School Transformation

It’s been said that the only human that likes change is a baby. Change is the hardest thing to work through even when dealing with professionals like educators. Part of it is due to the fact that our state legislature has a bad habit of changing the rules every other year. Part of it is that campuses and districts have leadership changes often and with those changes come different theories. Both of these mean that the hard work teachers put into their curriculum and classroom work is either scrapped or highly modified. Given that teachers have little time for planning as it is, that means less family time after hours while trying to prep for the school day.

Now, you want to “transform” their classroom? Really? Another change for another year or two? This is where your leadership (from the school board to superintendent to assistant principals) must have the same vision. This allows you to point out that no matter what cog of the wheel might change, the overall direction will not change anytime soon.

My good friend, and a wonderful educational mind, is Diana Laufenberg. She recently blogged about her work in transforming schools as a consultant after her classroom and leadership work at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She keys in on four areas that she finds leaders could focus attention and make the process easier and more profitable for all involved.

  • Allow for breathing room – the people who are walking the path need support, but be careful not to micromanage. Once a plan is in place, check in on progress but leave some room for the project to breathe, get up to running speed, a watched pot never boils… evoke whatever analogy you want. This matters.
  • Play the long game – when the change process begins there is often a push to change it all right now, flip the thing over, disrupt. I would caution that to do so often alienates your core team, leaves the changes at a superficial level, and does not lay the ground work for the core changes that you want to see cement themselves into your school ecosystem. Its easy to drop new machines in a building and much more complex to bring that technology in to serve the pedagogy powerfully. Being thoughtful in scaffolding the process will set up the pathways of success for the team in ways that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
  • Pay attention to critical indicators – I often joke that if none of the students are doing the homework, it is not a problem with the students – it is a problem with the homework. Similarly, if a critical mass of the teachers in a transformation school are not on board, its time to evaluate that push back. It is important to listen to what the criticisms are and attend to the information. Ignoring it will only lead to massive staff turnover, year after year, which is a death knell to meaningful change. Change requires a school to reevaluate all its systems and structures. This is uncomfortable. Help people move through that space rather than ignore the issues.
  • Celebrate successes – Celebrate often, celebrate loudly, celebrate in the classrooms/school/community. Invite the community in, send the teachers and students out to meet with the community. It is important for the greater community to see the work of the students and start to see the transformation not just as a school initiative, but as a community effort.

Which of these do you feel you do well already as it pertains to the transformation you’d like to see on your campuses? Which of these do you think should be a priority for YOUR staff right now?

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.

What we need is a movement!

If you’ve never taken the time to listen to Sir Ken Robinson speak on education, please do that now. While his talk is roughly 19 minutes, it goes quickly. He sprinkles in humor amongst the seriousness of the need for change in education. The evidence he points to should encourage the educated decision makers to right the ship, but it falls on deaf ears. Folks, educators can want change. Educators can study change. Educators can even implement bits of change. What they cannot do on a full scale, is wipe the slate clean and start again in the right direction. Well, they can, but they need parents to begin the movement. Until the parents (taxpayers and voters) stand in unison, we will continue to wring every ounce of love for learning right out of our children all in the name of test scores.

Listen to Sir Ken’s ideas. We can start with one paradigm shift. He repeats one that I have been sharing with the Texas Legislature since I testified before an interim committee in 2007: make the test a diagnostic tool instead of a high stakes weapon. Then, we can actually put the $100 million a year we spend with Pearson to good use. Oddly enough, the one committee member who didn’t like the idea was Pearson’s lobbyist. Not sure how him sitting on a legislative panel doesn’t qualify as a conflict of interest, but who am I to judge?

 

Why is it always about money and failure?

159/365. Agony.<rant>

I am growing increasingly tired of the lies, misrepresentations, and half truths being spewed in Austin about public education during our Texas Legislative cycle. The pro-public ed side says we need more money. The anti-public ed side says schools are failing, teachers suck, admins get paid too much, schools waste money, and we need more tests. The anti-public ed side says we need more charter schools (nobody talks about the number of failing charters)  and offer vouchers (nobody talks about the exclusivity of private schools or requiring those who accept vouchers to follow TX mandates). It’s all about rhetoric and personal gain from their business ties. It’s not about the kids.

Everyone paints with very broad brushes. Nobody wants to pay attention to the fine details needed to move education to the next level where we are graduating college and career ready students at a high rate.

Will someone ask the most foundational of questions and build from that point?

How do kids learn best?

