Mike Schmoker’s new book Leading with Focus has given me the kick I needed to return to this blog in an effort to ensure our staff in ISD 186 has the clarity that strong leaders provide. Pulling from one of my favorite authors and researchers on organizational effectiveness, he quotes Jim Collins in his book Good to Great – “The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence… It demands each of us to focus on what is vital – and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions.” While I know and believe we are focusing on the right things in our district, I need to be much more intentional about providing ongoing clarity for staff. Quoting Marcus Buckingham’s 2005 work Schmoker states, “Clarifying the organization’s priorities is the leader’s single most important job.”
While it seems there is a common call for more time to collaborate in all school districts, those who dig into the meaningful work of true collaboration discover it is far easier to continue working in isolation. The majority of us learned our trade figuring it out as we went through the enduring pains of trial and error. Being isolated in our classrooms was simply the norm, and the true collaborative work described in PLC literature was unheard of. Today we have clear evidence showing the need for real collaboration, yet the work of doing collaboration is much different from the work we have been good at in the past. Digging into showing our results, aligning our instruction with clearly articulated outcomes and common assessments, and engaging in robust action research can feel like an invasion of one’s craft. The truth we all know deep inside however, is that collaborating in this way is the real work of excellent teaching. Read more
Reposting this post 4 years later. It’s just as applicable today – in a district of 2 sites and 1,600 students… Teaching is indeed a calling!
Communications over the past couple of weeks has made clear that I’m in a different ball game than I was just a few months ago. As a teacher leader and school administrator, I was visible and made person to person connections with nearly every staff member at least weekly if not every day. People saw me on good days, bad days, during pressure, when joking around, and all of the other times in between. This is clearly not possible in the role I now serve in forcing me to reflect quite a bit about leadership strategies and how to make positive change from a different place in the organization.
Moving from a district of 10,000 students to one of 1,600 students this past year has made me reflect quite a bit on how to structure collaborative teams to do the meaningful work of a Professional Learning Community when there are fewer teachers to team up. The research on effective schools is clear that collaborative teams of teachers focused on common formative assessments and implementation of interventions/enrichments to ensure all students learn at high levels is essential, but how to structure those teams for success is always a challenging leadership question. As often happens, my Twitter feed offered some “just in time professional development” this past week as I ran across an excellent presentation by author and 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) focused on this very topic. The ideas and options he shares are relevant to a school or district of any size.
This is the sixth post in a series of short YouTube videos by Rick Wormeli, author of the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal. This episode focuses on the power of frequent formative assessments and tying that into a standards based grading system. I wish I had learned about the power of formative assessments and a standards based approach to grading when I was teaching… Might you take what @RickWormeli has to offer and implement it in your classroom tomorrow??
The February 2014 Educational Leadership publication is focused on building school morale and offers several articles reflecting on how to cultivate positive spirits in a school staff. The timing is superb… I note on my calendar at the beginning of February every year to brace for the mid-year slump. While I’m convinced it has a good deal to do with the lack of daylight and cold weather here in northern MN, I also agree Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran that “bolstering school morale is a primary school improvement strategy” (pg. 38). School leadership teams need to assess, plan for, implement action plans to address, and progress monitor the emotional pulse of the larger school team just as an effective coach of an athletic team or the director of musical must do. An emotionally flat team simply cannot perform well while one wrapped up in the positive synergy of real, results oriented school improvement can knock it out of the park.
So I’m asking some questions in #isd186… Do we count late work? How much is homework part of a grade? Do we average points out of points possible to determine a grade? Is it better if we categorize grades into assessments, homework, projects, etc…? At some point in a career every teacher struggles with the sacred cow – the GRADE BOOK… How do we record points – or better rather – how do we record the level at which a student has demonstrated mastery of a standard in order to communicate those results and use them for instructional planning?
These are thought-provoking questions and not ones that our college courses prepared us well for. So… Here are a few thoughts from respected expert @RickWormeli on grading:
So how do you calculate grades? Does your software get in the way? How can you work around that? Guskey says – if there is one thing he would get rid of it’s using averages. How will you get rid of averages in your grade calculations? How do you define what a grade actually is?
This is the fourth post in a series of short YouTube videos by Rick Wormeli, author of the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal. If you’re willing to ask honest questions about your practices and rules about late work – you’re golden and will love the questions posed by @RickWormeli. If you aren’t courageous enough to ask honest questions, this one might not be for you. My expectation: anyone teaching our children must be able to soundly defend all decisions about practice, resources, and delivery with research and evidence. So… What are your answers to Rick’s questions? Do you provide opportunities for redos? Late work? Do-Overs? How does this calculate into a quarter or semester or final grade? I encourage a deep dive into Wormeli and Guskey’s work and some reflection on how to make it happen in your classroom!
A presentation I listened to last week by Kim Gibbons, Executive Director of the St. Croix River Education District, brought me back to a great synthesis of education research that I wrote about in a 2011 post. Her main argument was that the best thing we can do to better serve our students with special needs is to improve core instruction – what happens in our classrooms to meet the needs of all students. She presented John Hattie’s research with polish and focused on a simple question and my ongoing soapbox – how do we better align our practices with what research says is best practice?
12 years after leaving the classroom to serve in school and district leadership roles, the awful feelings tied to being unable to reach every one of my students still haunt me. I remember long nights in my early teaching years spent developing plans for small groups, large groups, and individual activities designed to address a wide spectrum of ability levels and interests. I passionately searched for resources and lesson ideas that might engage reluctant learners, and I worked hard to forge a positive relationships with each child. While I believe I reached more students than the average teacher, I did not reach them all and I believed there had to be a better way to “do school.” There simply had to be a way to structure our work that would increase the engagement and learning of each student. But how??? Read more