Monday, June 23, 2014

Get Ready, Not Right!

I occasionally hear the following question as a concern or sometimes even an argument against standards-based or standards-referenced grading: “If all kids have multiple chances to get something right, won’t they all get "As"?” It is a question that interests me as an educational leader and as a parent of school-aged kids for a couple of reasons.

1. Whatever your opinions and feelings about educational standards are, standards of knowledge and performance are a very real and integral part of life. Medical schools and pilot training programs have standards for issuing certifications and licensure for example. I believe a common set of outcomes (standards) is a good thing for students leaving our schools and heading out into life. It would imply or even confirm that students are ready for whatever is next in life’s journey. I believe traditional letter grades have nothing to do with effectively communicating whether or not students have achieved proficiency in standards and even less to do with conveying that students are ready for life’s next steps. (Think about your high school classmates today - or maybe even your own school and life experience)

As a parent, I see standards as a readiness or preparedness factor for whatever my child wants to study or pursue beyond high school. If he leaves high school proficient in the majority of the standards - he is ready! As an educator, I see standards as the minimum for readiness beyond high school. It is our job, our calling, and our responsibility to make sure ALL kids leave our schools ready. Let’s quit worrying about whether or not all kids should or shouldn’t get As and make sure all kids are ready! If my straight-A high school student ends up living at home in my basement in December after high school graduation, all the "As", top 5% awards, and class ranks will mean only one thing. She isn’t ready. (and that we spent several thousand dollars in college tuition to figure it out)

2. Second chances. Life is full of second chances. But often times in school, we want students to get it right the first time. “It’s not fair that my child worked harder and got the same grade as yours who took three tries to get it right..” I’ve heard. Hard work is a valuable and honorable trait. Good things happen to those who work hard. Agreed. No argument from me on this one. But, here is a question: What real life scenario exists where you don’t get a second chance to show that you are ready? Ready for the next step? Ready for the next course? Ready for a certification or licensure exam? How many kids take the ACT and learn they need to work a little harder? There is no limit to the number of times a person can take the ACT or many other high-stakes tests in the “real world.” Let’s stop worrying about getting it right the first time and getting "As", and focus our energy on getting kids ready!

There are thousands of scenarios where it is important to get it right the first time in life. Example: In the middle of a life-saving operation, surgeons don’t get a second chance to get it right. But while in medical school, there are hundreds of opportunities to read and hear and learn about procedures from professors, practice on cadavers under strict supervision, and observe and assist other surgeons through residency. In medical school, the focus isn’t on getting it right the first time or who works harder and learns faster. The focus is getting the students ready to get it right! Doctors are not walking around hospitals with "As", "Bs", and "Cs" branded on their lab coats. They do, however, have a framed piece of paper hanging on the office wall that certifies proficiency in the standards of medicine. In other words, ready.

Standards for K-12 education have been in place long before the common core. And there will likely always be high-stakes assessment and accountability for student achievement in education. But, in my 20 years as an educator, I have yet to see any research that proves letter grades are an effective means to communicate proficiency compared to the standards, or that students are ready. Students who are proficient compared to an industry or educational standard are ready.

Rethinking traditional grading practice is the logical first step in transforming K-12 schooling from a system of ranking and sorting to one where all students graduate readyReady for whatever they choose to do when they take their final walk out the doors of school. Isn’t that what’s right? Isn’t that our fundamental purpose?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What if We Coached School Like Football?

With fall comes football. Football everywhere. Friday night lights, College Game Day on Saturday, the NFL on Sunday, Monday, and even Thursday. It's a huge part of American culture. While watching a few games myself this weekend, I couldn't help but wonder what school would be like if teachers and administrators "coached" school like football. What would that look like?

1. Practice before Performance. Players never play in the game before they have had either a certain number of practices completed successfully or before they are "ready" to play the position. What if in school, we ensured they had practiced until they are "ready" for the big test or project?

2. Data-driven. Every week before a game, coaches pour over performance data from the opponent as well as their own team. What adjustments need to be made in practice to make sure everyone is ready for the game? Plays are changed, players work on new skills and adjust others. What if used student performance data on a daily basis to adjust our instruction and insure students are ready for the game?

