Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Motivating the unmotivated learner . . .

As we start a new year, this is a timely post by Larry Felazzo on ways to motivate the unmotivated learner.  He shares responses to the question from Daniel Pink and Dan Ariely, two researchers and authors doing work in this field.  There are no silver bullets, but there are some strategies and insights that are good to keep in mind because these students are in most classrooms.

Pink focuses on the importance of why and bringing relevance to the learning for the student, something that we are focused on with our key content goal.  Ariely talks about the "Ikea Effect" - people valuing something more because of the labor they invested into creating it.  There is a short video by Ariely where he shares some of what he has found to be helpful in his research with examples for teachers.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A big week . . .

This is an important week as teachers "officially" return to prepare for the new year.  Yes, most have already started this process, but this is the week when principals and leadership teams have the opportunity to share their message and establish a focus for the year.  The message this year will include, in part, the system focus on Classroom 10.  We struggled last year with this goal, but with support from principals and teacher leaders we now have a goal that is focused with support structures in place.  It is a two year goal with the potential to influence learning in all district classrooms.

As we start the year, we will immediately feel the influence of the budget cuts on our work.  The furlough agreement we reached with TEA resulted in a loss of time that was traditionally used in August to prepare for the coming year.  I know from conversations with principals that they are concerned with losing these opportunities, but understand and agree with the decision.  We can only hope that the loss of salary and time will be replaced in the next biennial budget.  In the short term,we are waiting anxiously for the September revenue forecasts and hoping that they will not result in additional cuts to a budget that starts September 1st.

As the week unfolds I will be interested in your thoughts about our goal.  Please feel comfortable to share with me as I will be in buildings or respond with a comment to this or future posts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One last word . . .

Two comments and a post by Jay Mathews at Class Struggle bring me back to my posts on the question from the PDK/Gallup Poll on American Education focused whether teachers are born or made.  In the poll 70% of the respondents said natural talent and 28% said college training.  In his post Mathews shares the response from Michael Milone a research psychologist to both the quality of the question and to the responses.

“First of all, they should never have included the question because it is completely absurd. Second, how can that many Americans be that stupid. (Oh, wait, never mind.) If just about any other profession other than teacher had been substituted, the answer would have gone the other way. What I find so annoying is that by including the question, they have validated the mistaken opinion (think attributional error) that there is no special training needed to become a teacher, and that people are born to it. Given that the majority of human behaviors, particularly those that are intentional, are shaped by life circumstances, education, and experiences, the notion of ‘natural talent’ for teaching is akin to associating intelligence with race or flatness to Earth.”

I find myself leaning more towards the training side though I understand that there is a balance and a necessary predisposition to want to work with young people.  Good teaching is far too complex and requires knowledge and experiences that do not come from natural talent.   Yes, we "talk" about the natural born teacher that intuitively does things that others find difficult to understand and do.  But, is it intuitive or did it come from a combination of experience, learning, and reinforcement in the classroom that results in this capacity?  I don't discount the necessary dispositions nor promote the traditional college experience as the only way to become a quality teacher.  The comment from Msetliff to my previous post uses the following words to identify these dispositions.

There are some traits, characteristics, etc., that are inherent such as personality, presence, passion for a subject, "a way" with kids, an ability to inspire that probably cannot be gained from a teacher prep program.

The comment also includes a suggestion for an apprenticeship model to support the learning process.  Having options and being able to differentiate is currently what is emerging in the field, causing some concern for teacher unions and college preparation programs.  Apprenticeship would provide districts like ours with the opportunity to share our beliefs and influence the instructional practices that we identify as components of Classroom 10.

Apprenticeship would be a lovely addition to our profession. Two years would be nice; five might be better, depending on the apprentice. Notice that we aren't differentiating in the world of teacher education based on the prior knowledge and skills of the apprentice teacher. Budding teachers who possess the basic essentials could be exposed to the best practitioners in big doses.

In response to his rant about the quality of the question Milone received this response from William Bushaw of PDK that the question is of poor quality and will not be used again.

“Every poll I’ve worked on, we have identified at least one question that at the time seemed like a good idea, but then did not end up being a particularly good question. This certainly qualifies as one of those questions. It will not be used again as long as I am the poll’s co-director.

“Fortunately for our readers, or in this case, maybe unfortunately, we promise to report the results of every question we ask. That keeps us from holding back on questions for which we don’t like the responses, which we believe would be unethical.

“Thanks for your e-mail, and as you can tell, we agree with you. The question was not well conceived.”


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An updated Mindset . . .

