first to endorse the bond measure and Executive Director Sue Van Ruff and President Karen Crowe have been a visible support in the community. Local businesses are also there supporting the needs of individual students and school organizations and clubs on an on-going basis.

The evening concluded with the 4th annual Classified Appreciation Dinner. Once again I found myself serving food and thoroughly enjoying the evening. We are blessed with a quality workforce that cares about our work and provides the supports necessary for success in our classrooms. Too often, their work goes unnoticed and under appreciated. For at least one day, last night was an opportunity to change that. It was fun and rewarding, heck I even shared a little about myself.

We were honored to have Superintendent Dorn at the dinner.  He had very nice things to say about our system and the culture that we have created.

So, in one day the importance of partnerships was reinforced for me in three separate activities. It carried over to this morning when twelve of us attended the Community Center’s annual fund raising breakfast, once again demonstrating the importance of partnerships and mutual support. I guess the only down side of the last 26 hours was all the eating I did, hard on a rather soft midsection. But, it didn’t keep me from eating lunch. Oh, well!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Great news . . .

This evening the Maple Valley City Council on a 6 to 0 vote passed a resolution in support of our bond measure.  In the public hearing that preceded the vote a number of people spoke in favor of the bond and urged the council to support it. 

The first speaker was a Rock Creek fourth grade student, Eliza Stramer, who shared her concern about class sizes.  She effectively communicated her concern and contributed to the community conversation with her presence.  She was followed by TEA President Scott Mitchell, Chamber President Karen Crowe, Sean Stewart father of two Tahoma students and school supporter, our own Sean Kelly a Tahoma graduate, and Cheryl Castagna long time resident and school supporter.

Tom Sutton, one of my former students also spoke this evening.  Tom is a resident of Kent, owns a business in Maple Valley, and is a Rotarian and long time community contributor.  He spoke this evening as a Tahoma graduate and supporter of our schools. 

Perhaps the most convincing speaker was a mother of three students who shared her experience searching for a school system to enroll them in.  She shared that she home schooled her daughters until this year when she made a decision to enroll them in a public school.  She did extensive research and made the decision that Tahoma was the place for their family.  She also shared that if the bond were to fail and impact the quality of current offerings, it would place her in the position of needing to rethink their decision, something she does not want to do.  Endorsements such as this evening from the city is a positive step in demonstrating to the voter the broad support that this measure is receiving.

Legislative visit . . .

Today, we had a coalition of school and community groups meet with legislators to share our message about school district budgets.  We represented PTA, PSE, TEA, school board, principals, and Central office staff, ten in all.  Legislators continually tell us we are the only school community that visits them with a common message from representing this many organizations.

Our message was focused on our concerns with budget cuts and the need for the legislature to prioritize basic education in these difficult economic times.  We expect cuts, but have expressed our concerns with cuts that will go further than what we have experienced in the supplemental budget.  Unfortunately, we learned today that Thursday's revenue forecast will again show a decrease of between $.5 and $2 billion.  This is on top of the billions already cut and with a no tax commitment it will need to be made up with even deeper budget cuts.  The message was that public schools will not be immune from these cuts.  Just how deep they go may depend upon the message that individual legislators receive from their constituents.  Our legislators need to hear from us as they struggle with the difficult decisions that they face.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kicking off . . .

Last Thursday we had the Rally in the Valley to officially begin the Voice of Tahoma Education (VOTE) kick off for the bond measure. Many thanks go to board members Tami Henkel and Didem Pierson and to Chamber Executive Director Sue Van Ruff for planning and coordinating this event. It was a wonderful evening of information and fun with performances from students in choir and band, the drum line, our competitive cheer program, and the community orchestra. We even had a visit from the robot that will soon be in competition with our high school team behind the controls.

Many community members took part with Brett Habenicht and Denny Pierre doing an incredible job as co-MCs of balancing serious information sharing with fun and laughter. Speakers included Sue Van Ruff and Karen Crowe representing the Chamber of Commerce, Scott Serpa from the Soccer association, Elisa Lewis for the arts, Gary Habenicht and Jim Flynn sharing their experience in monitoring expenditures from the 1997 bond, the Mayor of Maple Valley Noel Gerken, our own Rob Morrow with potential delivery models without a successful bond measure, and an impromptu sharing by Jennifer Gosnell and Allison Agnew for an opportunity to take and make posters that they created for use in the community.

In the background we had Steve Bodwell working with students in setting up and supporting the speakers with slides and videos coordinated by Rick Haag and his students. Crystal Hess and her students set up computers for those that wanted additional information or possibly needed to register. As usual our PR guy, Kevin Patterson, was assisting where asked and capturing the moment. Thanks also go to Terry Duty for his support in preparing for this opportunity at the high school. All-in-all it was a good mix of students, staff, and community members coming together to learn and share with others the importance of this bond measure to continue our journey.

