Sunday, December 30, 2012

Last week, I was able to spend some time on a project that is the result of a conversation with Mike Hansen.  Mike is a high school science teacher who is supporting our system in creating additional capacity to apply system thinking tools to difficult issues and embedding system thinking into selected curriculum.  In the conversation, Mike asked me some questions related to the future of our school system and challenged me to look more closely at the attributes that  I bring to our work.  What are those attributes and how will those that assume leadership positions continue the journey we are creating?

This is a difficult task for me because I rarely think about what "I bring" to the work, but I decided that it will be good for me and for others in the system.  It is also one of the reasons why I have been pushing my blog readers to share their stories that reflect the culture that we have created.  Unfortunately, there has been little response to my request.  That may change as I begin to share my reflections and others see the need to support our continuing journey.

Related to these reflections and struggles is a conversation with Mike Hansen that resulted in what you are now reading.  I see Mike has one component of the transition to support the system’s capacity to move forward.  I want his capacity to use the tools of system thinking to build upon the foundation that we have created.  The system needs this capacity to adapt to the national and state mandates we currently face and those that I believe will follow in the near future.  In the conversation, Mike made me look more closely at the attributes I bring to our work.  This is difficult for me, but he moved me to a place where I felt tension between my current reality and what I want for our system after retirement. 

What you are reading is the result of the creative tension that is now driving my behavior.  I want this system to experience little, if any, disturbance as we transition from a system where Mike and Nancy are seen by many as the face of the district to one where the face of the district is embedded in the work being done in classrooms.  It is greater than simply finding the “right” people to assume roles.  When people think about Tahoma it should be about our results in difficult situations with over-crowding in all buildings.  It should be about the quality learning that takes place every day in every classroom for every child.

So, how do I start this process?

I have made the decision that there is much to be learned through reviewing the books that I have read with a focus on those related to leadership.  As I write this, I am looking at over seventy books sitting on the floor that fit this category leaving holes in my book case and on shelves.  There are greater than that number remaining in their respective places, but I’ll move forward with my first cut.

I started not with a book on leadership, but with one that was published in 1983 that had a significant influence on my thinking, A Nation At Risk.  To give you a sense of what I am doing I'll share below some of  my reflections on this book.

I was in graduate school at the time of this release so I had multiple opportunities for conversations with colleagues.  It reinforced for me the importance of leadership as opposed to simply managing schools.  I realized the need for consensus if we were going to successfully meet the challenges embedded in the report.

Reading this caused me to truly reflect on the purpose of a public education; to graduate with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for success in post high school learning and work.  I now understand that this was the beginning of our instructional model work.  It started with the development of our Student Profile document that led over time to what we now call our District Outcomes and Indicators.  Our Classroom 10 work is designed to support acquisition of the outcomes and indicators every day, in every classroom, for every child.

Thus far I have reviewed fourteen books and found that there are some important learning's that have influenced me in most of them.  Prioritizing time for the work will be difficult, but I believe that there will be some nuggets that others can take to support our future journey.  I will periodically share more in future posts.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A message from Simple Truths . . .

I blogged last month and previously about a video from Simple Truths, a source of motivational and inspirational gifts.  Though I don't want it to become a monthly post I will once again share this short (3:55) video clip from their December newsletter titled, May you be blessed.  It just seems appropriate at this joyous time of year that can also bring with it much stress to sit back and enjoy the beautiful photography, soothing music, and message in the clip.

Without comments to a post, one doesn't find out if the readers actually go the links so I don't know the response to posts such as these.  I enjoy these short video clips as a change from following budget battles, court cases, and unfunded mandates and hope that they bring a measure of peace and relaxation to your hectic lives.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays . . .

Thank you for dropping by my blog, I enjoy sharing our work and the status of education in our system, state, and sometimes nation.  It provides me with joy and I appreciate that there are at least 76 of you that stop by frequently.

My best wishes to you and to your family during this holiday season.  May it bring peace and joy for you and your family.  We are enjoying a little peace in the Maryanski home as we await our children and grand children.  Only two more stops for me or maybe three.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Great football, plus . . .