3. Collaborative leadership. The head coach is ultimately responsible for the team success or defeat. But coaches have specific areas of expertise and areas of responsibility. They meet constantly to game plan and strategize for success. Coaches meet with position groups, offense, defense, special teams, etc. - all with the common goal to win football games, collaborate on ways to improve, and analyze how to fix problems. Everyone is accountable to the main goal. What if every teacher and principal collaborated daily or even weekly with various grade levels, contents, etc.. with the ultimate goal of improving student learning as the only focus?

4. Communication. When you look at the sidelines of any football game at any level, there is a group of coaches working feverishly to control the flow of the game. They wear audio headsets to communicate with other coaches in the press box. They hold laminated sheets full of strategies and resources to direct players during a game. They send explicit directions to the quarterback through their voice inside his helmet while other players watch hand signals. Players are constantly calling out to each other to let their teammates and coaches know what is going on with each play.

Obviously, there are many aspects of coaching football that are drastically different than education. I've always believed that coaching is the purest form of teaching, however. I can't see what would be wrong in drawing from one of America's favorite past times to help improve our profession. If kids could "score" in learning, that would be a win in my book.

Monday, August 19, 2013

3 Things I Learned as a Mom & Administrator on a College Visit

For the past eight years, I have worked in high school administration. My daughter was in third grade when I turned the page on this stage of my career. Now, she is a senior and I have just started a new chapter in central office administration. There have been many lessons learned over the years, but some of the best professional learning for me came this summer on an official college visit to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Here are three things I think all educators and parents need to know and understand about high school preparation for college and careers.

1. Grade point average is practically meaningless in the determination for college acceptance. With student applications from all over the world, the methods for calculating grades are infinite and uncertain at best. As educators, we have to realize that our version of excellence, above average, average, and so forth are vastly different than others around the world. Without close examination of the course content that makes up a grade, the grade itself has virtually no implication for determining a student's academic standing or ability to be successful in college. Let's be honest, how many "straight A" students have we known that end up living in mom and dad's basement after the first semester as a freshman? Grades are NOT an indicator!

2. The rigor and challenge of courses taken are given the highest consideration. In other words, a B in an Advanced Placement course says a lot more about a kid than an A in a less challenging course. This is hard for kids and parents to understand and accept. We're too busy playing the weighted course and class rankings game. And, for goodness sakes, we can't show weakness or any indication of a struggle. WRONG. Admissions reps are looking for students who push and challenge as well as grow as learners over time. Not "4.0s". Students with a 4.0 are a dime a dozen. 

3. We (educators and parents) must raise the ceiling. We can't tolerate a "fun senior year" schedule of courses any longer. We can't accept or embrace students looking for the easy "A". We have to constantly challenge students to push past their comfort level and understand that overcoming failure is a natural part of learning and personal growth. It's hard as a parent to hold back from trying to make those after-the-deadline schedule change requests for an easier choice. But, all of us are doing a disservice if we don't hold fast to supporting our kids through the process of enduring and overcoming challenging courses in high school.

After 20 years of being in secondary education, I still have to resist the urge to make the path easier for my daughter. Lucky for me, she pushes herself harder than I do at times. As I finish this post, she is working on AP Calculus! Who would have thought?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Leaning In!

On August 1, 2005, I "leaned in." I didn't know I was "leaning in" at the time. I had never heard of Sheryl Sandberg or FaceBook. After eleven years as a teacher and grant coordinator, I became an Associate Principal for a small, suburban high school 30 miles from my home.

My son was entering Kindergarten as I began learning about evaluating teachers, imposing consequences for adolescents' poor choices, supervising endless school sporting events and activities - and finishing up my administrative leadership degree. My daughter was in third grade. My husband, who works in home health care, took on a bigger role.

Things like having a clean house and a home-cooked meal on the table every night got moved down on the priority list. Mommy guilt set in and I relinquished any hope for "mom of the year" accolades in my future.  My first mommy failure was school picture day. No one remembered. As a result, my kindergarten child's yearbook premiere came sporting a Power Rangers muscle t-shirt, a bad case of bed head, and a temporary tattoo on his bicep lef tover from a birthday party favor. I was mortified. Needless to say, when that picture packet arrived, it got tucked away in a drawer.

Two years later, I was promoted to Principal. That same, sweet boy said, "does this mean you're going to be a REAL principal Mom?" I believe this was his way of telling me he was proud of me. He couldn't care less about the school picture fiasco. His mom was a REAL principal.

There is no doubt that choosing to be a "career-loving parent" has its sacrifice. There are more stories like the school picture incident. Plenty more. But after reading Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In - Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (released in March 2013), I have a new sense of peace. As a woman, mother, and professional.