Perhaps the star of the evening was Steve Sogura performing as Elvis. He shared three songs and definitely got the evening off to a rousing start. I know the sacrifice that he made to be a part of this evening and I truly appreciate it. It was another example of why I am so proud to be a part of the Tahoma community.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Again, that class size thing . . .

In the March 8th Seattle Times, Danny Westneat had an interesting column on class size titled, Bill Gates, have I got a deal for you! The column is a response to Gates presentation at the National Governors Association’s 2011 winter conference.

In his presentation, Gates called for increased class sizes for a school’s most effective teachers and fewer kids for less effective teachers who will then receive professional development. The most effective would also receive additional compensation. The net result would be saving money as there would be a decrease in the number of teachers needed to meet class size requirements. In many states class size requirements are determined at the state level through legislative action not as we do in Washington through bargaining at the local level. In this New York Times article we see how the current economy is forcing states to change these limits.

Now to the Westneat article. He takes exception to the use of the Gates Foundation research to support the recommendation to increase class size and that teachers would be happy with more students for more pay.

I looked up that study, done at the UW in 2008, and what it actually says is teachers prefer a $5,000 pay boost to having two fewer students. They weren't ever asked about more students.

In an amusing way he then proposes an experiment with class size in his 8-year-old child’s school and the private school attended by Gates 8-year-old.

Bill, here's an experiment. You and I both have an 8-year-old. Let's take your school and double its class sizes, from 16 to 32. We'll use the extra money generated by that — a whopping $400,000 more per year per classroom — to halve the class sizes, from 32 to 16, at my public high school, Garfield.

In 2020, when our kids are graduating, we'll compare what effect it all had. On student achievement. On teaching quality. On morale. Or that best thing of all, the "environment that promotes relationships between teachers and students."

An interesting proposal with, as Westneat notes, no chance of being accepted. The argument over class size has been ongoing and problematic as you can find research to support your position, whatever that might be. In this New York Times article I learned more about the Tennessee study done in the 1980’s that I have used at times to suggest if we can’t reduce it to 13to 17 students we will not see significant change in achievement results. The study was the result of a seventh grade teacher persuading the Tennessee legislature to finance a study comparing class sizes.

In the 1980s, Ms. Bain persuaded Tennessee lawmakers to finance a study comparing classes of 13 to 17 students in kindergarten through third grade with classes of 22 to 25 students. The smaller classes significantly outscored the larger classes on achievement tests.

On the other hand, how can you disagree with what this North Carolina teacher said in the same article, something repeated many times over by teachers much closer to home.

“They say it doesn’t affect whether kids get what they need, but I completely disagree,” Ms. Maher said. “If you’ve gained five kids, that’s five more papers to grade, five more kids who need makeup work if they’re absent, five more parents to contact, five more e-mails to answer. It gets overwhelming.”

Changes are coming to school systems in our state with the legislative cuts this year to K-4 staffing ratios and the same proposed cuts in the budget currently being developed for the following two years. This amounts to about 12 teaching positions in our school district. So, class sizes will go up across the country including in the state of Washington because of the current economic situation and not because of research findings. At some point we need to say enough. Yes, we must be held to high standards and yes, we must prepare young people for post high school success in learning and work. But, cutting revenue and increasing class size is not going to support this work or achieve these results.

If you have time and want to peruse some other responses to the proposal put forth by Gates in this Washington Post op-ed piece, check out this post from Larry Ferlazzo. Please know that Ferlazzo is not a Gates supporter.

So close, but . . .

I'm a little late with this post, but in case you didn't hear about it, the Snoqualmie bond election is now official. The recount found two more yes votes, but it wasn’t enough. Needing 60% is a huge task in today’s economic environment and for districts like us and Snoqualmie it has proved to be true even in better times. More details on the election can be found at SnoValleyStar.

One puzzling thing is the 25 ballots returned left blank. How many of those might have been yes. 59.997% yes, whatever happened to rounding?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Classroom 10 clarity . . .

This morning we had our monthly Teaching and Learning opportunity with principals, central office staff, and teacher representatives. Our task was to continue our work at bringing clarity to the Classroom 10 characteristic of key content and checks for understanding. Working collaboratively, teachers and administrators identified descriptors for each of the key content and check for understanding best practices that are identified in the research. A copy of the document we worked from can be found here. The information generated today will be used by the Teaching and Learning Department to develop materials for supporting teacher implementation of this characteristic.