Sunday night football featuring our Seahawks against the 49'ers and it was all Seahawks.  We won 42 to 13 with the 49'ers scoring their first and only touchdown with less than two minutes in the game.  By that time many of the 49'er fans had already left after suffering much verbal abuse.  It was surprising that there weren't any physical fights considering the verbal sparring that took place.  Even with the win, however, they had the last word as they lead the division by a half game over us.  Perhaps we'll see each other once again later in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, back in Olympia the State Supreme Court on Friday decided that the legislature is not making adequate progress to meet the funding requirements in the McCleary case.

"Steady progress requires forward movement. Slowing the pace of funding cuts is necessary, but it does not equate to forward progress," wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in the order filed Thursday.

You can read a summary and legislator comments in this Education Week article and the Seattle Times opinion in this editorial from Saturday.

The next update from the Legislature to the court should reflect stronger, swifter progress.

“In education, student progress is measured by yearly benchmarks according to essential academic goals and requirements,” wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in Thursday’s order. “The state should expect no less of itself than of its students.”

It is going to be a long session.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More affirmation . . .

Yesterday I learned that the city of Maple Valley made another "best" list similar to one I posted about In July, 2011.  In Bloomberg Businessweek's 2013 study, Maple Valley was identified as the best place to raise kids in the state of Washington.  You don't make lists like these without a quality school system.  Once again, an affirmation from an outside organization on the achievement of our young people and quality of learning and teaching in our classrooms.  Take pride in your work and congratulations to the city for this recognition.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A welcome proposal . . .

In this Seattle Times Op-ed piece State Superintendent Dorn shares his thoughts on the number of exit exams necessary for graduation.  Currently, the class of 2015 is required to pass five exit exams to meet graduation requirements. Superintendent Dorn questions the time and cost of this many exams and the impact failing one or more has on the options high school students have when needing to take additional exams or meet the requirement through an option such as a Collection of Evidence.

In the piece Superintendent Dorn tells us that he will make a recommendation to the legislators in January to reduce the number of exams from five to three.

Students in the class of 2015 are required to pass five exit exams to graduate from high school, also known as high-school-proficiency or end-of-course exams: Reading, Writing, Biology, Algebra and Geometry.

In January, I will propose to the Legislature that we reduce the five required tests to three for the 2014-15 school year: English language arts, biology and algebra.

Reducing the number of exit exams will not reduce accountability, nor will it lower standards. It may, however, provide additional time for students to study other important subjects including art, music and career and technical education.

I applaud this move  for multiple reasons, but wonder how it will be received and processed by the legislators.  What will you tell your elected officials in Olympia when they receive this proposal?

On the state political front . . .
There is much that has taken place over the last few days with the potential to impact our work.  On Monday the Senate democrats made a counter offer to the newly formed Majority Coalition I posted about here.  Essentially they offered to split control of committees and leadership in what they view as a more equitable distribution of power. On Tuesday, the Senate republicans with support from the two democrats that have joined their caucus said no thanks.  So, the democrats will not give up control easily (AP article in  Oregon live) or join in the Majority Coalition proposal and the new majority is willing and ready to change Senate rules in order to take control of the body.  See this Tuesday Seattle Times article for more details.

The current majority leader, Senator Murray made the proposal on Monday.

"Our offer is, we will support your leadership and you will support our leadership and we will go into a co-arrangement for two years, and that way we will stabilize the Senate," Murray, D-Seattle, said.

The leader of the new coalition, Senator Tom, said no and went further by stating that they will do what is necessary when the session begins to take control.

"When the 2013 session convenes on January 14 of next year, the members of our Majority Coalition Caucus will take the steps necessary to begin functioning as the Senate's majority caucus," Tom wrote.

"We believe it would be best for the institution ... if the current majority would accommodate our incoming majority," he wrote. "The alternative would be to risk the very chaos you have publicly warned might accompany a change in the Senate majority."

The hoped for collaboration in the Senate appears dead before it had a chance to begin.  What does this mean for us?  Bills being proposed with little likelihood of being passed considering the democratic majority in the house and a democratic governor, significant problems in meeting McCleary funding directive, and the possibility of needing to wait until late spring or early summer before finding out what our budget will be.