Last August I did a post on the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014 a reminder for professors of the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of incoming freshman.  The Mindset for the Class of 2015 is now available and once again there are many on the list of 75 that remind me of how old I am.

12. Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
13. Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you're talking about LeBron James.
23. There has never been an official Communist Party in Russia.
29. Arnold Palmer has always been a drink.
42. Electric cars have always been humming in relative silence on the road.
56. They've always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe: Michael who?

I didn't list some that I don't even understand, that would be too embarrassing.  Though the list can be amusing, it is a reminder of the gap between my life experiences and those entering college this year.  We have the same or, perhaps even a larger gap, for many of us with those entering Kindergarten this year.  It is a reminder of the importance of making learning relevant for the student given their experience and future learning needs.  Making it relevant for me with my life experience and for others in our system might look and sound quite different than what we must do for our students.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Still pushing for comments . . .

Once again, thanks to Scott for sharing his thinking about the issue of whether teaching is more about natural talent, college training, or some combination of these.  You can find his comment here.  Though he believes that it is both, he leans more toward it being natural talent.  How about some of the other 56 readers of this blog, what are your thoughts?  Does it take a natural inclination to be an effective teacher or can one "learn" everything necessary in college? 

He also shared his thoughts about NEA's concerns with Teach for America and the concern that these teachers are taking jobs that could be going to teachers that have come through a traditional teacher training program.  In case you are not familiar with TFA, it is a program designed to identify and recruit bright college graduates to become leaders in schools with high levels of poverty.  They receive intensive on-the-job training in exchange for a two year commitment to work in a low income community.  From their webpage:

We recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.

This year I believe that there are teachers in Seattle from this program and also in Federal Way. The program is one cited by reformers as having a positive influence on learning for thousands of young people. So, if nature is more important than the college learning experience wouldn't we expect good teachers to come from this program as well as traditional programs?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Are teachers born or . . .

Scott posted a comment on my last post where he shared some further information from the PDK/Gallup Poll of Public Attitudes Toward Public Education.  I agree with him that there is some interesting information in the results.  I wonder if Secretary Duncan is reviewing them?  Some of the responses, such as attitudes toward charters and against the republican governors are supportive of his positions.  Others, however, related to the attitudes towards teachers and dismissing them are not as aligned with his policies.

I am still interested in hearing about your thoughts related to the question I included in the previous post and that I will again share below.

TABLE 4. In your opinion, is the ability to teach or instruct students more the result of natural talent or more the result of college training about how to teach?

Natural talent 70%
College training 28%
Don’t know/refused 3%

So, are teachers born, developed through learning at the college level, some combination, or perhaps through some other process?  Does the quality of the teaching matter?  If it is through natural talent then why do the major teacher unions have a problem with teachers that are in school systems through the Teach for America program? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Positive teacher news . . .

The annual PDK/Gallup poll on education has been released. They have conducted the same poll since 1969. As one might guess, some of the data is similar to the past such as the percentage of respondents giving their local schools an A or B is fifty-one percent, but only seventeen percent would give public schools across the nation an A or B. This is the our local schools are great, but America’s schools are poor phenomena. This may be influenced by the answer to the question about whether the respondents hear more good stories or bad stories about teachers in the news. Sixty-eight percent responded bad news and twenty-nine percent good news. This would certainly align with my thinking and since most of the stories come from other systems they must not be as good as mine.

The data on teachers is positive with seventy-one percent having trust and confidence in those teaching children in the public schools. It is mixed for teacher unions with forty-seven percent saying that teacher unions have hurt the quality of education in the United States. When respondents, however, are asked who they agree with in states where teacher unions are fighting with governors over bargaining rights and budgets, fifty-two percent side with teachers and forty-four percent with governors.

There are many more questions on a range of topics that you might find interesting. The results can be found in table form here. One question that I found interesting is the one below.

TABLE 4. In your opinion, is the ability to teach or instruct students more the result of natural talent or more the result of college training about how to

Natural talent 70%
College training 28%
Don’t know/refused 3%

How would you have answered this question?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One home project down and a work challenge to face . . .

Well, I was able to reclaim the garage after many years of using it as a storage shed.  Multiple trips to the dump and an investment in some storage containers leaves me with one completely empty bay and most of the second free from clutter.  All I have left is moving out the old freezer and replacing it with a smaller, more efficient new one.  Feels good to have that behind me.

I went back to the office today and had an ad hoc housing committee meeting this evening.  This is the group the board appointed to provide them with options for both short and long term housing options.  We have met multiple times and thus far have identified options for short term housing if we are not able to pass a bond measure before reaching identified capacities.  At the next meeting, staff will provide the committee with information on the pros and cons of the options to assist them in identifying those for recommendation to the board.