I feel a sense of vindication that my childhood play days of emulating "Charlies Angels" and playing "teacher" didn't make me "bossy."  Sandberg prefers the description "possessing executive leadership potential." Enough said, right?

There are plenty of great takeaways from Sandberg's book, but my biggest are relief and thanks for affirming what I've been hoping since the day my first born arrived in to this world. I'm doing just fine. Not perfect by any means, but just fine.

I'm getting ready to "lean in" again. I've accepted a district-level leadership position in a new school district beginning in July. I'm excited to begin a new chapter in my career and I'm really glad I read Sandberg's book. I hope my daughter reads it too. It has amazing messages for women and men of all ages. When I finish this blog post, I'm heading out to buy a frame for a special picture to be displayed in my new office.

Photo Credit: LifeTouch

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

3 Ways Advisories Get to the "CORE" of the Common Core

As I see it, the Common Core at its "core" is increasing rigor so that students are college and career ready when they leave the school house doors as graduates. So, what part do student advisory programs play in successful common core implementation and achievement? An advisory program that is thoughtfully planned and executed with genuine investment from teacher mentors can help cultivate and sustain a rigorous academic culture. Here are three ways I believe advisory programs can get to the "core" of the common core:

  1. Long-Term Investment in Student Relationships. Advisories that follow the looping concept where small groups of students are placed with a teacher who serves as an adviser throughout high school have great capacity for long-term impact. Similar to a college advisers, teacher advisers are responsible for assisting students with all aspects of high school and post-high school planning. A four-year advisory structure builds trust and connection for teacher-student relationships that endure. 
  2. Advisers insure that all students take a rigorous and challenging course of study. No "easy senior year" here. When students meet with a teacher adviser twice a week four straight years, there is  no getting off the hook by taking an "easy" academic route to graduation. Teacher advisers are accountable to 20-25 students versus the counselor's load of 250 or more. Schools where students are invited to be challenged academically are not enough. They must RSVP. Advisers make sure they show up to the party. Push first. Then support students through their academic struggles and challenges. No student in an advisory is left behind.
  3.  Teachers gain a vast knowledge and expertise in mentoring students for success beyond high school. The traditional teacher in a high school is a content expert as well as a teacher. Helping students reach proficiency in the common core standards and content is the primary goal. But, advisory is the map to guide students to the next stop on their post-high school journey. Advisories are also an avenue for a unique and high-impact professional development opportunity for teachers. There are few rewards greater than when a teacher adviser plays a key role in helping a student get accepted in to an elite college or university or assisting a student in obtaining a scholarship that makes a dream possible. Professional growth is the by product of the research and work behind helping students realize these opportunities and options. Serving as an adviser takes the teaching profession to a new level.
Building an advisory program is not easy. The costs are time and commitment. Teachers must buy in and genuinely invest in the structure and process. Planning, evaluating, revising, and delivering the program is demanding for everyone involved. Support from administration is essential.  

The Common Core at its "core" is increasing rigor so that students are college and career ready when they leave the school house doors as graduates. I believe investing in a student advisory program will help us get there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From BLAH... to TAH-DAH! Go "EdCamping" for Your Staff's Next PD Day!

From THIS...

Inspired by Knapp Elementary Principal, Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) and the increasing numbers of "edcamp un-conferences" happening around the world, we shifted the "professional learning paradigm" at our high school recently. True confession: I have not attended an EdCamp myself. I have followed several of them through the Twitter hash tag world, however, and I have officially registered for my first - #EdCampKC in November. For a traditional professional development junkie like myself, I consider it a substantial change for me and our school. It was strange to release the control for our staff's learning almost completely. I referred to Mr. Mazza's blog post about his school's experience multiple times, presented the concept to our teacher leadership team, and we went for it. We liked it so much, we plan to make it the mainstay format for all of our scheduled late-start professional development days for the school year (5, two-hour sessions). Here is what we did based on Knapp Elementary School's model by Principal Mazza.

1. Set the time. The district has five, two-hour late start days set aside for professional development each year. For the high school schedule, this is 7:10 am to 9:10 am with students arriving for a shortened day by 9:40 am. During my years as the principal, I have almost always planned and conducted those learning sessions. To not know exactly WHAT or WHO was going to be doing professional development was a little nerve racking for our administrative team.