We were also able to visit classrooms using an observation tool that was designed to focus on this characteristic and the strategies used by these teachers. The data from the observations supported our conversations and added to the work on bringing clarity and a deeper understanding of this characteristic. THANK YOU to these teachers for opening up their classrooms to support this work.

The leadership work this morning and in our Teacher Leadership strand are critical components of our Classroom 10 journey. Leadership does matter as discussed in this Hechinger report. There is a growing body of evidence that the quality of a building’s leadership does have an influence on student achievement especially when combined with the teacher effect.

A 2009 study by New Leaders for New Schools found that more than half of a school’s impact on student gains can be attributed to both principal and teacher effectiveness – with principals accounting for 25 percent and teachers 33 percent of the effect.

We will continue our work with principals to create leadership teams where the leadership functions are distributed across multiple people and where we develop the capacity for individuals to support and influence the work of their colleagues.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A civics lesson . . .

Vote Ring by Renee Francis

One need look no further away for a lesson on the importance of voting than our neighbors in the Snoqualmie Valley School District.  A February 8th bond election failed to meet the 60% requirement with a 59.99% yes vote.  Basically, if one of the no votes had been yes it would have made the super majority requirement.  Or, if two or three potential yes voters who forgot to vote or didn't think they needed to had returned their ballots in it would have passed.

Members of the community came forward to pay for a hand recount last Thursday with an announcement by the canvassing board expected on Friday.  That timeline was not met as we see from this announcement on the district's web site that there are still three ballots in question.  The board is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday with no date set for their decision.  We can only hope that the results are favorable for our friends in Snoqualmie.  We have a great working relationship with them in multiple areas such as the Center for Collaborative Support and wish them well as they wait for this critical decision.

As we approach our April bond measure we must keep this result in front of us; every potential vote does matter.  For us, this is especially true for our parents where in last spring's election only about 2500 of the registered 6000 parent voters submitted a ballot.  There are also about 3000 additional parents who are not registered, but can still make the timeline for registering for this important election.

As I think about the Snoqualmie election and the study that will follow this close vote, I wouldn't want to be the staff member who forgot to vote.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

An unplanned milestone . . .

I'm going to celebrate an accomplishment of reaching a number that was not a goal or something I gave much thought to over the last 3+ years.  What is it?  Yesterday's guest post by Nancy was post number 500 for Seeking Shared Learning.  When I started this it was to learn about a new technology for me and to model for staff.  I never thought that I would sustain over this period of time or reach this number.

My first post was sharing a book and an article.  I got my first comment on that post from Kimberly encouraging me to continue and sharing how what I said could inform her thinking.  I have found that comments are like energy pills for me, far more important than the number of hits.  Comments suggest that someone is interested in what I am saying enough to take the time to craft a response.  Thanks Kimberly for that first one and the continuing encouragement from you and others like Ethan who challenge me.

Before closing I'll share another book that is influencing my thinking and behavior, Change the Culture Change the Game by the authors of The Oz Principle.   This book is about the importance of creating a culture of accountability and it's influence on the success of any change initiative. The focus is on creating alignment with what they call the Results Pyramid, a focus on results, actions, beliefs, and experiences. 

It is not all new learning for me as much of it is similar to my work with systems thinking and other leadership work.  The words they use and the way they package it, however, makes sense and will be easier to use in our leadership work than some of the models from earlier learning.  For example, they talk about mental models and ladders of inference, but with different terms that are more easily understood.  I will not stop using the current language because they have become a part of our culture, but I will incorporate new ways of explaining how people embrace change such as below.
  •  Experiences foster beliefs - beliefs influence actions - actions produce results
If we don't focus on all of these factors, our Classroom 10 initiative will not be successful and sustain over time.  Too often in work that requires us to embrace new ways of working we do not create the opportunities necessary for  reflection on beliefs and the experiences that have produced these beliefs.  Expecting others to embrace the change and make a commitment to work differently without this focus and reflection results in pockets of implementation.  We have experienced this in our system where not all teachers commit to, implement, and sustain a new practice.  Including the components of the results pyramid in our work has the potential to change these results. 

Enough for now.  Once again thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A guest post . . .

As promised last week, today's post is from Nancy Skerritt who will share with us an update on two Classroom 10 characteristics; key content and checks for understanding. 

Nancy is a gifted educator and someone for whom I have the utmost respect and appreciation.  I am continually amazed at her ability to visually represent complex topics, at her capacity to create quality documents, at her adult teaching skills, and her commitment to our Classroom 10 journey.  She has influenced my thinking and my beliefs and I am a better person and educator because of the opportunity I have had to work with her.  Her summary is below.