Late yesterday, outgoing Governor Gregoire unveiled her budget proposal that included about a billion dollars more for schools.  We will need to wait and see if this proposal has any influence on the incoming governor or whether it is simply a document that must be filed, but carries with it little to no leverage in the upcoming session.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflecting on Sandy Hook . . .
My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost children and loved ones in the tragedy that played out at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I first found out about it as I was preparing for learning walks with Rock Creek Elementary principal, Fritz Gere.  Like others and perhaps even more so than similar events in the past, this one is so very difficult to understand.  Innocent young people and the adults that cared for and supported them experiencing this tragedy simply makes no sense.

As we extend our thoughts and prayers to the people in Newtown, we naturally begin to reflect on our system and the structures that we have in place to create safe environments for the young people and adults in our schools.  I don't believe that there is a way to make a school or any public place 100% safe, but we have the responsibility to ensure that we are making the right choices in the safety measures that we choose to put in place.  We will begin this work by bringing together our School Safety Committee to review our current practices and to make recommendations that may be necessary for creating additional safety measures.

If you are looking for resources to support conversations with young people struggling with this event, you may want to visit Larry Ferlazzo's site.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Senator reaches out . . .

Following up on yesterday's post about the Majority Coalition in the state Senate, I had an opportunity this morning to speak with Senator Joe Fain about a number of issues.  Senator Fain is in his first term so he is still fairly new to the chamber, but even with little seniority he will be the Senate Majority Whip in the upcoming session.  This is an important position with the potential to have significant influence over what bills come to the floor for votes.

Senator Fain also shared with me that some of the committee chairs are also those with little seniority in the caucus and that they want to work collaboratively to find solutions to the complex issues that they face.  These appointments of less senior people is a change to past practice and may be an indicator that there is a possibility for a different working relationship, one where individuals can reach across the aisle to find solutions instead of pointing fingers.  Whether this will be possible has yet to be determined as I haven't seen how the democratic leadership will respond to the proposed power share.

We discussed more than just what is happening in Olympia.  Our primary topic of conversation was the concept of a regional learning center built around a new Tahoma High School.  Senator Fain is very interested in the project and asked how he could help.  One thing he can do and has already started is getting us together with individuals from advanced manufacturing firms to assist us in a renewed focus in this area.

I also took the opportunity to share with him the concerns and stress created by the mandated TPEP in our and many others systems.  Our discussion of the difficulties we face with the size of our buildings and current structures resulted in him suggesting that he organize an opportunity for the new Senate Education Chair, Senator Litzow, to meet with a delegation of superintendents to hear these concerns.  Given our current reality, we need to keep the unrealistic expectations this implementation creates in front of the legislators.  They need to understand that changes to structures will be necessary to meet the intent of this new evaluation process.

Thanks to Senator Fain for the opportunity to share and for the support on these two important needs in our system.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An interesting coalition proposal . . .

Today's Seattle Times editorial suggests that the Majority Coalition Caucus formed in the Senate when two state democratic senators joined with republicans to take control of the senate will be better for public education.

The state Senate’s new bipartisan coalition offers the best opportunity for credible education reforms.

Republicans have had good ideas on education but have been frustrated by their minority status in a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Now that Republicans are in charge of key Senate committees, including education and the budget, they must deliver.

The plan being proposed by the coalition is for Senator Tom to become majority leader and to share committee leadership between the two parties with the republicans controlling the most powerful committees including budget and education.  Senator Litzow would replace Senator McAuliffe as chair of the education committee, a move identified in the editorial as a key to education moving forward.

Removing Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, from atop the education committee was key to moving forward. McAuliffe and her counterpart in the House, Education Chair Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, used their leadership prerogative last session to weaken or kill promising reforms.

By contrast, Litzow has led on reforms. He pushed for replacing a seniority-based layoff policy for teachers with one based on performance. He supports restructuring health-insurance benefits for school employees. Scrutinizing a program that costs the state $1 billion annually is not anti-teacher, it is common sense.