2. Draft the Big Board. The one pictured below is our completed version that was projected at the beginning of the day for the entire staff after all of the sessions were confirmed. We utilized what was available, free, and effective - Mr. Mazza's google doc! Here is a copy of ours for anyone interested: Final Schedule Board

3. Make suggestions for session topics. Given this was my first real release of staff development control, I felt that we needed to provide some suggestions for topics to get the ball rolling. Together with the teacher leadership team, we proposed the following topics:

BYOT (more on this later)
Social Media
Web Tools
Learning Stations
Teacher Web Sites
Power of I (academic interventions)
Flipped Classrooms

As you will see from the final schedule board, not all of our suggestions made the cut. I was pleasantly surprised at some who offered up other topics and facilitated a session. This may not be exactly like the process the EdCamp creators originally designed, but the scheduling process became a lot like an NFL draft. Teachers would throw out a topic, chatter would ensue to gauge interest, then someone would volunteer to lead the session. Boom. It's on the board. 
Our completed schedule board projected for staff.

4. One unique session. Our school is launching a BYOT program. At the time of our first #EagleEdCamp, we were on the verge of ready to open up access to the wifi and begin the use of students' personal devices.The Assistant Principal led a session that was offered during both time slots for any teacher interested in piloting any kind of BYOT in their classroom. We decided to make this a requirement prior to launching the initiative in a way to make a teacher "BYOT certified." (This was not the first introduction to BYOT for these teachers, of course)

5. Once the schedule board was complete, teachers made their selections and headed out for their morning "un-conference." 

6. Build in reflection and more sharing. I created a basic google form to survey teachers' reactions to the #EagleEdCamp format and asked they complete it by the end of the day. Questions were short and simple such as 1)What will you begin or change in your classroom as a result of something you learned today? 2) How can we improve #EagleEdCamp for our next late start? 
Some of the comments included: 

"I like the EdCamp format. Great to learn from our colleagues and grow together." 
"Great day. Inspiring!"
"I thought it was cool that we had teachers leading sessions and we all had input on our own PD topics. Can't wait until next time!"

We also encouraged teachers to "tweet" about it before, during, and after the process to ask questions, reflect, and share links and info for additional learning after the morning was over. We used the #EagleEdCamp hash tag. 

Overall, an outstanding day! Many thanks and credit to all of the EdCampers out there and especially to @Joe_Mazza! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

One More "Pinteresting" Way to Connect Educators

Becoming a "connected educator" has undoubtedly changed the course of my career and is always evolving. First FaceBook. Then Twitter. Then blogging. Tweet chatting. And, now Pinterest.

A friend who is also an elementary teacher sent me the "invite" to join Pinterest (it's open access now). I accepted and started exploring. At first, it was just looking at crock pot recipes, exercises I should be doing, and funny and inspiring quotes and E-cards. (If only my real life was a true reflection of my pin boards) I browsed the "Education" category mostly finding elementary teachers and their awesome creativity. But, not so much to share with high school teachers I feared. Then, I started noticing other Edtech professionals - familiar names from the Twitter network. And, lately, I've started using the search features to find  high school teachers  and topics of interest to follow like BYOT or flipped classrooms. They are out there! Math, Science, Langauge Arts, Foreign Language, and many more educators who are sharing their expertise and resources through pin boards. It's exciting to repin and share resources for teachers in my school as well as the rest of the cyber world. Like other forms of social media, the possibilities for professional networking and sharing are unlimited. So, why do I like Pinterest to connect educators?

  1.  It is appealing to a "visual" audience in a way that Twitter isn't. Yet, when I find something I want to share from Pinterest, I can click the "share to Twitter/Facebook/Email" to reach other audiences.
  2. It's a permanent storage area for links and resources organized by my own categories.
  3. I can find a recipe for dinner and read a professional article... all within the time it takes to stand in line at the grocery store. The people and boards I follow direct the content I can peruse via the main board with a timeline of pins.
  4. It's a great conversation starter with teachers..."Hey, I saw you repinned me yesterday... what did you think of that Algebra II activity? Would it work for your students?"
Although Twitter will always be my first love for connecting with others, I find great value in the art and science of pinning too. (The Google Chrome Extension for Pinterest is a MUST) One teacher compared Pinterest to online hoarding. Whatever you call it, I see Pinterest and my other social media tools as keys to getting better at what we do! Will you join me in a "pinteresting" adventure to connect and grow as an educator?