The committee is made up of 20+ community members all of whom care deeply for our school system.  Some have worked on previous committees and for others this is their first experience with a district committee.  They are passionate and want a bond measure that meets our needs and will be supported by the voters.  Though strategy and marketing are not the task of the group, it has been very difficult to get them to suspend their assumptions and focus first on finding options for the board's consideration.  The conversations always come back to what impact will it have on the voters.   My experience is reinforcing for me the power of mental models and ladders in influencing our behavior.  I am learning that my facilitation capacity needs to increase to support the group in completing their task.

Next meeting we will also begin to focus specifically on bond measure options that preserve the essence of who we are, but that may include changes to how we house students in grade level groupings.  They will review the work of the previous committee and also consider new configurations and priorities.   I am excited to see what they come up with.  They are a group of bright, caring people with the capacity to find creative options not yet considered.  I challenged them to provide options that make it difficult for the board to decide.  I need to identify strategies that result in them suspending assumptions, valuing the diversity of experiences and beliefs in the room, and being open to being influenced by their fellow committee members.  Easy to say, difficult to accomplish.  I have some work to do to meet this challenge.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Disturbing budget news . . .

In two weeks the board will be asked to approve the 2011-12 annual budget. In a normal year we would have been ready with a recommendation earlier, but this was not a normal year. The legislature went into an extra long session and made cuts that required us to meet with bargaining units. The process was further complicated because of a change to the budget and personnel software system we use.

The good news is that we have a proposed budget that uses some fund balance, but still should keep us in the 3% range. We were able to do this without needing to make significant cuts to staff or programs. We were conservative in our enrollment and other estimates so we should be ok for the year.

Now for the bad news. The economic forecast coming out in September is expected to have lower than projected revenues. In this Times article we learn that the governor may need to call another special session and has alerted state agencies to prepare for additional cuts. So, we may pass a budget in August that will, like last year, receive less state revenue than expected. We are hearing that this could be in the $100 per student range, a number that we would not likely be able to make up without adjustments or a significant drain on the projected reserve.

I don't see how they will be able to cut that much without dipping into basic education that would more than likely result in more law suits and negative energy drain. The state must find a way to provide for a STABLE basic education budget. The high expectations for student achievement must be balanced by high support from the state and federal level. Cuts to our state revenue after budgets have been developed for two straight years is not what I would call high support. Our local community is doing their share, it is time for the state to step forward and meet it's constitutional obligation to make education it's paramount duty.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taking some time away . . .

I'm taking a few days off and I'm not sure how much blogging I will be doing. I started my time off by spending 8 hours trying to reclaim my garage. The truck is full of garbage and I'll have at least one more load. My body is definitely talking back to me tonight. I think I'm getting too old for this manual labor. After the garbage dump tomorrow I have weed eating and mowing to consume the rest of the day. I'll need to get back to work to rest my body.

Yesterday, we finished the leadership retreat with about 50 administrators and teachers coming
together to continue our Classroom 10 journey. Our focus was on our key content and check for understanding goal. We reviewed the importance of vision and the mental models and skills we have introduced in our leadership institutes. To assist in planning for August inservice we also shared the new and exciting resources that T&L staff are creating and a planning tool that we believe will assist planning teams as they identify a focus for the year.

I'm excited about the goal that we have created with a focus on instruction. It means I will be in more classrooms supporting principals and teacher leaders as they create the high support necessary to balance the high demand of this goal. It is also the start of a new focus for teacher leaders, one that requires them to create deep understandings of Classroom 10 instruction and to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to support others in this change initiative. I'll share more details on this teacher leader focus in a future blog.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Flexing their muscles . . .

The President and Secretary Duncan have taken another step towards dropping the major provision of NCLB; ALL students meeting standard in reading and math by 2014. Today, they announced that the Secretary will unilaterally override this accountability measure. The rationale for the unprecedented move is the lack of progress in Congress on reauthorization of ESEA.

Though we still don’t know all the specifics of the waiver process, in this Education Week article we learn that the waiver requests will be available in September and that the applications will undergo a peer review process by people outside the department. This means that states granted a waiver can reset the bar for acceptable growth and push the NCLB sanctions further into the future.

We know that the waivers will only be granted to states that agree to adopting college or career-ready standards, propose their own accountability systems, and include teacher evaluation systems that use student growth on state tests as a component of rating teachers. This sounds a lot like the criteria used to evaluate Race to the Top grants and another tactic to push states into accepting the Common Core.