As I shared in this blog post, I support the need for collaboration and see it as a necessity for the legislators to deal with the complex issues they face.  Unfortunately, reading this Times piece about Senator Murray's response to the coalition proposal makes me wonder how long collaboration will prevail or if it will even get off the ground.  There are many democrats across the state upset with the action of these two senators even though it was predictable since they made the same move toward the end of last year's session.

State Sen. Ed Murray — the Seattle Democrat who was set to lead the Senate before two members of his party defected to form a new majority caucus with Republicans — said Tuesday he would rather be in the minority than participate in the coalition’s “power-sharing” proposal.

“I don’t believe that the Democrats will be in the majority,” he said. “I don’t believe that at all. But I do think that we can find a more functional way for the Senate to operate than this.”

Can this proposed coalition with a declared democrat leading a majority republican caucus be the change necessary to transform how this chamber approaches their business?  How collaborative will this new coalition be with the democratic controlled house?  Will this session bring us closer to meeting the state's requirement to fully fund public education or will it produce another budget that puts off the difficult decisions that must be made under the McCleary decision?  The waiting game now begins and a long wait it will probably be.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

A TFA response . . .

Last week I blogged twice (here and here) about the AFT's recommendation for a new teacher certification process that included the possibility for a teacher "bar" exam.  Embedded in the report are some sentences about non-traditional certification programs such as Teach for America, (TFA).

. . . The process must require candidates to demonstrate competence in essential dimensions
of successful teaching before being allowed to take responsibility for a classroom and become a
teacher of record.

In today's post  from This Week In Education, Alexander Russo shares the TFA response to the proposal.  Not surprisingly they offer another possible focus for improving teacher effectiveness.

. . . Given what we’ve learned about teacher effectiveness and from the schools and districts making the most progress in raising student achievement, we think it may be more promising to focus on and invest in helping principals become more effective in selecting the most promising new candidates and developing everyone to be effective.

As I shared in my second post on the topic, I don't believe that this proposal will generate significant media coverage unless we begin to see others respond in opposition to the proposal.  Russo isn't seeing a lot of enthusiasm for the proposal and I am not finding much in the media.  I think that this is unfortunate because I believe there is potential for the proposal over time to positively influence public opinion about the teaching profession, something that we desperately need.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You may be wondering what I'm doing posting during a Seahawk's home game.  I needed to take a day for catch up so my son and grandson are using the tickets.  With the Seahawks winning by 38 at halftime and now 48, I think it was a good decision for me.  It has been a busy couple of weeks with evening meetings, weekend meetings, and with normal every day living stuff, it was time for a catch up day.

So, in catching up on my RSS feeds I found this post from Mitch Ditkoff, You Suck at Powerpoint.   Many of you know that I use power point and I try to use the design principals of people like Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte.  In this post, Ditkoff shares five design mistakes to avoid in powerpoint presentations.  I found it informative, affirming, and encourage you to go through it.  Power point can be a tool to visually support your story or it can be a tool to completely boor your audience, something we don't want to do.

Below, is a slide used to summarize the five mistakes.  I have found the fifth, lack of preparation, to be so true.  It can take 25 to 30 hours to put together a quality, one hour presentation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Opening the door . . .
Don't lose sight of yesterday's post on the AFT endorsing the potential for a "bar exam" to enter the teaching force as well has higher standards to enter a college teacher certification program.  Looking back, we can see how the AFT opened up the possibility of value added teacher evaluation models through their work with Chancellor Rhee in Washington D.C. and in other school systems.  Though the model in Washington DC was recently revised it is still in place. Opening that door and the subsequent publicity that followed has resulted in change to teacher evaluation across the country including in our state with TPEP.

Will their recommendation for possible higher entrance requirements and an exam to enter the profession result in the same media coverage and resultant influence on policy across the country?  I don't think that we will see the same media coverage, but I do think that it will, over time, influence the certification process.  Universities and policy makers for teacher certification will be slower to respond than state legislators and state education systems to the change, but the AFT decision has opened the door for the conversations to begin.  As I asked yesterday, when and how will the NEA respond?  What do practicing and prospective teachers think about this potential change?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Raise the bar . . .