Let’s progress from there. </rant>

Photo Credit: Anant N S

Creating a Culture of Connectedness from the Top Down

Photo Credit: gfpeck

In my post yesterday Teaching in a Participatory Digital World, I wrote about our need to change as a whole. That easily draws back to the questions of how and where do we start. There is a great blog post by John Robinson titled “5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible.” In it, he deals with the #edchat topic, “How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?” He states that we are asking the wrong question:

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a “21st Century School” when it’s not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they’ve always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

He then goes on to discuss what a school or school district with that culture may look like. Here are his top 5 things with my commentary listed after each:

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment.Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There’s an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

Me: Agreed. Obviously it will be more difficult to change those who are not knew to the campus/district because they have a practiced method they are comfortable with. Start working on them a little at a time with the goal of having made that shift inside of two years. Above all else, make the culture evident in ALL new hires. Let them know what they are getting into and what the expectations are. The cream will rise to the top.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can’t ask others to take risks if they themselves aren’t willing to do so.

Me: Not only value the risk-taking, but make it a part of the teaming process and campus meetings. Give purpose to those meetings. Have an open dialogue with staff on these things. let them know they are safe to discuss the failures with the larger group. Everyone needs support to grow. Who better than the folks who are near and dear to them?

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

Me: I completely agree with this statement. One of the hardest things to get teachers to do is mentor other teachers unrequested. Teaching is a professional career. Until we start doing all of the things that professionals do, it will be difficult to get the community to accept us as such. Doctors and lawyers wouldn’t stand by as others in their profession did things against their code or in a less than professional manner. I’m not sure why teachers do not feel compelled to help those around them become the best they can be in their careers. Sometimes it only takes a short email or conversation in the hall. Or, maybe a few minutes of PD added to grade level or department meetings can do the trick. Admins should make that a global expectation and then find and mentor those special teachers on campus who have a knack for leadership and are respected. Nurture and grow that talent so that it can spread. 

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as “our issues/problems/challenges” then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school’s future and they can’t continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school. 

Me: This is where being the academic leader of the campus comes in. Jumping in and being a part of the process of learning instead of just being the leader of the campus. Joining in on the planning, implementation, and resolution of good work in the classroom shows support and encouragement for both staff and students. Parents will appreciate the knowledge the campus leader has of what is going on in the classroom. This helps grow great practices much quicker. Like the teacher who handles classroom management issues by the proximity they are in the room, campus admins can do the same. 


5. There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is “their school.” Staff who feel this aren’t just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can’t continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

Me: This really ties into the last two, but I would add that it is imperative that educators have time during the school day to grow together. Teaming, PD, and PLCs are all important things that should occur each school day. Teachers are so overwhelmed with the testing culture that has been created. They know that routine well. Grade homework, cover new topic, review new topic, assign homework over new topic…rinse, repeat. It is going to take some time and effort to get them out of that cycle. They will find it tough going to begin with, but they will appreciate the pushing and urging in the end. More than that, the students will benefit from that in the end. 

Just like we expect our teachers to plan their weeks out in their classrooms, admins must do the same if they expect the culture/paradigm shift we so desperately need in our classes. Target high needs areas and staff. Do some mental RTI work to plan out the best way to grow the skills of those in need. Find that time to allow staff to work together to grow each other and be a part of that process. Showcase the positives more than spotlighting the negatives during group meetings. Create a culture where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Create a culture where connecting is the expectation and not the exception. 

A Chance to Breathe


Photo Credit: Darren Kuropatwa

Rarely do schools get legitimate opportunities to be a part of the legislative process in Texas. You can argue we always have the opportunity, but I can equally argue that our input is rarely welcomed or invited by many in leadership in Austin. But thanks to the work of Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama during the 82nd Session, the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium was created. White Oak ISD is one of the fortunate, hard working, twenty-three applicants chosen to play a part. The bill, the child of work from TASA’s Public Education Visioning Institute, offers member schools the chance to have a say in these four key areas:

  1. Digital learning–Engagement of students in digital
    learning, including, but not limited to, engagement through the use of
    electronic textbooks and instructional materials and courses offered
    through the Texas Virtual School Network;
  2. Learning standards–Standards that a student must master to be successful in a competitive postsecondary environment;
  3. Multiple assessments–Various methods of determining
    student progress capable of being used to inform students, parents,
    school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools, on an ongoing
    basis, concerning the extent to which learning is occurring and the
    actions Consortium participants are taking to improve learning; and
  4. Local control–Ways in which reliance on local input
    and decision-making enable communities and parents to be involved in the
    important decisions regarding the education of their children. 

The biggest piece of this work is centered around the next accountability system. If the bill works out as planned, the consortium members will draft a plan to be approved in the upcoming 83rd Texas Legislative session. That plan should provide consortium members some needed respite from the current testing system with the goal of utilizing that freedom in implementing a new system built around the bigger picture of the child’s learning and not just one day. That data will then be brought back to the TEA commissioner and the Texas Legislature for further recommendations in the accountability system updates.