Key Content is foundational to our implementation of Classroom 10. We define key content as both the what and the how of teaching. In Tahoma, both state and district standards define teaching expectations. Simply put, key content includes the Essential Academic Learning Requirements from the state along with our district commitment to teaching 21st century skills. These include thinking skills, Habits of Mind and the Tahoma School District Outcomes and Indicators. We are committed to our state and district standards and we capture these standards in our documented curriculum.

Some subject areas are still without a documented curriculum. However, teachers are guided by state and district standards in choosing what they will teach on a day to day basis. With or without a documented curriculum, all teachers can implement best instructional strategies when teaching the key content in a lesson or unit. Our focus for professional development around key content will emphasize the how of teaching and we will be guided by research based best instructional practices.

Key Content includes both a focus on the lesson learning goal and on checking for understanding. Research tells us that to be effective in teaching the learning goal, the teacher should use the following practices:
• Communicate the learning goal both verbally and visually
• Connect the lesson goal to the unit goal, prior learning, and/or life experience
• Revisit the learning goal periodically throughout the lesson
• Summarize the lesson goal at the closure of the lesson and invite students to reflect on their learning.

Best practices for Checking for Understanding include the following:
• Incorporating planned and unplanned strategies to check for understanding during instruction
• Selecting from a variety of strategies to check for understanding
• Using effective, well crafted questions during instruction to check for understanding or key content
• Using the information gathered from the checks for understanding to inform instruction
• Checking for student understanding of the lesson goals at the closure of the lesson

What’s exciting is that all of us can continue to grow in our instructional practice regardless of whether or not we have a documented curriculum. We can learn from each other how to expand our repertoire of strategies, create professional development experiences, and share as members of a professional learning community through observations and video labs. At our next leadership meeting, we will bring more clarity to the best practices list, including identifying ways to communicate learning goals visually, strategies for summarizing the lesson goal and a variety of ways to check for understanding. Products created by our teachers and administrators at the Teaching and Learning Leadership meeting will be shared with all teachers for feedback and revision. Tools will be tested and refined prior to broad scale use.

Classroom 10 represents a belief in preparing our students for living and working in the 21st century. Foundational to quality teaching and learning is identifying and communicating key content that includes both state and district standards. We know the what of key content. Now we need to support each other in becoming more skilled at the how.

Nancy Skerritt
Teaching and Learning

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wisconsin is telling us what?

Photo from CNN.

I don’t know if you are following the happenings in Wisconsin, but I do on blogs and in the news. One that came out last week is from Diane Ravitch in a special to CNN. Ravitch authored the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010). She was originally a supporter of NCLB and the testing movement, but has grown disillusioned with the movement and done an about face as demonstrated in the book. In this CNN article she shares her thoughts on the happenings in Wisconsin. I agree with much of what she shares and once again want to highlight what is becoming more and more apparent not only in Wisconsin.

The real story in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members' hard-won rights. It is about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession.

In this piece she links to an interesting article by Sam Chaltain, “Reinvent Unions: don’t gut them.” Once again, we see the need to stop the blame and focus on how to move forward by working collaboratively. We should not have to totally dismantle the existing system to do this.

The solutions will come when we stop demonizing the teaching profession as a monolith of self-interested adults who don't care about children. And they will come when we remember that, at our core, we are a nation founded on the revolutionary notion that the power rests in the hands of the governed and not the government.

In a follow-up piece, Ravitch shares the response to her opinion piece that received 8000 comments and over 38,000 Facebook shares. Most were comments from teachers who appreciated her stance and support, but about one in ten were from dissenters such as this one.

But about one of every 10 that I received came from dissenters complaining that teachers have an easy life, that their benefits are too generous, and that unions are selfish and greedy. A few were venomous and suggested anatomically impossible feats. One writer insulted teachers with this: "The majority of them have degrees in education, which are basically paths to baccalaureate degrees for people too stupid to get through degree programs in math, science, engineering, or even business."

I find it interesting that much of what we see written comes from the business sections of major newspapers such as this piece in the Washington Times and this one in the Washington Post. It has become a fight over power that began as a focus on a budget deficit and it resonated in the room for me this morning when our principals met with a group of TEA representatives to hear from Scott Poirier on SB 6696, the revamping of teacher and principal evaluation in our state. I’ll take up this topic in a later post.  For now, I think it is time to focus on what we can do to create and sustain cultures that support every teacher in providing quality learning, every day, in every classroom, for every child.  I don't think this process will be successful with a process built on a foundation of teacher bashing, or merit pay, or competitive grants, or . . .