Did you see the article in yesterday's Seattle Times where the AFT President, Randi Weigarten called for a significant change to the entrance requirements for teachers?  In essence they are proposing a "bar exam" for entry into the teaching profession.

The American Federation of Teachers called for a tough new written test to be complimented by stricter entrance requirements for teacher training programs, such as a minimum grade point average.

"It's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession, whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim," said AFT President Randi Weingarten, calling that system unfair to students and teachers alike.

In this Eduwonk piece you can learn why Andy Rotherham is against it.  One of his reasons is below.

Second, in the Washington Post, AFT President Randi Weingarten made this statement, “A bar exam would “just level the playing field. Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

In this Thomas B. Fordham Institute piece you can read how Chester Finn favors it.

. . .  But let’s not doom this baby at birth. Let’s welcome its arrival, wish it good health, cross our fingers (maybe even help if asked), and stand by ’til it can walk by itself. Thanks, Randi, for a proposal that would make Al proud—and that could conceivably do American education some good. Or could just as easily create nothing except false hope and, possibly, some damage.

So, where is NEA on this issue?  As a local NEA affiliate, what do our current teachers think about this proposal from the AFT?  Does it make sense?  Will it contribute to raising the stature of the teaching profession?

Monday, December 3, 2012

A chance to work systemically . . .

There are three very significant issues in our short term future that have the capacity to influence our Classroom 10 journey and change the culture of our school system.  The first is our need to increase capacity to house students; we are already overcrowded and enrollment continues to increase.  The other two are mandates from the state; preparing young people for Common Core assessments beginning in 2015 and implementing the mandated teacher evaluation model, the TPEP process that I last blogged about here.

In this post I will share some of my thinking on the TPEP implementation.  We had our first meeting last week with TEA to begin conversations on the components that are mandatory for bargaining.  We learned that there is a growing concern shared by our principals and teachers on the intent of the model and the capacity of the system, with our very large buildings, to identify and put in place structures that result in successfully meeting the intent.

As with most groups struggling with a difficult issue, there was a tendency to move right to problem solving and  identifying new structures.  Unfortunately, this strategy often ends with structures, "fixes", that don't result in meeting the long term needs of the system.  In this particular case, the issue is made more difficult due to  lack of clear direction from OSPI about significant parts of the process.  It is truly a moving target.  There are some school systems that are further than we are in the process because they were in a pilot program, but the real difficult decisions around components like using student achievement data I don't believe have been completed by any of the pilot districts.  To take advantage of work in the pilot districts, our system has joined with others to begin the next phase in January.

Something happened, however, part way through our meeting that shifted the conversation.  A question was asked and initially ignored that was powerful and moved us to think more about our mental models rather than proposing and debating options.  My paraphrase of the question is below.
  • How can implementing this model become another tool to support our Classroom 10 initiative and the collaborative culture we are creating in our school system?
This became the welcome focus of our conversation that brings with it the opportunity to view this mandate systemically with the intent to integrate it into our initiatives and further develop our capacity to work collaboratively.  I will be proposing that we support this effort by asking a team to first engage in conversations with system tools that allow for identifying the mental models that are necessary to achieve a shared vision for the work, for arriving at a common understanding of our current reality, and then identifying the structures that are necessary to reduce the gap between our current reality and the shared vision.  I am pleased that there were those in the room seeing the need to shift from problem solving to first creating a deeper understanding and I am energized by the opportunity we have to think and work more systemically.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Word cloud review . . .

I thought I'd start a new month with a word cloud of blog postings.  Below is a Wordle cloud.

For the fun of it I decided to see what it would look like with Word It Out.

There are differences in color scheme, but more importantly, I don't see a lot of similarity in the identified words.  For example. "teachers" is in large print in the Word It Out, but not in the Wordle.  I played a little with the parameters, but  don't know how each program identifies what words to select at what level.  Though different, I can still get a sense of my focus and it is on legislative and budget related issues.  Is this what I want for my blog?  I definitely have some things to reflect upon for the future.