I am fully aware that there are detractors already lining up to dismiss the work of this group. They are protecting their special interests and ignoring what should be the focus of the public education system: educating each student to his or her full potential. What gets lost in this is that these special interests think all kids have the same potential. They ignore the special needs of students above or below the norm. They wishfully think that every single child has the intrinsic goal of attending college and thus force curriculum and testing onto them with that in mind. They believe that students dropping out of school due to a “failing public education system” is improved by even more testing.

If these special interest groups would pull their heads out of the sand long enough to view the real world outside of their fancy office windows and stack of campaign checks, they’d realize we have a wonderfully diverse population in Texas. It is one full of future career professionals such as doctors, lawyers, educators, business men/women, and engineers. It is equally full of creative citizens who will ply their trade in welding, plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry. They’ll keep the infrastructure of our great state moving forward with a growing citizenry. No great state can be complete without successful citizens in all of these areas and more.

The fact that open-minded legislators, such as Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama, were able to push through a bill offering hope to an education system continually burdened with multiple choice tests shows just how much we need to change. Our system will not improve by piling on more of the same, regardless of what some say. It will improve by changing to meet the needs of our current customers: students with the broadest options for careers that our country has ever known.

Let’s get to work creating a system that holds schools accountable for that.

Why School? Will Richardson tells you why.

Below are my thoughts on Will Richardson’s new book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. I have to say, this was a great read that I have already shared with my entire admin staff. We are reading it prior to a district visit with Will and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach October 2nd. Looking forward to the follow-up conversations this book will lead to. It steps on a few toes, but it does so lightly and appropriately.

The following is my review of the book I posted to both Amazon’s site and the iTunes Book Store.

I’ve read lots of “school needs to improve” books over the last decade or so. What happens is that they get bogged down in repeating the same problem with different verbiage over and over. It gets old and boring and I quit reading. Will went the right track with this text. He nails the issues at hand, offers a little commentary, and moves on. This is a quick, but insightful read for any person interested in making positive, proactive changes in their schools and classrooms. Keep in mind what you want for your own child as you read throughout. One of my favorite passages from the book:

“What doesn’t work any longer is our education system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that’s growing increasingly irrelevant to today’s kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought.”

I would postulate that the group who contends “if it was good enough for me when I was in school, then it’s good enough for these kids” are the group causing all of the drop out issues we are facing today. The quote above describes the Industrial Revolution education systems that are still in use today in far too many places. It is that mindless, fact regurgitation system that bores kids and disconnects them from the love of learning new things they had as toddlers. Failure to adjust leads to failure to succeed.

Listening to politicians and big business has gotten us nowhere over the least several decades, unless you consider making the testing companies giant, rich automation factories. Take from this book and consider the part you can play in improving the education system. Quit letting others with their own special interests make the decisions for you.

Some things really disappoint me

Of all of the things to spend money on and be concerned about in EDUCATING our students, this is not one of them. I’m not faulting the school or the teacher. They’re only playing the game with which they are trapped in by the state.

“Highlights” from the article (emphasis mine):

Photographs of each teacher hang nearby. Next to them are the average test scores for each of their classes, color coded in green, blue and red marker for high, average and low. Picture a super-size spreadsheet.
Teachers also can get bonuses or pink slips based on how their students do.
“the data room” – is the new meeting place for teachers.

Really? You need a “data room” to keep teachers and students focused on goals? What goals? Passing a standardized test that has no actual bearing on success in life? That goal? Wow, our focus is sorely misplaced in Texas. Read the article. $6000 to “design the room.” Salary for someone to be the “improvement coordinator.”

And the goal is to pass a test.

A test that has no bearing on college success.

A test that does nothing to prepare our students for the real, working world.

A test that the state of Texas spends $100,000,000 (that’s 100 MILLION dollars) on each year to administer (not counting local costs) while woefully underfunding actual education and not funding enrollment growth (which grows so fast each year it’s like adding another Fort Worth ISD annually).

A test that steals 25% or our school calendar to administer (not counting prep and practice days).

A test that does nothing but prepare our kids to take more tests.

A test that kills the love of learning in students.

A test that kills the love of teaching in teachers.

A test that kills innovation.

A test that kills creativity.

A test.

This is not what I want for my children. This is not what I want for other children. This is not what I want for our staff.

At what point will the Texas Legislature realize that if they truly want to be “successful” like the world’s leader, Finland (read that link, it’s worth your time), they have to go the opposite direction. You know, the direction that includes critical thinking, problem solving, free exploration of a subject as opposed to rote memorization. The one that mandates equity among ALL students and schools. The one that focuses on building successful citizenry.

Yeah, that one. </rant>