Though the waiver opportunity will be viewed as positive by states, there are those in Congress that are not pleased. Republicans in the House wanting to see the federal role in education reduced will not support the move and Representative Kline, House Education Committee chair, is already on notice as opposed to the waiver process. The potential for a lawsuit is possible as some believe that the Secretary has the power to grant waivers, but not in return for implementing the changes wanted by the department. They see this as a way to legislate changes that have not been approved any elected body at the national level.

Time will tell who wins, and time will tell if our state makes a waiver request and if it will be accepted. We have accepted the Common Core and can make a case for a rigorous accountability system. Just like with RttT, however, the teacher evaluation system using achievement data is not in place. It will be interesting to follow this story. Receiving a waiver would remove many schools from the “failing” list and all them to move forward without being forced to choose one of the federal alternatives, something that would be welcome.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Survey reveals growing gap . . .

Here is a link to an executive summary of the fifth annual survey conducted by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and Education Next on education issues.  The complete results can be found here at Education Next.   You can take the survey and compare your answers here.

Basically, opinions of the public have changed little in the last year, but teacher opposition to many reforms has increased, placing them more at odds with views of the general public.  This could be a result of the problems teacher unions have faced in multiple states such as Wisconsin and the continuing public debate over charters, merit pay, and teacher quality.  An example of the growing gap between the opinions of teachers and the public can be seen in the chart below from this Education Next article.

Other questions focus on education issues like choosing between increasing teacher salary by $10,000 or reducing class size by three students, using student achievement data in teacher evaluation, testing practices, teacher accreditation, raising taxes to support schools, and knowledge of graduation rates nationally and locally.  It is interesting to review the results and see the differences.  The data is disaggregated using eight categories such as ethnicity, affluence, teacher, and parent.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just when you thought you heard everything . . .

About the Save Our Schools walk, from Free Technology for Teachers there is a link to a very short interview with Matt Damon after his speech.  He shows some emotion and I'm thinking it caught the interviewer and camera person by surprise.  Has been viewed about 1.5 million times already.
Still working on embedding video into my blog, but it is on the link above.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is it possible that . . .

If you are a teacher you will find Secretary Duncan’s comments about teacher pay that he made July 29th at a conference for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards very interesting. Would a starting salary of $60,000 and a top salary of $150,000 be an incentive for more people to consider our profession? Duncan seems to think so.

Like most things from the Education Department it comes with attachments including performance–based teacher accountability and a higher bar for students entering schools of education. He wants the best and the brightest to enter the profession.

"Top undergraduates will flock to a profession that demands high standards and credentials," he said.

It is a short article. What is worth the read are the comments from teachers and others not favorable to the Secretary such as this one.

I kinda thought that most people were drawn to the profession of teaching not because of its "high standards and credentials" but because of an intrinsic desire and need to help others. I certainly think more prestige would help attract more people.

What are your thoughts about what I consider a very remote possibility to increase salaries to this extent or on the direction of the Education Department?

Monday, August 1, 2011

A final post on the March . . .

Though I haven’t had any feedback on my posts about the Save Our Schools March on Washington D.C., I will share one final site to read about it at Education Week where we learn that the number of people attending is closer to 3000, not the 8000 I shared yesterday. The article also has some feedback from the Center for Education Reform, one of the groups not supportive of the coalition’s goals.

The movement has also been the subject of criticism, most notably from the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based advocacy group for charter schools and other forms of school choice. The center took issue with the SOS group’s call for additional federal money for schools but less prescriptive accountability and testing requirements.

The SOS coalition “advocates for the status quo, and reform to them is about money, control, and no high-stakes tests or accountability,” Jeanne Allen, the center’s president, said in a statement. “SOS is about deforming education, not reforming it. They put up the guise that this is for the families and students, but in truth, these groups want to restrict and remove any power parents have in their child’s education.”

I haven’t spent enough time looking closely at the details of the coalition’s goals though I do know that both of the nation’s major teacher unions have been supportive of the effort. Even with the criticism, however, I agree with the need to examine the role of high stake tests and that we need to move the debate from those “bad teachers” and how do we get rid of them to what we can do to support the cultural changes necessary to create learning environments where all students experience success over time.

You can read more on the march than you probably have time for at Larry Ferlazzo's best posts on the subject here.   Over on Alexander Russo's site is a link to an amusing video message from Jon Stewart to the marchers.

Also, as I asked yesterday, please know that I would appreciate any help on embedding a video into my posts. I have another one (like the Stewart video) that I would like to share and not just provide the link. Thanks for helping.